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BalletNova Conservatory Students to learn Martha Graham's "Steps in the Street"
Former Graham Company Principal Dancer will restage work during two-week residency
The residency has been over a year in the making. BalletNova's Constance Walsh, Principal of the Pre-Professional Division and Director of Adult and Enrichment Programs, studied with Graham and has always wanted to bring a Graham work to BalletNova.
"[Martha] Graham was life changing for me," Walsh said. "Once learning the concepts of the Graham technique, it helped my ballet technique. It's all the same in a way. Getting off the floor, what muscles you're using and working inside out. I'm really interested in education, dance history and the foundation of dance, whether it's ballet or modern. I think we're getting further away from [dance history], but this is important."
Martha Graham created 181 works over a career that spanned seven decades. She changed the landscape of dance in America and across the globe with her groundbreaking choreographic style and dance pieces whose social, political, sexual and psychological themes resonate today. Her legacy continues to make an impact and she is regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
Walsh worked directly with Oliver Tobin, Director of Martha Graham Resources for the Martha Graham Dance Company, to secure the license to perform this iconic ballet. Mr. Tobin originally proposed four ballets for Walsh to choose from and they ultimately decided "Steps in the Street" would be the best fit for the BalletNova dancers.
"I chose "Steps" because I felt it was very relevant to today," Walsh said. "I find these high school girls tackling the Graham work in our current culture of dance is such an interesting idea."
"Steps in the Street" premiered in 1936 at the Guild Theater in New York City, as a section of a larger work, Chronicle. Created in response to rising fascism in Europe, Graham's choreography in "Steps in the Street", "depicts the isolation and devastation that war leaves in its wake." The piece features 12 dancers, all women.
"It is a female driven voice from its choreography through to its dancing," Mr. Tobin said. "There's a really great statement Graham made in the press, declining Hitler's invitation to perform at the Berlin Olympic festival around this time… there's a very clear message as to what she was saying in her choreography during this period."
AuClair performed many of Graham's signature roles during her time with the Graham Company from 1993 to 2009. Additionally, she served as the Associate Director for Graham II and Rehearsal Director for the Martha Graham Dance Company. AuClair has also served as the Regisseur for "Steps in the Street" for Hofstra University and University of North Carolina – Greensboro.
"One of the great privileges of teaching the Graham technique and repertory to dancers is the opportunity to observe, and hopefully facilitate, a rather phenomenal process," AuClair said, via The School of Toronto Dance Theatre website, where she has taught previously. "The work asks that the dancer strip away all that is false, artificial, and decorative, to work with the raw material of the self from a place of ever greater authenticity and simplicity."
The residency will not be an easy one for BalletNova students, who train primarily in ballet.
"The style of movement makes you dig deep and I don't think [our students] get enough of that," Walsh said. "It will change their ballet training, experiencing a powerful work like this."
Tobin has seen many students experience a "lightbulb moment."
"[The Graham technique] resonates with some immediately but it might take others some time," Tobin said. "Whether they love it or not – that's not necessarily the mission. They'll go through a transformation tunnel with this work and come out the other side a different, and hopefully, deeper artist."
"Steps in the Street" will be performed May 3 – 5, 2019, during BalletNova's Spring Show, La Fille Mal Gardée & Other Works at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington. Guest choreographer Matthew Powell will create the new production of La Fille Mal Gardée.
BalletNova Center for Dance, founded in 1981, is dedicated to educating and mentoring dancers in a positive, nurturing environment and preserving the traditions of classical ballet through quality dance productions and education. Formerly Arlington Center for Dance/The Center Dance Company, the organization moved to a beautiful six-studio 20,800 square foot state-of-the-
BalletNova is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization supported in part by the ARTSFAIRFAX, the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.