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Martha Graham

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Martha Graham, Photo courtesy of Library of Congress


One of the foremost American choreographers of the twentieth century, a pioneer of the modern-dance movement, and the creator of an important technique for training dancers, Martha Graham (1894-1991) was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. She studied at the Denishawn School in Los Angeles and with Ted Shawn as her mentor, toured with its affiliated company. Settling in New York, she gave her first independent concert in 1926 and within three years formed her all-female "Group," proving to be not only a charismatic soloist but also an inspiring teacher. Her work was stark, spare, and percussive; musically and visually it emphasized the contemporary, and often it dealt with American material, nowhere more notably than in Appalachian Spring (1944). Beginning in the late 1930s her theatrical means grew more complex; speech and poetry appeared in some works, and by the 1940s devices associated with Asian theater. In many postwar works, including Night Journey (1947) and Clytemnestra (1958), Graham identified herself with heroines of history and myth, while also exploring themes of sexuality with unusual frankness. Graham retired from the stage in 1968, although she continued to direct the Martha Graham Dance Company until her death in 1991.


Essay by Deborah Jowitt -- Selected resources

Related Treasures: Modern Dance Pioneers -- Women Choreographers

Pictured above: Martha Graham in the premiere performance of her work Herodiade in 1944, one of her works drawing on Greek myth and Jung's ideas of the archetypal heroic journey. (Photograph from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Collection of the Music Division, Library of Congress.)  

Martha Graham in her solo Lamentation, 1930s.  Photo by Barbara Morgan.Martha Graham poster designed by Ben Shahn



Pictured Left: Martha Graham, 1963. (Poster designed by Ben Shahn. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dance Division.)


Pictured Right: Martha Graham in Lamentation, 1930s. The enveloping Jersey costume is an integral part of this innovative solo. (Photo by Barbara Morgan. Courtesy of Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University.)




Martha Graham performing her solo Lamentation in 1943, demonstrating her expressionistic power as a performer, which she built into the creation of her modern dance technique.