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Martha Graham's Episodes


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#1 miliosr

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 04:00 PM

So, I was leafing through a retrospective of Halston's work and I came across a picture (from 1980) of Graham dancers wearing the costumes Halston made for Graham's Episodes. The picture features three dancers in character; two of whom (Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots) are reaching for a crown held aloft by a third character.

The picture is very Expressive and I got to wondering -- has anyone ever seen this work and, if so, what were your impressions of it?

(I'm only interested in Graham's Episodes -- not the Balanchine Episodes which accompanied it at the premiere back in the 1950s.)

#2 papeetepatrick

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 05:19 PM

This is the piece Graham made about Mary Queen of Scots and her execution. I am immersed in Martha's Notebooks right now (thanks again, rg! they're glorious, and I'll be reporting more fully on that thread I started about Books on Martha later), and I read all the Notes about her research on Mary Queen of Scots and much of what she was planning to do and did do in the work.This piece is one of the most detailed in the volume, and has 15 full pages of notes describing enormous amounts of the movement. There is a photo of Mary at L. and Elizabeth (with crown on) at right, and both have the racquets for their tennis game. The executioner is facing the platform where Mary will be executed, and there are 2 more men guarding it. This an older photo than yours, because it shows Graham as Mary, although I don't know the year.

Here's just one example of how thrilling these Notebooks are:

H
stance--
2 Queens face

Executioner enters and presents racquets
Enter from wings queens?
4 men walk forward
as Executioner walks to Center with 4 men jumping
Heralds extend net--queens?

To the side, in this one 2) Ex. jumps and turns into Kneel -- 2x

Then there are notes for the Game and a Court Dance, and the 1st stroke, Executioner, later there is 'Mary misses' and it shows the score. This is all fascinating, and I'd like to hear from someone who's seen it too. I don't know if it's currently done, but they're doing 'Clytemnestra' at JFK with live music in early December and then again at Skirball here in late spring (they didn't know if they'd have live music in this one or not, but I'll be going to that.) I'd also like to know from someone who knows if 'Episodes' has been done by the Graham Co. in recent years. I know they did 'Phaedra', which I also haven't seen, a few years ago.

#3 rg

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 08:19 PM

never having seen the graham/balanchine 2-part work, i can't say for certain but those who knew both said the subsequent, '79 're-make' was a new and different work from the original. (if mem. serves graham claimed she couldn't recall what she had done in '59.)

i saw the later, newer graham work at the met. op. house but right now can recall next to nothing of it.

anna kisselgoff likely wrote about it, i suppose her review is in the NYT archive, somewhere/somehow

Episodes: A work in 2 parts: Episodes I: choreography by Martha Graham; Episodes II: Choreography by George Balanchine; mus: Anton von Webern (Music for Episodes I: Passacaglia, Opus 1 & Six pieces, Opus 6; Music for Episodes II: Symphony, Opus 21; Five pieces, Opus 10; Concerto, Opus 24; Variations, Opus 30; and Ricercata in 6 voices from Bach's Musical offering: Scen: David Hays; cos: Karinska (for Episodes I). First perf: New York, City Center, May 14, 1959, New York City Ballet Company and Martha Graham and Dance Company.//Episodes was given for only two seasons by the combined companies after which Balanchine's half of the ballet joined the repertory of the New York City Ballet without the Variations, Opus 30 solo originally danced by Paul Taylor

Episodes: Chor: Martha Graham; mus: Anton von Webern (Passacaglia, op. 1 and Six pieces, op. 6). Originally performed as the first part of Episodes (Balanchine and Graham). First perf. without Balanchine section: London, Covent Garden, July 24, 1979, Martha Graham Dance Company.

#4 papeetepatrick

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 10:13 PM

I wonder if the Bach was also left out as well as the Paul Taylor part. I just saw a Farrell Ballet article from about 2 weeks ago, describing her company's 'Episodes', and nobody's music but Webern's there. This must have been thrilling in those 2 seasons to see Graham/Balanchine to Webern.

As for 'forgetting what she had done in '59', Graham could have forgotten a lot of it anyway, but the notebooks have a ton of what that must have been, because it's the original she was writing the notes for, and they are very specific steps, just as are the ones for 'Night Journey'.

#5 rg

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 06:17 AM

the Ricercata (from Bach's Musical Offering) has never to my knowledge been left out of the any staging of Balanchine's EPISODES. this concluding segment is set to Webern's orchestration of Bach's famous music, so it's often only Webern whose name is noted when the music's credits are named. (Taylor's solo was revived, more or less - Taylor himself admitted not really remembering the choreography very well - in 1987, but it was soon dropped again.)

here's a NYPL cat. entry for a tv discussion program concerned w/ EPISODES. alas it seems not to address the '80 version of Graham's part(s).

