Martha Graham

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Martha Graham
Martha Graham 1948.jpg
Martha Graham by Yousuf Karsh (1948)
Born(1894-05-11)May 11, 1894
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedApril 1, 1991(1991-04-01) (aged 96)
New York City, U.S.
NationalityAmerican
Known forDance and choreography
MovementModern dance
AwardsKennedy Center Honors (1979)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (1976)
National Medal of Arts (1985)
 
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This article is about the choreographer. For the supercentenarian, see Martha Graham (supercentenarian).
Martha Graham
Martha Graham 1948.jpg
Martha Graham by Yousuf Karsh (1948)
Born(1894-05-11)May 11, 1894
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedApril 1, 1991(1991-04-01) (aged 96)
New York City, U.S.
NationalityAmerican
Known forDance and choreography
MovementModern dance
AwardsKennedy Center Honors (1979)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (1976)
National Medal of Arts (1985)

Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Picasso had on the modern visual arts,[1][2] Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture.[3]

She danced and choreographed for over seventy years. Graham was the first dancer ever to perform at the White House, travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and receive the highest civilian award of the USA: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In her lifetime she received honors ranging from the Key to the City of Paris to Japan's Imperial Order of the Precious Crown. She said, in the 1994 documentary "The Dancer Revealed", "I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It's permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable."

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Graham was born in Allegheny City, which today is part of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1894. Her father George Graham was what in the Victorian era was known as an "alienist", a practitioner of an early form of psychiatry. The Grahams were strict Presbyterians. Dr. Graham was a third generation American of Irish descent. Her mother Jane Beers was a second generation American of Irish and Scots-Irish descent and was also a sixth generation descendant of Puritan Miles Standish.

In the mid-1910s, she began her studies at the newly created Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, founded by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn,[4] at which she would stay until 1923. In 1922 Graham performed one of Shawn's Egyptian dances with Lillian Powell in short silent film by Hugo Riesenfeld that attempted to synchronize a dance routine on film with a live orchestra and onscreen conductor.[5]

New era in dance[edit]

In 1925, Graham was employed at the Eastman School of Music where Rouben Mamoulian was head of the School of Drama. Among other performances, together they produced a short two-color film called The Flute of Krishna, featuring Eastman students. Mamoulian left Eastman shortly thereafter and Graham chose to leave also, even though she was asked to stay on.

In 1926, the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance was established. On April 18 of the same year,[4] at the 48th Street Theatre, Graham debuted with her first independent concert, consisting of eighteen short solos and trios that she had choreographed. She would later say of the concert: "Everything I did was influenced by Denishawn."[6] On November 28, 1926 Martha Graham and others in her company gave a dance recital at the Klaw Theatre in New York City.

One of Graham's students was heiress Bethsabée de Rothschild with whom she became close friends. When Rothschild moved to Israel and established the Batsheva Dance Company in 1965, Graham became the company's first director.

In 1936, Graham made her defining work, "Chronicle", which signaled the beginning of a new era in modern dance.[citation needed] The dance brought serious issues to the stage for the general public in a dramatic manner. Influenced by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Great Depression that followed, and the Spanish Civil War, it focused on depression and isolation, reflected in the dark nature of both the set and costumes.

In 1938 Erick Hawkins was the first man to dance with her company. The following year, he officially joined her troupe, dancing male lead in a number of Graham's works. They were married in 1948. He left her troupe in 1951 and they divorced in 1954.

On April 1, 1958, The Martha Graham Company premiered the ballet Clytemnestra, and it became a huge success and great accomplishment for Graham. With a score by Egyptian-born composer Halim El-Dabh, this ballet was her largest scale of work and her only full-length work. Graham originally choreographed the title role for herself, with the ballet's principal dancer spending almost the entire duration of the performance on the stage. The ballet was based on the Greek mythology of the same title, it tells a tale of Queen Clytemnestra who is married to King Agamemnon. Within the ballet, Clytemnestra has an affair with Aegisthus, while her husband is away battling at the Trojan War. Upon Agamemnon's victorious return he discovers his wife has had an affair, and in revenge Agamemnon offers their daughter, Iphigenia to be sacrificed. Later on within the ballet, Clytemnestra is murdered by her other child, her son, Orestes and the audience experiences Clytemnestra in the afterworld. This ballet was deemed a masterpiece of 20th Century American modernism and was so successful it had a limited engagement showing on Broadway.

