Stories from Quarantine: Martha Graham

10 Dec

Guest Blog by LaRue Allen, Executive Director 

With much fanfare, the Martha Graham Dance Company closed its sold-out Kennedy Center run on March 7, 2020 and left Washington D.C., looking forward to our New York City Center season, scheduled for the following month. By March 13 our studios were shuttered and dancers locked down at home. One by one performances on tour in the U.S., Asia, and finally Europe were postponed and ultimately canceled.The Board directive was simple – “Go digital,” and the Company shifted gears to create online programming and find ways to monetize it in the new virtual universe. The spring and summer saw a rapid pivot to free digital offerings with the launch of Martha Matinees, featuring classic Graham ballets on film accompanied by a live chat with Artistic Director Janet Eilber. Picked up by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and Smithsonian Magazine, Martha Matinees was named a top-5 Pick by NYC-Arts.

From my Executive Director’s perspective, the Graham season and the Covid crisis seemed to roll out in tandem. It became pretty clear that a return to the theater would elude us for most of 2020-2021, so it was time to conceive of an entire season that was fully virtual. We leaned into our experience using technology to reach audiences and planned an array of events, from opera house performances to the intimate Studio series, to video snippets that keep our friends connect to our dancers. “Experimentation with technology has always been a significant part of how we make our work accessible to all audiences” said Artistic Director Janet Eilber. “Our 95th season will be a new virtual journey coordinating our many online events, offering context to the depth and breadth of the Graham legacy and all we do to move into the future.”

To crack the monetization code, we turned to Patreon, the platform that now hosts all of our digital offerings. For as little at $3 a month audience members have access to an array of events, some predictable, some decided not – think a glorious performance of Night Journey one day and Xie Ying’s demonstration of her favorite Guacamole recipe on another.
We’re looking forward to our newly conceived spring season that will include a world premiere by Andrea Miller, Janet Eilber’s new production of Graham’s Immediate Tragedy, a suite of Graham duets including Moon and Errand into the Maze, and duets by Troy Schumacher from The Auditions and Andonis Foniadakis from Echo. We’ll also feature some complete Graham masterworks including Night Journey and Every Soul is a Circus.
We’d love to be in person, in front of our audience, but until that’s possible, we revel in all that we can bring to our virtual stage. We are deeply thankful that we are all healthy and able to continue connecting with our audience. The lock-down definitely has some sour notes, but the Graham lemonade is pretty tasty.

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