Modern in ballet: The 1959 production of Episodes. 1987. 28 min. : sd. color
Eye on dance ; 213
Produced by ARC Videodance as part of the television series Eye on dance. Recorded on January 26, 1987 at the studios of WNYC, New York. Telecast on February 20, 1987. Producers: Celia Ipiotis and Jeff Bush. Video director: Richard Sheridan. Program director: Celia Ipiotis. Technical director: Jeff Bush. Host: Celia Ipiotis.
SUMMARY: Episodes, the historic two-part collaboration by Martha Graham and George Balanchine, is discussed by former Graham dancer Ethel Winter, a member of the original cast, and New York City Ballet dancers Bart Cook and Peter Frame. Winter recounts her memories of the original production, and Cook and Frame discuss the revival of Paul Taylor's solo in Balanchine's portion of the work. The guests also discuss changing attitudes towards ballet and modern dance, technical and other differences between the two forms (e.g., use of the back, male dancing, sex roles), and the increased opportunities for dancers to "cross over" offered by programs such as Patsy Tarr's Dance Chance concert series. Dance excerpts depict Cook's Rondo, danced by Jeffrey Edwards and Zippora Karz of the New York City Ballet; Gina Buntz's Chipped worlds, which Cook performed with Dance Chance; and Cook's Gershwin preludes, danced by Sean Savoye and Myrna Kamara. In conclusion, Frame demonstrates movements and poses from Taylor's solo in Episodes.

#6 Hans

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 06:32 AM

I love Graham's choreography and would be thrilled if her part of Episodes could be revived.

#7 carbro

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 01:03 PM

I wonder if the Bach was also left out as well as the Paul Taylor part. I just saw a Farrell Ballet article from about 2 weeks ago, describing her company's 'Episodes', and nobody's music but Webern's there. This must have been thrilling in those 2 seasons to see Graham/Balanchine to Webern.

I saw the Austin and Farrell Ballet's Episodes in the recent Kennedy Center run, and it included the Bach. I can't imagine a successful Episodes [II] without it, as it pulls together the preceding movements into a complete work. Episodes without the Ricercata would be equivalent to Sleeping Beauty without Aurora's Wedding.

I don't love Graham's choreography :dunno: , but I would be curious to see Episodes I if it could ever be revived.

#8 papeetepatrick

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 03:42 PM

I wonder if the Bach was also left out as well as the Paul Taylor part. I just saw a Farrell Ballet article from about 2 weeks ago, describing her company's 'Episodes', and nobody's music but Webern's there. This must have been thrilling in those 2 seasons to see Graham/Balanchine to Webern.

I saw the Austin and Farrell Ballet's Episodes in the recent Kennedy Center run, and it included the Bach. I can't imagine a successful Episodes [II] without it, as it pulls together the preceding movements into a complete work. Episodes without the Ricercata would be equivalent to Sleeping Beauty without Aurora's Wedding.


Yes, as rg says, it was Webern's orchestration of Bach, which is not at all as though it was his piece, although the others were. Here's the relevant part of the recent article I found by googling last night, and it might have been written by someone before the performance, but all the talk about difficulties of listening to Webern could not apply to his orchestration of the Musical Offering. Whether or not the writer had seen and heard, Stephen Mills definitely has (since you say it the Ricercata is always there) and only talks about the sound of Webern, nothing about Bach, which must be quite a wonderful juxtapositiion when it follows the skinny, elegant sounds of all that Webern. If, as rg says, only Webern's name is given in the musical credits, that is a sloppy and inaccurate practice, and not unlike 'the Sleeping Beauty without Aurora's Wedding' itself, because there is probably some special release that comes with the advent of the Bach,. and saying that that movement is 'Webern' (or not specifying that we now 'hear Bach through Webern' or something like that) is thoroughly misleading. There is Bach-Busoni, etc., but a re-orchestration doesn't belong to the orchestrator at all. This also is pretty good on the history of the original, except that it is also ignorant of the Graham re-working in 1979 :

"Episodes," which premiered in 1959, is danced to several pieces by Anton Webern, whose music is not exactly easy listening. Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills has clear memories of the first time he saw ballet, a quarter-century ago. "It was around 1982 or '83," he said via telephone from Washington on the morning of the Kennedy Center opening. "I was in New York, and I saw two performances of "Episodes" in a week, and it was really very striking to me. The music is very unusual, very dissonant, but in typical Balanchine fashion, he was able to structure the movement in a way that you can see the music. Webern, for most people, is difficult to sit down and listen to, but with a dance structure on top of it, it becomes so clear and very enjoyable."

**
In order to better understand Webern's music for "Episodes," he adapted it for piano and simply played it himself.

He was introduced to Webern's music by the composer Igor Stravinsky, with whom Balanchine worked for much of his life. He became intrigued by Webern's work within the 12-tone structure, in which all notes of the chromatic scale are treated equally within the piece. Balanchine invited Martha Graham, the Great Mother of modern dance, to collaborate on a ballet to Webern's music, foreshadowing the two choreographers' immeasurable influences on 20th century dance. The result was "Episodes."

