Martha Graham began dancing at the ripe old age of 22 with the Denishawn Company, and ten years later in
April 1926 she appeared as a solo dancer in New York City, premiering her own works. After withstanding considerable ridicule she began to
acquire an audience of discriminating and enthusiastic admirers of her avant-garde style, and in 1927 founded the Martha Graham School of
Contemporary Dance in New York.
Graham used sculpture as stage decor and with the 1935 piece Frontiers began her 30 year collaboration with
sculptor-designer Isamu Noguchi.
Graham's pieces are unusual in the contemporary world of modern dance for their narratives; frequently
she would interpret legends such as that of Medea (in Cave of the Heart, 1946) or Joan of Arc (Seraphic Dialogue, 1955). Her most famous
works include Lamentation, Appalachian Spring, and Night Journey (the tale of Jocasta).
Graham based her technique on the contraction and
release of the torso. Her movements are strong and well defined, and marked by their ability to summon emotion. She also worked extensively with fitness pioneer Joseph Pilates.
Many members of her
company went on to become famous in their own right, including Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and her husband (for a time) Eric Hawkins.
Great quotes by Graham include
"No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time; it is just that others are behind the times."
"Dance is the hidden language of the soul."
"The past is not dead; it is not even past. People live on inner time; the moment in which a decisive thought or feeling takes
place can be at any time. Timeless feelings are common to all of us."
"The only sin is mediocrity."
Martha Graham died on
April Fool's Day, 1991, in New York City.
Currently ownership of her works and indeed her very technique is undergoing heavy legal dispute. "Ron Protas, trustee and heir to Graham's work, is not a
dancer or a choreographer - but he wants
artistic control of the dances. That's caused
tension with the company. Several months
ago, the board fired Protas from his job as
artistic director. Now Protas says the
Graham Company can't perform the works,
although he is licensing them to other dance
companies. The Graham Center has countered with a plea to the dance
world, asking companies to not perform Graham's dances.
Barry Fischer also holds an annual Graham dance retreat in
Maryland. He's caught up in the legal wrangling. Ron Protas
says Fischer can't use Graham's name or work. "By Ron
attacking education and prohibiting the perpetuation of Martha
Graham's contribution," he says, "he is singlehandedly
destroying the essence of her legacy."
MIMI TOMPKINS - CBC Radio Arts for quote)