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The Deborah Zall Project:†In the Company of Women

 

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† By R. Pikser

 

 

The Martha Graham Company has an enormous studio space on the 11th floor of WestBeth, the artistsí housing and studio space complex in Greenwich Village.† On this weekend, Deborah Zall, a former Graham dancer,† presented her homage to three of her teachers, also former Graham dancers, by staging a retrospective of a few of their works along with pieces of her own.† Her idea, beautifully stated in the program, is to pass on the traditions and what she has learned to younger dancers so they can know, and share, the history of their art and its lessons.

 

Modern dancers at the beginning of the last century wanted to separate themselves from what they considered to be the effete world of ballet, devoted to the rich and powerful, all form and no content.† They wanted to dance about things of import to themselves and to their world.† Martha Graham, one of Americaís most important modern dance pioneers, took as her themes the Greek myths and their continued relevance to the psychology of each of us.† Especially interesting to her were how these myths speak to us still about the power of sex and of betrayal.† Jane Dudley and Sophie Maslow, two of the choreographers on this eveningís program, were concerned with the world of workers in the depression years and with folk themes, from American and from Europe.† Anna Sokolow, a third mentor of Ms. Zallís, was more concerned with the internal psychological aspect of the human being.† In this concert, Ms. Zallís pieces took as her starting point women from literature, exploring their internal worlds, especially the pain of loss and various ways one may react to it.† The pieces were based on poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Tyrone from OíNeillís Long Dayís Journey Into Night, and Amanda from Tennessee Williamsí Glass Menagerie.† Two other pieces were inspired by Federico Garcia Lorcaís The House of Bernarda Alba and by Remembering George Sand.†

 

It was interesting to see how well the older pieces have withstood the years.† Jane Dudleyís Time is Money, a critique of the beating down of a worker by the demands of the clock, was all too pertinent.† The movements, abstractly expressing the pressures on the worker, still reach out to us and were performed by Erika Dankmeyer with appropriate weight, as was the style in those days, and which worked well for the piece, and a certain touching awkwardness.

 

Ms. Dankmeyer also performed Ms. Zallís 2001 piece Amanda, based on the character of the mother of The Glass Menagerie.† The dancer is trapped between self-absorbed sensuousness and pain and is brought up short again and again by her loss of self-image as she keeps returning to the mirrors that trap and curse her.† This piece shows us the development of Ms. Zallís work over the years, its increasing specificity, and its honing, and Ms. Dankmeyer found the motivations that helped to make the piece clear to the audience.

In the pulled-out lines of Kaddish, Anna Sokolowís dance of mourning for the dead, originally choreographed just after World War II in 1945, then restaged for Ms. Zall in 1984, Ms. Dankmeyer again found the moments of transition between movement and movement that make a dance seem necessary, as though it had to be put together in just that way and no other.

 

Ms. Zallís Mary Tyrone, from 1981, is a difficult piece that was brilliantly performed by Nya Bowman.† Until the last moments, nothing in the external world affects the character.† All of the sudden changes of mood and direction must come from inside the tortured mind of Mary Tyrone, and somehow Ms. Bowman found a way to make all of the connections so that the piece came together.† Jane Dudleyís Cante Flamenco, created in response to the fascist takeover in Spain, did not give Ms. Bowman equal scope for her talents, though her presence was extremely powerful.

 

Miss Zall could not be present at this performance, but she sent a warm message through her assistant, reminding us once again of the ephemeral nature of dance and the great honor and pleasure she felt to have worked with the three choreographers to whom she did homage on this evening.† We in the audience felt that pleasure, also.

 

 

The Deborah Zall Project:† In the Company of Women

May 11th -12th 2017

Westbeth

55 Bethune Street, 11th Floor

New York, NY

Tickets $30, $15 for students

Martha Graham Studio