Secular Games premiered in 1962 and was hailed by critics as “a joyous new work” and “one of Miss Graham’s most exciting pure dance works”. With a cast of six men and six women, and with a nod to Graham’s affinity for ancient Greece, the dance is performed in three sections: on a “Socratic Island,” an “Utopian Island” and on “any Island.” The setting is a beach – a beach towel even appears at one point — and the onstage set references islands in the distance. This dance has no story. It is a romp for the Company — a comedic look at the universal antics of humans trying to impress each other, falling in and out of love, competing and indulging in pursuits that are entirely human. The audience may want to imagine they are watching these characters and random interactions while reclining on their own beach towel.
Clive Barnes gave this description in his review of Secular Games for the New York Times in 1965:
“The title presumably indicates a ballet about the relationship of man with mankind rather than man with God, and this delightfully witty (not funny, witty) work reveals a multitude of sudden encounters, swift partings and odd juxtapositions of character and dance. A theme here and a theme there, vague wisps of suggestion, an erotic love duet, a dance of shameless gallantry, or an intellectual seeming dance – the whole ballet is a mass of nothing very specific, yet conveys an odd undefined air of some golden age when it was good just to be alive.”
Over 50 years later, we can still enter into this vintage idyllic world, and recognize the timeless foibles of men and women playing together.