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AVIVA-BERLIN.de im Oktober 2017 - Beitrag vom 22.05.2008

Interview mit Janet Eilber
Britta Leudolph

Vom 04. bis 13. Juli 2008 gastierte die Martha Graham Dance Company in der Staatsoper zu Berlin, zum ersten Mal seit 1987. AVIVA-Berlin sprach mit der künstlerischen Leiterin. Interview in english.



Martha Graham (1893 - 1991) gilt weltweit als Pionierin und Ikone des "Modern Dance", 1998 wurde sie vom renommierten "Time Magazine" zur Tänzerin des Jahrhunderts erkoren.
1926 gründete die Tänzerin in New York ihre Company und Tanzschule, wo diese auch heute noch beheimatet sind. Ihre Technik entwickelte Graham aus ihren akribischen Studien der menschlichen, insbesondere weiblichen Bewegungen. Ihre choreographischen Visionen haben die Tanzwelt nachhaltig revolutioniert und sind bis heute ein inspirativer Quell für die gesamte Bühnenkunst. Sie schuf im Laufe ihres über 70-jährigen Schaffens 181 Choreografien und arbeitete mit vielen bedeutenden KünstlerInnen aus den Bereichen Tanz, Bildhauerei, Komposition, Schauspiel und Modedesign zusammen.

In ihren Werken beschäftigte sich Graham unter anderem auch mit politischen Themen. Ihre Choreographie "Chronical" von 1936 war eine Antwort auf den bedrohlichen Faschismus in Europa. Die Teilnahme an den Olympischen Spielen in Berlin im gleichen Jahr lehnte sie mit der Begründung ab: "Es wäre mir unmöglich, in diesen Zeiten in Deutschland zu tanzen. So vielen Künstlern, die ich kenne und schätze, wurde dort mit lächerlichen und unzureichenden Gründen das Recht auf Arbeit verwehrt, so dass ich mich keinesfalls durch die Annahme der Einladung mit dem Regime identifizieren wollte, das solche Dinge ermöglicht. Zudem wären Mitglieder meiner Truppe in Deutschland nicht willkommen." Letzteres war ein Hinweis auf die vielen Tänzerinnen jüdischen Glaubens.



Janet Eilber kam 1972 als Tänzerin zur Martha Graham Dance Company. In den folgenden Jahren entwickelte sich eine sehr enge Arbeitsbeziehung zu Graham, so dass diese in fast jeder neuen Choreographie eine Rolle für sie schuf und ihr einige der großartigsten Rollen des Graham-Repertoires übertrug. Auch während ihrer Schauspielkarriere in den 80er und 90er Jahren, kehrte sie immer wieder als Gast zur Company zurück und inszenierte selbst erfolgreich Graham-Choreographien. Seit 2004 ist Eilber künstlerische Leiterin der Martha Graham Dance Company.



AVIVA-Berlin: How did you get in contact with the Martha Graham Dance Company?
Janet Eilber: I first met Martha Graham - I was in high school, 17 years old - because a composer who was working with Martha Graham came to visit my high school and saw me dance and said: "I set you up an audition with Martha Graham." I did not know who she was. I came and danced for Martha Graham, I did a solo, and she spoke with me for half an hour and said if I came to New York I could be in her advanced school as a student. But she sent me to see the Juillard School because her best dancers teached there. So I went to see the Juillard School.

AVIVA-Berlin: Why did you choose Modern Dance and not the classical ballet?
Janet Eilber: Modern Dance gave me a more expressive way to dance on stage. I think, it´s just different for different people. I was getting very tall. In classical ballet they measure the tricks on stage. This sounds bad, but I do not mean it in a bad way, they can measure, how many turns you do, how high you jump, how high your leg goes. It´s very important in ballet. For Martha Graham it´s not so important. The important thing is, the leg goes up because it means something. The body moves in a certain way, it´s not correct because of where you are putting your arms and legs, it´s correct if it´s saying something, if it´s describing an emotion. Two different dancers might dance the same role and look quite different in movement, but the message is the same. So that is what attracted me to it, that it was not about physical tricks. It was a combination of physical and emotional.

