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Discovery & Process

Ed.D. New York University (1985)

Doctoral Dissertation: "Graham's Dance, STEPS-IN-THE-STREET (1936),

 and Selected Early Technique: Principles for Reconstructing Choreography from Videotape"


Martha Graham's choreography STEPS-IN-THE-STREET reflected the painful chaos and tragedy of Spanish civilians people being killed throughout the country.   Like Picasso's powerful painting, "Guernica", depicting the screams of defenseless civilians being murdered, Graham illustrated the relentless power of women as soldiers of the streets.  Although feeling vanquished for life the women were determined to march towards a hopeful future for democracy. The raging Spanish Civil war of 1936-1938 under the brutal military rule of General Francisco Franco who was eventually defeated.
This period was  predicted and protested by many Artists of the day and Martha described the Rise and Fall  of Fascist Movements.
A Movement  that even today we are doomed to repeat.

The project for reconstruction for the closest  version of Graham's dance, STEPS-IN-THE-STREET, began in 1982, while working as a Teaching Fellow, as a doctoral student, at New York University, in the Department of Dance and Dance Education. 

 

There were many factors involved in preparing a two-partial evidenced  completion for the Ed.D. degree.  My endeavor proposed was met with approval by the department chair  to have a written documentation and a performance of the completed physical reconstruction. Therefore my mission was to make sure that my intended (and required) goals were satisfied.


1) I had to secure personal "permission" from the artist, Martha Graham.  It was forbidden, even unethical to replicate an artists work while the artist was living.  The written dissertation was not in question for legal protection.  However, in partial fulfillment for completion of the doctorate degree it was imperative to present the finished reconstruction in a live performance. One week before the premiere in the theatre at New York University, I was directed to meet with the dean of the school.  I was informed that I could NOT allow a performance of my finished project (because the living artist did not  give permission for such a showing).  I was further informed that he (NYU) would make sure that police would barricade the theatre preventing the the dancers to appear on stage, let alone enter the theatre.  I was under the impression that I was proted for such a showcase.  I adamantly insisted that I would get permission. I did!  After speaking to legal counsel I was informed that I was protected by law to prepare for a live demonstration in a theatre of the completed reconstruction/re-creation of STEPS-IN-THE-STREET, under one condition.  A presenter could could only showcase the original living artist's work in the concert arena, open to a public performance, as long as there was no admission for free admittance.  No commercial profit from ticket sales was permitted.  There is a clause that protects the viewing of the original artist's work by others for a "one time" presentation for "educational purposes" only.  


 2)  I knew an undertaking of such proportions  would put me and my reputation in questionable  and negative discussions with many dance professionals and devotees.  On the other hand there were a few who (secretively ) supported my project and were vital for such an endeavor to come into fruition. These distinguished supporters honored the privacy of my intention and goals for reconstructing a dance for posterity purposes.  After-all, the work had been absent from Graham's repertory in nearly 50 years, and no one even knew that there was any evidence (other than Graham and an administrator) of an existing documentation (from the 1930s) of her experimental experiences.  Fortunately, those supporters involved were very curious to see a final production. Others who were negative, clearly expressed anger,  even expressing jealousy. I was lambasted for my efforts with derogatory and demeaning remarks. Who was I to take on such a project? I was only a devoted student of Martha Graham.  I was not (or ever) a dance company member (past or present), so how was I qualified  to for such an undertaking!? I was only a scholarship student and an unofficial apprentice with the company.  


 3) It wasn't a secret that Graham wanted earlier works in the 30s to be destroyed ("burned" as she's been often quoted) and thus excluded from her repertory for any future performances.  Many years earlier she was offered the original film and opposed physical ownership and was adamant about the film to never been seen by anyone!  The offer came from the son of the filmmaker. Because  he was not treated with respect, nor interest in his free offering, he left her studio clutching his father's celluloid   documentation never to return.  Graham dictated the film be destroyed.  Fortunately †he son (who was now in ownership of his father's business) defied graham's request. 

 

4)  A copy was later secured by me, and inevitably by the Graham foundation several years after my finished reconstruction was premiered for a public presentation.  Understanding her wishes (at the time, 1970s), I proceeded to investigate this historical and artistic decision by interviewing the original dancers who were illustrated in the original 1937 film.  The need to respect Graham's wishes was a dilemma but not the deciding factor to proceed.  My intuition to go further in producing an important artistic contribution by Graham from the 30s, was paramount for posterity exposure for future generations to experience.


The film maker was the husband of a friend of MG's, who too was a dance professional who taught dance in an upstate New York college.   Graham's friend's husband was a professional filmmaker of documentaries.  


The original film did not include the music created by Wallingford Reigger for Graham's,  CHRONICLE.  Unfortunately, because the film did not include any music. It was prepared in silence.  The  reconstruction process for documenting steps and spatial patterns of the dancers in the work, presented a problem to capture one of Graham's creative intentions for the dance.   The film was put onto video for the process of reconstruction.  Inevitably  a successful reconstruction and concert performance was realized with historical significance.  First time being demonstrated since its inception nearly 50 years ago, after its creation by Martha Graham.   While my intention was to recreate a lost masterpiece from the Graham repertory, a laborious task was deemed necessary so that the project could closely relate  towards original authenticity of Graham's choreography, as identified from the film/video, which was extremely necessary.   An accompanying written dissertation was included into The Library of Congress and The Lincoln Centre of Performing Arts Library: DANCE COLLECTION, for public perusal. Within a years time the Martha Graham Dance Company recreated an edited  reconstruction version  work under the artistic direction and approval by 

Martha Graham.   

At present, STEPS-IN-THE-STREET,  is performed by the Martha Graham Dance Company to enthusiastic audiences around the world.