The Dancer, The Composer, and The Artist

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring
By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Illustrated by Brian Floca
(Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2010, $17.99)

The performing arts are magical because they appear effortless. When you see a dance or theatrical performance, you don’t see the long weeks and months of preparation behind it – or the many creative and hard-working people backstage. In Ballet for Martha, Jan Greenberg, Sandra Jordan, and Brian Floca show children how collaboration, intense effort, and even frustration lie behind the greatest performances.

Ballet for Martha explores how three artists worked together to create the ballet Appalachian Spring. Dancer and choreographer Martha Graham wrote the story and planned the steps, Aaron Copland composed the music, and sculptor Isamu Noguchi designed the stage set. To play their parts, Copland and Noguchi had to understand and embrace Martha’s vision. All three artists had to plan and revise and start from scratch over and over again. (While choreographing the ballet, Graham occasionally threw tantrums, which her dancers took in stride.) All three had to be flexible. But, on October 30, 1944, Appalachian Spring, the simple story of a frontier wedding, premiered to wide acclaim in Washington D.C.

Brian Floca’s illustrations capture both the artists’ perseverance and the excitement of their debut performance. When the curtain finally opens, readers view the lighted stage from the back of the darkened theatre. Then Floca moves in for a series of close-ups, capturing the lithe grace of the female dancers and the robust energy of their male counterparts.

Ballet for Martha is an exhilarating introduction to three artists and art forms. Perhaps the most exciting and inspiring line appears on the last page when the authors discuss future interpretations of Appalachian Spring: “And the collaboration will be created anew.” There, Greenberg and Jordan invite kids to think of art not as the static product of one exceptional brain, but the ever-changing creation of many minds.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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