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DANCE REVIEW

Retracing Graham's steps

October 30, 2003|Sasha Anawalt | Special to The Times

When Martha Graham's choreography was at its best, it spoke from the universal to the particular. Graham was one of those artists who articulate what you are thinking and feeling but cannot put into words.

So the big question about the Martha Graham Dance Company's first appearance in Los Angeles since 1999, Tuesday at Cal State Northridge, was: Are the late choreographer's works still worth it?

The newly re-formed company, under Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin's direction, arrived here amid blazes that made drama seem almost beside the point. But the performance affirmed that, yes, we need Graham.

The newest work was "Sketches From CHRONICLE," a 1994 reconstruction of three sections of a 1914 work for 12 women about war. The minute the curtain rises, there is a shock: Elizabeth Auclair in a long black skirt with an inch of red protruding from the hem. Auclair cannot go wrong in any of her movements -- she makes you see the unseen, so that her hands seem to pull her heart out.

"Sketches from CHRONICLE" expands to terrifying group sections and concludes with Auclair summoning two dancers galloping like fierce apocalyptic heralds and two cartwheeling as if to bring on the cannons. Thus they charge, filling the space with landscape, history and humankind's ceaseless march toward war.

Such depth was not always reached. "Errand Into the Maze" and "Diversion of Angels" exposed the troupe's weaknesses. Neither a cupped hand too cupped nor wobbly balances serve metaphor or anything else. The company has got to dance as if the members have spent all day living their roles -- even if the work is abstract. Or else Graham seems trite.

But the opening "Embattled Garden," with Miki Orihara, Tadej Brdnik, Christophe Jeannot and Auclair, amazed. It was the opposite of trite.

*

Martha Graham Dance Company

Where: Performing Arts Center, Cal State Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge

When: Tonight, 8 p.m.

Price: $55

Info: (818) 677-2488

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