Arts: A hard act to follow

Dance: MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE COMPANY, BARBICAN LONDON
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The Independent Culture
PUTTING THEIR most famous work, Appalachian Spring, first on the programme, seemed an odd choice by the Martha Graham Dance Company, but it proved all too wise. For one thing, the poor reproduction of Aaron Copland's music on tape does it no service at all. And then the present dancers (especially the two men) cannot manage more than a sketch of what it should convey about life among the American settlers. Miki Orihara's Bride comes closest. Sensible, then, to get it over quickly, but give newcomers an idea of how it once looked.

On, then, to better things. Well, I am not sure that the solo Deep Song added much to the evening. When Graham herself danced it in 1937, it no doubt looked more intense and unusual, but surely even then this agonising on, under and around a low white bench can hardly have conveyed the protest she intended against the Spanish Civil War.

The duet Errand into the maze opened Graham's first London season 45 years ago this month, and had audiences puzzled because it was so different from anything seen here before. Nowadays, we can take this abstract treatment of Ariadne and the Minotaur in our stride as an allegory of fear, particularly sexual. Its details, the woman's obsessive tiny steps along a twisting rope, the way she uses that rope to fence herself off, her confrontation of the horned male figure, are as telling as ever, and reinforced by Isamu Noguchi's sculptural setting.

Christine Dakin's performance in Errand is strong, clear and vivid; this kind of expressiveness is what we once used to see from all Graham's dancers. Together with Terese Capucili, she led the cast of the final item, Sketches from Chronicle, and they must be almost the last company members who can remember Graham. That, together with their own intelligence and artistry, gives them a big advantage in bringing these works to life. Can they, both now associate artistic directors, manage to pass on the secret to a new generation?

The most hopeful sign comes in Chronicle. Capucili stirs up powerful emotion, swirling and twisting her red skirt like a flame. But then an ensemble of a dozen black-clad women join in, pacing the stage like those condemned to suffer, or later fiercely to oppose their doom. This brings the show to a thrilling end.

John Percival

Till 29 May, 0171-638 8891

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