Army of women

By By Cressa Perloff

By Cressa Perloff

When Susan Kikuchi got a phone call last year from U modern dance faculty member Kaye Richards saying that the department was applying for a grant, she knew the chances were slim. The U had invited Kikuchi to help reconstruct a historical modern dance piece-provided the department got the grant. Kikuchi left the invitation on the backburner.

But Richards had confidence, and the U modern dance department ultimately did get the grant. As a result, last week, Kikuchi-artistic program manager for the Martha Graham Company and teacher for the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey schools in New York-became the U modern dance department’s first guest artist. She taught a select group of dancers for Martha Graham’s historical “Panorama” piece, which will be featured in this fall’s Performing Dance Company’s production for the U’s modern dance department.

Martha Graham, an American pioneer of modern dance whose first performance was in 1926, created works out of “a need to express why dance was a legitimate form of art,” Kikuchi said.

She said Graham choreographed “Panorama” as a “social commentary” in 1935 when Graham was just beginning to invent her signature, formalized technique. Kaye Richards herself had been a member of the second Graham ensemble when “Panorama” was reconstructed under the direction of Kikuchi’s mother in the early ’90s. Due to her mother’s connection to the Martha Graham Company, Kikuchi grew up on dance, eventually developing a career on Broadway in addition to her Graham pursuits.

Kikuchi said her experiences with the modern dance department, so far, have been “remarkable.” She noted that the dancers here “are very committed to their work” and that “each time they do the movement, they improve their art.”

She credits the dancers’ abilities to the modern dance faculty, remarking that the dancers’ “commitment and discipline has been imposed by various teachers in the department.”

Kikuchi said that “Panorama” is wonderful for students to learn because of its “feeling of group sensibility,” and that their professional qualities are especially helpful for learning it. The choreography “forces a commitment to look inside and project,” she said.

While dancing uniform, abstract movements in rigid geometric shapes and pathways and feeling energetically connected to the group is good, Kikuchi said, “what really reaches us onstage is (each dancer’s) own humanity.”

Kikuchi worked with the modern dance department until the end of last week. Kaye Richards will continue to teach the piece. “Panorama” will be featured in the Performing Dance Company concert in late October and early November.