On April 22, 2023, UNC Charlotte dance students premiered a reimagined work by the iconic choreographer Martha Graham that had not been seen since 1977. And not only did they bring to life a dance piece that no contemporary audience had ever seen, they performed it on America’s most famous stage for modern dance, the Joyce Theater in New York City.
For the 10 students who performed in the Martha Graham Dance Company University Partners Showcase, it was a dream come true, funded by the Department of Dance and the College of Arts + Architecture. Hosted by the oldest dance company in the United States, the students enjoyed three days of classes, rehearsals, and performance – the culmination of months of preparation under the direction of Associate Professor of Dance Kim Jones.
Here’s a peek at their journey.
Jones, a former dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company who has reconstructed other historical dances, was invited by the company’s artistic director to reimagine “Adorations,” a work that Graham created for a public television broadcast in 1975. “Adorations” was performed live on the stage just once, in 1977. Taking the archival television video as a starting point, Jones developed a new work that both honors the historical choreography and creates a vibrant contemporary work for stage.
After auditions in the fall semester, the selected dance students began to learn the work in January, rehearsing with Jones three times a week. Some of the students had never had a class in the rigorous Graham technique, said Jones, which made learning “Adorations” particularly challenging. “You are vulnerable because it is a difficult technical piece. You have to be able to execute the timing, the phrasing, and understand the embodiment of the movement.”
Among the highlights of their preparation was a visit to UNC Charlotte by current Graham Company principal dancer Lorenzo Pagano, who joined the team in the studio to help them refine their technique.
The original costumes for “Adorations” are lost, but Jones received a Faculty Research Grant to design and make new costumes with the internationally known costume designer Karen Young (far right). Jones was inspired by a painting by Georgia O’Keefe of Sangro de Cristo (image on left, with fabric swatches), an area in New Mexico where Martha Graham’s ashes were scattered.
After more than 12 weeks in the studio, the dancers had a final rehearsal on the Anne R. Belk Theater stage in Robinson Hall. Early the next morning, they boarded a plane to New York City.
Day 1: New York City!
For many of the dancers, it was their first trip to the “Big Apple.” They began their adventure with warm-up, rehearsal, and costume fittings at the Graham Company studios in the West Village, before attending a performance by the Graham Company that night at the Joyce Theater – the same theater they would perform in. Below, Jones joins the ensemble for a fun post (left) and gives some last-minute pointers as the students warm up (right).
Day 2: The Joyce Theater!
The dancers had tech and dress rehearsals all day, where they met students from the other institutions represented in the University Partners Showcase.
Day 3: Performance Day!
The dancers joined other performers on stage at the Joyce Theater for a Graham technique warm-up class. Finally, their moment arrived, and the students performed “Adorations” for a full and enthusiastic house.
“I am so proud of our UNC Charlotte dance majors for engaging in lessons of movement practice, choreography, historical context, and how one is to prepare for the professional stage,” said Jones. “Together we built trust and a supportive community for our creative process and created a lovely dance. Our outstanding students thrived with their peers from other institutions for the performance at the Joyce.”
Among those in the audience were alumni from the Department of Dance, who joined the students for a celebratory gathering after the show.
“To perform ‘Adorations’ in New York City was an honor,” said dance major Aaryanna Henry (left). “To bring history to life and to embody that history and to be able to perform with such talented dancers in New York City was a dream come true. As (Graham Company Artistic Director) Janet Eilber said, Kim made this 1970’s work by Martha Graham ‘alive again.’”