AVIVA-Berlin: Today you are the Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company. How important is the heritage of Martha Graham on one side and new influences and ideas on the other?
Janet Eilber: Again it is a combination. It is my job, when we dance Martha Graham´s dances, to keep the message powerful. Even when Martha Graham was alive she would change things, she changed the lighting, changed the costumes, and changed when new dancers came into the Company. If they could do things that people could not do before, Martha used it, she loved it. But she held on to the theme, the emotional theme. That is part of my job to make sure that the message is still coming through even as we absorb new stagecraft, new fabric for costumes, new facility technique of the dancers. We keep it all focused on the message so that there is no distraction.
Then in terms of adding new things onto our repertoire the same thing is kind of true. We want to add new things but we want them to have a relationship to Martha Grahams ideas. "Lamentation Variations" is a very clear example. This is one of Martha Graham´s oldest dances but we have new creative ways of describing it.

AVIVA-Berlin: When Martha Graham founded her company in 1926 it were different times than today, especially for women. In her new company suddenly the woman was not a beautiful doll on stage, she was tougher, not that soft people were used to it. She got away from all the clichés of dance, of what was there before. Do you see her as a feminist? Do you see her as someone who would fight for the liberation of women?
Janet Eilber: She did not think: "Oh, I have to fight for women", that was not her goal. But she became a role model for women who were fighting, because she believed so powerfully that she had to do what she wanted to do, that she just did it. She cleared away all obstacles and marched towards her goals. And in doing that she became this great example for women. She also gave voice to women with the message she was creating in her dances, like this sketches from "Chronicle", a very powerful anti-war message. That was very early on, in 1936, for women to be on stage sending this kind of political message.
And she wanted to create great roles on stage for herself, with "Medea" or "Jeanne d´Arc" she was choosing women who were powerful and who changed the world. That added to the feminist message, even though it is sort of an accident on the side.

AVIVA-Berlin: Why did Martha Graham only choose women as dancers in her early career in the 1930s?
Janet Eilber: I do not think there were many male-dancers. And she was developing a language on her own body. She did not have any money to hire other people at first so all of her experimenting was on her own body. It´s very much a technique that is grown out of a woman´s body. And the dancers who came to her in those early years were almost all women, anyway.

AVIVA-Berlin: Martha Graham used the dance to make some critics on the society in a way. Is it also important for you to do this in your work nowadays?
Janet Eilber: It´s important for us to keep those themes powerful and relevant. Again, sketches from "Chronicles" speak today. We were performing it a few years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit in New Orleans and it spoke to that situation, too: the effects of devastation, whether it´s war, whether it´s weather. For some of the work that we are doing in the next season we are talking about putting together a programme that is all about activism: political message in the dances. And to show as Modern Dance grew, and as Martha Graham worked in it, that the various ways in that dance was really used as a powerful weapon. It is important to keep that kind of message going, too.

AVIVA-Berlin: You also worked as an actress. But your heart always beat for the dance?
Janet Eilbers: Yes!

AVIVA-Berlin: Are you still on stage or do just doing the choreographies? Are you still dancing?
Janet Eilber: No, I am not dancing anymore. I am on stage because I do the spoken introduction for our performances. But I am not working as an actress or as a dancer anymore. I am trying to make it possible for the younger people to do that.

AVIVA-Berlin: What may the German audience expect with the new piece "Lamentation Variations"?
Janet Eilber: It is a very interesting piece. I love it. First of all they get to see Martha Graham. We have the film of "Lamentation". So they get to see the essence. That solo is really the essence of all of her discoveries. The movement, the costume, the way she uses the music, everything is in one four-minute dance. And then, they are able to consider it through three other artists´ eyes.
Each artist chose a different aspect of the film to expand on. There is a duet by Aszure Barton. You can look at this duet as if its two sides of one person and as if she is loosing part of herself, as if she has two minds, two decisions, it brings that feeling of pull and emotion through that. She chose some of the gestures that you see on the film, Martha ringing her hands, you see that again in this duet.
Larry Keigwin, who uses the whole company - everyone is on stage, really chose one element of grief. It is loosing a piece of yourself, everyone is very dressed up in evening clothes, but they look at themselves as if they are looking in the mirror and seeing themselves age...
I do not say anything more. I think it will be fascinating for me to see Martha Graham and then just to see these new expressions that had been inspired by her.

AVIVA-Berlin: Thank you very much.


(Fotos Janet Eilber: Britta Leudolph, AVIVA-Berlin)

Interviews Beitrag vom 22.05.2008 Britta Leudolph 

   




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