Only July 1st, the new home of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance will be Westbeth Center for the Arts on Bethune Street. The move of the dance company’s headquarters from the East Side to the heart of Greenwich Village begins a new era in a partnership between two leading and innovative pioneers in the arts.
The Martha Graham Company will be housed in the space formerly occupied by the Merce Cunningham Company. Cunningham was a former student of Graham’s and after his death in 2009, the company concluded with a world tour last December. However, the connection between Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham lives on. “We are thrilled to become a member of a community that focuses on artistic activity,” said LaRue Allen, Executive Director of the Martha Graham Company in a recent interview about her company’s new headquarters. She added that, “not only that but there are wonderful and beneficent ghosts in the studios where Merce Cunningham created all of his wonderful work but that space particularly resonates with terrific energy.”
Steve Neil, Executive Director for Westbeth Center for the Arts agreed, noting that, “Westbeth has been the site of major dance innovation for almost 40 years. The wonderful light and air of the top-floor studio provided inspiration for Cunningham and the dancers who have used the space for all that time.” In addition to carrying on Westbeth’s rich tradition as a place for innovative dance, Neil also commented on the extraordinary changes in the neighborhood that will allow the Martha Graham Company to flourish and thrive in the 21st century. “The area around Westbeth has changed enormously since the Merce Cunningham Company moved here, and is still changing at a head-spinning pace. When the Whitney Museum opens in 2015, at Washington Street and Gansevoort Street, in the Meatpacking District, along with other arts organizations that I believe will follow it, I think our newest tenant will find itself no longer an ‘outpost’ but at the new heart of the New York arts scene.”
Preserving and presenting the famed 181 dance repertory, left by Graham herself, is only part of LaRue Allen’s excitement about this new phase of the Martha Graham Company. She is especially thrilled about the company’s innovative programs, particularly its outreach to the community. “We are interested in expanding our educational and residence programs and in speaking to a very diverse population…we will also have a new presenting program in Westbeth with audience-development, lecture-demonstrations and open rehearsals for just Westbeth residents.”
Perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of the move will be in the preservation of Graham’s original legacy. Graham virtually began her performing career in the Village. In 1923, at the age of just 29, Martha Graham became a solo dancer for the Greenwich Village Follies and worked with them for two years. LaRue Allen mentioned that, “both then and now, Greenwich Village was a focus of artistic activity…her work then was lively and entertaining based on amusing the audience.”
Indeed, Steve Neil hopes that the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance will have a “long and fruitful life at Westbeth…Our mission is to provide the company with a warm and welcoming home, a safe and secure place where artists can prepare and present repertory and new works.” The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance joins other distinguished Westbeth tenants that include the LAByrinth Theater and the New School’s graduate theater program.