Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Martha Graham Company Celebrates

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Martha Graham Company Celebrates

Article excerpt

Pittsburgh native Martha Graham remained a towering figure in modern dance for 65 years until she died in 1991 at age 96. She changed the landscape of dance, many say, much like artist Pablo Picasso and composer Igor Stravinsky did in their fields.

But when the Martha Graham Dance Company comes to Downtown's Byham Theater this weekend to open the Pittsburgh Dance Council's 2016-17 season, it will be celebrating its own history, marking its 90th anniversary as the oldest modern dance group in America.

"We have Pittsburgh on our minds a lot lately," says artistic director Janet Eilber, a former principal dancer.

The troupe held a marathon reading of its namesake's autobiography, "Blood Memory," in which Ms. Graham wrote about wearing a veil because of heavy pollution from the steel mills.

It's with a sense of "awe and relief" that Ms. Eilber shoulders the responsibility of sustaining and growing the Martha Graham Dance Company. She feels an "incomparable pride and pleasure" in sharing Ms. Graham's legacy of 181 masterpieces with both new and familiar audiences.

It's been no easy feat. When she and executive director LaRue Allen took the reins in 2005, the troupe was $5 million in debt. They immediately got to work "to coordinate artistic goals with financial realities."

They had to create smaller programming for venues with smaller budgets and still give the Graham experience, using narration, media and solos and duets. She said the company stopped being "the mountain with a goddess" and performed at community centers and high schools along with opera houses.

Ms. Eilber established a licensing program for colleges such as Point Park University, so that students could "embody the power of the Graham vocabulary and how it's used to send an emotional message on stage."

They began to develop contextual themes for individual programs and to enhance that great legacy by commissioning premieres by new choreographers (and not necessarily ones that "fit" with the Graham style and aesthetic). …

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