Performance Project: Martha Graham’s ‘Primitive Mysteries’

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Primitive Mysteries is considered by many to be Martha Graham’s greatest dance. The work was inspired by Graham’s exposure to the myths and rituals of the Indians of the American Southwest in 1931 and celebrates the coming of age of a young girl. Each of the work’s three sections, “Hymn to the Virgin,” “Crucifixus,” and “Hosanna,” are linked by a processional, a favorite Graham choreographic device. The dance cultivates an air of the timelessness associated with ritual. The Virgin, originally danced by Graham herself, interacts with her acolytes in a series of “living tableaus,” reminiscent of archaic icons and stylized primitivist art. The dancers serve as instruments of the “divine message” they are acting out. Seventy years after it was written, the work’s compelling originality and energy remain fresh.