If someone had been sent to resurrect Martha Graham, great founding mother of modern dance who retired from stage last year, it could not have been a more convincing messiah than Paul Sanasardo, who danced with his troupe Friday and Saturday night at the Loeb. Sanasardo, dancer-choreographer, led his group through locomotive choruses--incarnations of strength and of the Graham tradition.
As Graham has always used sets and scores of little or unknown artists (such as composer Aaron Copland and architect Isamu Noguchi), who have since become famous, so Sanasardo does in the 1970 piece entitled "Footnotes". The music by Eugene Lester moves from an enveloping gossip to bells chiming and thinking, then thickens again into a closing smog of gossip. This interim airiness and freshness duplicate the playful mood of New York artist Robert Natkin's hinged screens of pink squiggles.
The curtain opens on six squiggled screens all in a row, that begin to sway alternately back and forth, by some mysterious support just barely maintaining their balance. Magically the fantasy fence stands erect and splits apart like sliding doors unearthing a dancer in the expected void. Like a movie where superimposition pops a new figure in view out of nothingness, the stage gradually becomes blocked in with one, two, and sometimes six dancers. Even with their skill of wheel-like locomotion, Russia's Moisey dancers could not have oiled these with any more slipperiness or spontaneity.
Colors vibrate, as blue and orange miniskirted girls are exposed to join pink-leotarded males. From behind-the-fence gossiping, the dancers move into frolicking pas de deuxs, jealous love spats and seductions, and oblivious chasings of unreachable flying objects.
Unfortunately, Sanasardo's protege choreographer and lead male dancer, Manuel Alum, was absent in these concerts; Jacques Patarozzi was an unsteady alternative in the "Footnotes" piece, but warmed up to a more constant and precise performance in "The Myth" and "Pain." Joan Lombardi, a firm, blue-skirted figure, added noteworthy strength and form to the selections. Yet even after all the refined play and posing, the bells chime and "Footnotes" blurs into gossip behind a water-colored fence. It's a Tom Sawyer delight.
"Myth" opens on divine gesturing of three black bell-bottomed characters seated wide-stride on the floor. Sanasardo takes on his lead role as dancer (as well as choreographer) and strikes bold poses of god-like stature conveying a mood that shouts "fear me," and yet is humanly sensual.
Graham has always stressed movement starting at the body's abdominal core; her dance creations have always started from the same center--from the guts and emotions. In "Pain" choreographer Sanasardo, and in "Palomas (Doves of Peace)" choreographer Manuel Alum give their dancers movements charged with emotion.
Alum's "Doves" capture the frantic struggle of dying birds, beating their wings against their breasts, writhing from the painful awareness of continuing conflict. At least half the dance is done on the floor; the scene opens with five reclining figures on a darkened stage, who raise just their heads, make cooing, head-jerking movements which extend into tense, arched backs of suffering. When Alum is the conceptualizer, dying birds evoke as strong a cry as dying men.
"Pain", the finale of both performances of the company, is the most shocking and gnawing of any of the works presented. With bound feet and shackled hands, lead dancer Sanasardo writhes chained to a bar, often assuming Christ-like positions, while the company screams, beats heels on the floor and squirms in sympathetic reaction. The horror of Sanasardo, knocking his head on the floor as he crosses the stage causes gritted teetch and stifled cries in the audience. A blatant red kinetic construction by Robert Bayley cages the power of this acute pain. Few artists have illustrated such horror so effectively; watching the dance evokes an internal screaming the way looking at pictures of Viet Nam war victims does.
Sanasardo and his untiring company perform with a verve and strength evidenced more today in gymnasts than dancers, but there is no question that this troupe and its choreographers have learned from Martha Graham and other greats of the dance tradition.
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