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Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring Hardcover – Aug 3 2010
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“This splendid behind-the-scenes story succeeds on all counts….Intelligent and inspiring, [it] makes tangible the glory of true collaboration.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“Ballet for Martha offers a close-up look at the creative process. It's also a rare glimpse into collaboration...Greenberg and Jordan clearly value a good partnership, having worked together for many years. Their impressive alliance is further boosted here by Brian Floca's line-and-watercolor illustrations; his expressive portraits and scenes are as appealing as the well-chosen details of the narrative.” ―The Washington Post
“Using spare, concise sentences, the authors echo Graham's approach to dance: like the movements in her choreography, nothing is wasted, and in such exactness lies the beauty….Floca's fluid, energetic line-and-watercolor illustrations echo the plain boldness of Graham's choreography and make readers feel almost as if they were present at the inaugural performance of Appalachian Spring at the Library of Congress in 1944…[a] remarkable book.” ―Horn Book Review (STARRED)
“In this book…disparate elements come together. Matching the mood of Graham's moves, the writing is pared down but full of possibilities. Floca's ink-and-watercolor artwork nimbly shifts from the prosaic (Copland reading Graham's script) to the visionary (a bride and groom on the open prairie) to the several-spread finale of the ballet itself. The book as a whole beautifully captures the process of artistic creation…what readers will surely want after putting this down is to see and hear Appalachian Spring for themselves.” ―Booklist (STARRED)
“Through the use of active sentences in the present tense and brief quotes, the authors convey the excitement and drama of the creative process and the triumph of the ballet. Floca, a multiple Sibert Award honoree for his prowess in depicting the technical worlds of spaceships and lightships, here uses watercolor and pen-and-ink in a glorious depiction of modern dance movement, with its quiet hand gestures, dramatic leg kicks and the swirl of dancers "fluttering, skittering, reaching up to the sky." A stunning achievement.” ―Kirkus (STARRED)
“Greenberg and Jordan continue to carve out their art-focused niche with this inspired book about collaboration.... In spot art and full-bleed scenes, Floca's muted, elegantly composed watercolors capture Noguchi's avant-garde set and the posture and movement of the dancers. Capturing the drama of dance, music, and stage design in a two-dimensional format is no easy feat, but this team does it with a noteworthy grace of their own.” ―Publishers Weekly (STARRED)
“If Martha Graham's choreography for 'Appalachian Spring' was a 'valentine" to the world, as critics wrote in 1944, then this book is a love letter in return. Simple, poetic prose tells the story of the creation of one of the world's most-loved ballets and compositions, and Floca's graceful watercolor illustrations take admirers through every part of its development...The authors researched extensively but found a way to crystallize all of the information into a gem that is approachable for young readers.” ―School Library Journal (STARRED)
“The dancers all read the advance copy of Ballet for Martha and were charmed, thrilled, blown away, delighted, etc, etc! We all love it!” ―Janet Eilber, Artistic, Director of the Martha Graham Center
About the Author
JAN GREENBERG and SANDRA JORDAN are the authors of many distinguished books about art, including ACTION JACKSON and CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE: Through the Gates and Beyond. Ms. Greenberg lives in St. Louis, MO. Ms. Jordan lives in New York, NY.
BRIAN FLOCA has written and/or illustrated over a dozen books, including MOONSHOT: The Flight of Apollo 11 and LIGHTSHIP (Sibert Award Honor Books). A native of Texas, Brian lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Sometimes art is made by one artist, working alone, but sometimes it is the result of artists working together - collaborating - to forge something new." New was not an unfamiliar word to dancer Martha Graham. She spent a great deal of her life exploring new types of dance in the mid-20th century. And when she wanted to make a dance about American living, she turned to composer Aaron Copland. With much revision to her vision, Copland wrote for Martha music based on the old Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts". After that, Isamu Noguchi was hired to create the spare sets for the production. The show was called "Appalachian Spring" and it has since become an American classic. The kind that can be recreated and reenacted forever, all because three different people got together to make a ballet that displayed their best works. A "Curtain Call" afterword says more about the lives of each of the three artists and a Notes and Sources section includes a Bibliography, Web Sites, and additional Notes.
Now as I see it, it would make very little sense to write a book about the creation of "Appalachian Spring" if you used an overabundance of flowery language. As such, I can't help but think that Greenberg and Jordan made a conscious decision at some point in the game to write the book with plain, simple text. The words are full of description but don't overwhelm Floca's illustrations. Sentences like "The bridegroom twirls with his bride. Then she prances in quick small steps" do an excellent job at conveying precisely what this ballet would feel like to watch. Even before you get to the pictures, the authors have synthesized the show's process into a scant 48 pages. And while the bulk of the focus rests on Martha, the writers continually pull the focus back to the music, the set, the set, the music. Even if Copland and Noguchi aren't prancing around the stage with Martha, they're present in even piece of the dance. They are as much a part of this show as she is. This book works because it doesn't shove them off to the side or conveniently forget about them. After all, all shows are collaborations. And as the very last sentence reads, in cases where new productions of "Appalachian Spring" are mounted, ". . . the collaboration will be created anew."
