Monday, 13 January 2014

Charlotte Trowbridge and Letter to the World

Letter to the World. Drawing by Charlotte Trowbridge, 1945.
Charlotte Trowbridge’s Dance Drawings of Martha Graham is an art book entirely devoted to Martha Graham’s work and part of it is centred on Letter to the World. In this respect, it resembles Barbara Morgan's celebrated book Martha Graham. Sixteen Dances in Photographs (1941, 1980). It was published in 1945 by the Dance Observer, and represents a fine attempt to confer, in drawings, Graham’s kinetic subtleties and dramatic stances. Trowbridge had studied dance at Neighborhood Playhouse, and, in 1941, had created the costumes for Graham’s Punch and the Judy (1941).

Her drawings are neither figurative nor faithful representations of Letter to the World, but rather an insightful and stylised glance at “the frenzy which animates the dancer’s body frame from within,” as Graham noted in the Foreword. They are black-and-white minimal shade-less drawings, where perspective and proportions are replaced by the artist’s sensitive touch. Some of the spoken lines are printed with the drawings.

Unlike Morgan’s powerful photographs, Trowbridge’s drawings are feeble presences on the page, and do not necessarily follow the chronological development of the piece. The third drawing presents, in fact, the One Who Dances and the Lover at the bench (in the actual piece, the One Who Dances and the Lover are not seated at the bench in this moment) with the Ancestress at their back, ready to separate them, a crucial moment which takes place in the fourth section of the piece. On a couple of occasions, Trowbridge seems to have taken inspiration from Morgan’s photographs, as in a drawing of March, who is depicted doing his famous entrance jumps. Of particular interest, is the way Trowbridge portrays the One Who Dances in one drawing inspired by the final section, when she is desperate for the loss of the Lover: her face is lifted upwards, but her body is filled with hand drawings, that convey her inner turmoil. It is very evocative of the dancing protagonist’s state in that phrase.

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