Friday, April 08, 2011

Martha Graham and Agnes De Mille This is a re post from April 29th, 2006. I had occasion to re-read this because someone contacted me about Agnes DeMille just a few days ago....I loved what this said so much that I decided it was important to re-state it all, once again....So, here it is. “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate artist is pleased…there is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others” The great dancer and choreographer, Agnes De Mille, wrote about what the great Martha Graham said to her in her Biography. Those words above, are that quotation....there is more to this, I believe, but this is all I've ever seen.... In 1984, my dear friend Betty Garrett was in a beautiful Tony nominated play called “Quilters” here in Los Angeles at The Mark Taper Forum, (part of The Los Angeles Music Center Complex.) This is a wonderfully inspiring play honoring the indominability of the American Pioneer Woman and all she had to endure to survive. The play involves seven women. An “every mother” and her six “every daughters”. In this production, Betty played the ‘every mother’ role. Combining songs, music, dance and dramatic scenes, this play pays eloquent tribute to the courageousness and the spirit of our nation’s pioneer women. Each scene is defined by story blocks in a quilt presented as a backdrop for the show and it is based on actual oral history’s of American frontier women in the mid-1800’s represented in a ‘Heritage Quilt” that the ‘every mother’ character prepares for her ‘every daughters’. The production at The Taper was exquisite. It was moving and original in its concept and staging and all the actresses were first rate. I saw the show three times and was deeply moved by it each time. This is one of those shows where the cast bonded in a fantastic way during their extended rehearsal period and because of that bonding and the great love and reverence they all had for this material, they began this special ritual before every performance. The seven actresses would meet in Betty’s dressing room about 15 minutes before curtain and stand in a circle holding hands, almost like a meditation, and each night one of the actresses would share something inspiring with the others…something that gave them a sense of community as ‘artists’ together. These moments before the curtain, were used as a way to drop the days stresses and trauma’s, to leave behind the cares of the day as preparation for the work they were about to do, and to become again, the superb ensemble that they had become during their ten-hour-days-six-week-rehearsal process….needless to say, this nightly ritual served the show beautifully. Part of the ritual was that whatever was shared was then written down in a “Quilters” Diary so that there was a record of what had taken place…weather it was a poem or a song or an inspiring piece of writing such as this quotation from Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille… ... Betty invited me to come down to the theatre one night to be their ‘inspiration’ for that performance. She wanted me to sing a particular song from “Spoon River” that she felt would 'center' the group and be a lovely way to contribute to this nightly preparation ritual. I was quite honored to say the least. It was pretty awesome to be a part of this beautiful show in whatever way possible. And it was a bit daunting and it felt like a huge responsibility to know that whatever I did would set the tone for that performance. But, I felt very privileged to be participating. So I was in Betty's dressing room before it was time for all of the women to get together, and as Betty was doing her make-up, she showed me the “Quilters” diary so I could look at it and also so I could write down what I was going to do before the performance on that particular evening. I began leafing through the diary after I had written down what I was contributing that night and came across that quotation of Martha Graham’s, (Incidentally Betty G. had studied with Martha Graham when she first went to New York and had performed in her dance company on Broadway, as well) . I had not been aware of this quotation before. I’d never heard it or read it or anything. I found it so moving and important to me personally, that it brought tears to my eyes. As an artist, as a creator this quotation reached right into my soul; right into the core of me. Betty felt the same way as I did and so did the rest of the “Quilters” cast…I could see why one of the cast members had brought this quotation into to their circle for inspiration. I copied this quote on a small piece of yellow note paper, right there and then. And when I got home that night I put it on my bookcase in my bedroom where I could see it every day of my life and be reminded of these profound words. This piece of note paper has been sitting there on my bookcase for these 22 years. It is frayed and kind of faded but for me it is just as fresh and deeply inspiring as it was, the first time I read it.

Martha Graham was a fantastic innovator. American Masters said about her: “Martha Graham’s impact on dance was staggering and often compared to that of Picasso on painting, Stravinsky on music, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s on architecture. Her contributions transformed the art form, revitalizing and expanding dance around the world. In her search to express herself freely and honestly, she created the Martha Graham Dance Company. As a teacher, Graham trained and inspired generations of fine dancers and choreographers.” And The Kennedy Center had this to say about Agnes de Mille: “Although Agnes de Mille seemed destined to perform on Broadway, since her paternal grandfather, father, and Uncle, Cecil B. de Mille were all successful writers and actors involved in the theatre, she avoided the easy path to The Great White Way. Instead, she struggled in obscurity and poverty, courageously pursuing a career as a dancer and choreographer. When her amazing talent was finally recognized, and she made her way to the stage, she transformed the world of musical comedy and ballet forever.”

