Now in our second week of rehearsals, we have set the entire 20-minute piece. The work explores the stages of Mary’s life in three sections titled “Hymn to the Virgin,” “Crucifixus” and “Hosannah.”
It includes 12 core women as well as Mary, a very special part originally played by Martha Graham herself. In order to make this production work, the dancer chosen for the part by SMU would need that unique quality. Recent graduate Jenny Gillan, who now studies at the Graham school, was the perfect choice. This has become clearer as rehearsals have advanced. Having Yuriko as director makes this a meticulous process and, for someone playing her important role, even more so.
For some, it seems that greatness is inevitable. Yuriko is one of those individuals. Each night, we learn a little more of her amazing life story. One extraordinary fact is that as a Japanese-American citizen, she was placed in an internment camp for a year and a half. She says that when she moved to start her new life in New York, she was “hungry to learn,” and she “gobbled up” all the information she could find.
As we attend to her stories, enjoying a little breather from the aerobically demanding piece, I contemplate the important life lessons that we are receiving daily. Moments like these remind me why I love dancing so much. Yuriko’s lessons can be applied to persons of any lifestyle. She preaches the necessity of living with vibrancy and purpose by saying such things as, “The Pieta is made of stone and yet, it can be more alive than flesh,” or “Once you’re dead you’re gone. You don’t want to be dead when you’re alive!” My personal favorites include “Curiosity!” and “Sense!” and, of course, “Your thighs look like pate.”
Now, we have begun cleaning the piece. It is what dancers consider the “nitty-gritty.” We take care to ensure that everyone is on the same foot, aligned with arms at the same angle. The importance of these details varies from piece to piece, but with “Primitive Mysteries” the concept of community is emphasized, and so the cleaning process takes a very long time.
By 10 PM, I find my entire body fatigued with muscles tightened beyond any hope of relaxation. Still, I’m a bit more enlightened and very excited about our progress. We now have a few days to clean and to add the live musicians before the designer run-through on Thursday.
There are so many exciting things going on with this work for SMU. Not only do we have Yuriko here, but the pianist from the Graham school will be playing for us along with two SMU music students. The dance critic for The New York Times is also coming all the way to Dallas just to review our production. The pressure is on, but our program is up to the challenge! For the “Mystery” dancers reading this, keep up the good work!