Entertainment

Martha Graham’s Charlotte connection

When the internationally renowned Martha Graham Dance Company takes the stage at Charlotte’s Knight Theater on Tuesday, Kim Jones – a former Graham dancer and current assistant professor of dance at UNC Charlotte – will be watching with more than a passing interest.

Jones, 40, is re-staging “Steps in the Street,” a section from Graham’s classic 1936 masterwork, “Chronicle.” And in an unusual move, students from UNC Charlotte will perform the piece Tuesday, one of the rare occasions for students to share the stage with a professional troupe.

“We’ve been working over the entire fall semester in rehearsal and are thrilled to have this opportunity not only to perform the piece in Charlotte but in New York City as well,” said Jones, who performed with the company from 2002 to 2006. She remains with the troupe as a regisseur, a choreographer who re-stages productions.

Jones and her students will also perform the piece at the Graham Company’s University Partners Showcase at the Joyce Theater in New York City on Valentine’s Day. The event features students from select national dance training programs.

“I’m excited for them,” said Jones of her students. “It’s an incredible experience and chance for them to perform at this level.”

Graham achieved worldwide acclaim throughout her lifetime for her considerable influence on contemporary American dance. Her influence did not stop there, however, as her style and panache carried over into the arenas of fashion and design.

She choreographed more than 180 masterworks, was the first dancer to perform at the White House, and was granted the United States’ highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. In 1998, Time magazine named her the “Dancer of the Century.” Her American Modernist style is identifiable by the use of contraction and expansion, highly exaggerated gestures and rhythm completely unlike that of traditional ballet.

Graham’s 2015 season theme is Shape & Design. With this program, the company pays tribute to its founder’s sculptural and architectural aspects of choreography.

“Each season, we choose a different lens to view Graham’s work, as well as look at new work by other choreographers,” said Janet Eilber, 63, artistic director. “ ‘Steps in the Street,’ for example, uses no set, has all the performers in black, and the geometry of their patterns is used to create emotional impact. The shapes provide a provocative statement.”

Eilber said Tuesday’s performance will open with “Diversion of Angels,” “a work that creates a world without gravity and is all about love.” Next will be a short video of Graham performing “Lamentation,” her well-known solo performed while seated and encased in a fabric tube; here, her stretching and torturous movements represent expressions of lament and grief. Two new works – collectively titled “Lamentation Variations” and inspired by the original – will follow.

The second half of the performance features two works inspired by Greek mythology: “Errand into the Maze,” is derived from the myth of Theseus and a confrontation with a Minotaur; ‘Echo’ is based on the tale of Narcissus.

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