Ballet for Martha

Sometimes art is made by one artist, working alone, but sometimes it is the result of artists working together--collaborating--to forge something new.

At this point, I'm just adding my voice to the chorus of praise (including five starred reviews) for Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan's latest collaboration, the picture book Ballet for Martha:  Making Appalachian Spring (illustrated by Brian Floca; Roaring Brook, 2010).  Actually, authors Greenberg and Jordan (Action Jackson, 2002; Christo and Jean-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond, 2008) also collaborated with Floca and editor Neal Porter (not to mention book designer Jennifer Browne) to an unusual degree in the making of this book; see Booklist's Story Behind the Story (June, 2010) for their process.

Back to the book itself, which is about the collaboration of choreographer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copland, and artist Isamu Noguchi in the making of Appalachian Spring (link is to a filmed version from 1959; the first performance was on October 30, 1944 at the Library of Congress).  Somehow Ballet for Martha beautifully conveys a Graham-like sense of movement, music, and spaciousness; all qualities that would seem to resist the book form.  It's in the spareness of the text, and the line of the illustrations.  And--a point that has not yet been made, I don't think--it's a book about ballet that's not pink.  No tutu required.

I did wonder who had designed the costumes (Martha Graham herself); an original cast member was able to describe the colors to Floca.  I should note that in the final image, of an imagined performance, the Bride is wearing a pink dress!  It must have been impossible to resist.  The back matter ("Curtain Call") includes brief biographies of Graham, Copland, and Noguchi, each accompanied by a photograph of the artist dating to the 1940s; as well as extensive source notes and bibliography.

Ballet for Martha is a masterpiece--both of them.  Don't miss it!