It didn't turn out to be much of a collaboration, though: Working in separate studios, Graham choreographed the first half and Balanchine the second, resulting in pieces that were independent of each other in spirit and concept. Graham's section, a dance-dramatization of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, hasn't been performed since. Balanchine's half was about the music, and after the premiere, he reworked it as a four-movement stand-alone ballet. People often describe dance as either "narrative" or "movement for movement's sake"; "Episodes" is, in fact, movement for music's and movement's sake. The dancing isn't simply accompanied by the orchestra. It is an emanation of the music, which Balanchine said "fills the air like molecules."

And here's a description of Webern's orchestration:

The "Ricercar a 6" has been arranged on its own on a number of occasions, the most prominent arranger being Anton Webern, who in 1935 made a version for small orchestra, noted for its Klangfarbenmelodie style (i.e. melody lines are passed on from one instrument to another after every few notes, every note receiving the "tone color" of the instrument it is played on).

#9 miliosr

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 04:03 PM

Regarding reconstruction of the original Graham Episodes, didn't Sallie Wilson dance in the original? (I could be imagining this.) If she did, I hope she was at least asked whether she remembered anything before she died this year.

#10 rg

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 04:28 PM

if you go to the thread on Wilson here in the obituaries section i've posted a scan of Wilson from EPISODES, '59.

#11 papeetepatrick

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 04:29 PM

http://query.nytimes...l...odes&st=cse

There's another from 1980 that you have to pay for.

#12 papeetepatrick

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 04:37 PM

if you go to the thread on Wilson here in the obituaries section i've posted a scan of Wilson from EPISODES, '59.


I think the photo with Martha in the Notebooks is Wilson, but the quality is not at all sharp and the dress, although cut similarly, looks lighter and different from this one. May just be problem with the Notebook photo, though.

#13 liebs

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 04:38 PM

I remember seeing Graham's portion when it was revived at NYCB. It was not her strongest work and appeared very dated next to Balanchine's ballet, which seems to me to remain ever modern.

However, Peter Frame did the Taylor solo at some point and that was fascinating. I believe Taylor coached him.

#14 carbro

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Posted 09 November 2008 - 11:10 PM

If, as rg says, only Webern's name is given in the musical credits, that is a sloppy and inaccurate practice, and not unlike 'the Sleeping Beauty without Aurora's Wedding' itself, because there is probably some special release that comes with the advent of the Bach,. and saying that that movement is 'Webern' (or not specifying that we now 'hear Bach through Webern' or something like that) is thoroughly misleading. There is Bach-Busoni, etc., but a re-orchestration doesn't belong to the orchestrator at all.

NYCBallet.com's page on Episodes credits the music thus:

Symphony, Op. 21; Five Pieces, Op. 10; Concerto, Op. 24; Ricercata in Six Voices from Bach's Musical Offering by Anton von Webern

I don't have at hand a printed program from NYCB's performances. Neither Ballet Austin's website nor Suzanne Farrell Ballet's subwebsite credit Bach. My program from their K-C performances is floating around here somewhere.

http://query.nytimes...l...odes&st=cse

There's another from 1980 that you have to pay for.


Thanks for the link. It opened in my browser without asking for money. :( Relevant passage (by Kisselgoff) falls within Fair Use guidelines, so . . .

''Episodes,'' too, tells a familiar story in a highly original way. Here, Mary, Queen of Scots, relives her past on the eve of her execution. And she does so through Miss Graham's boldest theatrical devices.

There is the menacing instant when a pillar revolves suddenly to reveal a throne from which Miss Lyman as Elizabeth initially sits on a platform to dominate her victim. Then there is the overt lust for the crown by Bothwell, Mary's husband, depicted with persuasive rage by Tim Wengerd. There is Miss Eilber as Mary, putting her head upon the block in a blood-red dress. But the coup de the^atre is the tennis game, both queens jabbing the air with little racquets, their bodies' contortions signifying the struggle and their differences in temperament.

''Episodes'' is as skeletal in structure as its scaffoldlike decor. It may be slow moving for some, but its drama is genuine. Created for the New York City Ballet in 1959 and revived in 1980 with a prologue accompanied by a bagpipe (played by Larry Cole) to precede its Webern music, ''Episodes'' now has two evenly matched leads. Miss Eilber's new and hard Mary makes her less than sympathetic, but passion - including a weakness for men - is so strongly projected in her performance that she balances the single-minded ''Virgin Queen'' image that Miss Lyman delivers with such penetrating ferocity.



#15 papeetepatrick

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Posted 10 November 2008 - 08:58 AM

Carbro, thanks for all of that. My little post about the review you had to pay for was misleading, because the link I gave was for the 1985 one that you quoted, and is viewable and interesting. I referred to this one http://select.nytime...m...aham&st=cse without pasting in the link at the time. So I've become somewhat like the websites, oh dear. Anyway, I also saw that Farrell and Austin Ballets do not credit Bach. The NYCB description is not perfect, but is quite satisfactory, and they all ought to be that way.

When trying to find the 1980 link, I happened upon a link to John Martin's review from June 7, 1959, of the original. Also unopenable, but that must be the ticket.


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