By Jessica Santina
They say things happen in threes. For L. Martina Young, that’s particularly true. As the dancer/choreographer/educator celebrates 20 years of living and working in Reno, she celebrates three triumphs: her recently completed Ph.D. from Pacifica Graduate Institute; the release of her performance DVD, Grace at River’s Edge; and her 2008 Governor’s Arts Award for Excellence in the Arts.
“It’s been a stellar year, and this award is just the crowning glory,” says Young. “This recognition is deeply felt and comes at a very significant time for me.”
To meet Young is to be inspired. Of course, her professional and academic accomplishments are many, but the genuine warmth in her eyes and brilliant smile somehow exude a sense of life’s endless possibilities.
Originally from Los Angeles, Young hails from a family of artists: her father a painter, her mother an opera singer and her brother a gifted composer. She began dancing at age 3. She was admitted into a national touring dance company under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts at just 17. Later, she joined Israel’s internationally renowned Batsheva Dance Company.
In her early 20s, she returned to the United States and completed, on full scholarship, her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the California Institute of the Arts. She later earned two master’s degrees, from Arizona State and Pacifica Graduate Institute. She subsequently taught dance for a number of higher education institutions in California, as well as the College of William and Mary and, from 1987 through 1994, at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“I had been offered a one-year interim directorship over their dance program. One year sounded just right because I was doing a lot of traveling,” she says, laughing. “But I ended up staying there and getting tenure!” She resigned shortly afterward to continue performing and to care for her ailing father.
As a child, Young knew she would earn her doctorate. So, following the loss of her father in 2000, Young returned to Pacifica to embark upon a Ph.D. program in comparative mythology and depth psychology. Young explains that her studies, which focused specifically on “the poetics of the body,” greatly inform her performance work.
“The work involves actually using mythology and psychology to locate ways in which human culture, over millennia, has considered the experience of, and relation to, the physical body,” she says.
Thus Dr. Young’s dance performances in recent years—most of which are now improvised in the ancient Greek tradition—have evolved considerably. They now involve a sort of verbal and physical dialogue with the audience, as she invites questions and commentary about what they’re seeing. One such performance, Grace at River’s Edge, is now available on DVD.
Specifically, Grace deals with the mythological Three Graces, who, as Young explained in a recent reading of the accompanying text at Sundance Bookstore, appear at the moments “in between” and signify the tension, or dance, between anticipation and arrival. “They are the celebrants of change, evolution and transformation,” Young writes.
Her forthcoming book, an art book that further explores the Three Graces, will be published by Black Rock Press this fall, and performances celebrating her 20th year in Nevada are in the works.
With so much accomplished and more to come, it seems Young’s career is, in every sense of the word, graced.
Originally printed in Reno News & Review.