Becker took that message to heart.

"I thought it would be so rich in possibilities for the school," she said. (The festival is dedicated to her.)

In addition to giving students a rich educational and artistic experience, the festival gives Baltimore what is apparently a long-overdue look at this famous ballet. Sherber's search through touring records turned up a Graham Company performance of "Appalachian Spring" at the Lyric Opera House — in 1947.

The Graham Company takes its custodial role of the founder's ballets seriously. It doesn't routinely authorize student performances of "Appalachian Spring."

"Simply because it's too hard," Orihara said. "It involves a different vocabulary. Even high-end dance departments at colleges don't work a lot with the Graham technique. And if dancers don't have this technique, it takes a long time to really understand it. I was very amazed by these [Baltimore School for the Arts] kids."

One of those kids is Lenai Wilkerson, 15, who will be dancing the role of the Bride. She has been getting deep into the mood for it.

"Becoming the Bride has forced me to change my persona," Wilkerson said. "I have to be more reserved and pulled up. I have done dances where I had to portray a character, but not like this. I absolutely live this character every day of my life."

Wilkerson lives, too, with the aches from executing the steps devised by Graham, whose choreography was founded on a principal of "contraction and release." It's all about creating tension and energy, about how to breathe, and it's a far cry from the smooth curves and classical lines seen in a ballet corps performing "Swan Lake."

"The way that you have to have your back and head rooting up, and how you have to initiate from the pelvis, is such a difference for me," Wilkerson said.

Simmons has been adjusting, too. "Our knees hurt, our abs are sore, but it does get better," she said.

She portrays one of the four Followers of the Preacher, a dark, mesmerizing figure who displays revivalist fervor in "Appalachian Spring."

"This kind of dancing is outside our comfort zone," Simmons said. "We were all so nervous when we started. It's weird. You're not just dancing; you feel something. Friends who have stopped by rehearsals have been tearing up when they see it."

The lasting power of "Appalachian Spring" is all the more remarkable given that Copland only had a vague idea what Graham planned to convey in the ballet when he started to compose the music. He didn't even know the title she would pick (he wrote on his score "Ballet for Martha") and only saw the choreography shortly before the premiere.

As for the title, Graham took that from a line in "The Bridge," a poem by Hart Crane. Nothing else about the poem is connected to the ballet, just as nothing about Appalachia is connected to Copland's music.

"People come up to me," the composer wrote, "and say, 'Mr. Copland, when I see that ballet and when I hear your music I can just see the Appalachians and just feel spring.' Well, I'm willing, if they are."

Learning about the origins of the work has been part of the fun for 17-year-old violin student Aaron Cary, who said that nothing about the words "Appalachian Spring" "rang a bell" with him before he got involved in the project.

"I read that Crane poem," Cary said, "and I thought, how could [Graham] pick out this one little spot in that huge poem and make it fit so well as a title? And the way the music and the dance fit together is really amazing."

tim.smith@baltsun.com

'Appalachian Spring' Festival

•Opening of exhibit of student art work inspired by "Appalachian Spring" at 4 p.m. Monday. Free.

•"Artistic Vision Meets History," a discussion/demonstration on how historical theater is created, at 5 p.m. Monday. Free.

•Student musicians perform chamber works by Copland and his contemporaries at 7 p.m. Wednesday. $5 to $10.

•Illustrator Brian Floca will participate in a discussion/demonstration about his work for the book "Ballet for Martha," at 5 p.m. Friday. Free.

•"Appalachian Spring" will be performed by student dancers and musicians at 7 p.m. Friday; $10 to $15.

•A Family Day will combine children's activities, including dance and music, with performances of "Appalachian Spring" on Saturday. The pre-shows will be at 9:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m., the ballet at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. $10 to $35.

All events at Baltimore School for the Arts, 712 Cathedral St. Call 410-347-3043, or go to bsfa.org.

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