Monday, December 21, 2009

Early Martha Graham Choreography

Yesterday, I came across some extraordinary early C20 Eastman Kodak dance footage - the earliest extant record of Martha Graham's choreography, 'The Flute of Krishna' (1926).

Krishna, the god of love, plays a call to love on his flute and cavorts with three tantalising girls or Apsaras. However, he is finally won over by his fiancee, Radha.

The iconography of the choreography stems mostly from Hindu sculpture and C19 European Orientalism, but also takes other inspirations, such as classical sculpture - for example, 'The Three Graces' - though these compositions may have antecedents in Indian sculpture.

Though not appearing in this film, Graham appeared in the original dance ...

' ... clad in a heavy gold kimona, making patterns with her body against a screen of brilliant lacquer ... . Martha Graham presents a series of pictures that fire the imagination and make a hundred stories for every gesture. Shall we say her dances are motion pictures for the sophisticated'
'The Dance' magazine

In this footage Robert Ross is Krishna and Evelyn Sabin is Radha, with Thelma Biracree, Constance Finkel, Betty MacDonald as Apsaras. The music is a new traditional Indian music score, as the original by George Ruckert is lost.

This is obviously an other than Indian fabrication, but curiously Martha Graham's piece does not look the awkward pastiche that is often the result of such cross-cultural explorations.

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