BIRD'S EYE VIEW by Dorothy Bird


Dancing with Martha Graham and on Broadway
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 An satisfying dancer's tale of struggle and survival. The incurably innocent, Canadian-born farmer's daughter Bird began studying with Martha Graham in 1930 at Seattle's Cornish School, arriving with no thought that the 12-week stint would change her life. But her nervy, high-spirited memoir, cowritten with her former student Greenberg, recounts how this change took place, offering shrewd glimpses of Graham at a critical early point in her choreographic career, and following Bird herself beyond induction into Graham's modernism in New York and on to the Broadway stage. Bird explains the sources of Graham's unique pedagogy and her working methods when creating dances. Once, for example, Bird was an invited guest when Graham was at work alone, and as she observed, ``Martha did not use music or counts. She used sounds . . . At times she seemed to be keening, as her Irish ancestors might have done long ago. The startling movement patterns that were evolving came not out of those strange sounds, but out of her articulately alive and animated body.'' Bird demonstrated Graham's technique to other dancers at her mentor's urging but was not a favored performer. In 1937, feeling frustrated and exploited by Graham's slave-driving tendencies, she left the Graham entourage--only to find a second career as a dancer in musical theater and a third as a much-respected dance teacher of children (for Balanchine and others) and adults. The memoir concludes, a bit unconvincingly, with Bird's testimonial of eternal admiration for Graham. In a lighthearted mood, Bird remembers how Graham explained sex to her, the neophyte. Her later life was difficult--her first child died in infancy, and her second husband, Paul Villard, was blacklisted. She died, at 84, in 1996. A fascinating glimpse of life inside Graham's charmed circle, and a moving record of one dancer's determined pursuit of a career. (32 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1997
ISBN: 0-8229-3980-0
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1997