Martha Graham

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Martha Graham: A Dancer's Life

by Russell Freedman

Martha Graham(1894-1991) was a dancer, choreographer, and teacher for more than 70 years, and during that time she changed the landscape of dance forever. In 1998 TIME Magazine named Martha Graham as the Dancer of the Century, and People Magazine named her among the female "Icons" of the Century. She created 181 ballets and a dance technique that has been compared to ballet in its scope and magnitude. Many of the great modern and ballet choreographers have studied the Martha Graham Technique or have been members of her company.

We can say that Martha Graham is The Twentieth Century's Most Important Dancer, the Mother of Modern Dance. She had significant contributions to what is today called "contemporary" dance. Her contrasting ideas of dances being composed of harsh, angular floor movement transformed the art of dance performance and altered the perceptions of those who thought they understood what dance was.

After witnessing a life-changing performance in 1911, at age seventeen, at the Mason House Opera in Los Angles by ballet dancer Ruth St. Denis, she decided that dancing would be her style of life. That performance inspired her to enroll in the specialized junior arts college, Cumnoch University and later the Denishawn School of Dance, whose company she joined. Founded by Ruth St. Denis and her husband Ted Shawn, the company was one of the first to specialize in performances overlooked in the United States, such as Greek pageants, Japanese sword dances, and seductive Spain-inspired flamencos.

In 1926, Martha Graham founded her dance company and school, living and working out of a tiny Carnegie Hall studio in midtown Manhattan. The principles of contraction and release were the foundation for her technique. Graham's dancing and choreography exposed the depths of human emotion through movements...

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