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Martha Graham played basketball wearing bloomers!


Martha Graham in Soaring at Mariarden., Digital ID DEN_1475V, New York Public LibraryMartha Graham in 'Soaring at Mariarden'Along with Sarah Ziebell and Lisa Lopez, I work on the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Project, whose mission is to program and document live music (mostly jazz), theater, and dance in connection with the 10 year anniversary of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's grant program.

In addition to the programming aspects, the grant also covers the preservation of a collection of oral history interviews conducted in the early 1970s by the dance critic, Don McDonagh, on people associated with the iconic dancer/choreographer, Martha Graham.

Lucky me, I get to listen to the interviews and am in the proces of cataloging the hours of conversations. After working with Safe Sound Archive toward the preservation process, we received 6 boxes of CDs and I spend most of the day taking notes to include in catalog records.

The over 70 cassettes include conversations with dancers May O'Donnell, Sophie Maslow, Charles Weidman, Erick Hawkins, Gertrude Shurr, and Israeli Graham-trained dancers Rina Schenfeld and Rina Gluck, as well as composers, artists, and office assistants -- all with a tale to tell about Martha Graham.

These candid interviews touch on many aspects of Graham's life; with each person telling stories of his/her interactions with the mighty Miss Graham. One interview is conducted with a school friend of Graham's, Helen Low, who tells stories of Graham (around 1914) playing basketball wearing bloomers, and remembers Graham as a shy, retiring sort of girl. After hearing tales of Graham's infamous temper, it is hard to believe that anyone would describe Graham as shy and retiring.

Some of the anecdotes reveal Graham's tendency towards tantrums, with stories of her throwing a lap dog at a student, or smashing a metronome to pieces by throwing it inside an open piano. But many of the stories are lovingly told by loyal, idolizing students and friends, and reveal a side of Graham that perhaps many did not witness: Martha playing with a stage manager's dog, Brandy, instead of going to rehearsals, or the time she allowed a friend's chubby child to sit on her lap for the duration of a long car ride through Jerusalem.

These interviews certainly uphold -- and, at times, dispel -- the myth of Martha Graham, and are a rich addition to the dance collection of the LPA.

Prior to cataloging, I consulted several books housed at the LPA, including:

Martha Graham: the early years. Edited, and with a foreword, by Merle Armitage; illustrated with photos. and Carlos Dyer's ink drawings;

And Martha Graham, sixteen dances in photographs / by Barbara Morgan.

And watched many dances on video, including:

Primitive Mysteries (videorecording) -- *MGZIDVD 5-1700 I anticipate these interviews being available on the library catalog (with restricted access) by the end of October -- so all you Graham enthusiasts, be on the look out for them!


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