The Curious Case of Martha Graham in Romania

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Camelia Lenart, State University of New York in Albany


    Two of Martha Graham’s biographers asserted in their books that Romania was the only communist country ever toured by the famous dancer, positioning the alleged visit during the first State Department tour of Graham to Eastern Europe in 1962. As my research demonstrates, the statement is incorrect, as Graham did not dance in Romania neither then, nor later. However, while mentioning her performances in Belgrade and Zagreb, in former Yugoslavia, they did not list it as part of the communist bloc, while Graham’s appearance in Poland, another communist country where she performed, was not mentioned at all. Looking for Ms. Graham in Eastern Europe, and encountering not her presence, but her absence from Romania – my native country – gave me the chance to correct these inaccuracies, while enjoying one of the most exciting experiences I had as a researcher. On one hand, it asked from me more than interviewing, researching in libraries and archives, as it also meant going back into my own memories, revisiting the communist years of my country, and revising them from a new historical perspective; all while unfolding the way in which Romanian politics rejected, accepted, played with and manipulated the means of the cultural diplomacy during the Cold War, especially during Ceausescu’s years. On the other hand, this professional and personal journey made me discover that, even if Graham never toured Romania, her work and innovation had a fascinating impact in the Romanian world of dance, showing how culture can penetrate through thickest political and ideological curtains. Last but not least, it made me remember my dancing years, understanding again that Graham’s absence – her technique was not even taught in Romanian ballet schools – and not being able to be a modern dancer, made me the dance historian I am today.