Martha Review - The House of Pelvic Truth

A major influence in the evolution of dance and a pioneer for women’s rights, Martha Graham has become an icon celebrated for her refreshing transformation of an ancient art form into modern dance. Graham was the first dancer invited to perform at the White House and the first choreographer to regularly employ a multiracial ensemble – quite a feat for a woman in the early twentieth century. She revolutionized set design and remained a champion for women’s rights throughout her career.In her 90's, she received the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor awarded in the U.S.

Christina Carlisi as Martha Graham - Photo by Charles Dougherty

Playwright Ellen Melaver has taken the challenges which Graham faced in her life and transformed them into MARTHA, the tale of Graham’s struggles and achievements. But this isn’t just a biography about an innovative, tireless, and sometimes shocking performer. MARTHA attempts to slip under the façade and give the audience a glimpse of Graham’s inner life and the personality that rests within the cocoon of her body. Graham lived by her own rules: "Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion."

Christina Carlisi - Photo by Charles Dougherty

The focus of MARTHA is a woman who has already achieved recognition and has transformed from a quirky dancer with crazy moves into a dance icon in her 70’s. While everyone around Graham wants her to rest on her laurels, with perhaps an occasional foray into training other dancers and choreographing moves, she is having none of that. When her late-life marriage fails, she is even more driven to dance. Although a senior, she believes that she cannot exist without dancing – and so she continues to perform despite the increasing difficulties caused by age. This feisty woman has lied about her age for years, and nothing can hold her down. Her last performance was when she was 75 years old.

Christina Carlisi - Photo by Charles Dougherty

The star of the solo show about this indomitable force of nature who literally dances to her own drummer, supple and talented Christina Carlisi does a brilliant job of bringing MARTHA to life. A professional dancer from the age of 19, Carlisi has worked in theater, film, television, and stage with many of the best-known dancers of the twentieth century. Her acting career resulted in prestigious awards and roles in many television favorites. Her performance in MARTHA is clearly the culmination of her years of experience combined with talent in both acting and dancing.

Christina Carlisi after the show - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

Skilled director Stewart J. Zully has helmed a production which strikes just the right note between biography and real-life person. Camille Loftin’s choreography is dramatic and apropos, while Derrick’s McDaniel’s lighting highlights Martha’s moment-to-moment journey.  MARTHA is a fascinating study about a woman with the persistence and talent to defy any odds. Her sense of humor and ability to laugh at herself is a strength which shines throughout the show. This is a must-see for anyone interested in dance, the history of dance, and modern dance. But it is also a wonderful opportunity to explore the inner workings of a clever, very funny, interesting woman who just happens to be a dancer.

 

Christina Carlisi after the show - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

MARTHA runs through April 16, 2017, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423. Tickets are $25. For information and reservations, call 818-687-8559 or go online. 

 

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