At first I felt that the book was near bereft of conflict. This is Martha Graham we're talking about. She knew what she wanted, she got it, and she was not a pushover. One has to assume that there were moments of tension within this collaboration. Rereading Ballet for Martha, though, I located those moments. There was the dancers' initial discomfort with Noguchi's set, for example. Or the fact that sometimes when Martha couldn't get a dance right, "She has a tantrum. She screams. She yells. She throws a shoe. The dancers wait. Martha figures it out." When writing her plan for the ballet to Aaron he had her rewrite her ideas until they made sense. The conflict is there, but it's useful conflict. The kind that includes the kind of give-and-take you need to work on a single vision with someone else.
When it comes to establishing a time or era set in the past, Mad Men's got nuthin' on Brian Floca, and you can quote me on that. The man's range is extraordinary. One minute it's cute little mice in books by Avi, the next he's delving into a light fantasy, and then the next thing you know he's taking our men to the moon. Ballet for Martha reigns Floca in a bit, after the massive success of Moonshot though the two books have more similarities than differences. For example, Floca allows himself the occasional sweeping vista, as when we see the fictional farmer and bride staring out over a vast, near empty prairie. But where Moonshot was all about the mechanics and grandiose heart-stopping breadth of space itself, Ballet for Martha zeroes in on the individual. That's a funny thing to say, considering that the book is collaboration-based, but it's true. Floca shows us the human body in motion. From Graham's distinctive contraction and release style to the ways in which a person moves in a single space. He's also very good at showing collaborative dancing, where a person is meant to share space and movement with another. In essence, share the spotlight. Which, to a large degree, is the very point of the book itself.
Beyond the watercolors, I was interested in the ways in which Floca uses handwriting to make a point. This happens only three or four times in the book, but it was enough to catch my eye. The most riveting picture, possibly in the whole book, is the one Floca created for Graham's 1929 piece "Heretic". There we see a wall of women in black, a single woman in white on her knees before them, and the words "Heretic, 1929" scrawled in white in a lower right hand corner. This imposing use of handwriting stands in contrast to previous page where the black on white writing explains the contraction and release movements so aligned with Graham's work. The only other real time handwriting is invoked comes when Floca illustrates the orchestra. Though the text explains who is present, Floca's handwriting touches on each member's instrument. You might not notice that there is handwriting in the book on a first or second read, but on the third or fourth it catches your eye. Maybe that's why Floca chooses to use it. It's a way of drawing your attention to something in a firm but subtle way. Something to ponder, anyway.
The book would pair very well with individual biographies of each of the three collaborators, like Noguchi's bio, The East-West House: Noguchi's Childhood in Japan by Christy Hale or Russell Freedman's Martha Graham: A Dancer's Life or Mike Venezia's Aaron Copland (there's not a lot on Copland out there for kids). Alas, the Bibliography at the back of this book contains a list of titles more appropriate for adults than kids, so you won't find any of these books mentioned there. Still and all, I suspect that there's enough information in this book to get some people interested in seeking out the original music (or video of the performance on YouTube for that matter).
Just as the original ballet was a collaboration between three people, so too is this book. Two authors plus one illustrator equals a way of telling a story that is too often ignored. Practical applications for collaborating with others based on real world events in a picture book form? Rare. Books that read and look this good together? Rarer still. A book that works as both a practical object and a beautiful text. Sometimes we just need stories that show us how to make things.
As I read this book and neared the end I could have sworn I heard music in my head.
When I finished all was quiet. There is so much information, so much beauty, so much dance, so much story. The illustrations are gorgeous and I feel like I have learned about American music, ballet and art, Martha Graham, Aaron Copland and Isamu Noguchi while thoroughly enjoying this book. The story and illustrations flowed smoothly and as the music in my head slowly faded I was happy there was a "curtain call" and to continue reading. Highly recommended for fans of dance, music, art and Americana.
The noted and revered American artist, Isamu Noguchi, born in Los Angeles, was taken to Japan by his mother to meet his estranged father when he was three, and then sent back to America when thirteen to "reclaim his heritage". "Thirteen-year-old Isamu, his suitcase packed with his carpenter tools, traveled alone by steamship to California, then by train to Indiana to a boarding school his mother had read about in a magazine. Like Martha, his first view of the huge American landscape was through a train window. He arrived at the school, only to find that it had been closed to become an army base to train troops for World War I (1914-1918). Isamu stayed with a [local] family in a nearby town [LaPorte IN] until he graduated [from the local Public High School in 1922]." In his own words he had become "a real Hoosier."
That historic aside doesn't interfere with the delightfully pictured storytelling that takes a youngster soaring in his mind's eye through Americana. --Glenn Ralston