Martha Clarke

Martha Clarke (born June 3, 1944) is an American theater director and choreographer noted for her multidisciplinary approach to theatre, dance, and opera productions. Her best-known original work is The Garden of Earthly Delights (1984, re-imagined 2008), an exploration in theatre, dance, music and flying of the famous painting of the same name by Hieronymus Bosch. In 1990, Clarke received a MacArthur Award, better known as the Genius Grant.

Training and early careerEdit

Born into a German-Jewish family of musicians in Pikesville, Md. in suburban Baltimore, she studied dance with Carol Lynn and Dale Sehnert in the preparatory program of the Peabody Conservatory,[1] going on to study at the dance program of the Juilliard School under Antony Tudor and Anna Sokolow.[2] She then spent three years performing with the modern dance choreographer Anna Sokolow and the Dance Theater Workshop. She later became a founding member of Pilobolus Dance Theatre and Crowsnest before going on to a highly original career as a director/choreographer.[3]

Theatre, dance and opera careerEdit

As a director, Martha Clarke’s many original productions include The Garden of Earthly Delights (with musical score by Richard Peaslee),[4][5] Vienna: Lusthaus[6] Miracolo d’Amore, Endangered Species, An Uncertain Hour, The Hunger Artist, Vers la Flamme and Chéri.[7] She directed the premiere of Christopher Hampton’s Alice’s Adventures Underground at the Royal National Theatre in London.[8] Angel Reapers (with text by Alfred Uhry – Pulitzer Prize for Driving Miss Daisy) had its New York premiere at the Joyce Theater November 29 – December 11, 2011.[9] She created the full-evening work L’altra metá del cielo spring 2012 at La Scala Opera in Milan, Italy. Her original productions have been presented at The Public Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, Signature Theatre Company and The Kennedy Center among others.

From June 12 - July 2, 2022, Ms. Clarke's latest multidisciplinary theatre work God's Fool was presented at La MaMa in New York City. A song cycle, God's Fool incorporates an a cappella score performed live, derived from music spanning a period of 800 years.

In dance, she has choreographed for the Nederlands Dans Theater, the Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, and The Martha Graham Company, among others.

In opera, Clarke has directed Mozart's The Magic Flute for the Glimmerglass Opera and the Canadian Opera Company,[10] Cosi fan tutte for Glimmerglass, Tan Dun’s Marco Polo for the Munich Biennale, the Hong-Kong Festival, and the New York City Opera, and Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice for the English National Opera and the New York City Opera.

She directed Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the American Repertory Theater[11] and a music/theater work, Belle Epoque, based on the life of Toulouse-Lautrec at Lincoln Center Theater.

She has collaborated with playwrights Richard Greenberg, Charles L. Mee, and Alfred Uhry.

While Clarke does not compose the musical scores or texts (when present) for her original works, she is engaged in all aspects of production and direction, from conception and structure to details of music, text, lighting, and costumes. Britannica Online summarizes her choreographic approach in saying that her "emotionally evocative work draws extensively on theatrical elements."[12]

Clarke's work mostly draws inspiration from the visual arts, especially painting. In this preoccupation, Clarke can be associated with such disparate artists as Peter Sellars, Pina Bausch, and Robert Wilson. New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman wrote of her Miracolo d'Amore in 1988 that it "... can be counted among the recent opera productions, films and theatrical presentations that in one way or another emulate painting. Franco Zeffirelli, George Lucas, Pina Bausch, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Robert Wilson and Peter Sellars share with Clarke this striking characteristic: They view the performing arts as a pretext for staging visual spectaculars."[13]

In June 2007, a version of The Garden of Earthly Delights show opened the 30th anniversary of the American Dance Festival.[14] On November 19, 2008, the re-imagined Garden of Earthly Delights opened Off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theater in New York City and ran until April 5, 2009.

