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MUSIC / DANCE : Greek Myth by Graham by Way of Twyla Tharp

January 27, 1994|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers classical music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition

At first blush, "Demeter and Persephone" could easily be another piece from Martha Graham's great Greek period. For about a decade beginning in the mid-1940s, the visionary modern dance creator scrutinized and reinterpreted Greek myths and dramas, retelling them in visceral movement terms and always from a feminist perspective.

"Cave of the Heart," created in 1946, focused on Medea and her abandonment by Jason, the opportunistic leader of the Argonauts. In "Night Journey" (1946), Graham made Jocasta, the mother and wife of Oedipus, the protagonist of the drama, not Oedipus the King, solver of riddles and blind to his own fate.

So why not turn to the story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, by which the ancient Greeks accounted for the seasons? Persephone had been abducted by Hades, god of the underworld. But thanks to the intervention of Zeus, she was allowed to return to earth and to her mother, but only for two-thirds of the year. Her annual return was signaled by the arrival of spring.

This would make for a natural continuum, right?

Surprise. The choreographer who came up with the idea wasn't Graham, but 51-year-old Twyla Tharp.

The work is the first in 60 years by someone other than Graham that the Martha Graham Dance Company, appearing today and Friday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, is dancing.

In addition to "Demeter and Persephone," Thursday's program will include Graham's "Appalachian Spring," "Errand Into the Maze" and "Steps in the Street." Friday's program will consist of Graham's "Acts of Light," "Night Journey" and "Maple Leaf Rag."

In reality, set to klezmer music, the Tharp piece doesn't look at all like Graham.

"It's absolutely a different movement vocabulary," said Christine Dakin, who dances Demeter. "It's kind of a rollicking dance. The conceit Twyla uses is that a band of traveling players is on its way to perform the Eleusinian rites (or rites of Demeter). Within that context, the dance tells the story, but not in a linear fashion.

"The dancing looks very easy, but it is, in fact, excruciatingly complex and difficult. That challenge is making it look tremendously easy and at the same time, keeping it as explicit as it is."

In fact, the company went through three weeks of intense rehearsal with Tharp to learn the new way of moving, said Terese Capucilli, who dances the Interloper, a role akin to a Greek chorus.

"We're not used to moving as fast as Twyla moves," Capucilli explained. "First of all, we were working in jazz boots. Generally we are barefoot. In working that way, it makes the floor very 'fast,' as Twyla called it--which means slippery. You have to use your legs in a totally different way when the floor is that way.

"So it was painful. The rehearsal period was three weeks of a lot of pain. Our bodies felt tortured. Other than that, the whole piece was wonderful."

What: The Martha Graham Dance Company in two different programs.

When: Today, Jan. 27, and Friday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m.

Where: The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos.

Whereabouts: Take the Artesia (91) Freeway to the Shoemaker Avenue exit and follow the signs to the center.

Wherewithal: $28 to $40.

Where to call: (310) 916-8510.

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