Martha Graham

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Graham, Martha,

1894–1991, American dancer, choreographer, and teacher, b. Pittsburgh. Her family moved from Allegheny, Pa., to Santa Barbara, Calif., when she was 14. After 1916, Graham attended the Denishawn School, Los Angeles; in 1920 she made her debut in Ted ShawnShawn, Ted
(Edwin Myers Shawn), 1891–1972, American modern dancer and choreographer, b. Kansas City, Mo. Introduced to dance as physical therapy, he taught ballroom dancing, then married (1914) the dancer Ruth St. Denis.
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's Xochitl, which was created for her. She left the Denishawn company in 1923 to dance in musical revues and to make her independent debut (1926). Graham first appeared with her own group of dancers in 1929, began her tours after 1939, and became, according to many critics, the seminal figure in modern dancemodern dance,
serious theatrical dance forms that are distinct from both ballet and the show dancing of the musical comedy or variety stage. The Beginnings of Modern Dance

Developed in the 20th cent.
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. Her choreography, which requires great discipline and flexibility to perform, is highly individual, stark, and angular. Her dances became more explosive and less abstract in the late 1930s and early 1940s, as she achieved her mature style.

Graham's dances often draw upon historical and mythological subjects. After World War II, she created works based increasingly on Freudian and Jungian themes and centered on the female figure. Her works include Primitive Mysteries (1931), Letter to the World (1940), Deaths and Entrances (1943), Appalachian Spring (1944), Cave of the Heart (1946), Seraphic Dialogue (1955), Phaedra (1962), and Archaic Hours (1969), created the year she retired from dancing. Because so many of her students themselves became choreographers and leaders of companies, her influence on modern dance is especially widespread. Her own troupe, the oldest dance company in the United States, faced problems a decade after her death. Internecine struggles caused the closure (2000–2002) of the Martha Graham Dance Center, but a legal decision in late 2002 allowed the company to regroup, and they began to perform her dances again in early 2003.


See her Notebooks (1973) and her autobiography, Blood Memory (1991); R. Tracy, ed., Goddess: Martha Graham's Dancers Remember (1996); biographies by D. McDonagh (1973) and A. de Mille (1991); E. Stodelle, Deep Song (1984); M. Franko, Martha Graham in Love and War (2012).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Graham, Martha


Born May 11, 1893, in Pittsburgh, Pa. American dancer and choreographer. Honorary Doctor of the Arts from Harvard University (1966).

From 1918 to 1923, Graham studied at the school of R. St. Denis and T. Shawn and danced in their company. Between 1926 and 1930 she appeared as a concert soloist. In the 1930’s she organized the Martha Graham Dance Company. Graham is one of the most talented exponents of the modern dance, which is most popular in the United States. She developed her own style of rhythmic plastic dance, distinguished by expressiveness and stage effectiveness. Graham has many followers. From the end of the 1940’s through the 1960’s her repertoire included the following productions: Barber’s Cave of the Heart (1947), W. Schuman’s Night Journey (1947), and Starer’s Phaedra (1962). The most eminent American composers wrote music for Graham, and her productions were designed by leading American artists. Her company, with which she danced until 1971, often toured Europe and Asia.


Martha Graham: Essays on the Dance of Martha Graham Los Angeles, 1937.
Leatherman, R. Martha Graham, Portrait of the Lady as an Artist. New York, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Graham, Martha

(1894–1991) modern dancer, choreographer; born in Allegheny (now Pittsburgh), Pa. Prevented by her strict father from going to dance school when a girl, after he died she enrolled in the Denishawn School of Dancing in Los Angeles in 1916. She then toured with their company, making her professional debut in 1920. From 1923 to 1925 she appeared with the Greenwich Village Follies, a dance group in New York City, and taught at the Eastman School of the Theatre in Rochester, N.Y. For some years she had been working out her own ideas about choreography and she gave her first solo recital in 1926, in New York City. From then on, working at first with pick-up groups, and by the 1930s with a fairly regular company, she began to develop a radically new approach to dance: spare and angular in certain movements yet using exotic costumes far removed from classical ballet; improvised through tapping inner feelings and psychology, yet controlled down to the last facial expression and finger movement. The music for many of the early pieces was composed by Louis Horst, her longtime collaborator (1926–48); later she would commission new works from major composers such as Aaron Copland and William Schuman, just as she would commission sets from artists such as Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Calder. In the 1930s she choreographed several works drawing on Mexican Indian themes, such as Primitive Canticles; she then turned to works inspired by the lives of historical women, such as Joan of Arc (Seraphic Dialogue) and Emily Dickinson (Letter to the World); from 1946 on she did a number of works derived from Greek mythology—most powerfully, the evening-long Clytemnestra (1958). By the 1950s she was internationally recognized as the leading American choreographer of interpretive dancing, yet she always considered herself a dancer first and usually cast herself as the central figure in her works until her final performance in 1969. She continued as a teacher and choreographer almost to her death. Demanding and autocratic, she nevertheless inspired a devoted following, among both her students and public; she was the recipient of continual financial grants and personal honors. Many of the most prominent dancers and choreographers of the 20th century got their start in her company, including her first husband, Erick Hawkins.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
It will feature a number of free public events, including discussion forums, a presentation on the history of Martha Graham and a dance photography event.
What: Presentation, with film and readings of letters, on the collaboration between composer Aaron Copland and dancer Martha Graham to create ``Appalachian Spring''
Miki explained to me the dramatic challenges Martha Graham set.
"More than the portrayal of Martha Graham, for me there is something about this character called Martha, who is Martha Graham but is a current version of Martha Graham," he says.
How could a radical rule-breaker like Martha Graham, who delighted in redefining herself in the immediacy of each moment, generate the disciplined system of training known as Graham Technique?
No one appears to have realized it with Graham, which is why after 80 years the Martha Graham Dance Company had a season consisting of only two New York performances and an unlikely tour on an ocean liner.
Michelson and Jennifer Howard, in a succession of iconic dance costumes, performed their own little movement sequences, the choreographer herself resembling, of all people, Richard Move portraying Martha Graham. Michelson has had a succession of injuries and had her ankle taped; from time to time she rested her head on the table.
She attended Sarah Lawrence College, met Martha Graham, and went on to create lead roles in many of Graham's works from 1938 to 1943, including "One Who Speaks" in Letter to the World.
Acts of Light: Martha Graham in the 21st Century Photographs by John Deane, text by Nan Deane Cano.
Inspired by a Martha Graham performance, Anthony moved to New York to study dance, where she began her dance training with Hanya Holm.
Her early dance training was with Blanche Talmud and Martha Graham at the Neighborhood Playhouse.