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"Appalachian Spring is essentially a dance of place. You choose a piece of land, part of the house goes up. You dedicate it. The questioning spirit is there and the sense of establishing roots." So wrote Martha Graham in her autobiography, Blood Memory, about a work that, along with its Pulitzer Prize-winning score by Aaron Copland, has become part of the American fabric, a dance classic exclusive to Graham's company for fifty-four years. No other American troupes were permitted to perform it, or indeed any of her works. (There have been two stagings of Graham's work overseas and some unauthorized efforts, however.)

But now Colorado Ballet--appropriately headquartered in Denver, where pioneers set down on the vast windy plain at the foot of the Rockies--has become a pioneer. It is the first American ballet company to perform a Graham work. The dream of Colorado's artistic director, Martin Fredmann, has come true. Appalachian Spring was superbly performed by classically trained dancers who only a few months ago might have had trouble recognizing the difference between a contraction and a release.

Here's how it came about: When Fredmann sought to include this landmark mark piece in a program entitled "Contemporary Legends," he approached Ron Protas, artistic director of the Graham company and director of the newly formed Martha Graham Trust. Licensing details were worked out, and the task of selecting and teaching Appalachian Spring began--six weeks of coaching even Berlitz couldn't match if it taught the language of dance. Building on preliminary study of videotape by the dancers, intensive rehearsals demanded the undivided energies of the eight cast members and a dedicated coaching trio of Graham alumnae Terese Capucilli (who also staged the work), Joyce Hering, and Janet Eilber. Protas himself was present for the last ten days as acting coach, assuring the Graham dramatic presence.

The pain paid off. Still aching from adjusting to unusual demands on their bodies, Colorado's dancers gave Appalachian Spring one of the most rewarding performances imaginable. The Coloradans have established the highest standards for future productions.

As the newlywed Bride creating her simple home in the wilderness, a role first danced by Graham herself, Moscow-born Maria Mosina tempered her Bolshoi training to Graham technique, bringing a depth and radiance to her characterization unmatched, to my eyes, since Christine Dakin danced it. At curtain up, with her slight figure costumed in Graham's peach-colored gown, her red tresses demurely rolled to halo her head, Mosina looked like a Chekhov heroine. But soon it became apparent that Mosina (who at one point in rehearsal was so despondent at fulfilling the requirements of the role that she nearly quit) had mastered an authentically keen edge to the movement, the knee work, the swooning back-bends, and the telling gestures of the Graham style. Her shading of moods from ebullient joy to moments of stillness made this a brilliant interpretation on any terms.

Gregory Gonzales, a riveting Revivalist, was sharply impressive, tempering bursts of hell and brimstone with measuredly grave humanity. I also felt there was an underlying humor there. Meelis Pakri, somewhat hindered by excess weight, was a shiningly sincere Husbandman. Janelle Cooke, while sustaining the mien and posture required for the Pioneering Woman, was a little too placid, substituting complacency for serenity. Right on target, however, were the four Followers--Kathryn Berger, Tiffany Helm, Sandra Kerr, and Leslie Morton--marvelously right with their airs of sprightly fervency without undue frivolity.

The original Isamu Noguchi set and costumes from the Graham company added authenticity to this triumphant production, which received a standing ovation.

The high quality of the evening's performance continued with a brilliant reading of Alvin Ailey's The River to Duke Ellington's bluesily melodic score. Danced here on pointe as originally choreographed (for American Ballet Theatre), it provided an opportunity to enjoy other outstanding talents in the company: Sharon Wehner and Koichi Kubo in the "Giggling Rapids" section, Mosina with Dmitri Kouznetsov in the "Lake" pas de deux, Vyacheslav Mesropov in `Riba,' and Olga Volobueyva and Hesen Weiren in the concluding "Twin Cities." Choo-San Goh's Configurations also offered the audience a chance to appreciate the full measure of this thirty-strong company.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Previous Article:CAROLINA BALLET.

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