Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

img src="http://img2.imagesbn.com/images/63580000/63581291.JPG" align="right" hspace="5">On my latest trip to the library, I scored their copy of the Sibert honor book, Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca, which tells the story of the creation of Appalachian Spring - the original ballet created by Martha Graham in the 1940s.

Graham wrote the story that she wanted the ballet to tell and sent it to Aaron Copeland, so he could write the music. He rejected her first story, so Graham rewrote it until Copeland was happy. He then created an entirely original score for the ballet based around the story Graham had written, keeping in mind her style of dance and choreography. Graham then started to work out the choreography with a small group of dancers, asking the artist Isamu Noguchi to design the set for her - which included structures and something resembling furniture (a stylized rocking chair).

The book describes Graham's creative process, often using simple declarative sentences. It provides tremendous detail along the way, including the exact composition of the orchestra that played at the first performance in Washington, D.C. It describes the dances within the ballet and the music that accompanies it.

In many cases, I might have questioned whether I really needed to know that the orchestra was composes of "[a] piano, four violins, two violas . . . and a bassoon", but to be truthful, that recitation precedes the entry of the dancers onto the stage, and although there is nothing poetic or complex about how the text on the page is written, I distinctly had that feeling that Emily Dickinson once mentioned in a letter when describing poetry: I physically felt "as if the top of my head were taken off".

A gorgeous book, both text and images. I leave you with this quote from the introduction, which applies to the book as well as to the ballet it describes:

Sometimes art is made by one artist, working alone, but sometimes it is the result of artists working together -- collaborating-- to forge something new.



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