"American Spring" Celebrates American Arts

Photo: Mike Peters

A scene from "Machinal," performed for "American Spring"

A celebration of the best of homegrown, modernist American performing arts, American Spring, featuring works by American performance icons such as Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Martha Graham, was held in April.  Organized by Neil Baldwin, distinguished visiting professor at the College of the Arts, for the University’s centennial, the two-day event combined live music, drama and dance performances with film and commentary by a panel of experts comprised of artists, scholars, authors and professors.

Performances included excerpts from the opera Elmer Gantry, the drama Machinal, and the dance “Steps in the Street,” as well as the film Fancy Free.  Discussion on the historical, social and political contexts and implications of these examples of American performing arts followed each piece.  A podcast featuring Baldwin talking about American Spring is at www.montclair.edu/americanspring/podcast.

In addition to Baldwin, participants included Robert Aldridge, Elmer Gantry composer and director of the John J. Cali School of Music; Herschel Garfein, Elmer Gantry librettist; Jennifer Rivera, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Avery Sutton, author and professor at Oakland University; Rosemary Andress, director of Machinal; Liz Coen, dramaturg; Jerry Dickey, author and professor at the University of Arizona; Denise Vale, senior artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company; and Amanda Vaill, author of Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins.

In order to have the program reach the widest possible audience, American Spring was presented at the Kasser Theater on the first day, and on the second day, it was taken on the road and presented at various Montclair community locations.  The community outreach “lifts the opera, dance, and drama out of the University setting that engendered them and into the community surrounding us,” says Baldwin.

With superb performances and enlightening discussion and commentary, American Spring was a hit with audiences both at the University and in the community.  It was indeed a fitting way to celebrate the best of American performing arts.