Author: Jill Kimball

Martha Graham Dance returns to Macky for 81st Artist Series

An audience favorite brings old and new works to Boulder.

Most artists struggle to stay on the cutting edge while paying homage to the past, but the Martha Graham Dance Company pulls it off with ease.

Then again, they’ve had 90 years of practice.

This fall, the 81st Artist Series at the University of Colorado Boulder opens with an exciting, athletic performance by Martha Graham Dance, the oldest company of its kind in the U.S. The dance troupe returns to Boulder on Oct. 5, nearly two decades after they first sold out Macky Auditorium in 1999

“To call Martha Graham iconic almost feels like an understatement,” declares the Omaha World-Herald. “The master of 20th-century dance was so instrumental in changing ballet—indeed, to the point where we now think of her work in terms of modern dance rather than ballet—that superlatives don’t seem to do her justice.”

Founded in 1926, both the company and its namesake have long been international mainstays in contemporary dance. Graham’s secret to enduring success? Her unrelenting open-mindedness. In a time when dance could only exist as a graceful, carefully choreographed fairy tale, Martha Graham dared to throw out the rule book and reinvent the genre.

“I wanted to begin not with characters or ideas,” Graham said, “but with movements. I did not want it to be beautiful or fluid. I wanted it to be fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.”

Straying even further from tradition were her ideas about what kinds of stories could inspire dance. Rather than reaching far into the past, looking into Greek mythology or creating love stories from scratch, Graham preferred to get inspiration from current events. In 1936, the same year she famously turned down Adolph Hitler’s invitation to perform at the Olympic Games in Berlin, she created and premiered “Chronicle,” a piece on the far-reaching consequences of war.

In 1991, at 96, Graham passed away. Today, her legacy lives on in her company, now helmed by award-winning dancer Janet Eilber.

“The best way to honor Martha is to take up the mantle of trying to understand where modern dance is going and interact with those people who are taking it into the future,” says Eilber. “Martha always used to say, ‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul,’ and it really can describe things that words just cannot.”

These days, Eilber and her company consult the past and look to the future in every performance, featuring works by Graham alongside international rising stars. In Boulder, they’ll pair Graham classics “Errand into the Maze” and “Dark Meadow Suite” with newer works by Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg and Belgian Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. And given that everyone from Alvin Ailey to Bette Davis has cited her as an influence, you can bet both those newcomers have a little Graham in their work.

“She is universally understood to be the 20th century’s most important dancer, and the mother of modern dance,” says PBS. “Martha Graham’s continued experimentation and her constant attention to human emotion, frailty and perseverance is one of the greatest individual achievements in American cultural history.”