Graham collaborated with many composers including Aaron Copland on Appalachian Spring, Louis Horst, Samuel Barber, William Schuman, Carlos Surinach, Norman Dello Joio, and Gian Carlo Menotti.[7] Graham's mother died in Santa Barbara in 1958. Her oldest friend and musical collaborator Louis Horst died in 1964. She said of Horst, "His sympathy and understanding, but primarily his faith, gave me a landscape to move in. Without it, I should certainly have been lost."

There were a few notable exceptions to her dances being taped. For example, she worked on a limited basis with still photographers Imogen Cunningham in the 1930s, and Barbara Morgan in the 1940s. Graham considered Philippe Halsman's photographs of "Dark Meadows" the most complete photographic record of any of her dances. Halsman also photographed in the 1940s: "Letter to the World", "Cave of the Heart", "Night Journey" and "Every Soul is a Circus". In later years her thinking on the matter evolved and others convinced her to let them recreate some of what was lost.

Martha Graham with Bertram Ross (1961)

In her biography Martha Agnes de Mille cites Graham's last performance as the evening of May 25, 1968, in a "Time of Snow". But in A Dancer's Life biographer Russell Freedman lists the year of Graham's final performance as 1969. In her 1991 autobiography, Blood Memory, Graham herself lists her final performance as her 1970 appearance in "Cortege of Eagles" when she was 76 years old.

In the years that followed her departure from the stage Graham sank into a deep depression fueled by views from the wings of young dancers performing many of the dances she had choreographed for herself and her former husband. Graham's health declined precipitously as she abused alcohol to numb her pain. In Blood Memory she wrote,

It wasn't until years after I had relinquished a ballet that I could bear to watch someone else dance it. I believe in never looking back, never indulging in nostalgia, or reminiscing. Yet how can you avoid it when you look on stage and see a dancer made up to look as you did thirty years ago, dancing a ballet you created with someone you were then deeply in love with, your husband? I think that is a circle of hell Dante omitted.

[When I stopped dancing] I had lost my will to live. I stayed home alone, ate very little, and drank too much and brooded. My face was ruined, and people say I looked odd, which I agreed with. Finally my system just gave in. I was in the hospital for a long time, much of it in a coma.[8]

After a failed suicide attempt she was hospitalized. Graham not only survived her hospital stay but she rallied. In 1972 she quit drinking, returned to her studio, reorganized her company and went on to choreograph ten new ballets and many revivals. Her last completed ballet was 1990's Maple Leaf Rag.

Graham choreographed until her death in New York City from pneumonia in 1991, aged 96.[9] She was cremated, and her ashes were spread over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico.

Influence and legacy[edit]

Graham has been sometimes termed the "Picasso of Dance," in that her importance and influence to modern dance can be considered equivalent to what Pablo Picasso was to modern visual arts.[1][2] Her impact has been also compared with the influence Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture.[3]

To celebrate what would have been her 117th birthday on May 11, 2011, Google's logo for one day was turned into one dedicated to Graham's life and legacy.[10]

Martha Graham has been said to be the one that brought dance into the twentieth century. Due to the work of her assistants, Ron Protas and Linda Hodes, much of Graham’s work and technique have been preserved. They taped interviews of Graham describing her entire technique, and videos of her performances.[11] As Glen Tetley told Agnes de Mille, “The wonderful thing about Martha in her good days was her generosity. So many people stole Martha’s unique personal vocabulary, consciously or unconsciously, and performed it in concerts. I have never once heard Martha say, 'So-and-so has used my choreography.'"[12] An entire movement was created by her that revolutionized the dance world and created what is known today as modern dance. Now, dancers all over the world study and perform modern dance. Choreographers and professional dancers look to her for inspiration.[13]

According to Agnes de Mille:

The greatest thing [Graham] ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha. I remember the conversation well. It was in a Schrafft's restaurant over a soda. I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly: "There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."[14]

Martha Graham Dance Company[edit]

The Martha Graham Dance Company is the oldest dance company in America,[15] founded in 1926. It has helped develop many famous dancers and choreographers of the 20th and 21st centuries including Erick Hawkins, Anna Sokolow, Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor. It continues to perform, including at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in June 2008, a program consisting of: Ruth St. Denis' The Incense; Graham's reconstruction of Ted Shawn's Serenata Morisca; Graham's Lamentation; Yuriko's reconstruction of Graham's Panorama, performed by dancers from Skidmore College; excerpts from Yuriko's and Graham's reconstruction of the latter's Chronicle from the Julien Bryan film; Graham's Errand into the Maze and Maple Leaf Rag.[citation needed] The company also performed in 2007 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, with a program consisting of: Appalachian Spring, Embattled Garden, Errand into the Maze, and American Original.[16][17]

