Martha Graham, 1894-1991

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Woman Category: ArtsWoman Tags: Dance and NYC Women

  • HerStory
    Martha Graham, 1894-1991

    A dancer, choreographer, teacher, and an award-winning pioneer of Modern Dance.

    Teenager Martha Graham was captivated by dance when she saw dancer Ruth St. Denis on stage in California. Her father objected to her wish to peruse her new passion, and only after his death, when she was 22, did she take her first dance lesson. Her teachers were St. Denis and her husband.
    She later moved to New York, where she founded her own dance group, which was female-only in its first decade. The first male dancer to join her was Erick Hawkins, who later became her husband for six years.

    In her 65 years of active career, she choreographed more than 180 dance compositions, many considered masterpieces. She performed as a dancer until her mid-seventies and directed her dance company until her death at the age of 96. A few months before, she was on a two-month tour with her company in the Far East.

    Ranked as one of the greatest creative revolutionaries of the 20th century, she struggled financially all along, leaning on help from individual patrons. Her innovative approach to the discipline is considered to have “forever altered the scope of dance” paving the way for more spiritual and holistic modern dance.
    She was consciously defining an American dance – as opposed to the classical European ballet. Her work was innovative both in its form – fusing poetry, fashion design, visual art and music – and content – touching on politics, society, and sexuality.
    Her legacy includes a significant educational contribution, creating a new training technique, teaching in person, and co-founding dance schools in the United States, Israel, and the UK.

    “No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time; it is just that others are behind the time”

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She taught not only professional dancers, but also famous actors and musicians, such as Madonna and Liza Minnelli.
    • She turned down the invitation to perform in Berlin in 1936 as a protest against Adolf Hitler.
    • She was the first dancer to perform at the White House, in 1937, following an invitation from Eleanor Roosevelt.
    • She said she had to practice every day for 4 hours to keep in control of her body.
    • She once refused to an interview, afraid that the magazine’s dance critic might put a curse on her.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Awards:

    * Local One Centennial Award (1986)
    * United States’ highest civilian honor, The Medal of Freedom
    * TIME Magazine Dancer of the Century (1998)
    * French Legion of Honour (1984)

  • Watch and Learn More
    Martha Graham, 1894-1991

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Martha Graham, 1948. Photo credit - Wikimedia.


  • Martha Graham, 1894-1991

    Woman Tags: Dance, NYC Women
     

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    Martha Graham on Technique

    Recognized as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century Martha Graham created a movement language based upon the expressive capacity of the human body. Graham’s groundbreaking style grew from her experimentation with the elemental movements of contraction and release. By focusing on the basic activities of the human form, she enlivened the body with raw, electric emotion. The sharp, angular, and direct movements of her technique were a dramatic departure from the predominant style of the time. In this interview, Martha Graham speaks on the role and responsibility of the dancer and dance technique.

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