From Anti-Fascism to Myth in the Work of Martha Graham (1938-1958)

Mark Franco
Theatre Arts
UC Santa Cruz

Martha Graham’s choreography has not been studied with the critical, historical, and interpretive breadth afforded comparable twentieth-century artists such as Picasso, Stravinsky, and Joyce. Since the acquisition of Graham’s archive by the Library of Congress many documents previously unavailable to scholars (letters, choreographic notes, and libretti) are accessible. The supported project reconsiders Graham’s mature choreographic output from a historically contextualized, theoretically sophisticated, and biographically informed perspective. It focuses on six key works: American Document (1938), Appalachian Spring (1944), Dark Meadow (1946), Night Journey (1947), Theatre for Voyage (1953) and Clytemnestra (1958).

The grantee analyzes Graham’s evolution from critical anti-fascism veiled as patriotism prior to and during World War II to myth in the immediate post-war period (1946-1948), and psychodrama in the fifties (1953-1958). He traces her extensive reading in psychology and anthropology and reassess Graham’s assumed relationship to Abstract Expressionism, to argue that Graham developed a poetics of encryption serving both to bury while subliminally projecting meanings of personal and political import. The grantee analyzes how Graham’s poetics of encryption develops from anti-fascism through myth to psychodrama, contesting the uncritically accepted view since the 1960s that Graham’s work was fundamentally theatrical in the service of narrative and emotion.