Accolades[edit]

In 1957 Graham was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[18] She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976 by President Gerald Ford (the First Lady Betty Ford had danced with Graham in her youth). Ford declared her "a national treasure".[citation needed]

Graham was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 1987.[citation needed]

In 1998 Graham was named "Dancer of the Century" by Time magazine,[19] and one of the female "Icons of the Century" by People Magazine.[citation needed] The New York Times called her a "brilliant, young dancer".[citation needed]

Choreography[edit]

This excerpt from John Martin’s reviews in the New York Times provides insight on Graham’s choreographic style. “Frequently the vividness and intensity of her purpose are so potent that on the rise of the curtain they strike like a blow, and in that moment one must decide whether he is for or against her. She boils down her moods and movements until they are devoid of all extraneous substances and are concentrated to the highest degree.”[20]

YearPerformanceMusicNotes
1926ChoraleCésar Franck
1926NoveletteRobert Schumann
1927LugubreAlexander Scriabin
1927RevoltArthur Honegger
1927FragilitéAlexander Scriabin
1927ScherzaRobert Schumann
1929Figure of a SaintGeorge Frideric Handel
1929ResurrectionTibor Harsányi
1929AdolescencePaul Hindemith
1929DanzaDarius Milhaud
1929"Vision of the Apocalypse"Hermann Reutter
1929Moment RusticaFrancis Poulenc
1929Hereticfrom folkloreold Breton song – de Sivry
1930LamentationZoltán Kodály
1930HarlequinadeErnst Toch
1931Primitive MysteriesLouis Horst
1931BacchanaleWallingford Riegger
1931DolorosaHeitor Villa-Lobos
1933Romeo and Julietdance sequences for a Katharine Cornell production
1935PraeludiumPaul Nordoff
1935FrontierLouis Horst
1935CourseGeorge Antheil
1936Steps in the Streetpart of Chronicle
1936ChronicleWallingford Rieggerlighting by Jean Rosenthal
1936HorizonsLouis Horst
1936SalutationLehman Engel
1937Deep SongHenry Cowell
1937Opening DanceNorman Lloyd
1937Immediate TragedyHenry Cowell
1937American LyricAlex North
1938American DocumentRay Green
1939ColumbiadLouis Horst
1939Every Soul is a CircusPaul Nordoff
1940El PenitenteLouis Horst
1940Letter to the WorldHunter Johnson
1941Punch and the JudyRobert McBride
1942Land Be BrightArthur Kreutz
1943Deaths and EntrancesHunter Johnson
1943Salem ShorePaul Nordoff
1944Appalachian SpringAaron Copland
1944Imagined WingDarius Milhaud
1944HérodiadePaul Hindemith
1946Dark MeadowCarlos Chávez
1946Cave of the HeartSamuel Barber
1947Errand into the MazeGian Carlo Menottisets by Isamu Noguchi and lighting by Jean Rosenthal
1947Night Journey, Martha GrahamWilliam Schuman
1948Diversion of AngelsNorman Dello Joio
1950JudithWilliam Schuman
1951The Triumph of St. JoanNorman Dello Joio
1954Ardent SongAlan Hovhaness
1955Seraphic DialogueNorman Dello Joio
1958ClytemnestraHalim El-Dabh
1958Embattled GardenCarlos Surinach
1959EpisodesAnton Weberncommissioned by New York City Ballet
1960Acrobats of GodCarlos Surinach
1960AlcestisVivian Fine
1961Visionary RecitalRobert Starerrevised as Samson Agonistes in 1962
1961One More Gaudy NightHalim El-Dabh
1962PhaedraRobert Starer
1962A Look at LightningHalim El-Dabh
1962Secular GamesRobert Starer
1962Legend of Judith[21]Mordechai Seter
1963CirceAlan Hovhaness
1965The Witch of EndorWilliam Schuman
1967Cortege of EaglesEugene Lester
1968A Time of SnowNorman Dello Joio
1968Plain of PrayerEugene Lester
1968The Lady of the House of SleepRobert Starer
1969The Archaic HoursEugene Lester
1973Mendicants of EveningDavid G. Walkerrevised as Chronique in 1974
1973Myth of a VoyageAlan Hovhaness
1974Holy JungleRobert Starer
1974Jacob's DreamMordechai Seter
1975LuciferHalim El-Dabh
1975AdorationsMateo Albéniz
Domenico Cimarosa
John Dowland
Girolamo Frescobaldi
1975Point of CrossingMordechai Seter
1975The Scarlet LetterHunter Johnson
1977O Thou Desire Who Art About to SingMeyer Kupferman
1977ShadowsGian Carlo Menotti
1978The Owl and the PussycatCarlos Surinach
1978EcuatorialEdgard Varèse
1978Flute of PanTraditional music.
1978 or 1979FrescoesSamuel Barber
1979EpisodesAnton Webernreconstructed and reworked
1980JudithEdgard Varèse
1981Acts of LightCarl Nielsen
1982Dances of the Golden HallAndrzej Panufnik
1982Andromanche's LamentSamuel Barber
1983Phaedra's DreamGeorge Crumb
1984The Rite of SpringIgor Stravinsky
1985SongRomanian folk musicplayed on the pan flute by Gheorghe Zamfir with Marcel Cellier on the organ
1986Temptations of the MoonBéla Bartók
1986Tangled NightKlaus Egge
1987PerséphoneIgor Stravinsky
1988Night ChantR. Carlos Nakai
1990Maple Leaf RagScott Joplincostumes by Calvin Klein
1991The Eyes of the Goddessunfinished

