Maple Leaf Rag premiered in 1990 at the City Center Theater in New York City. The last complete ballet to be choreographed by Martha Graham, the dance takes a sly look at the foibles of a contemporary choreographer (such as Graham herself) and gently mocks the plight of the artist in the throes of creation. With costumes by fashion designer Calvin Klein and a score featuring the music of Scott Joplin, the dance was immediately a favorite for Graham audiences. A ridiculous boomerang-shaped barre dominates the stage, the perfect prop for the cast of unruly characters that inhabit this ballet. Like figments of the imagination, these dancers enter and exit at will in a parody of movement themes drawn from classic Graham repertory.
Maple Leaf Rag is Martha Graham’s humorous and loving tribute to the choreographic muse. It is also a fond tribute to the Scott Joplin music of her youth and to her long association with Louis Horst, her one-time mentor and lover. “Louis,” she says at the very beginning of the dance, “play me the Maple Leaf Rag.”