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The Flute of Krishna

00:00 Introduction by Janet Eilber, Artistic Director, Martha Graham Dance Company
02:46 The Flute of Krishna

The Flute of Krishna (US 1926) 
Dance arranger: Martha Graham
Cinematographer: John Capstaff
Production designer: Norman Edwards
Cast: Robert Ross (Krishna), Evelyn Sabin (Radha), Thelma Biracree, Constance Finkel, Betty MacDonald, Susanne Vacanti (Dancing Girls)
Production company: Eastman Kodak Company

Production date: 1926
Sound: silent
Color: Desmet replication of two-color Kodachrome process 
Format: 35mm
Length (in feet): 472 ft.
Length (in reels):1
Running time: 5 min., 43 sec.
Frame rate: 22 fps

Generous support for the video introduction provided by Art Bridges

Preservation by the Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum
Digitized by Eastman Museum Film Preservation Services

This film has been made accessible to the public in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: NEH CARES. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this video, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For a few months in 1925–26, two icons of American culture came together to forge a unique work of art. A founder of the modern dance movement, Martha Graham was hired by soon-to-be film director Rouben Mamoulian, who was then head of the Eastman School of Drama. Graham was engaged to teach dance and to choreograph routines to be performed by her dance students between film screenings at the Eastman Theatre. Trained in the Denishawn dance technique, Graham balked when she was required by Ted Shawn to pay $500 to use Denishawn material, the only dance style she knew. Instead, she developed her own technique—and modern dance took a major leap forward. Graham’s new vision for dance was on full display in April 1926, when together with three of her students (appearing as “Martha Graham and Dance Group”), she performed eighteen short dances in New York City. In May, Graham choreographed a short film titled The Flute of Krishna that featured Eastman dance students and was shot in the experimental two-color Kodachrome process. Mamoulian left the Eastman School of Drama shortly thereafter and found fame as one of Hollywood’s most important film directors (Queen Christina, Blood and Sand, Becky Sharp). Graham chose to leave as well, recognizing that the continued creation of dances as pure entertainment would never fulfill her belief that dance would soon develop into an art. She chose instead to return to New York City and founded her now legendary dance company. The Flute of Krishna is the only surviving record of Graham’s choreography during her tenure at the Eastman School, as dance notation had not been invented when the piece was created. 

The Flute of Krishna is therefore something of a rarity in cinema: it is the earliest known record of a Graham dance, and it was shot in a still-evolving color process, Kodachrome, as a test to improve blue values in the red and green two-color spectrum the process utilized. The George Eastman Museum’s preservation of this film is based on an original 35mm Kodachrome print acquired from Eastman Kodak Company. The preservation print was created using the Desmet color system, which flashes the selected color light onto sensitized black-and-white film stock. Achieving blue hues proved difficult, as the original print clearly showed. Kodachrome as a 35mm color system was not practical, but it was hugely successful when Kodak redesigned the process and released it in 16mm film stock and 35mm still print film.

The original ballet was performed to music by Cyril Scott. His score is considered lost. The piano accompaniment for this online presentation was composed and performed by Philip C. Carli.