Lamentation premiered in New York City on January 8, 1930, at Maxine Elliot’s Theater, to music by the Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály. The dance is performed almost entirely from a seated position, with the dancer encased in a tube of purple jersey. The diagonals and tensions formed by the dancer’s body struggling within the material create a moving sculpture, a portrait which presents the very essence of grief. The figure in this dance is neither human nor animal, neither male nor female: it is grief itself.
According to Martha Graham, after one performance of the work she was visited by a woman in the audience who had recently seen her child killed in an accident. Viewing Lamentation enabled her to grieve, as she realized that “grief was a dignified and valid emotion and that I could yield to it without shame.”