note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi
with Richard Move as “Martha” and Katherine Crockett as her “Company”
The much-ballyhooed MARTHA@SANDERS --- Richard Move’s homage to Martha Graham, the Grand Dame of Modern Dance --- proved to be sixty minutes of safe, gentle monologues (both live and on-screen) along with demonstrations of Graham’s ballets, flanked by numerous clips from old movie musicals at the beginning and Abba’s “Dancing Queen” being played at the end. I once saw the Trockaderos perform a loving but hilarious Graham spoof which, as I remember, consisted of their rolling about the stage in abstract convulsions and striking their foreheads with stone tablets --- they took Graham apart, showed us all the pieces and put her back together again. Those who expected a similar evening from MARTHA@SANDERS found little more than Graham being portrayed and danced by a man --- and Mr. Move’s tone was uncertain: parody through dead seriousness, or vice-versa (are the executors of Graham’s estate watching Mr. Move like a hawk?)? Even if Graham had been played by a woman, I still would have come away from MARTHA@SANDERS knowing no more about her than when I went in, and thus the icons remains intact: Graham, the skeletal Priestess; Graham, the humorless Goddess; Graham, the still but overwhelming Ego; Graham, the Living Fossil. Graham --- a woman turned into Art.
Even so, MARTHA@SANDERS did have its fascinations. First, the made-up Mr. Move does not resemble Graham but, rather, the late Charles Ludlum as Maria Callas; nor does he sound like Graham but, rather, a soft-spoken Tallulah Bankhead (children, ask your parents). Mr. Move did come alive with his demonstrations of “Appalachian Spring/Frontier” (which began with the lovely image of his Bride gazing out over the fence), the suicidal Jocasta, the murderous Clytemnestra --- the latter, a powerful study of the avenging female --- and, especially, the haunting “Lamentation” performed in that legendary second skin. But his being assisted by the stunning Katherine Crockett --- well-trained in the Graham technique --- pointed up Mr. Move’s limitations: he stresses the lyrical Graham, keeping the primal well in check --- no doubt, to save his breath for the monologues --- and the power of his body lies in his upper torso, making him top-heavy in his movements, whereas Ms. Crockett’s power comes distinctly from her pelvis (why couldn’t Mr. Move slip off-stage during an on-screen monologue, change to male garb and return to dance a Graham piece choreographed for men?). Finally, whereas Ms. Crockett is a fierce, tigerish dancer in her own right, Mr. Move seems content with his impersonation --- i.e., his adulation of Graham has neutralized him. (Ironically, Graham was, and still is, such a blazing influence that her original pieces may strike today’s viewers as a bit of ho-hum --- and, sadly, according to the Boston Globe, much of her choreography is now either lost or irreparable.)
But there is one thing Mr. Move does have and is also in danger of being lost --- a Presence that harkens back to divas of yesteryear, which boils down to a combination of charm and knowing how to hold an audience in a firm but ladylike grip (not a Super-Woman but, rather, a Super-Female); nowhere is this more evident than in Mr. Move’s curtain call: he suddenly stiffens as if stabbed in the back, closes his eyes in solemn death and slowly bends forward to graciously acknowledge the applause heaped upon him --- and then repeats it, twice (standing next to this Presence, Ms. Crockett is a panting athlete.) Call me old-fashioned or chauvinistic, but the Lady, the Grand Dame, the Flower of Womanhood, has vanished from today’s theatre, replaced with blunt, “new” actresses, even in period pieces, which only lends credence to that line from M. BUTTERFLY: “Only a man knows what another man really wants in a woman.” To which I would add, “He wants Magic.”