The Soraya has partnered with the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Los Angeles-based Wild Up music collective to present the World Premiere of a Digital Dance Creation that was inspired by Martha Graham’s lost solo from 1937 titled Immediate Tragedy on June 19, 2020. The solo was created by Graham in response to the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War took place from 1936 to 1939 and has been frequently called the “dress rehearsal” for World War II due to the international political climate at the time. The Nationalists won the war and ruled Spain from 1939 until Franco’s death in November 1975.

Janet Eilber

Janet Eilber

Graham created her solo in collaboration with composer Henry Cowell and because it was never filmed, for decades it was considered lost until the author Neil Baldwin uncovered much of the archival material while researching his forthcoming book Martha Graham: When Dance Became Modern (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.).  The materials that Baldwin uncovered included letters between Graham and Cowell, photos, reviews and writings, materials that were the inspiration for the re-imagining of Immediate Tragedy choreographed by Artistic Director Janet Eilber, music composed and conducted by Wild Up’s Christopher Rountree, performed by 14 dancers, and 6 musicians each recorded from the safety of their homes. The Digital Design and Editing is by Ricki Quinn who heads Digital and New Media at The Soraya.

This new work involved 22 artists collaborating from different locations across the U.S. and Europe utilizing a variety of technologies to coordinate all the creative elements of movement, music, and digital design. Anyone who has tried to put together a group singing in unison on a Zoom webinar knows that this requires a high level of innovation and technical skill.

Rehearsals are taking place now for this new Immediate Tragedy and being created remotely under the strict guidelines of social distancing. The final creation is being brought together through the close coordination between The Soraya’s video editor Quinn, choreographer Eilber, and composer Rountree.

Martha Graham in Immediate Tragedy. Photograph by Robert Fraser, 1937. Courtesy of Martha Graham Resources, a division of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Inc.

Martha Graham in Immediate Tragedy. Photograph by Robert Fraser, 1937. Courtesy of Martha Graham Resources, a division of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Inc.

In the May 28th press release, The Soraya’s Executive Director Thor Steingraber spoke to the difficulties of providing work for artists during the COVID-19 pandemic, how he finds this project a wonderful opportunity to create work for dancers and musicians. “The innovative spirit and brilliance of Janet Eilber and Chris Rountree make a project like this possible.  I am proud that The Soraya first brought them together in 2017, a collaboration that has subsequently continued worldwide.” Steingraber said.

Eilber said that she had been thinking about a choreographic response to Graham’s lost solo for approximately two years. When the presumed lost archival materials were discovered along with some other writing, she knew that she at least had a chance to create the new work that she envisioned. “…and I knew Thor and Chris would be ideal partners for this out-of-the-box plan.  The ephemera of Graham’s Immediate Tragedy gives us potent and relevant ideas that resonate deeply with our current tragedy.  Even in its absence, the passion with which Graham worked is palpable, and the inspirational courage of the people she depicted is sorely needed now.”

Christopher Rountree - Photo by Maria Jose Govea

Christopher Rountree – Photo by Maria Jose Govea

While the piece is really located in a ‘post Henry Cowell’ space, another big inspiration is: this moment itself, and the immediate tragedy of us all being apart. What are our modes of being together in this moment? What does it look like, what does it sound like and how do we deal with being apart like this?,” said Rountree.  “We’ve followed this digital process, and what I’ve come to is some kind of iterative, call and response, where we hear shadows of multiple  musicians’ voices, echoing and preempting each other.  Like some simple but all too glitchy Zoom meeting.”

Although the new digital Immediate Tragedy is only 10 minutes long, the 30-minute world premiere that takes place on June 19 and 20 also includes interviews with all the collaborators, and a screening of Deep Song, a solo that Eilber created as a companion to Graham’s 1937 solo.

Commissioned by The Soraya, Immediate Tragedy premieres June 19, 2020 with Choreography by Janet Eilber and dancers of Martha Graham Dance Company, Music composed and conducted by Christopher Rountree, and Digital Design and Editing by Ricki Quinn.

Martha Graham Dance Company members who are performing in Immediate Tragedy include: So Young An, Alessio Crognale, Laurel Dalley Smith, Natasha Diamond-Walker, Lloyd Knight, Charlotte Landreau, Jacob Larsen, Lloyd Mayor, Marzia Memoli, Anne O’Donnell, Lorenzo Pagano, Anne Souder, Leslie Andrea Williams, Xin Ying.  The Musicians include Wild Up’s Jiji, Richard Valitutto, Jodie Landau, Brian Walsh, and Derek Stein.

Immediate Tragedy will be presented Friday, June 19 at 4pm (PDT)/7pm (EDT) during Fridays at 4 on The Soraya Facebook page, and Saturday, June 20 at 11:30am/2:30pm at the Martha Matinee on the Graham Company’s YouTube Channel.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LADC

To learn more about The Soraya, click HERE.

To visit the Martha Graham Dance Company website, click HERE.

To visit the Wild Up website, click HERE.

Featured image: Martha Graham in Immediate Tragedy. Photograph by Robert Fraser, 1937. Courtesy of Martha Graham Resources, a division of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Inc.