The New York-based performer/choreographer Richard Move as Martha Graham
There is a tendency—in arts criticism and in the world at large—toward taxonomy. We simply can’t resist classifying damn near everything we see down to its genus and species. Of all the arts, dance, I think, struggles the most stiffly under labels, and quite frankly, it’s a huge turnoff when movement is described as modern, postmodern, contemporary, or whatever blah-de-blah is the term of the day.
I’ve had a bone to pick over this subject for a while, but I feel particularly vocal about it lately after seeing the performance artist Richard Move impersonate the seminal choreographer Martha Graham as part of the Chicago Dancing Festival, which has been happening here all week. “The world I’m interested in is the one where things are not named,” Graham famously said. Clad in a silver striated gown, with his lips painted blood red and eyeliner drawn to its full cat-eye extent, Move (as Graham) delivered the sentiment on Tuesday night at the MCA in a slightly more humorous way: “There are only two kinds of dance: good and bad.” It was a meta- kind of moment, not just because of the quote, but because Move was so spot-on as Graham that it was hard to believe the he/she standing before me wasn’t the “mother of modern dance” delivering the line (and demonstrating her supine movements) herself.
So, in Graham’s words, I’ll say that not just the good but the really, really good kind of dance will still be on display here on Saturday, and it’s probably a Chicagoan’s singular best opportunity this year to see rock-star performances. The grand finale—which starts at 7:30 in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion and is free, no less—features acts that rarely sashay through the Midwest, chiefly the New York City Ballet, Ballet West, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and the Martha Graham Dance Company, which is presenting Diversion of Angels. (If you’re not a dance fan, consider reframing your perspective: Diversion is as much a piece of moving architecture as it is a performance piece.) If you’re going to go and sit in the seats in the pavilion, you have to get there early. Like an hour or more. People start lining up about noon. Which would delight, if she was still living, dear Martha Graham—a woman who believed the only necessary ingredient to a good performance was an audience.
Photograph: Josef Astor