Martha Graham Dance Company at The (virtual) Soraya


From our friends at The Soraya – “Immediate Tragedy,” Martha Graham Dance Company’s response to the moment.

WHAT: “Immediate Tragedy” (world premiere commissioned by The Soraya)

Inspired by Martha Graham’s lost solo from 1937, this reimagined version will feature 14 dancers and include new music composed by Wild Up’s Christopher Rountree.

The 30-minute world premiere showings will include interviews with the collaborators, a screening of a recent performance of Deep Song, a solo which the choreographer created as a companion to Immediate Tragedy in 1937, and the premiere of the new digital Immediate Tragedy, which is 10 minutes long.

The ongoing collaboration by three major arts organizations—Martha Graham Dance Company, the Los Angeles-based Wild Up music collective, and The Soraya—will continue June 19 with the premiere of a digital dance inspired by archival remnants of Martha Graham’s Immediate Tragedy, a solo she created in 1937 in response to the Spanish Civil War. Graham created the solo in collaboration with composer Henry Cowell, but it was never filmed and has been considered lost for decades. Drawing on the common experience of today’s immediate tragedy — the global pandemic — the 22 artists creating the project are collaborating from locations across the U.S. and Europe using a variety of technologies to coordinate movement, music, and digital design.

WHEN: Friday, June 19 at 4PM



More about the world premiere

The Spanish Civil War is a chapter of history that is sometimes overlooked, eclipsed by World War II. However, in the context of our present day, its importance re-emerges: In the years following a devastating pandemic comes widespread political instability and economic hardship. A widening gap in ideology turns into ethnic conflict, and eventually, a violent and authoritarian regime takes hold.

Federico García Lorca

My introduction to that period was the poet/playwright Federico García Lorca. Not only were Lorca’s plays and poems celebrated, but he also championed a renaissance in classic Spanish theater, taking a band of actors and a truck that doubled as a stage to the people in the countryside. Lorca was also a firebrand among a group of transformative European artists and intellectuals, including his companion, Salvador Dalí. He was a popular figure at home, in Madrid’s café life, and abroad when he traveled to South America, Cuba, and New York City.

In 1936 Lorca was one of the first casualties of the Spanish Civil War, brutally murdered in the middle of the night. Though the exact circumstances are unknown, it is believed he was dragged from his house and assassinated by Franco’s henchmen. The Franco regime described Lorca as a bad influence, a leftist, and a homosexual.

As the Spanish Civil War erupts, America’s isolationist policies take hold. In the face of the gross injustice and violence, however, it is American artists and writers who stepped forward. Hemingway may be best known in this context. Another was Martha Graham. Following Lorca’s assassination, she premiered two new pieces in response to the Spanish atrocities. One is Deep Song, named for a Lorca poem. The other is Immediate Tragedy. The latter piece has been lost to history. However, Graham’s own writings about the piece, along with some recently discovered photographs of the premiere on a contact sheet that confirms the order of the images, allows us to imagine her solo piece dedicated to the Spanish Civil War. In that context, we have chosen to create a piece inspired both by Graham’s original work, as well as by the circumstances of our present moment.

Farewell Ceremony for the International Brigade by Robert Capa

Necessity is the mother of invention — the dancers have filmed themselves at home, with daily instruction from Artistic Director Janet Eilber. The new score, replacing the lost one composed by Henry Cowell, was created from the home of composer/conductor Christopher Rountree, recorded by five musicians from his music collective Wild Up. The team of 21 artists conducted the entirety of their work over several weeks of Zoom meetings and rehearsals. The final “performance” was overseen by The Soraya’s own Ricki Quinn, who collaborated with Janet Eilber in editing the video.

While I could say much more about the creative process with Janet, Christopher, Ricki, the dancers, and the musicians, I will instead end where I began — with the political and socio-economic backdrop. It is said that all performance is, by its very nature, a political act. At The Soraya, we have always championed artists who give voice to the disenfranchised. At this time, when our stage is dark, we have not ceased that important work. With this online version of Immediate Tragedy, we all join Martha Graham herself to offer you a piece that uplifts the power of resistance and resilience in the face of injustice.

Please join us for this world premiere on June 19 at 4 PM (“Fridays at Four”). The performance will be preceded by an interview with Janet Eilber and Christopher Rountree as well as a recently filmed performance of Deep Song, the piece that accompanied Immediate Tragedy in 1937.

Thor Steingraber
Executive Director

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