This month, we're celebrating all things Japanese and modern with our September 2011 issue, Japan Style. And one of the many innovators who gets a bit of special attention this month is the American-born designer Isamu Noguchi. We take you inside the process of how one of his iconic Akari lamps is made in the magazine, but I want to share another of his deft creations: the "settings" for Martha Graham's 1961 film version of the dance "Night Journey." Rarely has "modern" music, dance, and design intersected to such haunting effect.
Looking like relics, ruins, and menacing abstractions, Noguchi's sets create the physical space for the terrible moment in the Oedipus tale when Jocasta learns her husband (Oedipus) is also her son and hangs herself. The most forboding of the sets is an inclined table Noguchi designed for the dance. The other sets have a kind of formal purity, but this one could as easily be a torture device as anything. Little surprise Oedipus and Jocasta dance on it as they get tangled up in the rope that will ultimately do her in.
Noguchi also did sets for the 1947 production of Merce Cunningham's dance "The Seasons" and the "settings" for another of Graham's masterpieces "Appalachian Springs." The design for "Appliachian Springs" are certainly more architectural, but it's that terrible table in "Night Journey" that has stuck with me for the ten years since I first saw it. In any case, enjoy the videos and, hopefully, another aspect of Noguchi's genius.