By SUSAN MANUS
The largest music library in the world will soon acquire the materials of another major artist. The Library's Music Division has recently entered into an agreement to purchase the eagerly sought-after archives of the late dancer and choreographer Martha Graham.
Other provisions in the agreement with the Martha Graham Trust are the mounting of a performance of a newly commissioned work by the Graham Dance Company at the Library and the creation of a five-year Martha Graham Legacy Project to fully document and preserve her works. Graham, who died in 1991 at the age of 96, was a modern dance pioneer who, through her prolific repertoire and distinctive technique, altered the course of dance in this century.
"I am very enthusiastic about the prospect of preserving the Martha Graham legacy here at the Library," said Dr. Billington. "This extraordinary collection was accumulated during her life by Martha Graham, one of this century's great geniuses, not only as a dancer and choreographer but also as a catalyst for new directions in all the arts. It complements the already extensive dance materials in the Library of Congress."
A historic connection already exists between the Library and Martha Graham. Graham's classic ballet Appalachian Spring premiered on Oct. 30, 1944, in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium. The pairing of two creative geniuses, Martha Graham with composer Aaron Copland, along with the financial support of the Library's Coolidge Foundation, resulted in one of this century's most successful artistic collaborations.
According to Jon Newsom, chief of the Music Division, Appalachian Spring was "perhaps the most important commission the Library has made. It also firmly established Aaron Copland's reputation as the most representative American composer."
Martha Graham's influence looms large in the history of 20th century dance, and the technique she developed is now regarded as standard for modern dance. Many prominent dancers have studied her technique or danced in her company. She was the recipient of many awards in America and abroad, including the Medal of Freedom in 1976 presented by President Ford, and the 1979 Kennedy Center Honors for her lifetime of achievement. In 1990, Life magazine selected Martha Graham as one of the 100 Most Important Americans of the Twentieth Century.
Noted dance critic Anna Kisselgoff acknowledged Graham's influence: "She has created an original dance language -- a codified alternative to the idiom of classical ballet. ... Martha Graham's name remains a virtual synonym for modern dance. The astounding aspect of today's dance scene is the extent to which her idiom has also penetrated the ballet companies and musical theater of our time."
Of Graham's technique, she says it "rests upon the principle of 'contraction and release' -- a movement whose angularity, percussiveness and tension are easily related to the dissonance of modern times of American life in particular."
The Library's relationship with the Graham estate began with discussions regarding a possible Graham Company re-creation of Appalachian Spring in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium. Mr. Newsom wanted this performance to be the focal point of the 1997-98 concert series marking the 100th anniversary of the Library's Music Division. These initial discussions also included negotiations for receipt of the archives. Both of these possibilities have, as of this year, become realities.
The archives, at around 100,000 items, include photographs, video and audio tapes of Graham at work, her correspondence with other 20th century luminaries such as Agnes DeMille, Jacqueline Onassis, Leonard Bernstein and others; annotated music manuscripts; dance notation manuscripts; and notebooks containing her choreographic notes. Some Graham documents already exist in other Music Division collections, including the Coolidge Foundation Collection and the Copland Collection.
The Graham Archives are due to arrive in the Music Division this September, and researchers will have access to materials as soon as the collection is processed.
A Performance of the New and the Historic
Fulfilling the next part of the agreement with the Graham Trust, the Library's Music Division presented a commemorative performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company on June 15 and 16. This performance featured Appalachian Spring in a recreation of the 1944 premiere as well as a newly commissioned work by Broadway choreographer Susan Stroman.
Terese Capucilli, Graham Company principal dancer and associate artistic director, on performing the lead role of "The Bride" in Appalachian Spring, said, "I learned [Graham's original role] from Martha and have been performing it for 15 years. It's a great responsibility. The greatest thing she taught me is the concept of the 'movement of stillness.' She used to tell me the feeling should be like 'a butterfly in your chest.' That is, always a little bit on edge."
"It is an honor for me to be on the same stage where Martha Graham first performed this role."
