'There is a vitality, a lifeforce, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost."
Martha Graham was born in Pennsylvania, USA 1894 and died on the 1st of April 1991 in New York City.
Graham left Pennsylvania when she was 14 and went to live in California
Graham attended a Los Angeles recital by the dance pioneer Ruth Saint-Denis. It was the first dance performance of any kind that Graham had ever seen and it overwhelmed her.
From 1913-1916, Graham studied theatre and dance at the University of Cumnoch. After graduating in 1916, she joined the Denishawn School. run by Ruth Saint-Denis and Ted Shawn in Los Angeles. Ruth St. Denis rejected Graham as a pupil who she saw as too old and not particularly attractive, and referred Martha to her partner, Ted Shawn. She excelled in her dancing and danced several important roles, including Shawns Xochtil.- his famous duet about an Indian girl and an Aztec emperor.
She evolved from student, to teacher, to one of the company's best known performers She left Denishawn in 1923
Graham joined the Greenwich Village Follies in New York where she performed as a star on Broadway for two years leaving there in 1925 to become the director of the dance department of the Eastman School of Music in New York. Here she began creating dances of her own.
Despite having had relatively no dance training in her early years, Graham performed as the lead dancer in each of her pieces until her 76th year and left a huge impact on the dancing world. She is considered as the 'Mother of Modern Dance' and worshipped by many who consider her to be revolutionary.
Career as a choreographer
Thematically all her work stems from too great, interrelated preoccupations: that of mystery, region, myth, mans rootedness in the earth and supernatural, and that of the psyche, the inner conflicts that set man apart from nature and God'
Graham launched her own company in 1929. To raise funds she danced at the opening of Radio City Music Hall, She modeled furs and later gave classes in which she taught actors such as Bette Davis and Gregory Peck how to move. Graham would stop at nothing to achieve what she believed to be her sacred mission: 'to chart the graph of the heart through movement'-'"that driving force of God that plunges through me'
Graham exploited the full range of the human body to show the exhilaration of dancing. " the body is capable of extreme wonders '
The Graham Company would always bear an unsettling resemblance to a religious cult, with the choreographer as high priestess.
Graham choreographed over 180 works-these were as diverse as they were strange and innovative. Each work she choreographed proved to be more innovative and daring than it's predecessor. Her choreography consisted of dances from ethnic, primitive, American, mythological, abstract. Graham explored themes such as human experiences, racial memories, archetypal figures, love, life and pain, emotions and spiritual themes:
Lamentations (1930) a solo piece was macabre and austere, where as Appalachian Spring, one of her most well known works, was vibrant and witty. Night Journey (1947) was based on a Greek myth. It re-tells the story of Oedipus and Primitive Mysteries (1931) addressed Biblical and religious theme depicting an Indian-Hispanic ceremony.
Herodiade (1944) is a drama of a woman's search into the mirror of aging. The setting was a landscape based on Graham's bones
Graham was dealing with her own personal aging crisis as she was already over the age of fifty. She feared the unknown.
In various ways the dances of the Martha Graham Company in the 1930's were influenced by the political and social climate of the decade as in the support for the Spanish fighting against fascism. In this way the 1930's until the creation of 'Appalachian Spring' in 1944 stands out as a different period in her career.
After 1944 she started using subjects mostly from Greek mythology. In 1954 her company had it's first tour to Paris where her works were certainly not appreciated by the audience The next few years were more successful and in 1984 her company was invited by Rudolf Nureyev to the Pari Opera where Graham was awarded the Legion d'Honneur by the French Government.
Graham insisted on dancing till 1968. Her unwillingness to let younger soloists take over led her to replace signature pieces with effects to convince movement. She produced no work of lasting interest from 1950 to her death forty-one years later.
In her early works Graham rejected the ornate style of Denishawn in favor of sparse staging and austere costuming, angular and severe movements. As this highly individual and expressive style developed, she became one of the leading choreographers in contemporary dance.
As a choreographer she has been accredited with many titles. Initially audiences were antagonistic to her style, which was described as 'distorted',' violent', 'oppressive' and 'obscure'. Her admirers referred to her as 'High Priestess' or the 'goddess'. She was compared to Picasso because of her long dominance of her chosen art. Her work was originally set apart from others by its obscure individuality. Later it would be a style that was imitated and duplicated making it one of the basic ingredients of contemporary dance
She trained many great dancers who later became choreographers like Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor
Graham continued to choreograph until 1990. Her final complete work was Maple Leaf Rag with music by Scott Joplin, a tribute to Horst She completed a book called Blood Memory
Graham remained the sole artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company until her death in 1991 At the time of her death she was choreographing The Eye Of The Goddess for the Olympics in Barcelona.
