360º Dance Company
'Night Journey,' 'Maktub' and'The Devil in Massachusetts'
by Elizabeth McPherson
May 9, 2009 -- The Ailey Studios, New York
360º Dance Company presented a preview on May 9 of their upcoming fall season. The gorgeous 5th floor Ailey studio was full to fire regulation capacity, and the air buzzed with conversation and excitement. It was with great anticipation that I awaited this program from a young company dedicated to dance repertory, both historical and current.
The first piece presented was an excerpt from Martha Graham’s “Night Journey.” In watching, I was reminded of what one of my Graham teachers, Ethel Winter, often told us – that the Graham technique evolved out of her choreography. There, verbatim in this solo, were iconic Graham moves such as the grinding figure eight path of the working leg with the opposing arm moving in a reverse figure eight. Alessandra Prosperi, looking quite a bit like Graham herself, performed with powerful emotion boiling under the surface.
Martin Lofnes, artistic director of the company, choreographed the following untitled and unfinished work. I saw a post 9-11 world, yet oddly I feel somewhat unable to describe what that means. It’s certainly not a happy place, but not unhappy either. In the dance, there was a strong sense of group reliance but also individual isolation. Repeated hand gestures of one arm gripping the other as well as a circling of the hand indicated a neurotic bent, as if past experiences had yet to be fully processed and were seeping out in repetitive obsession. Troy Macklin was particularly captivating for the fluid intensity of his movements, showcased by Lofnes’ choreography.
Vernon Scott, director of development, introduced Lauri Stallings’ “Maktub” (2007) by saying this dance was the kind of project that is the soul of 360º Dance Company. They commissioned the dance from Stallings, who had worked primarily in ballet, asking her to choreograph on the original 360º dancers who were all former or current Graham company members. “We wanted to see what would happen when these two worlds collide,” Scott explained. Well the answer appears to be a lot of close partner work that relies on absolute trust of fellow cast members. There were several blind throws and catches where one dancer was off the floor flying into another with the other dancer facing away, unable to see their partner. The flawless timing was thrilling.
The final piece on the program was a reconstruction of Mary Anthony’s “The Devil in Massachusetts.” I use the word reconstruction because the dance, first choreographed in 1952, had not been performed since the 1950s. The original cast members have all passed on except for Anthony who put the choreography back together relying on her memory, 54 photographs, and her notes. It is a gorgeous dance – succinct in its telling of the Salem witch trials. It crystallizes the action through showing one evil seed planted, and that seed destroying a community. Sadira Smith was brilliant in the role of Tituba, the evil seed planter. Lurking and mysterious, she was evil incarnate, able to exert her influence because the community was already at risk. They had lost their trust and faith in one another. Choreographed during McCarthyism, it is Anthony’s political statement on that era of mistrust and deviousness. Anthony spoke briefly before the dance was shown, leaving us with the thought, “When men live by fear instead of trust, the devil will have his way.”
This piece together with Lofnes’ untitled work created a statement that I infer to be about the current climate in our society, and it is not bright. I hope we may also soon see a work about transcendence and the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity – a “Missa Brevis” type work perhaps. As artists, we comment on society and reflect social conditions, but I hope we can also anticipate and perhaps even lead.