MOVING PEOPLE: Janet Eilber on GrahamFest95, Martha Graham's Timeless Advice, and if the Mother of Modern Dance Were on Social Media Today
Janet Eilber has been the Martha Graham Dance Company's artistic director since 2005. Her direction has focused on creating new forms of audience access to the Graham masterworks. These initiatives include designing contextual programming, educational and community partnerships, use of new media, commissions, and creative events such as the Lamentation Variations and Prelude and Revolt. She has also remixed Graham choreography and created new staging in the Graham style for theater/dance productions of The Bacchae and Prometheus Bound. Earlier in her career, as a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Ms. Eilber worked closely with Martha Graham. She danced many of Graham’s greatest roles, had roles created for her by Graham, and was directed by Graham in most of the major roles of the repertoire. She soloed at the White House, was partnered by Rudolf Nureyev, starred in three segments of Dance in America, and has since taught, lectured, and directed Graham ballets internationally.
Apart from her work with Graham, Eilber has performed in films, on television and on Broadway directed by such greats as Agnes de Mille and Bob Fosse and has received four Lester Horton Awards for her reconstruction and performance of seminal American modern dance. She has served as Director of Arts Education for the Dana Foundation, guiding the Foundation’s support for Teaching Artist training and contributing regularly to its arts education publications. Eilber is a Trustee Emeritus of the Interlochen Center for the Arts. She is married to screenwriter/director John Warren, with whom she has two daughters, Madeline and Eva.
Cover shot: Janet Eilber in Lamentation. Choreography by Martha Graham. Photograph by Max Waldman ©1976. Courtesy of Martha Graham Resources, a division of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Inc.
Headshot: Janet Eilber, Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company. Photo and copyright by Hibbard Nash Photography
Right picture: Janet Eilber in Frontier. Choreography by Martha Graham. Photograph by Max Waldman ©1976. Courtesy of Martha Graham Resources, a division of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Inc.
My earliest memory of performing is ___________.
with my older sister in our backyard with lots and lots of fabric — skirts from my mother’s closet rolled up at the waist and probably being ruined with grass stains — but SO inspiring! Maybe I was a Denishawn dancer in a previous life . . .
I knew I had to be a dancer when ___________.
I visited Juilliard as a high school senior and saw José Limón rehearsing There is a Time. I wanted to jump up and be part of that rehearsal.
The most expressive part of the body is ___________.
the head — the angle of the head.
The smallest movement of the head speaks volumes. This is demonstrated so eloquently when you witness the work of great puppeteers — expression is completely dependent on how they “steer” the body parts of a marionette. And the angle and movements of the head offer an immediately recognizable animal understanding of what the figure is feeling.
The most important skill I learned as a dancer that I apply to acting is ___________ because ___________.
how to use the focus and the movement of the head to signal a transition to the next movement. Because it telegraphs your intention to the audience and cues them that a new idea is coming. This is actually something I learned from acting that allowed me to articulate the idea better in my dancing — and now in how I direct dance.
My greatest influences are ___________.
anyone who taught me to embrace change, to discard my first creative choice and look for something better, to say “yes” first, to believe in the power of positive thinking, and to never take anything too seriously. I think I have to credit my parents first on each of those topics and then the many extraordinary people I have worked with over the years. Certainly, Martha is at the top of the list.
If I could show the world one piece by Martha Graham, it would be ___________ because ___________.
I believe it is her greatest masterpiece — the complexity of the characters, the music, the set, the reversal and collapsing of time, and then, the choreography — those magical, yet heartbreaking moves for Jocasta and Oedipus — Tireseus and his insistent presence — and the Daughters of the Night — they have the most visceral, emotional, cathartic movement ever imagined!
Happy 95th Birthday, Martha Graham Dance Company! To celebrate this momentous occasion, we will ___________.
produce a Festival!
GrahamFest95, our three-day, multi-faceted, digital festival is the culmination of this unique year. It’s both digital and live and full of surprises, as was our year. Every one of our dancers will be performing a new role, we have five new works to premiere, and our new digital capabilities will be represented with our creative collaboration with the international art gallery Hauser & Wirth.
In one word, the Martha Graham Dance Company’s collaboration with Hauser & Wirth gallery, also in connection with the 95th anniversary, is ___________ because ___________.
Because our four world-premiere films with H&W artists are visual expeditions into unknown territory!
IfIf I could take Martha for a night on the town to acknowledge 95 years of intrepid dance-making, we would go to ___________ because ___________.
MoMA — because she BELONGS there among the other great modernists of the 20th Century, and she has so many friends there.
One piece of advice Martha had for artists that still applies today is ___________.
understand your unique strengths and use them powerfully
Patreon, a subscription service to support creators, has opened doors for the Martha Graham Dance Company by ___________.
helping us monetize media. We love our followers, and we love providing free access, but during covid, we also had to find a way to honor the value of our art form — because, simply put, dancers have to pay rent.
If Martha (the person, not the company, which you can find @marthagrahamdance) were on social media today, her personal handle would be ___________, and her followers would be treated to images of ___________.
unconscious gesture, body language, and babies dancing, with the hashtags #danceislife and #danceofnecessity
As artistic director, I plan to riff off of Martha Graham’s “appetite for the new” in the 2020s by___________.
continuing to expand and diversify our creative partnerships and projects into areas that are unexpected, surprising, illuminating, and bring new potent points of access to our audiences
If I could go back in time to be part of one pivotal moment by the Martha Graham Dance Company, it would be ___________ because ___________.
the opening night of Primitive Mysteries in 1931
the audience was stunned and, with the twenty-three curtain calls, clearly knew they were in the presence of genius.
Something that gives me energy is ___________.
music. It opens up places in my brain and my heart.
I would like to learn to ___________.
incredible digital editing
___________ is overrated.
___________ is underrated.
When travel restrictions loosen, I’m booking a ticket to ___________.
the first place the Graham Company can perform for a live audience
I can’t wait for ___________ in 2021.
be back in a theater watching dancers dance