Swan song

Local dancer L. Martina Young returns to performance three years after double hip replacement surgery

Dancer L. Martina Young explores the image of a swan.

Dancer L. Martina Young explores the image of a swan.

Photo By Allison Young

L Martina Young presents Swan: A Poetical Inquiry in Dance, Text and Memoir on October 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m. at The Lighthouse/Studio 502, Riverside Artist Lofts,17 S. Virginia St. Advance reservations only. For reservations and more information, visit www.apoeticbody.com.

In her upcoming performance, Swan: A Poetical Inquiry in Dance, Text and Memoir, L. Martina Young will explore the depth of the image of swan. It’s her first full-length performance since her double hip replacement surgery three years ago. Swans have enraptured human imaginations throughout history and have been examined by artists of all disciplines.

For Young, the image of a swan called to her, and through deep artistic exploration, she’s responding with her performance on Oct. 18 and 19 at the Lighthouse Studio in the Riverside Artists Lofts. It’s the first of a three-part performance series.

“Swan is a mythopoetic image that appears in many cultures over history,” said Young. “As an image, it came to me, and as an artist, I responded. I was able to see in my mind’s eye the breadth and depth of entering into engagement with the image and how it happens to resonate with this time of life for me as I approach my 59th birthday. I began investigating the image from many different points of view—from mythological sources, poets, painters, dancers and artists.”

Young’s lifetime of artistic exploration in movement started in Los Angeles as a young dancer. From there, her career took her across the globe to share her gift from New York to Paris. She’s equally at home as a scholar and has served on the faculties of the College of William and Mary, California State University, Dominguez Hills, California Institute of the Arts and served as the director of dance for the University of Nevada, Reno from 1988-1994. This year, Young celebrates 25 years in Nevada with Swan.

Dance if you want to

Her inquiry into the image of the swan is not about literally dancing like a long-necked water fowl. For her, the grace, beauty and sensuality of the swan connotes a quality of life. As Young says these qualities are further fleshed out in the mythologies, danced, written and sung about swans over time. For example, The Dying Swan, choreographed in 1905 by Mikhail Fokine for the ballerina Anna Pavlova is a touchstone piece in the ballet world for its emotional expression of a swan in her last moments of life. Pavlova performed the piece over 4,000 times in her career. It has inspired many modern interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet Swan Lake, including Natalie Portman’s visceral performance of Odette’s demise in the 2010 film Black Swan. Young is keen to acknowledge the lineage of her art, as she is moved by the work of past artists to help build on and inform her own work.

Evolution, beauty, maturity, sensuality, grace—these are a few of the qualities Young hopes to explore in her performance. When speaking with her about the research she dived into for this work, one is struck by the magnitude of study she conducted over the years to flesh out and understand her creative response to the image.

Swan reveals the further deepening and renewed creative imagining of a mature, bona fide artist who is reveling in her ongoing work,” said dance educator Diane Rugg in a quote posted on Young’s website. “Her subtle, deep and deceptively simple movement material gently suggests rebirth, renewal and the continuing exploration essential to a fully lived human life. Martina’s performance of the work, grounded in her own deep knowing is profound in its ability to engage and fully translate to the viewer, such that I was moved to tears.”

Audience members at the performances will also receive a book of text including Young’s writing and research about swans.

“Clearly the image resonates deeply with the human imagination and therefore calls to certain qualities,” said Young. “As an artist, it is my job to be responsive and investigate—what does swan want me to know and what is it in the culture that is asking to learn from this quality of life swan represents? That’s the work. It is that discovery, and in the dance, things are felt not only from the performer’s side, but also from the audience. It is a communal experience that we will discover together—what it is about this image that possibly has some importance to our life and times right now as a quality of being?”

Young will perform with music played by Los Angeles-based electric violinist David Strother. The relationship adds yet another layer to the experience because they have been working together in art collaborations for the past 20 years.

In this performance, Young is addressing an attitude of slowing things down to deeply appreciate and feel a life experience in the moment. This contemplative approach to body movement is different specifically because it is not a current trend in dance nor in our fast-paced culture at large.

“It is a distinctly different approach into investigating movement and its possibilities in terms of experience for both of us—the audience and the performer,” said Young. “The resonance shouldn’t end with the end of the performance, something should carry on.”

Young is offering an open forum after the performance has ended so the audience can engage with the artist and articulate their thoughts and emotions in a free exchange between both parties.

“There will be a post-performance talk so that the audience and I can deepen into what just happen,” said Young. “A forum of exchange where we can mutually articulate what we have experienced. Particularly because … we need a way in and a way out. We take for granted too much. People love the opportunity to ask questions, and they want to delve into the experience through expressing what they have just felt. This offers us both an additional mode of engagement; multiple modes of engagement to help deepen into ’something.’ It’s gives us the opportunity to explore what we have just witnessed with our eyes and hearts and articulate it with our words.”