Martha Graham’s highly dramatic and theatrical modern dance tradition is being carried on by Jacqulyn Buglisi, former Martha Graham Dance Company principal and co-founder of Buglisi Dance Theatre. Buglisi’s company will celebrate its 15th anniversary at the Joyce Theater February 3–8 with two programs, two premieres, and three other repertory works.
In 1994, Buglisi, Donlin Foreman, Terese Capucilli, and Christine Dakin (all four were principal artists with Martha Graham for two decades) founded BDT with a mission to carry on the tradition of American Contemporary Dance. They stay true to this mission by taking cues from their master mentor. They now have more than sixty works in their repertory, and have performed widely in the United States and internationally.
Buglisi’s choreography culls from Graham’s notion of creating works that tell a story about the arts and artists. And, similar to Graham’s artistic vision, Buglisi, too, muses on and is inspired by strong women of historical significance. In Against All Odds, which the company performed in 2007 at the Joyce, we witnessed leading lady Sarah Bernhardt’s self-destructive diva-like attitude. Her highly exaggerated, at times comical outbursts were performed by Capucilli, a master of the dramatic dance. To see Capucilli onstage is to witness a genius of the craft of traditional modern dance. Jennifer Dunning wrote of her performance in the New York Times: “But who needs Bernhardt when Ms. Capucilli is around to chew up scenery in grand diva style, in over-the-top performing that is filled with minute dynamic and emotional shifts and nuances?” This season, we’ll see Buglisi’s interpretation of another female artist, the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, in Frida, inspired by the artist’s work, love, and suffering. A romantic Arvo Pärt score and spoken word from Kahlo’s texts will create a cinematic and documentary-like experience for this work.
Graham was also known for collaborating with artist Isamu Noguchi as a set designer for many of her masterpieces, like Appalachian Spring, Cave of the Heart, and Errand into the Maze. His simple, asymmetrical designs added another level of depth to her work. Buglisi pays close attention to creating an atmosphere through her sets as well and in the world premiere of Wild Mannequins and Wing Walkers she has partnered with set designer Jack Mehler in collaboration with Ralph Pucci (known for his innovative and imaginative mannequin designs).
Music plays an important role in Buglisi’s choreographic creations, setting the tone and mood through swelling scores and contemporary takes on classics. Wild Mannequins and Wing Walkers will be accompanied by a live performance of a score by Wynne Bennett and Milica Paranosic. Interplay No. 9 1/2, which will receive its New York premiere this month, is set to music by Bach, Chopin, and Scriabin. Threshold, an erotically-charged duet about life and death, will be performed by company members Virginie Mecene and Kevin Predmore to music by Arvo Pärt. In Suspended Women, the Ravel Concerto with interpolations by Daniel Bernard Roumain will set a dreamlike scene.
The company’s own tradition of welcoming acclaimed guest artists to perform during their seasons will continue this year when they host Martine Van Hamel, former principal of American Ballet Theater; she will perform in Wild Mannequins and Wing Walkers. Past guest artists have included the illustrious Alvin Ailey dancers Carmen de Lavallade, Elizabeth Roxas, and Desmond Richardson.
Emily Macel is an associate editor at Dance Magazine.