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.



12 thoughts on “Dances for Martha: A remake of Appalachian Spring

  1. Dear Ms. Lerman,
    I hope you’ll forgive my using your blog as a way to connect with you, but I was unsure how to reach you in another way. I am writing from historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. We are a National Historic Landmark, founded in 1838. We do a lot of unusual things for a cemetery, including outdoor theater productions, concerts and also dance performances. You can learn more about us here: We have a rich history in the Civil War, including almost 5,000 veterans from that war who are interred here. We are interested in talking to you about Healing Wars. May I ask you to contact me?
    With crossed fingers and best regards,

    Lisa W. Alpert | Director of Development and Marketing
    500 25th Street
    Brooklyn, NY 11232
    (718) 210-3011

  2. Gail Wells says:

    I only first learned about you today and thought I would check out your blog. Thank you for sharing this wonderful work of art! I was moved deeply, I found myself smiling at times and crying at others along with occasional chills. So, with that being said, I am moved beyond any other words than… Thank you again.

  3. Laura Quiroga says:

    Dear Liz Lerman!
    It is one of the best works I’ve seen in a while.
    Imagination, creativity, dance, music …. A “complete work of art”!
    Congratulations, you’re always in my memory a big hug and thanks
    for being such a great artist!

  4. Gayle Stamler says:

    What a breathtakingly beautiful rendering of one of my favorite pieces of music, and what a treat to see Martha in such a central role. I wish I could have been there. The young musicians did an extraordinary job with your choreography, which is brilliant. Am I gushing? So be it. By the way, have any of the musicians written or recorded anything about what this experience was like? I would love to hear about it.

      • Gayle Stamler says:

        Thanks, Liz — I will check it out. We are doing really well in our Oregon paradise. I look forward to following your next project.

  5. Renée Brown says:

    Beautiful. My 6 year old wishes she could have been in the audience! We are so grateful that the web makes viewing this amazing experience a reality. Thank you.

  6. Joanne Burke says:

    Martha Wittman is so beautiful. The way that she flings and caresses all that energy around the stage is breathtaking. And the musicians, its like they’ve been waiting all their lives to just let that energy burst forth and move. Many meanings and many layers here. I’m so glad it was recorded (and kudos to the video people!) because this bears watching again and again.

  7. Lynn Cornell says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed watching this performance and then sharing it with my family. Kudos to all of the musicians involved.
    I thought you might enjoy seeing this tony award winning performance:

  8. Pingback: ‘Tis a gift » A Cup of Kindness - Menus and meditations on a weighed and measured life

    • Dear Valerie
      i did not know that but what i do know is that a person has to be in a receiving place so that whatever it was happened between us together.
      i think of that period as so fertile for me… so much learning. give my love to your family and sending you my best

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