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I gained the ledge

Laura Jacobs: ‘Appalachian Spring’, 24 January 2019

Aaron Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’ 
by Annegret Fauser.
Oxford, 144 pp., £10.99, November 2017, 978 0 19 064687 5
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... It seems​ that I have written miles of words,’ the choreographer Martha Graham wrote to the composer Aaron Copland in 1943. ‘But that is the way I work … to make a skeleton and then to be ready and willing to change when the music comes. The story is not so important … as the inner life that emerges as the medium takes hold ...

Diamonds on your collarbone

Anne Hollander, 10 September 1992

MarthaThe Life and Work of Martha Graham 
by Agnes DeMille.
Hutchinson, 509 pp., £20, April 1992, 0 09 175219 1
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Blood Memory: An Autobiography 
by Martha Graham.
Macmillan, 279 pp., £20, March 1992, 0 333 57441 9
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... The death of Martha Graham on 1 April 1991, a little more than a month before her 97th birthday, finally permitted Agnes DeMille to publish her biography of the dancer, after nearly twenty-five years of work and four years of waiting. It is a measure of DeMille’s reverence for Graham that she should have withheld until after Graham’s death what is by any standards an affectionate and appreciative account of her life and art, rather than risk of fending Graham’s own sense of herself in the slightest degree ...

Brooksie and Faust

Angela Carter, 8 March 1990

Louise Brooks 
by Barry Paris.
Hamish Hamilton, 640 pp., £20, February 1990, 0 241 12541 3
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... dance.’ It was also as chaste an establishment as a convent. One of Denishawn’s then stars was Martha Graham. Later, Brooks would say she learnt to act by watching Martha Graham dance, and to dance by watching Charlie Chaplin act. Brooks wrote in her journal, reminding herself how hard she must work, since ‘I ...

If my sister’s arches fall

Laura Jacobs: Agnes de Mille, 6 October 2016

Dance to the Piper 
by Agnes de Mille.
NYRB, 368 pp., £11.99, February 2016, 978 1 59017 908 6
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... score was by Leonard Bernstein and the two soon stormed Broadway with On the Town. The same year Martha Graham premiered a rich, visually spare piece called Appalachian Spring in collaboration with Aaron Copland and Isamu Noguchi. In 1945, John Cage and Merce Cunningham would marry their exploratory sensibilities. All these artists were struggling, in ...

Two Sonnets

Anne Carson, 3 February 2011

... dance is.    Other not.    Two opposite places to start  Telling stories:    GrahamMartha.    Take a name. Play a part.     Fame, on the other hand,    Cunningham, Merce    got, a lot,    by making the place     of the proper noun    empty but ...

The Snowman cometh

Elaine Showalter: Margaret Atwood, 24 July 2003

Oryx and Crake 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 378 pp., £16.99, May 2003, 0 7475 6259 8
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... prestigious Watson-Crick Institute, otherwise known as Asperger’s U.; Jimmy barely scrapes into Martha Graham Academy, a third-rate arts college. Like all the other students there, he knows he is an irrelevant loser. Anyone with a computer can make film and video (he has done nude versions of Pride and Prejudice and To the Lighthouse); theatre has ...

Chaotic to the Core

James Davidson, 6 June 1996

by Petronius, translated by Bracht Branham and Daniel Kinney.
Dent, 185 pp., £18.95, March 1996, 0 460 87766 6
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The Satyricon 
by Petronius and P.G. Walsh.
Oxford, 212 pp., £30, March 1996, 0 19 815012 1
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... there was the Surrealist view of a primitive Ancient World already well explored by Max Ernst, Martha Graham and Pasolini: bizarre buildings, tribal costumes, blank walls, labyrinths, minotaurs (‘Who are you? Who are you? Tell me who you are’) – all the discontinuity of a dream. Then this lily of symbolism was gilded with a thick layer of ...

The Girl Who Waltzes

Laura Jacobs: George Balanchine, 9 October 2014

Balanchine and the Lost Muse: Revolution and the Making of a Choreographer 
by Elizabeth Kendall.
Oxford, 288 pp., £22.99, August 2013, 978 0 19 995934 1
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... one quite different from his mother’s aloof beauty. This persona, to borrow a term from Martha Graham (who borrowed it from Henrik Ibsen), is ‘doom eager’. As Graham said, ‘You are doom eager for destiny no matter what it costs you.’ In Balanchine’s ballets this is often the girl or woman who ...

