Dance Review: Being Martha Graham

The late modern dance pioneer, Martha Graham, can be described as a pocket rocket. Her diminutive frame housed a superlative personality, one that toed the fine line between genius and decadence, supremity and self-parody. American performing artist Richard Move, in his loving impersonation of Graham, treads this same line with respectful glee, in Friday's performance at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The dramatic makeup, mountainous bun, long robes and overstated theatricality that are Graham’s signature make for ideal drag material, especially when inhabited by a tall man such as Move. Yet, the conviction with which he plays the legendary figure draws a captivated silence.

With large eyes and dark hair, Graham was known to look Asian and she held a fascination for Asia and its culture. Thus for Move to be cavorting amidst relics and statues from the region in the Museum as though Graham would have hoped to, is deeply poignant. Contracting his spine in reverence to statues of Buddha, Move lends three iconic solos from Graham’s famed Greek period an attitude of pious devotion.

Shifting between two sections of a gallery, Move repeatedly stabs the ground as Clytemnestra killing her husband and strangles himself with a golden noose in a deep backbend as Jocasta in Graham’s Oedipus essay. The audience is curiously pressed up against the glass in a corridor, watching as he flits past. The elusive nature of the performance cleverly mirrors the mystery of the Greek goddesses it depicts, while serving as a reminder of the egomaniacal diva, Graham herself.

While his presence is riveting, some of his gestures look studied and do not seem to burst forth from within. Unexpectedly light on his feet, his dancing barely conveys the ferocity and anguish of these goddesses. He chooses instead to exaggerate his facial expressions, inching the act towards camp territory.

In the final section, he re-enacts Graham’s 1930 solo, Lamentation. Framed by the sandstone gateway of an Indian building, he sits on a piano bench, wearing an elastic purple dress with only his face, hands and bare feet showing. He plunges his tightly clasped hands into the fabric, simultaneously wrestling and enveloping himself in the restrictions of his own skin.

The towering Move playing the pint-sized Graham might sound like a tall tale. But when he turns his covered head away from the audience in the performance’s closing moments, there is an inevitable finality that is very special and wholly believable. As Graham once said, movement never lies.