Embattled Garden premiered at the Adelphi Theater in New York City on April 3, 1958. Set to a score commissioned from Carlos Surinach, and in an environment designed by Isamu Noguchi consisting of a forest of supple poles and a stylized tree, Martha Graham created her own Garden of Eden. It was a garden of highly charged amorousness rather than biblical solemnity, according to critic Walter Terry. Choreographed the same year as the glorious full length epic Clytemnestra, it inspired critics to marvel at the breadth of Graham’s talents.
In a frankly erotic romp, this tragi-comedy explores sacred and profane love. Seduced by the worldly Stranger and his companion Lilith (Adam’s first wife), the innocence of the Garden of Eden is shattered. According to Bertram Ross, who originated the role of Adam, “it started in rehearsal with sweet and gentle little primitive images of Adam and Eve.” Clearly, this did not last long. Both Ross and Glen Tetley, who danced the Stranger, recall how Graham quickly stripped the work-in-progress of any sentimentality, preferring to plunge directly into the violent passions which lurked just beneath the pastoral surface. The innocence of Adam and Eve was never to be restored; in one of the final tableaus of the dance a wiser but sadder Eve cradles Adam in a moment of tenderness, a comforting mother as well as an erotic playmate.