As part of its current season, Tulsa Modern Movement (of which I am a member) has incorporated a formal company class into its schedule. For the last few weeks, TuMM co-artistic director Arien Christopher has been teaching Martha Graham technique, which is new to almost all of us. Ari has studied Graham extensively, most recently this past summer at a three-week intensive in New York City.
She has taken us through the very basic elements of the technique — contractions, hip initiations, spirals, releases, bounces, breathings — and is now leading us into more and more combinations of those elements. Several dancers in the company who are learning these things for the first time have described the experience as similar to learning a new language — a really really foreign one, with non-Latinate roots so you really have no familiar points of reference. In this class we are reaching back to the very roots of modern dance in the early 20th century, to the language from which all subsequent modern dance languages emerged.
I feel like I want to use the word “marbled” to describe Graham’s technique. It’s a weird word, I realize. It’s an astonishingly weird and complex way of moving. There are curves upon curves, curves within curves, twisting and flexing around a cool solid center. There can be a deep contraction in the low back to which is added a release in the upper back, so the spine makes a pronounced S-shape when seen from the side. There are contractions combined with spirals, so you’re carving your body inward and twisting it around at the same time. Ari jokes that these movements are “anatomically impossible,” yet doing the impossible is doing it right. The essence of the technique seems to me to be the deep reality of opposing forces in the body and in the world.
Imagine our delight when Josh Massad — drummer, educator, life-lover — agreed to bring his panoply of instruments to play alongside our instruments, our bodies. He will be joining us for class at 6:30 on Wednesday evenings throughout September. The class is open to anyone who loves to move; the fee is $16. The experience of practicing this legendary technique with Josh’s joyful music is thrilling. It is more than “accompaniment.” It reaches the core of what Graham thought dance was all about: “the hidden language of the soul.”