Personal or artistic influences
Graham was influenced by her father who was an 'alienist'-a physician who specialized in human psychology. He was particularly interested in the way people moved. In later years Graham often repeated her father's dictum 'movement never lies.' She was also influenced by the theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
Graham was influenced at first by Ruth Saint-Denis's oriental studies and she acknowledged her debt to the Denishawn Company.
Eleanora Duse, an important tragic actress at the turn of century, also inspired Martha Graham as did Isadora Duncan.
Martha Graham collaborated with many talented artists, such as Isamu Noguchi, Aaron Copland, Alexander Calder and her dear friend Louis Horst, whom she knew from Denishawn. He composed several scores for her and remained devoted to her throughout his lifetime. Horst introduced Graham to the work of the great German modern dancer, Mary Wigman, and to the innovations of the school of modern painting, including the works of the Cubists and Wassily Kandinsky. But perhaps most importantly, Horst taught Graham about musical form and encouraged her to work with contemporary composers rather than making dances to eighteenth and nineteenth-century music, as her solo dance predecessors had done.
Her technique was a deliberate and conscious breakaway from the aerial lightness and search for flight of the classical ballet.Graham emphasized the relationship with the ground. The barefoot principle was given a firmer base than the poetic expressions of Isadora Duncan. Movement came from the center of the body with series of contractions and releases. The torso was the center of attraction, and the focus was on the deep breathing through which energy was released. Falls and recoveries emphasized the use of the ground. Group movements were strong and rhythmic, costumes severe and plain. She was intent on creating 'significant movement' or 'being honest' which was not fluid or beautiful as is typical in classical ballet. Her works were thematic and symbol-ridden. As a teacher and choreographer she preferred to call herself 'a guide….to the inner self'
Graham set out to destroy what had gone before by going back to the first principles. The dance must speak for itself and it must have something to say. Her methods are routinely taught in studios throughout the world, but one needs not to have studied them or even have seen any of her dances to be influenced by them. They are part of the air every contemporary dancer breathes.
She freed the art of dance by providing a new dance language and concepts. She taught the awareness of the power of mystery that lies in the human body and also created movement through stillness.
Graham codified a language for modern dance, for generations to follow.
In 1976 Graham became the first dance personality to receive, from the president Gerald.R Ford, the Presidential Medal for Freedom, the countries highest civilian honour. She also received the French Legion of Honour and in 1979 the Kennedy Centre Honours award in recognition of the significant contributions to the American Culture through the performing arts.
Graham challenged herself and all those who came in to contact with her.
To quote Graham:
'You are unique, and if that has not been fulfilled then something has been lost…..the only sin is mediocrity''
"Martha taught you how to move through life, her goal was the relationship with the body to mind and the body to the spirit. She searched for the truth which was not always pretty, sometimes it's down right ugly ' Quote: Gregory Peck -Dance In America
Martha Graham - Appalachian Spring
A work from Graham's 'American Period.'
the scenario is a very simple one, touching on primal issues of marriage and survival, on the eternal regeneration suggested by spring. A young bride and her groom enact the emotions, both joyful and apprehensive, that their new life suggests, their hopes for the future An older neighbor, the pioneer woman, suggests now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A Revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house, loving and planning to create the next generation in health and wholeness. It begins with sunrise and ends with sunset.
-Dancers:Initially the Husbandman was danced by Eric Hawkins whom she married in 1948, but their marriage did not last long.( Hawkins was also the first male to dance in Graham's company.) Merce Cunningham danced the role of the Revivalist and Graham danced the wise all knowing Pioneer Woman, a mature figure who knows what life is about and encourages the young couple
The Revivalist allows for humor in the form of the four Followers who, like barnyard hens, are constantly fussing about in adoration of their leader.
-Setting: It is set in the Pennsylvania hill-the Appalachian mountain wilderness- early in the nineteenth century.
Typical of Graham's style - through the movements of the dancers the psychological and emotional aspects are evident The followers are uniformed and restricted in their movements while the pioneer woman's movements are bold and expressive. The preacher uses dramatic movements and the couple give a sense of unity and understanding of each other through their movement. Technique used by Graham is evident in this piece-the contractions, fall and recovery, use of the ground, etc.
Period costumes are worn, depicting the frontier attires.
Isamu Noguchi suggested the simple homestead with his unusual brilliant economy set, saying so much with so little. It was very stark and the set was designed so the dancers could easily move in, out or around it.
Aaron Copland was the composer. The music is joyful yet has somber moments, depicting the mood of the dancers The instumental music is charming and creates a pleasant atmosphere. There are, however, changes in tempo and dynamics to create contrasting and dramatic effects.