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Martha Graham: An American Original in Performance (1957)

 -  Documentary  -  1988 (USA)
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A documentary containing three historic performances in the world of dance: (1) "A Dancer's World" demonstrates the challenge and beauty of expression through movement, dance and ballet. (2... See full summary »


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Title: Martha Graham: An American Original in Performance (1957)

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Cast overview:
Martha Graham ...
Yuriko ...
Helen McGehee ...
Gene McDonald ...
Ellen Siegel ...
David Wood ...
Miriam Cole ...
Lillian Biersteker ...
Robert Cohan ...
Ethel Winter ...
Bertram Ross ...
Mary Hinkson ...


A documentary containing three historic performances in the world of dance: (1) "A Dancer's World" demonstrates the challenge and beauty of expression through movement, dance and ballet. (2) "Night Journey" is a modern choreography based on the legend of Oedipus. (3) "Appalachian Spring" is an American folk tale, with original music commissioned from Aaron Copland by Martha Graham. Written by Anonymous

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A beautifully filmed ninety minutes
24 July 2007 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

The first program "A Dancer's World" features Martha Graham in her dressing room, preparing for the role of Jocasta in "Night Journey". She narrates what it takes to be a dancer. One interesting thing that she says is that genius is within everyone and fulfilment of genius must come from the self, rather than from external training. Interspersed with her narration are a series of dances performed by her company in their studio. In a nice touch, each of the dancers is introduced as they enter. Although really just a series of exercises, the piece works extremely well.

The second piece, "Night Journey" is a retelling of the legend of Oedipus. The costumes are very daring; quite scanty for the period. It looks as though this was shot in a TV studio and I wonder how a television viewer of the 1960s would have felt about having this in their living room. I'm sure there is a lot of symbolism that escaped me.

Finally the splendid "Appalachian Spring", again filmed in a TV studio. The set is very striking, looking like a literal representation of a sketch, and works extremely well. The Aaron Copland score is very well known of course, and I've often tried to imagine how the dance would fit. The photos that I've seen of "Appalachian Spring" gave little hint of the beauty of the piece. The story of the spring celebration, featuring a newly wed couple, a neighbour, a revivalist preacher and his followers, has many familiar themes - motherhood, joy, sorry, tenderness and passion. It all fits together very well and is a joy to see.

All three films are beautifully shot on two cameras. The limitations of the equipment used are a blessing as mostly we are treated to lengthy views of the whole stage area, from the same angle. This enables the viewer to see the work as a whole. Modern recordings of ballets are filmed with too many cameras and there are far too many changes of angle. Modern directors seem to want to change shot every 4 or 5 seconds; perhaps they feel the viewer will be bored watching from the same view point.

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