You gu gu and I gu gu

Andrew O’Hagan: Vaslav Nijinsky, 20 July 2000

The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky 
edited by Joan Acocella and Kyril Fitzylon.
Allen Lane, 312 pp., £20, August 1999, 0 7139 9354 5
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Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age 
by Modris Eksteins.
Macmillan, 396 pp., £12, May 2000, 0 333 76622 9
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... with the help of Bakst, Roerich and Golovine ... Like Isadora Duncan ten years earlier and like Martha Graham a quarter of a century later, Nijinsky had to put aside all he had learned and been in order to discover how to tell the truth in his own way. He was doing what Picasso had done when he painted his first Cubist pictures three years before. The ...


James Wolcott: Rick Moody, 19 September 2002

The Black Veil 
by Rick Moody.
Faber, 323 pp., £16.99, August 2002, 0 571 20056 7
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... of death, penance and self-condemnation that implicates all those who see it. (One could imagine Martha Graham making a dance based on the Handkerchief/ Hawthorne saga.) To Moody, however, this act of penance becomes an arts-and-crafts project, a giggly stunt. ‘Would I, for example, wear the veil to lunch with the guys I usually met at noontime at the ...
Martha Jane and Me: A Girlhood in Wales 
by Mavis Nicholson.
Chatto, 243 pp., £14.99, November 1991, 0 7011 3356 2
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Vanessa Redgrave: An Autobiography 
Hutchinson, 300 pp., £17.99, October 1991, 0 09 174593 4Show More
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... like space debris, more than enough free-floating material to pad out tome after fresh tome on Graham Greene, or George Orwell, or P.G. Wodehouse, or Evelyn Waugh, or Bernard Shaw, or Cyril Connolly? Must we prepare our shelves for yet another cache of letters, stumbled across like Dead Sea scrolls, every decade? If so, will they, too, rank high with ...

First Puppet, Now Scapegoat

Inigo Thomas: Ass-Chewing in Washington, 30 November 2006

State of Denial: Bush at War 
by Bob Woodward.
Simon and Schuster, 560 pp., £18.99, October 2006, 0 7432 9566 8
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... 1960s complex beside the Potomac. It was about one of the building’s better-known residents, Martha Mitchell, wife of then US attorney general John Mitchell, soon to leave that post to become head of Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, better remembered as Creep. The story doesn’t reveal much about Woodward – from the beginning he has in ...

Her Guns

Jeremy Harding, 8 March 1990

The View from the Ground 
by Martha Gellhorn.
Granta, 459 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 14 014200 2
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Towards Asmara 
by Thomas Keneally.
Hodder, 320 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 340 41517 7
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... As a young girl growing up in St Louis, Missouri, Martha Gellhorn had a habit of poring over maps; riding on the city’s tramcars, she would imagine she was bound for distant places with exotic names. Seventy years later, her war dispatches, fiction, travel writing and the peacetime journalism – collected here – bear witness to a lifetime of wanderlust ...

No Beast More Refined

James Davidson: How Good Was Nureyev?, 29 November 2007

Rudolf Nureyev: The Life 
by Julie Kavanagh.
Fig Tree, 787 pp., £25, September 2007, 978 1 905490 15 8
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... was a little too brusque when at a post-performance party he called Petit over to say hello to Martha Graham: ‘You fucking get over here’, ‘If you talk to me like that I’m taking all my ballets away.’ Or was there another reason? Did Nureyev make a pass at his Kirov rival Alexander Soloviev, with whom he shared a room in Paris ...


James Davidson: Face to Face with Merce Cunningham, 2 November 2000

... legs apart, on an over-polished wooden floor in Somerville doing ‘contractions’. This was ‘Graham technique’ apparently and it involved a lot of sitting on the floor, flexing various parts of your body. ‘Imagine you’ve been hit in the solar plexus,’ our teacher said, and several rows of mostly female undergraduates, dressed in pinks and ...

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