In the summer of 1938 visionary choreographer Martha Graham premiered American Document, a tribute to her own American Heritage. The dance-drama incorporated vaudevillian structures, folk rhythms, and spoken text to examine America and the continual conflict between the rights of the individual and society. The central questions posed throughout the work asks: ‘What is America? and “What is an American?”
In the summer of 2010 an ad hoc group of dancers, actors, and musicians from northwest lower Michigan created and produced the nation’s first civic version of this work. The poignant words of Michigan-born, Pulizter-prize winner author, Bruce Catton were integrated into Graham’s script of found text by Walt Whitman, Thomas Paine, Jonathan Edwards, Chief Red Jacket of the Senecas, John Wise, and Francis Ferguson. Historical records included excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, as well the Old Testament’s Song of Songs. Writer, poet and activist Holly Wren Spaulding and activist-musician Tim Joseph portrayed the Interlocutors. Dancers were Brooke Beuby, Jamaica Lynn Weston, Gretchen Eichberger, Hughthir White, Stephen Kelly, and James Weston Lynne. Musician Rick Jones provided accompaniment that was between each episode. Musical selections were by American composers Aaron Copland, Mark O’Connor, Samuel Barber, John Newton, Scott Joplin, Edgar Meyer, and John Adams.
The work was performed to celebrate the centennial the Mills Community House, a former girls dormitory for the Benzonia Academy. The work is scheduled for encore performances in the upcoming months. A schedule of these shows is forthcoming. Photography is by Robert Bushway.