DOI link for History/theory—criticism/practice
Three modern dancers circa 1946-One Who Seeks, She of the Ground, and He Who Summons —perform amidst a field of Isamu Noguchi’s phallic stelae at New York City’s Plymouth Theatre. “You go back and torture yourself at the typewriter. If you can get the first paragraph out, it isn’t too bad, but to sit there and that first paragraph won’t come is agonizing. You’re full of impressions, but you’re not giving out.”1 Three “discourses”—one discursively critical, the second intensely performative, the third intervening in their historical relationship to unsettle the duality performance/discourse-move alongside one another in the symbolic twilight/dawn of dance studies: John Martin’s journalism and aesthetics, Martha Graham’s 1946 dance work Dark Meadow, and this essay scrutinizing their dialogue. At this particular juncture of the criticism/practice split in modernism, roles are reversed: Graham becomes the “mind” and Martin the “body,” Graham the “male” and Martin the “female,” Graham the “cogito” and Martin “space” or res extensa.2 One Who Seeks sinks backward against the floor before the most centrally located and tallest stele; Erick Hawkins, dressed in a half skirt, peers out from behind the monument; May O’Donnell bears witness stiffly, pointing at Graham’s supine figure; Martin watches from the darkened auditorium, his body straining to empathize with these figures, to grasp their…? The curtain falls. “I was in a state of despair, and as I passed along the back aisle, my colleagues were waiting for me… ‘John, what are you going to say? What was this about, John?’ I gave my usual wisecrack, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t read the New York Times yet’”3 (Figure 2.1). On the horizon of this inquiry into practice/ criticism is a reformulation of that other duality history/theory in the context of aesthetic modernism.