Both these great great woman artists lived a very long time. Martha Graham was 97 when she died and de Mille was 88. How many women—how many people have both these artists inspired and touched and enlightened with their great talent and their wise understanding of what it is to be an artist and to live the life of an artist…? How very many people have read those words of Martha Graham’s and said to themselves, ‘yes’….I must never forget the importance of these words. I have shared this quote with so very many young people from time to time over the years, especially when I see someone struggling with what to do with their lives and/or being discouraged by how difficult what they have chosen to do or be, is….

The struggle and discouragement that faces artists is so very difficult and often depressing in it's loneliness and sometimes very killing to the spirit…these words of the great Martha Graham remind you that you are unique….”there is only one of you in all of time”, and further, that “if you block it, it will never exist through any medium and be lost….”. If we are to cherish something let us cherish ourselves. Let us nurture ourselves and honor that which would not exist if we do not do this, and by cherishing this, we allow who we are and what we are to grow and to be expressed in whatever way is true to ourselves. Amen, Amen.

More To Come..............

NOTE: It seems so fitting to me that I would re-read this almost on the eve of The Celebration Of Betty's life---(I will post about that, next time)----She too was an inspiration to so very many people---she too lived a very long and incredibly productive life, in every way......

Blogger won't let me do the paragraphs like I want to---Grrrrrr. So, bear with me here....... Update: Saturday, April 9th, 2011. The incredibly talented film director, Sidney Lumet, died this morning. I had just written a post about one of his most memorable films "The Verdict" in March.....He was a Giant in the world of Film and Directing.....One of the last of a group of fantastic directors who began directing in what became known as The Golden Age Of Television.....His great great body of work includes such classic films as "Dog Day Afternoon", "Network", "Serpico", "Long Days Journey Into Night"---to name just a few....I admired him greatly. RIP, Mr. Lumet. We won't see his like, again.

Links to this post:


had this to say:

That is an awesome quote and I can understand the impact it had on you. "It is not your business to determine how good it is . . . It is your business to keep . . . the channel open." I feel reprimanded and have a guilty conscience. I wrote manically for years. By the time I was 20 I had literally thousands of poems and a number of stories and articles. As I got older, I got more critical of my work, and rather than continue, I put it all aside by age 30 because I believed none of it was any good. I felt most alive when I wrote, now after shutting it all down so long ago, that inspiration never comes anymore.

Friday, April 8, 2011 at 5:09:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

there is most certainly but one of you my dear friend

I know planning for Betty's memorial must be so challenging
I am thinking of you as I always do
and Hope sends big hugs

Friday, April 8, 2011 at 5:29:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

The public becomes enamored with the people on the stage or in front of the camera. It's good to hear about the DeMilles of the world whose vision, the artist interprets for the rest of us.


Friday, April 8, 2011 at 7:34:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

wow.. its like making an afghan in some sense my friend.. we all have our talents and that is what keeps us going.

Thanks for sharing this with us. I will have to keep it in mind for lots of things coming my way..

Friday, April 8, 2011 at 4:07:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

The quote reminds me of how I feel about poetry too. I tap in like finding water and if I don't, it's gone. I need water and poetry to live.

This is a very moving post, especially the part about the clearing circle that the women did. I saw it all play out, and you coming to sing, like it was a scene from a movie.

Friday, April 8, 2011 at 5:45:00 PM PDT 

Blogger Pat
had this to say:

What an inspiring post and all the different threads combine - like a quilt - so typical of America -to remind us of great women of the arts. I remember the impact Martha Graham had internationally. In the fifties I think.

What a precious piece of paper - I'd be inclined to do what I've done with bits of Egyptian papyrus and enclose it between two sheets of glass, but you obviously take great care of it.
I wonder if Madonna's habit of the cast of her shows meditating in a circle before the curtain was inspired by Betty?
So many people must have been encouraged to fulfil their hopes and dreams by Betty, Agnes and Martha.

Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 3:00:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

this is a post worth "reposting". Betty really touched so much in your life. But then, that's what makes the friendship last so long.

Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 4:23:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Just read about sidney Lumet and his death. I am a huge Paul Newman fan..loved the The Verdict. One of the few movies my mother and I both like. And of course Serpico and DD afternoon. Great post worth reposting. I thank you for educating me about art and theatre. I love your blog...your a great teller of stories and the beauty in this life..zman sends

Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 5:10:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

What a beautiful and inspirational post, Naomi! That quote is going into my book to keep for all time and I will share it on Facebook. I LOVE it...and the stories behind these wonderful women.

"...the Eve of the Celebration of Betty's life...I'd like to hear more about that, my friend. I love your stories about Betty.

