Authors: Martha Clarke

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Author Works


A Metamorphosis in Miniature, pr. 1982

The Garden of Earthly Delights, pr. 1984 (music by Richard Peaslee)

Vienna: Lusthaus, pr. 1986 (text by Charles Mee, Jr., music by Peaslee)

The Hunger Artist, pr. 1987 (text by Richard Greenberg, music by Peaslee, set by Robert Israel; adaptation of Franz Kafka’s story and diaries)

Miracolo d’Amore, pr. 1988

Endangered Species, pr. 1990

Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, pr., pb. 1994 (with Christopher Hampton)


As the second child and only daughter in a financially secure and artistically inclined family, Martha Clarke was encouraged to pursue her creative interests at an early age.{$I[AN]9810001972}{$I[A]Clarke, Martha}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Clarke, Martha}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Clarke, Martha}{$I[tim]1944;Clarke, Martha}

At the age of six she began studying dance at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and taking drawing lessons at the Baltimore Museum. Horseback riding was another favorite activity and one she pursued in the summers at the Perry-Mansfield Camp in Colorado. There, in 1957, she met Helen Tamiris, who cast her, at the age of thirteen, as a child in Ode to Walt Whitman. Clarke says that she was hooked on dancing from the first time she worked with Tamiris.

When Clarke was fifteen she attended the American Dance Festival in Connecticut, where she first met Louis Horst, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, José Limón, Charles Weidman, and Alvin Ailey, and where she first saw the work of Anna Sokolow, whose dramatic dances greatly impressed her. The next year she began to attend the Juilliard School, where she studied dance composition with Horst, who was instrumental in developing her theatrical style. For two years she also studied with Anthony Tudor, and as a sophomore she performed a large role in a ballet he had choreographed. Also at Juilliard she danced in the companies of Ethel Winter and Lucas Hoving, performing Suite for a Summer Day by the latter in 1962. She was in the first Dance Theater Workshop production with Jeff Duncan, after which she spent three years in Sokolow’s company. Clarke left the company because she found the work bleak and believed that she was becoming artistically limited.

Shortly after she graduated from Juilliard she married the sculptor Philip Grausman, a Prix de Rome winner. During the first five years of their fifteen-year marriage (they were divorced in 1980), Clarke stopped dancing. The couple lived in Italy for part of this time, immersing themselves in the art world. Shortly after their return to the United States, their son David was born. Clarke then joined the previously all-male Pilobolus Company. What drew her to Pilobolus was the group’s irreverence and its rediscovery of the body. She believed that the inclusion of women in the company would allow the possibility of romance, gentleness, and delicacy in addition to the male-oriented humor and gymnastics that were the company’s trademarks. As a member of Pilobolus she developed and performed Ciona, Monkshood’s Farewell, and Untitled. In the seven years she was with Pilobolus, from 1972 through 1979, she created six solos, Pagliaccio, Fallen Angel, Vagabond, Grey Room, Nachturn, and Wakefield.

Her years with Pilobolus identified her as a clown and as a serious dramatic performer, but she wearied of the company’s hectic touring schedule, and Clarke left Pilobolus to start her own company, Crowsnest. Clarke joined with Felix Blaska, the French dancer and choreographer, whom she had met in Paris during her touring years with Pilobolus, and the Pilobolus dancer Robby Barnett. The trio worked collaboratively, and their work was described as a form of imagist movement-art when they first appeared at the American Dance Festival.

Clarke’s first step into theater from dance was as choreographer for the Long Wharf Theater’s production of Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat in New Haven. Clarke’s debut as a New York theater director came with the production of A Metamorphosis in Miniature, a dramatization of the Kafka story with a ten-page script and much physicalization.

In 1984, under the auspices of Music-Theater Group/Lenox Arts Center, Clarke created The Garden of Earthly Delights, an hour-long work based on the painting of Hieronymus Bosch. Its success led to a tour of the United States and Europe. Clarke’s innovative approach to her work encourages dancers, actors, designers, composers, and writers to work in a highly collaborative way toward a complex and richly textured performance-art object. The Garden of Earthly Delights won a Village Voice Obie Award for Richard Peaslee’s lush musical score. Clarke continued to use this collaborative approach with her subsequent works: Vienna: Lusthaus, which opened at St. Clement’s for a two-week run before moving to The Public Theater in 1986; The Hunger Artist, which opened at St. Clement’s Theater, in 1987; and Miracolo d’Amore, which opened at the Spoleto Festival in 1988. Also in 1988, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship intended for travel in Europe following the run of Miracolo d’Amore. Two years later, while rehearsing Endangered Species, Clarke was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship of $285,000 over the next five years. This allowed her the flexibility to work on her next major piece, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. She is regarded as one of the most original directors in theater and one of the foremost innovators in American performance art.

BibliographyClarke, Martha. Interview by Arthur Bartow. In The Director’s Voice. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988. An interview with Clarke made during the development of Miracolo d’Amore. Bartow says that audiences respond to Clarke’s “images in the same manner as they are created–viscerally.” The interview is concerned with the intricacies of Clarke’s creative process from the moment she conceives a work through its collaborative creation. Clarke discusses her transition to the theater from dance and each of the projects she has produced since beginning work with the Music-Theater Group.Gussow, Mel. “Clarke Work.” The New York Times Magazine, January 18, 1987, 30-34. Gussow provides extensive biographical information and discusses Clarke’s major theatrical works, collaborations, and artistic vision. He says that “Clarke’s work is distinctive in its passion, its use of movement, its brevity and its concern with art and culture.” Also contains photographs from productions of The Garden of Earthly Delights and Vienna: Lusthaus.Kaufman, Sarah. “Choreographer Martha Clarke, Back on Her Feet: After a Flamboyant Rise and Fall, a Daring Leap at Simplicity.” The Washington Post, October 17, 1999, G01. Kaufman interviews Clarke regarding the opening of Vers la Flamme, Clarke’s dance interpretation of five stories by Anton Chekhov. Also contains discussion of Endangered Species.Nadotti, Maria. “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?” Artforum 27 (September, 1988): 117-121. A thorough critical analysis of Miracolo d’Amore that examines the various literary and artistic sources for the work and provides clear descriptions of the visual effects and stage designs. Nadotti also offers a brief overview of Clarke’s previous theater projects in order to place this piece in context.Osterle, Hilary. “Alas, No Giraffe.” Dance Magazine 64 (October, 1990): 46-49. Osterle provides background information on the creation of Endangered Species, speaks with Clarke and the performers about this unusual theatrical adventure, and discusses the various ideas and concerns that shaped this piece over its two-year formation.Rothstein, Mervyn. “Martha Clarke’s Thorny Garden.” The New York Times, July 12, 1988, pp. 1, 26. A feature article on Clarke following the opening of Miracolo d’Amore at the Spoleto Festival. Rothstein provides insightful glimpses at this work in particular, as well as a substantial interview with Clarke.
Categories: Authors