The ongoing collaboration by three major arts organizations—Martha Graham Dance Company, the Los Angeles-based Wild Up music collective, and The Soraya—will continue June 19 with the premiere of a digital dance inspired by archival remnants of Martha Graham’s Immediate Tragedy, a solo she created in 1937 in response to the Spanish Civil War. Graham created the solo in collaboration with composer Henry Cowell, but it was never filmed and has been considered lost for decades. Drawing on the common experience of today’s immediate tragedy – the global pandemic — the 22 artists creating the project are collaborating from locations across the U.S. and Europe using a variety of technologies to coordinate movement, music, and digital design.
The new digital Immediate Tragedy, commissioned by The Soraya, will premiere online Friday, June 19 at 4pm (PDT)/7pm (EDT) during Fridays at 4 on The Soraya Facebook page, and Saturday, June 20 at 11:30am/2:30pm at the Martha Matinee on the Graham Company’s YouTube Channel.
In its new iteration, Immediate Tragedy will feature 14 dancers and 6 musicians each recorded from the safety of their homes. Martha Graham Dance Company’s Artistic Director Janet Eilber, in consultation with Rountree and The Soraya’s Executive Director, Thor Steingraber, suggested the long-distance creative process inspired by a cache of recently rediscovered materials—over 30 photos, musical notations, letters and reviews all relating to the 1937 solo. Each dancer received four photos from which to develop specific movement phrases. Rountree and the musicians have taken inspiration from shards of Cowell’s music notations found in the Graham archives. All the artists received the background materials and are collectively basing their artistic contributions on Graham’s reflection in a letter to Henry Cowell “… whether the desperation lies in Spain or in a memory in our own hearts it is the same … I had been in a valley of despair, too. I felt in that dance I was dedicating myself anew to space, that in spite of violation I was upright and that I was going to stay upright at all costs …”
Neil Baldwin, author of the forthcoming Martha Graham: When Dance Became Modern (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc,) uncovered much of the archival material – including letters between Graham and Cowell, photos, reviews and writings — that inspire the artistic choices for this new work. Neil Baldwin’s previous book length subjects include William Carlos Williams, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford.
This new Immediate Tragedy is currently in rehearsal and being created remotely under the dictates of social distancing. The Soraya’s own video editor Ricki Quinn is working with Eilber and Rountree to bring all the elements together for the onscreen theatrical presentation. It will be available for viewing on the Martha Graham YouTube Channel and www.TheSoraya.org. Both companies have been engaging extensively online with their audiences during COVID Sheltering orders. This original digital dance, however, requires an even greater level of innovation since none of the artists will ever be in the same room.
“At The Soraya, one of our priorities has been to support artists during this time. This opportunity for the dancers and musicians to be back at work and undertake such an important creative endeavor is a silver-lining in an otherwise difficult moment when live performances are not possible,” says The Soraya’s Executive Director Thor Steingraber. He adds, “The innovative spirit and brilliance of Janet Eilber and Chris Rountree make a project like this possible. I am proud that The Soraya first brought them together in 2017, a collaboration that has subsequently continued worldwide.”
“While the piece is really located in a ‘post Henry Cowell’ space, another big inspiration is: this moment itself, and the immediate tragedy of us all being apart. What are our modes of being together in this moment? What does it look like, what does it sound like and how do we deal with being apart like this?,” said Rountree. “We’ve followed this digital process, and what I’ve come to is some kind of iterative, call and response, where we hear shadows of multiple musicians’ voices, echoing and preempting each other. Like some simple but all too glitchy Zoom meeting.”
“For about two years, I have thought to make a choreographic response to this lost solo work, Immediate Tragedy,” said Eilber. Several unknown photos of the work resurfaced along with some writings, so I thought we had a chance to create something new and substantial, and I knew Thor and Chris would be ideal partners for this out-of-the-box plan. The ephemera of Graham’s Immediate Tragedy gives us potent and relevant ideas that resonate deeply with our current tragedy. Even in its absence, the passion with which Graham worked is palpable, and the inspirational courage of the people she depicted is sorely needed now.”
The 30-minute world premiere showings on June 19 and 20 will include interviews with the collaborators, a screening of a recent performance of Deep Song, a solo which the choreographer created as a companion to Immediate Tragedy in 1937, and the premiere of the new digital Immediate Tragedy, which is 10 minutes long.
Premiere June 19, 2020
Choreography by Janet Eilber and dancers of Martha Graham Dance Company
Music composed and conducted by Christopher Rountree
Digital Design and Editing by Ricki Quinn
Martha Graham Dance Company: So Young An, Alessio Crognale, Laurel Dalley Smith, Natasha Diamond-Walker, Lloyd Knight, Charlotte Landreau, Jacob Larsen, Lloyd Mayor, Marzia Memoli, Anne O’Donnell, Lorenzo Pagano, Anne Souder, Leslie Andrea Williams, Xin Ying
Musicians of Wild Up: Jiji, Richard Valitutto, Jodie Landau, Brian Walsh, Derek Stein
Commissioned by The Soraya.
The artistic team thanks Neil Baldwin for rediscovering much of the archival material used to inspire this production.
The new digital Immediate Tragedy will premiere online Friday, June 19 at 4pm (PDT)/7pm (EDT) during Fridays at 4 on The Soraya Facebook page, and Saturday, June 20 at 11:30am/2:30pm at the Martha Matinee on the Graham Company’s YouTube Channel.