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Martha Graham Dance Company '08 Residency

Posted: 06/30/2008

The internationally acclaimed Martha Graham Dance Company conducted a highly ambitious summer dance residency at Skidmore May 26–June 21. For starters, the Graham Company, recognized as the world’s oldest modern-dance troupe, used the residency to reconstruct sections of its founder’s classic 1958 dance work, Clytemnestra, which will debut this October in Greece and at the Kennedy Center in December. Working under the direction of Graham artistic director Janet Eilber and drawing on veteran dancers’ memories and archival performance footage, the company reset the complex, three-act dance work on its current dancers.

Dance students participating in the residency’s three-week intensive workshop had the unusual opportunity of joining the professional dancers in two public performances, starting with an open rehearsal in the college’s airy, bright dance studios. They also performed an early Graham group work, Panorama, in the company’s June 13 dance concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The SPAC performance, a headline event of the second annual SaratogaArtsFest, drew an enthusiastic audience and won whoops and ovations for the dancers.

The 37 student dancers also pioneered a dance-world first—a specially designed dance media workshop, in which student documentary teams captured highlights of the choreographic reconstruction process for use on the dance company’s new Web site, As the students learned Graham technique, composition, and repertory, they also documented their own and the company’s work using video, photography, and blogs, working under the guidance of New York-based new-media consultant Jaki Levy and former Graham principal dancer Peter Sparling, a video and installation artist and maker of award-winning dance videos.

Dashing in their practice sweats from a Graham composition class to the media lab set up in the Dance Theater’s green room, the student dancers learned Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, and other software, shot and edited footage of their own and the company’s work, added sound, and played with special visual effects to create short video clips. By documenting their own work during the residency, Sparling pointed out, they already had a start on their own new-media resumes for a future world of dance

In the residency’s third week, the young dancers practiced for their Thursday and Friday student showings and crammed finishing touches into photographic slide shows and video clips. The final showings demonstrated what the dancers had learned in both studio and media room: onstage, their videos were used as backdrops for their original dance works—one group even presented its filmed and computer-edited performance in lieu of a live performance—and several videos made especially lively use of technology’s potential to create new forms of dance imagery, with dancers flashing into and dissolving out of sight, jump cuts to play with time and space, and other visual special effects. The students also presented Panorama one more time, and even threw in a specially arranged slice of Graham’s delightful Maple Leaf Rag.

Photos were provided by students, Graham Company members, Skidmore’s Special Programs staff members as well as Carly Goldstein ’10 (a Special Programs staff assistant and a dance-workshop participant), and photographer Phil Scalia. Videos, blogs, and more images from the Skidmore residency can be found at Clytemnestra Project web site.