People

REMINISCENCES AND VIGNETTES

OF INTERESTING ENCOUNTERS IN THE ARTS.

 

Tea and cakes with Martha Graham

November 18, 1974: You hesitate to ask Martha Graham how old she is, but it’s 82 or 83, and she didn’t stop dancing until a couple of years ago—and then only reluctantly, forced to by the pressures of health and age.We drink tea and eat chocolate cakes. She is a marvellous person to be with, immensely alive, consumed by a sense of wonder. She fills the room with enthusiasm. She talks in sentences packed with sly wit and the most surprising references (it’s up to you to keep up). Her laughter is robust, her eyes twinkle. “It is still unbelievable to me that I can’t dance,” she says. “I believe, well, I will dance tomorrow. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of a dream about dancing.” She has a man beside her whose sole task seems to be to make sure the facelift scars at the upper corners of her forehead stay tucked away under the bandeau she wears around her hair: he keeps reaching across the table with the tenderest of touches. It broke her heart, she tells me, to give up dancing. “It was a faculty as important as speech: it was my speech, and I didn’t take to losing it lightly.” She and her company are here for the week, and giving us a first-hand look at some of her greatest works, elegant and economical metaphors that use the human form to speak about the great abstractions: love, jealousy, hate, joy: Cave of the Heart, Appalachian Spring, Night Journey, Clytemnestra. It’s a concentrated dose of Graham at its purest and, at its most epic, it establishes her as an artist on a level with Shakespeare, Milton, Wagner, the Greeks. Edwin Denby wrote of the ardour of her imagination, the scope of her conceptions, the intensity of her presence. Will that abate when she dies? “I hope the stimulus will go on to others,” she says, “but the actual works, I can’t tell what will happen to them. I always said I would like the memory of me as a dancer to endure, but dancer and maker of dances are interrelated. What will endure is the legend, which became much more than I ever imagined it would in my lifetime.”

Sharing a secret with Rostropovich

February 12, 1975: I’m sitting waiting in the back of Mstislav Rostropovich’s limo when he arrives in town for his recital this week, and as we drive to his downtown hotel he tells me he has decided he will go into exile rather than return to the Soviet Union when his current two-year international travel permit expires next year. I’m the first journalist he has spoken with this frankly. I have a world exclusive. The news desk is not particularly impressed, however, and the story doesn’t run until two days later: clearly, no one believes that someone so exalted could make such a world-shaking announcement in  such a cultural backwater as Vancouver . Rostropovich tells me his troubles began five years ago when he came out in public support of Solzhenitsyn. He was banned from foreign travel for a year and his concerts and foreign appearances were severely curtailed after the ban expired. His was given permission last May to live abroad for two years, and he and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, and their children settled in London. But he tells me he has a packed engagement book until at least 1978, and he expects to stay until then. What happens if the authorities tell him he can’t stay beyond the May deadline next year? I get the famous Rostropovich shrug, the smile, the broken English: “You know. All world know.” Of course he’d like to go home: home is home. “I love my people and my country very much. I very love my fatherland. But I not want only lost my life. I want make concerts, conducting, make what I want in music. All these possibilities I have here.” He believes, he says, that the artist has a holy calling. “Religion and music are very close: both are for the spirit, not material.” He plays, he says, for everyone, and when he plays he feels not Russian but human. In music “there are no borders of language: through music comes love and understanding.” The world is gravitating, he says, to beauty—“after  a fantastic jump to science, there is now a little balance to beauty, humanity.” He quotes Dostoyevsky: “The world will be saved by beauty. And I think music is a great part of beauty.”

 

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