When I hear the title, American Document I think Gettysburg Address, Declaration of Independence… I think of John Adams and George Washington, of white wigs and muskets. I do not think of a modern dance/theater piece. But that is exactly what American Document – a collaboration between the Martha Graham Dance Company and the SITI Company – is. American Document, written by Charles Mee and directed by Anne Bogart, both professors at the Columbia University School of the Arts, is a “work in progress” that premiered at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival last week. It is an original work inspired by Martha Graham’s 1938 American Document, which used historical American documents to inspire movement that addressed what an American voice – the American voice, might be. Because there is limited documentation of Graham’s original piece, the new American Document has used traces of Graham’s work, and added dramatic vignettes based on texts from American history. In an amalgamation of dance and theater, American Document attempts to reveal what the American voice might be now – in the twenty-ten.
As Artistic Director of the Graham Company Janet Eilber informed the audience at the beginning of the performance, American Document, in its current state, is very much about the “process.” She cited Mee’s observation that the problem with American theater is that it is all about the product – never the process. We were the lucky, educated few who were going to see, (and appreciate!) a brilliant work in… process. I felt the righteous urge to jump up in my seat and scream “Yes! Long live process! Down with the excesses of consumerist American Culture! Back to the art of creation!” But thankfully, I contained myself. As it turned out, I am more product oriented than I thought. Watching the American Document “process,” felt like watching an under-rehearsed, experimental mess. Maybe American Document should have waited to air their work until their debut at the Joyce Theater in June.
“Ok,” you ask, “process aside, does American Document have potential?”
My response? American Document should have been called American Montage. I felt like I was sitting in a first-year American History lecture on The Greats of American History. At other times, I felt as if I was watching an uninspired high-school version of Our Town. The thesis of the show felt under-developed. “What is an American?” is an unspecific, familiar question, and the combination of dance and acting in the piece didn’t really make the question (or the possible answer) any clearer. If the directors and choreographers clean up the choreography and get the actors to start acting rather than parodying American stereotypes, American Document might turn into something. I’m curious to see how the piece develops and how American Document, the final product compares to American Document the process at the Joyce Theater in June.
By Rosie duPont, ArtsLink Associate, BC ’10