Art Making, Artistic Process

Dances for Martha: A remake of Appalachian Spring


University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra violin section

Over 10 years ago I was at a gathering at the University of Maryland that was part of the launch of the Center for Creative Research. We had dinner together and we were supposed to connect with various faculty and discover ways for choreographers and scholars to work together. I was placed at a table with the idea that I would work with the department of Jewish Studies. But sitting next to me was Jim Ross, who leads the symphonic and conducting programs at the school. We started talking and haven’t stopped.

Last month we premiered our latest project. The orchestra memorized “Appalachian Spring,” and then they danced it. Our team included Martha Wittman, Vincent Thomas, and the conductor Enrico Lopez-Yanez. It was magical. We worked very hard but somehow it didn’t seem that way. Imagine being in a work environment and hearing this beautiful music played live over and over and over – it’s almost transcendental. I had grown up with Copland, both of my parents loving his work. “Appalachian Spring” was something I heard before I saw it. And so when I finally did see Graham’s dance, sometime in my teens, I was, and this is hard to say, disappointed. She was one of my childhood heroes so I only assumed I would love whatever she did. But the austerity of that dance and the movement vocabulary just didn’t fulfill my own imaginings for the music.

So now, all these years later, I had a chance to make something as emotional as the music. And we did. The incredible Martha Wittman led us all with her brilliant dancing. Vincent Thomas’ incredible ability to move large groups of people around made our rehearsal process go so much better. Enrico Lopez-Yanez, a conducting student, is a natural mover. And Jim Ross’s vision of excellence and experimentation going hand-in-hand is always a thrill to be around.

Here is the video. Please take a look and let me know what you think.