[El Penitente, No. 2] [photograph]. Reproduced with permission of Katherine Duke.
Performed to music by Louis Horst, El Penitente premiered on August 11, 1940, at the Bennington College Theater, Bennington, Vermont, with costumes designed by Edythe Gilfond and a set created by Arch Lauterer. (Isamu Noguchi later designed new sets and an additional mask.) The original cast included Graham, Erick Hawkins, Merce Cuningham, and other members of Martha Graham and Group. Irving Kolodin, writing for the New York Sun (January 21, 1941) said, "The work is as parched, dry and sunbaked as the locale of its origin and, despite the fine performances of Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham and Miss Graham, decidedly limited in its interest." The New York Times critic John Martin (April 8, 1941) noted, "It has a simple charm of form, telling its ancient tale with a ritualistic remoteness that is yet touched with humanity and a quiet beauty."