By Walter Rutledge
During a recent interview with Martha Graham Dance Company Artistic Director Janet Eilber we discussed the collaboration between Martha Graham and Isamu Noguchi on Appalachian Spring.
Graham and Noguchi worked together over 20 sets for Graham over the course of three decades, including those for her series based on Greek myths; Cave of the Heart (1946), Errand into the Maze (1947), Night Journey (1947), Clytemnestra (1958), Alcestis (1960), Phaedra (1962), Circe (1963), and Cartege of Eagles (1966) Noguchi also designed the set for her biblical and religious themes, including Herodiade (1944), Judith (1950), Seraphic Dialogue (1955), and Embattled Garden (1958). Probably the most recognizable collaboration is for her movement manifesto on Americana Appalachian Spring (1944).
Janet Eilber discusses Appalachian Spring
(Repost) April 1, 2014- Martha Graham: Appalachian Spring and Rite of Spring:
At first glance the Isamu Noguchi set, with its sparse flat look established the boundaries of the performance space. The “house” structure with the downstage “porch” set on a diagonal stops short of center stage. The flat fence placed downstage left, and the preacher’s pedestal set upstage on an angle from the fence completed the set design.
These configurations of objects create the converging lines; the lines that produce the classic perspective used by artists to direct the eye in paintings. Noguchi’s house mimics Brunelleschi’s drawing of perspective almost exactly. This is not an accident, but a conscience decision by Noguchi and Graham to subtly frame the choreography.
Most of the primary action takes place within the converging lines. Very little group choreography is designed behind the fence and nothing is set stage right of the house. Without obvious overkill Graham was able to effectively direct the viewer’s eye the primary movement conversion.
The close proximity of the downstage porch and fence to the audience builds closeness/empathy for the characters (especially the husband and wife). When these characters look out past the audience we can see the splendor of the open prairie on their faces. And we see it in the glorious “Technicolor” of our individual imaginations.
The universality of the experience extends beyond the American Prairie. This is the story of new beginnings, the optimism of youth, and the promise/hope for the future. Graham’s technical prowess creates a clear and unfettered moving picture, combine this with her ability to convey the humanistic elements of her characters and it becomes apparent why the public has endeared Appalachian Spring for over 70 years.