We dancers at the University of Minnesota came back from our spring break with a heightened anticipation for what the Martha Graham Dance Company student residency would entail. Should we expect a scary technique class from former Graham dancer and master teacher Susan Kikuchi? As it turned out, no. We were honorary ‘Graham Crackers’ by the end of Day One. Although, there was constant pressure to prove our dependability and ability to take corrections well the whole first week.
We weren’t totally lost the first day of Graham technique class thanks in part to some preparation from Scott Rink, assistant professor in the U’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance. More than one knowing smile was shared when we were first asked to plead (think of this move as a slow-motion sit-up). However, nothing could truly prepare us for the calf-burning steps throughout the piece Panorama. We were warned of the impending discomfort by Susan and the importance of keeping our bodies well. My roommate and I winced as we stuck our feet in a little makeshift tub of ice water after the first night of the residency.
An infamous pattern to those who know Graham choreography, the arrangement of switching lunges was tackled during the audition and the first day of residency. This includes a repetitive sequence in which staying on-count is vital.
At the beginning of Panorama, we weave around each other and wind up in place, upright and ready to start these intense switches. It’s easy to understand the hard work our legs went through to rehearse these laborious moves when seeing our skirts bouncing and creating their own pictures beneath our erect and confident torsos.
Soreness didn’t take its true form, however, until after a day of prancing and jumping. Day Four especially smelled of Tiger Balm (similar to Icy Hot) and it wasn’t uncommon to see more than a couple dancers “rolling out” their leg muscles.
It was fascinating to watch Susan and her assistant (and daughter!) restage this complex work. I stole peeks of their extensive notes filled with charts and diagrams and letters assigned to each dancer and everything notated down to what foot steps should land where on what beat of what count.
The first week was very much just learning the steps. Susan says we are now just the turkey and we have yet to add the stuffing. I’ll be interested to see how we take Panorama to the next level in the coming two weeks!
Abby Johnson is sophomore majoring in dance at the U of M.