Martha Graham created Canticle for Innocent Comedians in 1952, taking the title and inspiration from the 1938 poem by Ben Belitt, her old friend and colleague at the Bennington School of the Dance. The multifaceted work was built around eight virtuosic vignettes for the stars of the Graham Company, each celebrating a different element of nature: Sun, Earth, Wind, Water, Fire, Moon, Stars and Death. The work was well received, reputed to have been magical; however, there is only a fragmented record remaining, and it is considered lost.
This 2022 Canticle for Innocent Comedians is a reimagining of the original. The choreography is completely new but draws upon Graham’s stylistic blueprint. The vignettes have been re-made for today’s Graham stars by eight dance-makers from diverse backgrounds. Fortunately, Graham’s staging of “Moon” was filmed in the 1950s and is included in the new production.
A lyrical, percussive, ruminative score has been created by the great jazz pianist, Jason Moran.
The lead choreographer, Emmy and Tony award winner Sonya Tayeh, has designed the connective tissue for this eclectic assemblage – in the words of the original poem, “that binds the halves of first and last/To single troth, in time” — for the dancers of the Ensemble, weaving in and out of the sections in a manner reminiscent of a Greek chorus, and resonating with many Graham classics.
The costumes by Karen Young are inspired by voluminous, swirling shapes that Graham often used for the costumes she herself designed. They are fabricated from recycled plastic bottles to add to the conversation about the eternal values of nature — and our responsibilities to the planet.