I have seen the film version of Martha Graham's and Aaron Copland's great collaboration several times, and in 2002 I watched it again, this time taking notes on the associations and feelings the music and dance brought to mind. The reader should understand my comments not as a literal description of the dance's events, but as my immediate interpretations of what I thought I saw. Another viewing might produce yet other such emotions.
Moreover, the original outline of script, described as a kind of gender conflict between men's and women's work, featured not only a Pioneer mother, but an Indian Girl, a Fugitive, and a Citizen. In the end the story was winnowed down to the simple outline published in the preface to the Boosey & Hawkes score:
A pioneer celebration in spring around a newly-built farmhouse
in the Pennsylvania hills in the early part of the last century. The
bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful
and apprehensive, their new domestic partnership invites. An older
neighbor suggests sorrow and then the rocky confidence of experience.
A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the
strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end the couple are
left quiet and strong in their new house.
It seemed to me that instead of the more European concept of "Love, Death, and Transfiguration," the tenor of Graham and Copland's more innocent and emphatically American fable is "Love, Guilt, and Consolation."
Here are my notes:
The couple walk to each and move backwards, seemingly to reveal the history of their love, which is, through their various posturings, made somewhat ambiguous at times, with moments of fear revealed among their steady pleasure in one another.
The Pioneer Woman comes forward as if to plead for the Preacher to cease, the Husband standing up, turned away in refusal of the sermon. So the Preacher gradually shifts from his violent gesturing, moving forward in a lighter tone and tune. The husband embraces the world, returning to his wife, while his wife dances a more agitated dance, focusing on her chair-rocker-milking stool as if she were reevaluating her situation. Again the Husband returns to her, as they repeat some of their earlier dances of joy, reiterating and repeating their testaments of love while Copland's score returns to "'Tis a gift to be simple," ending in a long bassoon chord.
Los Angeles, March 3, 2002