Martha Graham Dance Company Celebrates 100th Anniversary with Expansive Program

Martha Graham Dance Company performs at the Center on April 13.
Martha Graham Dance Company performs at the Center on April 13.

On April 13, the oldest modern dance ensemble in the country, Martha Graham Dance Company, returns to the Center with a program that celebrates the company’s 100th anniversary through iconic classics and new work. The spectacular program features pieces by choreographers Agnes de Mille, Jamar Roberts, and of course, Martha Graham, including a special performance by Mason School of Dance students.  

Opening the April performance is Graham’s Steps in the Street, a piece that originated as part of a larger project entitled Chronicle. The piece was created in response to the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s and features sharp, uncomfortable movements meant to entice its audience into questioning the violent nature of war. Steps in the Street notes a subtitle of “Devastation – Homelessness – Exile” which depicts the tragedy that war leaves in its wake. In a special collaboration with Martha Graham Dance Company, Mason School of Dance students will perform the piece in its entirety, which was also featured on the program at the annual Mason School of Dance Gala Concert on March 22 and 23.

"It would be easy to forget that the performers in Saturday night’s performance by the students of the George Mason University Dance Company are just that—students," emphasizes a recent review by Maryland Theatre Guide

Watch a preview below that features collaboration between Elizabeth Auclair, former company member with the Martha Graham Dance Company, and Mason dance students. 

Agnes de Mille in Rodeo. Photo Credit: Maurice Seymour.
Agnes de Mille in Rodeo (1942). (Photo Credit: Maurice Seymour)

Next, Martha Graham Dance Company dancers perform the iconic Rodeo (pronounced Roh-day-oh), a piece created by choreographer Agnes de Mille set to music by famed composer Aaron Copland. In its 1942 debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, it’s claimed that curtain call lasted 17 to 23 minutes from an uproarious standing ovation. Telling a classic American story of cowboys and true love, de Mille’s Rodeo impressed two audience members in particular, composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, who invited de Mille to collaborate during the creation of their latest musical, Oklahoma! Thus, de Mille also then created “Laurey Makes Up Her Mind,” Oklahoma!’s 18-minute dream ballet sequence that classic musical lovers have come to know and enjoy.  

Interested in learning more about the revolutionary Rodeo? Visit the National Endowment for the Humanities’ 2021 piece and discover the rich history of Rodeo
Jamar Roberts' We the People will be performed by Martha Graham Dance Company on April 13. (Photo Credit: Andrew Eccles)
Jamar Roberts' We the People will be performed by Martha Graham Dance Company on April 13. (Photo Credit: Andrew Eccles)

We the People, a new commission by acclaimed choreographer Jamar Roberts that features music by multi-instrument virtuoso and two-time GRAMMY winner Rhiannon Giddens, Artistic Director of Mason Artist-in-Residence Silkroad Ensemble, follows on the program. Roberts acted as the resident choreographer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 2019 to 2022, creating five pieces that have been met with critical acclaim. This new work is a preview that will be performed one week before the piece’s official world premiere at New York City Center. In a recent review by The Dance Enthusiast, author Toussaint Jeanlouis notes, “The dancers uphold the quintessential fierceness of Martha Graham... [and] Giddens’ track complements the movement while exposing a deeper relationship to the landscape.” He adds, “A successful partnership to say the least, this collaboration is a brilliant nod to American folk music.”

Concluding the evening’s program is Graham’s joyful Maple Leaf Rag, her 180th (and last) choreographic work, created at the age of 96 in 1990. Demonstrating the comedic, light-hearted side of her work, Maple Leaf Rag features a contemporary choreographer and gently mocks the artist, demonstrating the goofiness of those in the clutches of creation. According to the Seattle Times, “Graham created a dance that spoofs some of her well-known choreographic trademarks while, at the same time, using many of her movements in fresh and energetic ways.” The work is set to the beloved ragtime piece by Scott Joplin with costumes designed by the acclaimed fashion designer Calvin Klein.

Watch a preview of Maple Leaf Rag below. 

Buy tickets and witness what the Washington Post calls “one of the seven wonders of the artistic universe,” Martha Graham Dance Company on April 13. 

This program is sponsored by Woodleigh Chase.