Wednesday, January 27, 2010

American Document/freedom in constraint


On Monday night, I saw an evening of SITI Company's re-doing of Martha Graham's "American Document" in collaboration with the Martha Graham company. Here is the story:

In 1938, Graham created a piece called "American Document," a collage of choreography and found texts, including the Declaration of Independence and Leaves of Grass, among others. Supposedly, she had been hearing the voices of the third reich over the radio and the power of these voices freaked her out, so she thought about what it was to be an American, and what written documents shaped her understanding of her nationality.

Only seven minutes of film footage, some still photos (see above), and some of Graham's handwritten (and mostly illegible) notes exist to document the actual performance.

I've heard Anne Bogart, the director of SITI Company say this a few times now, and it seems so hypothetical the answer eludes me, but I still like thinking about it:

I have often wondered if Stanislavsky had not arrived on our shores would Martha Graham have taught the American theater how to act?


This 2010 "American Document," scripted by Charles Mee, includes A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Green Grow the Lilacs, and wrenching descriptions of American soldiers shooting up cars of Iraqi families. In the Q&A someone asked if the dancers felt limited, having to work with 7 minutes of choreography? They said yes. Then an actor spoke up and said that they were limited, too, they had to work with a script created by a playwright who assembled texts that already existed.

I've been thinking about freedom in constraint. For example, how charmed am I by my students who know the least English. Their vocabulary is so limited that they tell the absolute best stories. My second grader who knew no English in September, and cried all the time, and was kicked and bullied by everyone, has learned how to say STARFISH and FRIED CHICKEN and this seems so miraculous to me. It doesn't matter how many words he knows, it just matters that he does hilarious things with these.

1 comment:

newyorkette said...

wasn't it baudelaire who spoke of beauty borne of constraint, perhaps regarding the structure of the sonnet?