Erdman Troupe Has Graham Style

Posted: October 18, 1991

So personal and typical of itself is Martha Graham's choreography, most dancers who left Graham to create their own work had to break with her style - as best they could. An exception to the rule is Jean Erdman, whose newly revived Jean Erdman Theater of Dance performed last night at the MTI Tabernacle Theater as part of Festival Mythos.

Erdman was a solo dancer with the Graham group from 1938 to 1943 and then

went on to do her own choreography. In recent years, she has been involved with elaborate dance-theater works, while her earlier dances were put in the memory bank. Last night's concert, which repeats today at 8 p.m., was unusual

because it brought back the early stuff, including the first solo Erdman made, The Transformations of Medusa (1942).

The concert was also unusual for its overt and pervasive references to Graham. One could see the Grahamisms everywhere - in the costumes, the choice of music, the actual steps, and in the focus on the pelvis. It's easy to say that Erdman is derivative, but the latter resemblance made the concert a downright tonic. Nowadays, one mostly sees dancers' legs flying all over the place. It was good to return to the trunk of the body again - to the subtle articulations of the hips.

Graham also cast her light on the content of Erdman's dances. Two of the four works on the program deal explicitly with myth. As the wife of the late Joseph Campbell, to whom Festival Mythos is dedicated, Erdman was no doubt drawn into the charmed circle of mythologists by her husband. But it should also be remembered that Graham drew much of her inspiration from myth.

It so happens that the most myth-inspired dance on the bill was also the strongest, but not because of its content. The Transformations of Medusa is actually a beautifully wrought essay in shifts of weight and the many emotions it can convey. (Its persistent use of archaic Greek silhouettes is vivid but not important to the main concern of the dance.)

Divided into three sections, the first part shows us a young Medusa whose shifts of weight - a rocking back and forth motion - are thoughtful, tentative. As "The Lady of the Wild Things," Medusa is joyful as she accomplishes those weight shifts with brisk jumps. Finally comes the Medusa we all know - "Queen of Gorgons" is what Erdman calls her. With hair wildly flowing, the mature Medusa rocks back and forth with a vengeful, almost manic quality.

Nancy Allison performed this solo well, and was also amusing in a brief, whimsical solo called Creature on a Journey, about a woman who can't quite decide where she should journey to.

In Changingwoman the womanly Leslie Dillingham evoked aspects of nature with her own voice as well as body. This is one of those impressionistic pieces that fails to conjure. The program closed with a group work, Solstice, cast for a Bride, the Sun Lion, Moon Bull and Animal Nymphs. This somewhat bland piece about seasonal change was not helped by indifferent dancing by some of the cast, but Clarence Brooks as the Sun Lion was both frisky and noble.

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