It’s easy to see why Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring” endures as one of the classics of modern dance. The story of a bride and groom starting a new life in a new land with guidance from a stoic pioneer woman and a fiery preacher, it captures an experience that is uniquely American and laces it with infectious but earnest optimism.
In a concert Friday night at the George Mason Center for the Arts, the Martha Graham Dance Company performed the 1944 masterpiece in just the sort of hopeful pitch that Graham surely intended. The newlyweds, Samuel Pott and Blakeley White-McGuire, moved with the expansive, unrestrained joy that befit their characters’ circumstances.
And though dance may be almost 70 years old — its premiere was at the Library of Congress when Graham herself danced the lead — Katherine Crockett and Maurizio Nardi so deftly embodied the roles of the pioneer woman and the preacher that it seems as though the parts were tailor-made for them. Crockett is a pillar of regal grace in almost any role she dances. Whether sitting still and straight-backed in a rocking chair or swooping her leg into a high kick, she radiated calmness and steadiness. Nardi’s part calls for more electricity, and he delivered it through feverish gestures and imposing jumps.
Another work, the antiwar-themed “Steps in the Street,” has a decidedly different tone, one that is urgent and at times militant. In this roiling 1936 ensemble work, fists clench, shoulders widen and feet hammer the floor in a recurring series of low but forceful jumps. It’s a dance defined by indomitable strength, and even in the 21st century, it still feels refreshing that Graham made a dance of that style for an all-female cast.
In addition to a few other short Graham works, the program featured solos choreographed by Graham’s mentors Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis and three pieces by contemporary choreographers that were inspired by Graham’s seminal solo, “Lamentation.”