Hugs and besos and all the very best to you and Sweetie!! xo

Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 6:26:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

I love the quote that you showed us, and I also love the way you have illustrated your post about "Quilters" with pictures of quilts, I especially appreciate the last picture, fabulous design and colours.
Sadly, many of the well known names associated with show business and movies seem to be lost to us just recently. You are right about Sidney Lumet, a very talented director, one of a kind indeed.

Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 8:01:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Inspired post, as always, Naomi! You did a great job here!
Very wise these words of the great Martha Graham: ”there is only one of you in all of time”, and further, that “if you block it, it will never exist through any medium and be lost….”.

I am sorry that Sidney Lumet died... Last month I review Serpico, with the great Al Pacino.

PS: Flora sends to you and to Sweetie kisses and hugs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 12:45:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

That is an inspiring quote, indeed. Do you mind if I share it with my granddaughter? She's just ten years old and I'm going to Kansas on Wednesday to see her in her first starring role as Alice in a musical production of Alice in Wonderland. And although she's only ten, I know she will appreciate the message.

Thank you, Naomi. You are so special.

Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 1:00:00 PM PDT 

Blogger Ann
had this to say:

such an inspiring post!
I have come via Vagabonde..have signed to follow you as I do not want to miss out on your posts. I must take time to sit and go through all your past words.
I was deeply saddened to her of Mr.Lumets death..I have long been a fan and great admirer of his work..a great loss to the industry.

Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 2:13:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

A post about Quilters seems apropos, Naomi. Each quilt block is imbued with the spirit of the quilter, and each is decidedly unique. A fitting metaphor.
I hope you're being good to yourself, and are letting yourself be surrounded by the love that is coming your way from all over this fine blue planet. ♡

Monday, April 11, 2011 at 8:14:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

I enjoyed re-reading this post – it was as interesting as the first reading and I love the quotation at the top – so well said.

Monday, April 11, 2011 at 8:32:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Wonderful post Naomi and it deserves more than one repeat.
I think the words "there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique" needs to be burned into our being from birth.
I thought the preperformance ritual so inspiring and am sure your song set the right tone.
Thank you for such a lovely, thought provoking post.

Monday, April 11, 2011 at 11:34:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

I would say that Martha Graham was a woman with insight.
What a wonderful quote, and I understand why it means so much to you.
Those words could mean so much to so many. Kevin

Monday, April 11, 2011 at 1:11:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

I have never thought of life as a quilt sewn with a pattern of people..... Thank you for the thought.

Monday, April 11, 2011 at 6:54:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

Thank you for the quote. Walking tonight I thought about another, either invented by a friend of mine, or not. "We're each a little piece of the universe, aware of itself." I find great comfort in that.

Monday, April 11, 2011 at 10:11:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

This is one of your very finest posts!!! I stand in awe of it's glory from beginning to end. Thank you for sharing this! After a less that stellar week, this is so welcome to my tired soul! Bless you, my friend!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 10:42:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

What powerful words that I'd never read before. I wish I had heard them when I was young. Your counsel to young people must be most welcome and is generous of you.

This is an exceptional piece and well worth sharing again as you have here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 12:20:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

My dear Naomi, I have just read Vagabonde's recent post, and I love it. It describes a certain fascinating lady who lives in the hills above Hollywood. I wonder who that could be? And the description of that lady's life and career and beautiful home is delightful! Blogging gives us the opportunity to meet such interesting people, people that we might never come in contact with in the course of a normal day, people who become friends even though we may never meet in person. I am so glad that you both enjoyed your visit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 5:44:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Thank you Naomi for sharinng the the inspiring quote and yes, we have to cherish ourselves and nurture our soul as well.

Thinking of you and Seemah always :D

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 5:24:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

Wonderful as usual dear Naomi! That is an awesome quote and I can see why it would mean so much to you.

I think I would have liked that play, Quilters. I also like the fact that they came together before each performance like that. How wonderful that you got to sing for them!! You write so well and I could picture it all in my mind as I was reading your post!!


Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 7:56:00 PM PDT 

Anonymous Molly Newman
had this to say:

I found your blog after googling Betty Garrett and was so pleased to read your remembrance of the Taper production of QUILTERS. I'm the co-author of the play, Molly Newman, and I wonder where Betty's diary ended up. I'm in touch with some of the actors from the LA production and I know they'd love to see it. Do you have it?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 9:37:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Hi Molly....thanks for stopping by. I do not have that Diary and I have no idea where it is, unless the family still has it. I will ask her son, Garrett....If you could email me your email, that would be a better way to communicate....
My Email: myrtillo1984 AT yahoo DOT com.

I loved Quilters and I know Betty adored doing it....Such a rich beautiful show.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 11:50:00 AM PDT 

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