In 2011, Clarke created Angel Reapers, in a collaboration with Pulitzer prize-winner Alfred Uhry. It ran at the Signature Theatre Company (New York City) from February 2, 2016 - March 20, 2016. This production won two Lucille Lortel Awards for "Outstanding Alternative Theatrical Experience" and for "Outstanding Choreography". Angel Reapers also toured New England with performances at The Joyce Theater in 2011.[15]

Personal lifeEdit

Clarke was married to sculptor Philip Grausman and has one son - jazz musician and actor David Grausman.[7]

Honors and recognitionEdit

Clarke received several awards including a MacArthur Award (1990), Joe A. Callaway choreography award (2009), Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement (2010),[16] Dance Magazine Award (2013) and two Joe A. Callaway choreography awards (2009 and 2014). She is the only recipient in the SDC Joe A. Callaway award's history to receive two awards for choreography.[17]

In addition to the MacArthur Award, Clarke has received two grants from the Guggenheim Foundation as well as fifteen grants from the NEA. She has received the Drama Desk Award, two Obie Awards, and 1985 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award.[2][18] In 2016, Clarke won two Lucille Lortel Awards for Angel Reapers: one for "Outstanding Choreography" and another with collaborator Alfred Uhry for "Outstanding Alternative Theatrical Experience".[19] In July 2019, Clarke received the Flora Roberts Award, administered by the Dramatists Guild Foundation.[20]

She was the subject of the film Martha Clarke: Light and Dark for PBS, and her Garden of Earthly Delights has been filmed by the BBC.[21]

Kaos, adapted from stories by Luigi Pirandello, received the first Tony Randall Foundation Award; and was presented at the New York Theatre Workshop (2006).

In 2007, the NEA gave a grant for the remounting of The Garden of Earthly Delights under a program dedicated to the remounting of American masterworks.


  1. ^ Rasmussen, Frederick N. (April 4, 2016). "Dale W. Sehnert, longtime Peabody dance instructor, dies". Retrieved June 18, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ a b McCauley, Mary Carole (November 16, 2008). "Of heaven and hell". Retrieved June 18, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ Burnham, Linda Frye (Spring 1986). ""High Performance," Performance Art, and Me". High Performance. 30 (1): 15–51. doi:10.2307/1145710. JSTOR 1145710.
  4. ^ Stanley Kauffman wrote in The New Republic, "Garden transformed 'our whole notion of theater'. It epitomized everything that is unique and imitable about the theater".[full citation needed]
  5. ^ Smith, Dinita. "Martha Clarkes Midlife Dream". New York Times.[full citation needed]
  6. ^ Rich, Frank (April 21, 1986). "The Stage: 'Vienna' from Martha Clarke". The New York Times. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Kaufman, Sarah (September 27, 2014). "Martha Clarke has made a career of movement. Now she cherishes stillness". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  8. ^ "After New York Adversity, a Director Rebounds in London". AP NEWS. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  9. ^ "Dance Alumna Martha Clarke on Her Career of Collaborations | The Juilliard School". Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  10. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (July 11, 1993). "DANCE; Bouncing Back From an Elephantine Disaster". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  11. ^ "Martha Clarke". Oxford Reference. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  12. ^ "Martha Clarke". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  13. ^ Kimmelman, Michael (July 6, 1988). "Critic's Notebook". The New York Times. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  14. ^ Woods, Byron (June 13, 2007). "The Independent Review: Martha Clarke's "Garden of Earthly Delights"". INDY Week. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  15. ^ Clement, Olivia (February 2, 2016). "The Return of Angel Reapers Begins Tonight Off-Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved December 12, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ "Martha Clarke to receive the 2010 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival $50,000 award". Triangle Arts & Entertainment. March 26, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  17. ^ "The Joe A. Callaway Award | Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation". Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  18. ^ "1980 – 1989 Awards :: LA Drama Critics Circle". Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  19. ^ "Recipients by Category". The Lucille Lortel Awards. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  20. ^ "The Dramatists Guild Awards". Dramatists Guild. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  21. ^ Mannikka, Eleanor. "Martha Clarke, Light and Dark". AllRovi. Archived from the original on July 18, 2012. Retrieved February 4, 2012.

External linksEdit