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Martha Graham

(1894—1991) American dancer, teacher, and choreographer


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(1893–1991)

US dancer and choreographer and one of the most influential teachers of modern dance. She was appointed a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1984.

Graham became interested in dance after seeing a performance by Ruth St Denis (1878–1968) and in 1916 she went to the Denishawn School in order to study with her husband Ted Shawn (1891–1972). Her first leading role was in Shawn's Aztec ballet Xoclitl, and she travelled the country with the troupe until 1923, when she began to experiment in dance and teach at the Eastman School of Music. In 1927 Graham set up her own studio, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, and – with the help of musician-composer Louis Horst (1884–1964) – evolved a new dance language using flexible movements intended to express psychological complexities and emotional power.

During the 1930s Graham produced works on the theme of American roots and values, such as Primitive Mysteries (1931), Frontier (1935), and Appalachian Spring (1944), drawing on sources as varying as Emily Dickinson and the Brontë sisters. In subsequent years her work concentrated on making dance reveal ‘the inner man’ and her ballets became increasingly psychological in approach. Care of the Heart (1946) and Errand into the Maze (1947) were two of the most notable pieces from this period and Graham's reputation for controversy was gradually eclipsed by the recognition of the quality and intelligence of her troupe's performances. Until she retired as a dancer in 1970, Graham danced in most of her own works with her company and was reluctant to pass on her roles. However, renewed interest in her early works and her own concentration on lecturing and coaching her company resulted in a revival of popular interest in the Graham technique. She choreographed almost one hundred and seventy pieces, both solo and ensemble, including three films and various television performances.

Subjects: Dance.


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