Today is a very special day! It marks the 85th anniversary of the first presentation of Charles Weidman’s work!
On March 24, 1928, Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey presented their first concert at the Brooklyn Little Theater (now called the Brooklyn Music School Playhouse). Weidman’s Submerged Cathedral (Cathedrale Engloutie) and Humphrey’s Color Harmony and Air for the G String were among the important works that premiered on the program.
Color Harmony, considered to be America’s first abstract ballet, was based on the color theory of light. Groups of dancers represented as different primary colors interact and mingle around the stage. Quoted from Doris Humphrey’s notebook, she describes the flow of the dance poetically; “Through the wild colors shoots a silver arrow–it separates the couples–it draws them one by one into form—all the flaming colors are laid down in rhythmic patterns—in a pyramidal form—up high steps to a climax, where a silver streak molds itself into a stream of light that goes up into infinity.”1 Also innovative for its time, Clifford Vaughan composed the music for the work after Humphrey composed the movement.
Weidman’s Submerged Cathedral is based on a Breton legend about a cathedral that periodically “rises out of the water. The ringing of the bells and the chanting of the monks are heard—silence when the cathedral sinks back into the sea.”2 In his performance, Weidman “indicated with a truly moving quality the surge of the sea depths, the rising and sinking of the submerged structure, and the tolling of the underwater bells.”3Opening and closing with swirling circular movements contrasted by sharp upward thrusting movements in the middle, the choreography foreshadows Humphrey’s 1931 Two Ecstatic Themes: Circular Descent and Pointed Ascent.
Weidman continued to perform Submerged Cathedral until his death in 1975. In 1993-1994, Peter Hamilton recreated the choreography which has since been performed by Craig Gabrian (pictured above) at the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It has also returned to its first home, the Brooklyn Little Theater, where, in 1996, the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation presented the Brooklyn Music School with a plaque commemorating the first concert. Again in 2003, for the 75th anniversary, the program included Easter Oratorio, Fables for Our Time, Submerged Cathedral and Two Ecstatic Themes.
The CWDF was thrilled when Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz proclaimed March 24th Humphrey Weidman Day. Celebrate Humphrey Weidman Day today and remember the great modern dance pioneers and all they established for the future modern dancers of the world. Thank you Charles and Doris!
1from Doris Humphrey’s notebook, quoted in Days on Earth, the Dance of Doris Humphrey by Marcia B.Siegel
2from Weidman’s program note, quoted in Reclaiming Charles Weidman by Jonette Lancos
3Soaring by Jane Sherman
Photos at Little Theater by Larry Hall
Words by Nadira Hall
Post by Julia Jurgilewicz