“The Beauty Is In The Making”

Martha Graham and Bertram Ross in Graham’s most famous work ‘Appalachian Spring’ (1944), with a prize-winning score by Aaron Copeland. Photo by Arnold Eagle, courtesy Martha Graham

For Bertram Ross, 1920-2003, Martha Graham’s dance partner for twenty-five years and who Marion Sawyer called “a dance poet of endodermal depths.”  (Chelsea Clinton News, 2/22/68)

You who took a chance on me because our friend, Noemi Lapzeson, suggested you use me in a dance for your concert at the 92nd Street Y. You gave Martha a chance to see me out of the classroom and as a performer in your new dance, BREAK-UP.

You who Martha generously allowed to use the big studio for our rehearsals. Its size was larger than the Y’s stage which meant that when we’d transfer the dances to the theatre, there’d be few adjustments. Studio 1 was also where Martha choreographed many of her dances and where she once said to you Bertie, “I never think of a dance without you.”

You with whom it was a pleasure to rehearse as you drew from our emotional and physical strengths by creating on our bodies. You shared what Martha said during one of your rehearsals with her: “If I give you a movement and you can’t do it, I know I’m wrong.”

You who made a duet for Avner Vered and me where I’d chase him, claw at his chest to pay attention while he backed away, pushed out one arm, then the other, then the other, making my character’s rejection clear.

You who made us laugh with jokes about Mrs. Lepeedowitz and how at times I’d pinch myself for the miracle to be dancing with Martha Graham company soloists Noemi, Matt Turney, Bob Powell and you, the consummate actor/dancer who studied the illuminated paintings of the saints to bring St. Michael to life in Martha Graham’s SERAPHIC DIALOGUE about Joan of Arc.

You who played the arrogant Agamemnon and his troubled son, Orestes, about which you said, “When Martha uses a double role, it is not a device because she does not have enough dancers. She does it for psychological reasons. She believes that what you kill in life comes back to kill you.”*

And when the actress Irene Worth came backstage after a CLYTEMNESTRA performance declared, “I can’t believe this. This was the most beautiful Orestes I’ve ever seen and you never said a word…There’s something wrong with the theater…if you can communicate without one word.”*

You who because we’d been well prepared in rehearsals, opening night I got lost in the tide of your glorious movement; I was at one with my body. Though I didn’t know it until later Bert, you helped me find my dancer self.

You who after the New York Y performance we celebrated at your apartment where people from the dance and theatrical community came to adore you and during the party you tapped me on the shoulder saying, “Martha wants to see you, “ and I laughed because I didn’t know the woman I’d longed to dance with had been in the audience. I took my happiness into that room to meet the ramrod seated great artist dressed in black, later sharing what she’d said, “Jeanne, you were wonderful. You were so alive! I didn’t know you had it in you. Where have you been hiding?” And as I left the room, “You’ll be hearing from me soon.”

A few weeks later I did when Martha asked me to perform in her Broadway season followed by a four-week tour of London and Lisbon.

You, who soon after the concert, found love with pianist, singing coach and cabaret artist, John Wallowich. You moved into a brownstone and lived there together for over thirty-five years.

You, Bertram Ross, loyal friend and artist extraordinaire, I thank you for appreciating me and for making possible one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.


By Jean Colonomos


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