Thirty-two and 105 the first number too large, the second too small. Martha Graham Dance Company hadnt been to Charlotte for almost 32 years when it stepped into Knight Theater Thursday night for the first of two shows. And its 105 minutes onstage barely satisfied the appetite for work by a cornerstone of modern dance.
The menu consisted of a tapas plate for the first hour: 10 short pieces Graham danced, saw, reconstructed, choreographed or inspired. After intermission came Appalachian Spring, with a small orchestra (under-rehearsed but game) in the pit.
Artistic director Janet Eilber spoke between bits, sometimes showing videos of Graham herself on an elevated screen. As Eilber noted, Graham set pieces in seven decades, from the mid-20s to 1990. That made the narrow scope of this concert (1926 to 1944) frustrating, appealing as the works were: We didnt see a full range.
Three things linked the pieces, beside chronology.
First, Graham wouldve danced them herself: They were designed for her wiry body, as she learned how to act upon her theories of contraction and release. So it took courage for Katherine Crockett to solo in the intense Lamentation, especially when she knew wed see Graham doing it herself moments later on the screen.
Second, most had social or political themes. Imperial Gesture, ably reconstructed by UNC Charlottes Kim Jones and danced powerfully by Blakeley White-McGuire, could be read as the collapse of a haughty aristocrat or an entire class.
Panorama, done with precision and verve by three dozen local dancers, depicted strength through unity (and revealed where Paul Taylor, once a Graham soloist, got a few moves.) Even Appalachian Spring was created in 1944 as a boost to the war effort, reminding Americans that faith and optimism built our nation.
Third, movements were often small and restrained. Characters in Lamentation and Gesture end by turning in upon themselves; even the married couple in Spring take a long time to open up to joy.
The most unabashedly emotional pieces ended the first act: Lamentation Variations, a 2007 commemoration of the deaths of September 11, 2001.
Three modern choreographers set works to Mahler, electronica and Chopin, and the last was especially poignant: Dancers slipped into darkness, out of each others arms, as the curtain fell. Graham sometimes created such emotional pieces, too, but there wasnt room on the Charlotte program for those.