Martha Graham: In Love and War — Dance Historian, Choreographer and Dancer Mark Franko

Mark Franko Directing
© Cynthia Fischer

You once commented that choreography is an intellectual operation. Would you elaborate further?

I was taken to see dance as a young child. I remember being particularly impressed with Haitian dancing that I saw both live and in the movies. I also had a great interest in Native American dance in the way a child might have a scholarly, that is serious, interest in dance as something to study and learn about.

Each choreographic work worth considering has an internal logic, a poetic that has been conceived based on a history of choices and positions about movement, physical dynamics, and semiotics. Choreography is a complex construction the principle of which also frequently goes lost and cannot be retrieved. For these reasons I referred to it as “intellectual” to differentiate from the notion that it is spontaneous and unreflective.

Your latest book, Martha Graham: In Love and War, is a solid study on Martha Graham with well-researched and analytical takes on four of her most lyrical and politically evocative works. The chapter on myth, nationalism and embodiment in American Document, in particular, explores the influence of archetypal myths in her aesthetics. Why do you think such gravity no longer exists in today’s dance scene?

Well, that’s a hard question. I think you could ask it across the entire art scene as well, no? One is never sure whether such a judgment might mean we are blind to the present and limited by our past. Surely, the same things cannot continue to interest us, and styles must change. Yet, how much do people read and reflect as a part of the creative process? I think the main point is we no longer have a culture that encourages this kind of deep and layered reflection and meditation. Economically, it has become almost impossible to sustain a dance company today unless one is independently wealthy or highly supported. The results are more commercial.

Mark Franko in his choreography
Le Marbre tremble
© Lillian Gee

In the introduction, you note, “Graham built her reputation on the gradual development of an unusual relationship to the audience, a relationship that was also nurtured by the projection of her image in the media, which extended its reach throughout the decade.” How, in your opinion, has the American assessment of Graham’s work evolved since her demise in 1991? And in the rest of the world — Europe for instance?

It is said that an artist goes into eclipse after their death, but then may return. Perhaps it is Graham’s time to have a revival of interest just about now, twenty years after her death. I am not sure whether that is happening or not. I am not at all sure there is any awareness of Graham in Europe at this point.

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