American dancer, choreographer, and teacher, was the world's leading exponent of modern dance. Martha Graham was born in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in May 1894. Her family moved to California when she was 10. Graham became interested in dance when she saw Ruth St. Denis perform in 1914. Overcoming parental restraint, Graham enrolled in the Denishawn Studio. This small, quiet, shy, thin, but perceptive and hardworking girl impressed the leader of the studio, Ted Shawn, and toured with his troupe in a production of Xochitl, based on an Aztec Indian legend. In 1923 she left this company to do two years of solo dancing for the Greenwich Village Follies. In 1925 Graham became dance instructor at the Eastman School of Music and Theater in Rochester, N.Y. She began experimenting with modern dance forms. "I wanted to begin," she said, "not with characters or ideas but with movement... I wanted significant movement. I did not want it to be beautiful or fluid. I wanted it to be fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge." She rejected the traditional steps and techniques of classical ballet, for she wanted the dancing body to be related to natural motion and to the music. She experimented with what the body could do based on its own structure, developing what was known as "percussive movements."
Graham's first dances were abstract and angular, almost "cubist" in execution. "Like the modern painters," she said, "we have stripped our medium of decorative unessentials." The dances were performed on a bare stage with only costumes and lights. The dancers' faces were taut, their hands stiff, and their costumes scanty. Later she added scenery and costumes for effect. The music was contemporary and usually composed especially for the dance. Whereas Isadora Duncan, the first modern dancer, had used music to inspire her works, Graham used music to help dramatize hers. Martha Graham's process of creation usually began with what she called a "certain stirring." Inspiration might come from classical mythology, the American past, biblical stories, historical figures, primitive rituals, contemporary social problems, Zen Buddhism, the writings of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, the poems of Emily Dickinson the flower paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe, or the puberty rites of Native Americans. After the initial inspiration she developed a dramatic situation or character to embody the emotion or idea.
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Martha Graham biography
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