Martha Graham’s Answer to Hitler Performed in Ann Arbor

No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time. It is just that the others are behind the time.”

~~~Martha Graham

It took me 57 years to truly discover Martha Graham. Sure, I’d heard of her as a college boy in Ann Arbor, but hadn’t ever seen her work or really read about her, either. Duchamp, yes. Warhol, indubitably. Anytime you discover a kindred artist, it’s a great renewal of spirit. Like my favorite doughnut shop getting a new layer of asphalt on their parking lot, smoothing out the bumps, filling in the potholes, brightening the blurred lines, giving the goldfish nowhere to go after a hard rain.

I remember when I hitchhiked back home to Detroit from Ann Arbor in 1979 to see Johnny Rotten aka John Lydon with his brand-new band Public Image Ltd (PiL) shortly after the unhappy ending of the Sex Pistols. His energy and stage presence were hypnotic. I’d never seen anyone so intense.

Martha Graham was like that. A short film of her performing Lamentation sololy played right after Intermission last night at the Power Center for the Performing Arts in Ann Arbor.

So frighteningly mesmerizing. She came back to life on the white screen. It was then that I realized what I had been missing since I first discovered Modern Dance. She was the Big Bang that brought it all together and gave it its impetus to create its own Universe. Those people who are not believers in Modern Dance need to discover Martha Graham, too.

After her posthumous performance, her players proffered three Lamentation Variations that were brilliant and poignant – but no dancer I’ve ever seen rivals the pregnant power of Martha Graham.

Back in 1936, she was the Cat’s Meow. Even Hitler was a fan, apparently. He invited her and her company to Berlin to perform at either the Olympics or the International Arts Festival that ran contemporaneously with them, depending on whether you believe The University of Michigan or Wikipedia. And seeing how U of M was once ranked as the 14th  greatest university in the world, and Wikipedia is, well, Wikipedia, I think I will go with Wikipedia. I mean, as an alumnus I will withhold judgment….(you can mail me a tee shirt to my home address)(maize letters on blue – 2X….)(I know, I know, cut back on the doughnuts….)

Ms. Graham declined the invitation from Der Führer, saying, “I would find it impossible to dance in Germany at the present time. So many artists who I respect and admire have been persecuted, have been deprived of the right to work for ridiculous and unsatisfactory reasons, that I should consider it impossible to identify myself, by accepting the invitation, with the regime that has made such things possible. In addition, some of my concert group would not be welcomed in Germany.”

Instead, she composed and choreographed Chronicle, first performed on December 20th, 1936 at the Guild Theater in New York City. It was her great artistic response to the rise of fascism in Europe, not just in Germany, but in Italy, Spain, and other intra-continental places, to boot.

Chronicle was the last dance of the night for the Ann Arbor audience, and an awesome, austere performance it was. Hitler must’ve been one pissed-off little Nazi. I wonder if he liked mustard gas on his coneys.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the contemporary company performed Lamentation Variations   in honor of 9/11. It was very moving and haunting in its own right. The Martha Graham Dance Company is a worthy heir to Ms. Graham’s legacy. They perform again tonight at the Power Center. I’m tempted to hit the highway and see tonight’s all-new dances, as well!

For more information and tickets, visit https://ums.org/performance/martha-graham-dance-company/


“Martha Graham – LAMENTATION”


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