In contrast, the other piece on the June program was a new work by choreographer Susan Stroman, called Gershwin Graham -- But Not For Me. Ms. Stroman choreographed the 1993 Broadway musical Crazy For You, for which she received the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards.
"I'm a huge Gershwin fan," she said, "and to be able to choreograph a ballet to his music is a dream come true."
Gershwin Graham -- But Not For Me, commissioned by the Library's Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust, is a tribute to both artists. Describing her dance, Ms. Stroman says that "we all, at one time or another, experience the 'state of being alone.' But Not For Me exemplifies this: city dwellers that are lonely in a crowded city. They sleep alone and dream of 'contact.'"
Said Ron Protas, artistic director of the Graham Company, "How fitting, as well, that an American choreographer, Susan Stroman, would blend George Gershwin's music and Martha Graham's technique, inaugurating the mission in a truly all-American evening."
The Original Commission
The story behind the original commission of Appalachian Spring began in June 1942 with an idea of Erick Hawkins, a Graham company dancer (and her future husband). He wrote to Library benefactor Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge suggesting she commission a work by Martha Graham.
The idea took hold, and prompted a flurry of correspondence between Coolidge, Graham and then Music Division Chief Harold Spivacke. Graham was officially commissioned to do the choreography and Aaron Copland to compose the score.
In August 1942, Graham wrote to Coolidge that this collaboration was "not only a first for me but for American dance as well. To my knowledge this is the first time that a commissioning of works for the American Dance has ever happened. It makes me feel that American dance has turned a corner, it has come of age."
She also offered a glimpse into her creative process: "I have always chosen my subject when I was asking a composer to write for me. I submitted to [Copland] the idea and a detailed script." The script she gave Copland included the following description: "This has to do with living in a new town, some place where the first fence has just gone up." Graham, in a 1944 letter to Coolidge, described Copland's resulting music as "clear, open and essentially Copland."
Copland initially titled his score Ballet for Martha, but Martha Graham gave her dance the title Appalachian Spring after a line in a Hart Crane poem called "The Dance":
"O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
In the program notes for the first performance, the story for Martha Graham's work is described as follows: "Spring was celebrated by a man and a woman building a house with joy and love and prayer; by a revivalist and his followers in their shouts of exaltation; by a pioneering woman with her dreams of the Promised Land."
Aaron Copland's score for Appalachian Spring was, due to the intimate size of the Coolidge Auditorium, written for a chamber ensemble of 13 wind and string instruments, and only later did he arrange the version for full orchestra that is so often played today. Copland's original score for Appalachian Spring was awarded the Pulitzer Prize as best musical work for 1945.
The Martha Graham Legacy Project
The last component of the Library's agreement with the Graham Trust is the Martha Graham Legacy Project. Unlike music, dance has had no standard notation to fully capture the complex, three-dimensional nature of this art. The Legacy Project will fill this critical need by developing a comprehensive approach that uses multimedia technology and the advanced theoretical models promoted by the Dance Heritage Coalition and others in recent years.
The Library's goals for the Legacy Project are:
In addition to acquiring the archives, in Phase 1 the project will create additional materials such as "living history" video interviews and videos of the Graham company; it will also digitize essential materials in the collection for future electronic use.
Phase 2 will create multimedia reference products based on Graham's work. Appalachian Spring will be the first such project with written and audiovisual documentation compiled for a complete performance "manual" of the work. Using digital technology, the information will be distributed through the Library's Web site.
The goal of Phase 3 is to perpetuate the work and technique of Martha Graham through live performance and the commissioning of new works. The Library of Congress has a history of supporting live performance as a way of directly bringing works of art to the general public.
The Library's intent, according to Vicki Wulff, head of Acquisitions and Processing in the Music Division, is that these materials "shouldn't constitute dead archives; that is, the Library wanted to sponsor a large-scale effort involving many activities to support and preserve Graham's body of work."
Ms. Manus is a music specialist in the National Digital Library Program.