In 1916, claiming that at twenty-two her new pupil was too old to ever become a good dancer, Ruth St. Denis took little interest in Martha Graham. It was St. Denis’ partner, Ted Shawn, who took on Martha’s early training, after being astonished by the ferocity of her performance in a classroom exercise he developed, the solo Serenata Morisca.
The dance is a sort of sensual “serenade” performed by the favorite of a king or Shah of some unspecified country and is a classic example of Denishawn orientalist style and early American modern dance. The steps have no ethnic authenticity. They are Shawn being exotic and what he called “barbaric”, with overtones of East Indian technique. The costume is a voluminous sheer purple skirt with a bejeweled hem and bodice. The dancer’s ankles are encircled with bells, and a large red flower sits behind her ear. She is arrogant, self confident, elegant, and sensual, dancing as much for her own pleasure as for the King’s. Graham performed the solo on Denishawn tours 1921–23 and in the Greenwich Village Follies 1923–25.