Louis Armstrong

ArtsWatch Weekly: Great Graham

Revisiting Martha Graham's potent power of the past; a Wanderlust Mother's Day; Michael Curry's "Perséphone" with the Symphony; Brett Campbell's music picks

Martha Graham created her legendary American modern dance company in 1926, and it’s difficult to imagine, more than 90 years later, just how earth-shattering her early works must have seemed. Graham carved legends out of time and space: intense, pristine, pared to the bone. She created a hyper-expressionist, essentially American style of dance, built on the works of Denishawn and other pioneers but reimagined in the movement possibilities and theatrical impulses of her own body.

She collaborated with many of the great composers and visual artists of her time, which was long and artistically fertile: born in 1894, she created her final dance in 1990, the year before she died at age 96. Her bold, emphatic approach to dance can seem overstated to contemporary audiences. Yet it carries the intensity and hyper-expressionism of the great silent movies, and if you just give it a chance, something of the pure rawness of her glory years comes through, as if it were new all over again.

Martha Graham in “Dark Meadow,” 1946. Reproduced with permission of Martha Graham Resources, a division of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, www.marthagraham.org. Library of Congress.

No company built by a daringly original dancemaker – not Graham’s, or Balanchine’s, or Alvin Ailey’s, or José Limón’s – can survive on memories of its founder alone, and it can be a tricky business to balance the tradition of what was once radical with the need to remain in the contemporary swim of things. The Graham company, under current artistic director Janet Eilber, mixes things up boldly. When the company performs Wednesday evening in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the White Bird dance season the program will include works by a couple of high-profile contemporary dancemakers: the Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, who now runs the Berlin State Ballet, and the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. But the core of the program will be two of Graham’s own works, 1948’s Diversion of Angels and Dark Meadow Suite, a distillation of an ambitious 1946 work that ran 50 minutes in its original form (the suite is much shorter).

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15 Surprising Satchmoments

If you've studied Louis Armstrong's biography, you'll enjoy seeing it brought to life. If you haven't, this show will be full of surprises.

Sure, you could watch a documentary. Read a biography. Listen to a record or two or ten. If you want to simply learn about the life of jazz legend Louis Armstrong, there’s no shortage of material.

But there’s something special about a one-person bio-play—something less eerie than using a medium to conjure a spirit, but more present and more humanizing than most other media. When an actor breathes life into a figure who once lived, and we listen to their words with fresh ears, it’s a new level of “paying respects.”

Salim Sanchez as Louis Armstrong. Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics

Respect was something jazz trumpeter and singer Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong struggled to obtain, probably more than anyone in his position before or since. And in Triangle Productions’ Satchmo at the Waldorf, actor Salim Sanchez credibly and thoughtfully embodies that struggle. Performing a script by Wall Street Journal drama critic and Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout, Sanchez portrays three characters: Armstrong, his manager Joe Glaser, and musician Miles Davis.

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