Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

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Dancing to documents

Gretchen Eichenberger - October 18th, 2010
Dancing to Documents : An American Heritage
By Gretchen Eichberger
What do you know about your heritage? Many Americans begin their answer with their place of family origin, recalling some handed-down lore, wondering at what they don’t know and perhaps even recall some local history—their own as far as they know. They will leave it at that. When you cast your vote in this upcoming election, will you reflect on your American heritage? Does your vote keep up with the legacy that your ancestors intended, or has it changed? How does dance relate to these questions? Can it? I submit to you that attending American Document a dance–drama inspired by the legendary choreographer and dancer, Martha Graham, might give you pause to re-evaluate the value and meaning of our American heritage and citizenship.
Martha Graham was a major force in the American art of modern dance. Her influence can be compared to that of Frank Lloyd Wright’s on architecture and Pablo Picasso’s on painting. From the mid 1920s until her death in 1991, Graham experimented endlessly with basic human movement, beginning with contraction and release—a legacy that is still felt throughout the world of dance.
Using these principles as the foundation for her technique, she built a vocabulary of movement that would increase the emotional activity of the dancer’s body. Her works were inspired by a wide variety of sources including modern paintings, literature, the American frontier, religious ceremonies of Native American tribes, and Greek mythology. Graham’s innovative ideas integrated philosophy and technique into the academic world.
Premiering in 1938, her piece entitled American Document was a tribute to Graham’s own heritage. The central questions posed throughout the dance were “What is America?” and “What is an American?” It was the first dance work that incorporated spoken word. Texts were drawn from historic records such as the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as lesser known documents, including words from Puritan minister John Edward’s fire and brimstone sermons and the sorrowful speech of Chief Red Jacket of the Seneca tribe.
Graham indicated that these documents contained the essence of our nation: “Our documents… our legends, our poignantly near history, our folk tales.” She intended for the work to reflect “Americana that is neither political nationalism nor chauvinistic credo, but, rather, a statement.”
When environmental and financial disaster engulfed our country in the 1930s there was a subsequent surge of human expression in the form of modern dance. Martha Graham and her American Document embodied that struggle.

Why and how is this work being performed in Northern Michigan? During an intensive week at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York City, I attended a performance of American Document by the SITI Theater Group and the Graham dancers. I learned that the Graham Foundation was preparing to launch a nation-wide invitation to all civic and student groups interested in creating their own American Documents under the project title, The Political Dance Project. If I began promptly, my adaptation of American Document would be the first civic version in the country. Upon my return to Michigan last year, I began steps to launch the project.
Personifying my own American heritage in such a production seemed like it might ring true for other Michiganders. My father’s family settled in the Detroit area, making their living from the emerging automobile industry. My mother’s family settled in Grand Traverse County, farming acres of land on the Old Mission Peninsula and Garfield Township.
In retrospect, I believe that the understanding of my own American heritage with its immense opportunity for prosperity and abundance of natural resources had brought me to the dilemma that sits in the minds of so many of us. I fear for future generations and can only hope that the same prosperity -- and now -- the concern for the basic right to clean water, soil, and air will be available for them. Those are the feelings that I and the other dancers have attempted to portray in the choreography of this American Document.
A civic adaptation seemed an ideal opportunity to incorporate the texts by Benzonia, Michigan writer, Bruce Catton. Upon his mid-life pursuit of becoming an author, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his civil war book, A Stillness of Appomattox, but it is his boyhood memoir, Waiting for the Morning Train that contains a poignant series of remarks that were a true beacon for our American way of life and what it has become.
Now, nearly 70 years later, during this great shift in climate – both environmentally and socially -- the prediction of what is to become of the planet seems to be on the minds of all citizens. We find ourselves wondering if our great American civilization is destined to fail, for as history repeats itself, all great civilizations have failed. Catton predicted that we were “a generation that lived by applying a steadily increasing knowledge of ingenuity to the exploitation of the earth’s boundless resources; and it was reaching the gates of the golden age only to discover that the boundless stores of resources was beginning to run out.” It is quotes such as these that are incorporated alongside dances in this work.

After adapting the script for our place and time, I was faced with the task of finding a dance troupe, actors, and musicians who were not only willing and able, but who had a social conscience, and could embody the intense emotion so characteristic of a Graham work.
Northwestern Lower Michigan does not host a plethora of contemporary dancers, nor is it versed in the technique of Martha Graham. Nevertheless, this was to be a civic production, “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
To have obtained a diverse group of dancers, each unique in their own right and background as kinesthetic artists, was pure luck. The interlocutors, (a term given to the main speaking characters in a minstrel show) seemed a fitting role for a true patriot -- a person who works tirelessly for the good of all. Holly Wren Spaulding, a writer, poet, designer, and activist stood out in my mind for her work to bring awareness about the dangers of water privatization and importance of water rights. Musician and craftsman, Tim Joseph, a recent recipient of the Don Jennings award for political activism and significant service and achievement, lives to make a difference for the common man. To me, this duo represented our Michigan values, and are both deeply rooted in a sense of place. They were cast as interlocutors and will appear alongside the dancers.
Between the readings, a series of dances portray historical events which at the same time depicts Americans amidst their daily quandaries, fears, and notions; reacting to promises not kept; embracing new opportunity; feeling powerless as well as accomplished after overcoming strife; witnessing great atrocities and surmounting the unthinkable.

Presented by ISLAND (Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design), American Document will be performed at the City Opera House on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. Gretchen Eichberger is a director, dancer-choreographer, educator, musician, and historic preservationist. She and her family reside along the shores of Lake Michigan in Benzie County.

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