Beverly Hills opened the new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts last month and has now inaugurated the venue, a former historic post office, restored, repurposed, and expanded, in grand style with performances by the Martha Graham Dance Company. It is no exaggeration to state that Martha Graham is and remains an icon of modern dance. And the company she launched in 1926 remains contemporary both because of Graham’s original aesthetic, idiom, and technique and also because it commissions work from today’s leading choreographers. But there’s a special link with Los Angeles, dance, and Graham. It was there in California that Martha Graham—so wholly identified with New York—studied with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, the influential and essential pioneers of modern dance.
“Also, Wallis Annenberg, the philanthropist for whom the performing arts center is named was a friend of Martha Graham,” says Janet Eilber, the artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company. “For the Wallis Center and at their request, we’ve created a celebratory all-Graham program that traces Graham’s beginnings and path-breaking work, Lamentation, Ritual to the Sun as well as The Maple Leaf Rag (above), the very last work she choreographed. The program also includes the masterwork, Chronicle, her response to the rise of Fascism and the Spanish Civil War, a fierce and prescient anti-war statement, Graham created for her troupe—all women at the time—in 1936.” Modern dance companies tour widely, no less the MGDC, and after Beverly Hills, the troupe performs in West Palm Beach, Omaha, Nebraska, Berkeley, California, and New York City, with future dates in Europe and Asia.
Mario R. Mercado is arts editor at Travel + Leisure.