Early dancers[edit]

"Graham's original girls were superb – Bessie Schonberg, Evelyn Sabin, Martha Hill, Gertrude Shurr, Anna Sokolow, Nelle Fisher, Dorothy Bird, Bonnie Bird, Sophie Maslow, May O'Donnell, Jane Dudley, Anita Alvarez, Pearl Lang, and Marjorie G. Mazia  – as were the second group – Yuriko, Ethel Butler, Ethel Winter, Jean Erdman, Patricia Birch, Nina Fonaroff, Matt Turney, Mary Hinkson. And the group of men – Erick Hawkins, and after him Merce Cunningham, David Campbell, John Butler, Robert Cohan, Stuart Hodes, Glen Tetley, Bertram Ross, Paul Taylor, Mark Ryder, William Carter."[22]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bondi (1995) p.74 quote: "Picasso of Dance [...] Martha Graham was to modern dance what Pablo Picasso was to modern art."
  2. ^ a b Agnes de Mille (1991) p.vii quote: "Her achievement is equivalent to Picasso's," I said to Mark Ryder, a pupil and company member of Graham's, "I'm not sure I will accept him as deserving to be in her class."
  3. ^ a b "Martha Graham: About the Dancer". American Masters. NPR. September 16, 2005. Archived from the original on 2013-10-10. 
  4. ^ a b Bryant Pratt (1994)[full citation needed]
  5. ^ Music Films. The Ogden standard-examiner (Ogden Utah), May 21, 1922, p.5
  6. ^ Mansfield Soares (1992) p.56
  7. ^ Marthagraham.org Archived January 10, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Graham, Martha (1991). Blood memory. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-26503-4. 
  9. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (April 2, 1991). "Martha Graham Dies at 96; A Revolutionary in Dance". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ "Google Doodle Celebrates Martha Graham and Dynamic Web". PC World. May 11, 2011. Archived from the original on 2013-07-02. 
  11. ^ De Mille (1991), p. 409.
  12. ^ De Mille (1991), pp. 409–10.
  13. ^ Gerald, Newman (1998). Martha Graham: Founder of Modern Dance. Danbury, Connecticut: Franklin Watts. 
  14. ^ De Mille (1991) p. 264.
  15. ^ "Martha's back! Famed dance company in residence during June." Scope Online. Skidmore College
  16. ^ "Martha Graham Dance Company". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Archived from the original on 2011-09-19. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  17. ^ Darnell, Tracie (2007-04-17). "Martha Graham Dance Company returns to Chicago for long-awaited performance at MCA". Medill. Archived from the original on 2013-10-12. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  18. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter G". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 29, 2014. 
  19. ^ "TIME 100: Martha Graham". Time. August 6, 1998. Archived from the original on 2011-07-06. 
  20. ^ Armitage, p. 9.
  21. ^ Moving force, Haaretz Archived February 25, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ De Mille (1991) p.417

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]