Martha Swope: THE REHEARSAL EXHIBITION REVIEW by Trudy Garfunkel

Photographic Exhibition Captures Behind-the-Scenes Worlds of Theater and Dance

For nearly four decades (1957-1994), Martha Swope was America's pre-eminent photographer of theater and dance, her discerning eye chronicling hundreds of classical ballets, modern dance, and Broadway performances and performers. But she also went behind-the-scenes, documenting what audiences never get to experience-the creative collaborations that make the magic on stage possible: rehearsals.

Now, an exhibition of her rarely seen rehearsal photos at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, gives us a glimpse of what she saw--the hard work, energy, and craftsmanship that make great art a reality. It is an illuminating visual record. As a photographer who also had studied ballet, she had a unique understanding of movement and process, an understanding that served her well in photographing dramatic plays, Broadway musicals, and dance performances on stage and in the rehearsal studio. Her ability to capture essential moments is evident in many of the visual images presented here.

Martha Swope: THE REHEARSAL (on view until January 26, 2013) celebrates this aspect of Martha Swope's life work in more than 100 (mostly) black and white photographs. Here are Merce Cunningham coaching New York City Ballet's Carol Sumner in his Summerspace (1966); Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams rehearsing Agon before its creators, Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine (1957); Erik Bruhn and Mikhail Baryshnikov rehearsing La Sylphide for American Ballet Theater (1975); Martha Graham setting her portion of Episodes at NYCB (1958); Savion Glover, Gregory Hines (in midair), and director George C. Wolfe practicing a dance number from Jelly's Last Jam (1992); Peter Gennaro demonstrating moves from West Side Story's Dance in the Gym sequence. Also from West Side Story, a photo of Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, and other members of the creative staff in a studio before the premiere in 1957 (this photo, Ms. Swope's first published credit, appeared in Life magazine and was the start of her professional photographic career); Harold Prince and Patti LuPone backstage at Evita (1979); Geoffrey Holder directing Stephanie Mills in The Wiz; Michael Bennett sharing a laugh with the cast of A Chorus Line. Other iconic stage figures shown in rehearsal include Liza Minneli, Chita Rivera, Jack Lemon, and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Complementing the photographic display are books, magazines, calendars, and programs that featured Ms. Swope's work.

The materials in this free exhibition were culled from the Library's extensive Martha Swope archives. In 2010, the photographer gave the Library over a million and a half images on contact sheets (and their corresponding negatives), 152,000 slides, and more than 120,000 prints.

Martha Swope, now 84, is a native Texan. She moved to New York City to study dance at the School of American Ballet and began her photographic career in the 1950s (self-taught using a Brownie camera), eventually becoming the official photographer of the New York City Ballet and the Martha Graham company. Among the many other companies she photographed were The Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Her photos have been published in the New York Times (where she was primary performance photographer for many years), Playbill, People, Newsweek, and Life magazine. In 2004, she received a Tony for Excellence; in 2006, The League of Professional Theater Women gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Anyone interested in the performing arts in America during the second half of the 20th century will find much to admire in this small but invaluable exhibition.

Martha Swope: THE REHEARSAL On view until January 26, 2013; Free admission

Vincent Astor Gallery at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln


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Barnett Serchuk Writer/Interviewer--Broadwayworld Dance.