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Martha Graham Dance Company Opens, with Guest Stars

October 5, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Mikhail Baryshnikov, Maya Plisetskaya and actress Kathleen Turner danced as guest stars Tuesday as the Martha Graham Dance Company opened for three weeks at the City Center.

The surprise of the evening was how much and how well Miss Turner danced, in ″Letter to the World,″ one of Miss Graham’s masterpieces. In the role of ″One Who Speaks,″ Miss Turner spoke lines from Emily Dickinson’s poetry, in a delivery much like Colleen Dewhurst’s - exactly theatrical enough. And she danced a good deal. She always looked right in the style, confident and at ease, even when stepping into the center of a funeral procession.

Terese Capucilli, as ″One Who Dances,″ danced a duet with Miss Turner. Donlin Foreman was intense and sophisticated as the Lover and Peggy Lyman was not to be denied as the Ancestress whose presence meant death.

Miss Plisetskaya, who joined the Bolshoi Ballet at 17 and recently toured in this country with Bolshoi Ballet Stars, first danced ″The Dying Swan″ publicly in 1942. Her performance on Tuesday, 46 years later and 18 years after she last danced it in New York, was so achingly beautiful that a viewer could forget to breathe.

She came on stage on pointe, back to the audience, in dim light, moving her arms. When she rippled her arms, as though they contained no bones, murmurs swept across the audience.

Before she went down on her knees, with death near, her arms beat faster but not too frantically to be beautiful. After one last high, poignant reach toward life, her head and arms folded forward. The audience was left near weeping.

There was so much applause that she performed ″The Dying Swan″ again.

Baryshnikov danced the Christ figure in Miss Graham’s three-person ″El Penitente,″ which she created in 1940 after learning about a sect which inflicts penance to purify itself from sin. Baryshnikov grimaced with intensity when he hit his own back with a rope. He radiated innocence and wonder when Joyce Herring as Mary Magdalen tried to seduce him and he jumped around like a child, grabbing toward an apple she carried in the next scene.

Baryshnikov was wonderful in various moods but the part doesn’t call for much spectacular dancing. Pascal Rioult danced the third part.

The evening began with ″Diversion of Angels″ in which Maxine Sherman was pure, Takako Asakawa was flirtatious and Debra Kantor was adolescence personified. Their partners were Steve Rooks, Julian Littleford and Christopher Dolder.

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