Martha Graham, the outstanding 20th century dancer, choreographer and teacher was born on May 11, 1894 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as one among the three daughters of George and Jane Beers Graham (Martha Graham, 2010). During her life time she spent most of her decisive years on the west coast region. Media have often regarded Martha Graham as one of the well recognized dancers and choreographers ever lived in America. Martha Graham’s father was a psychiatrist who concentrated much in his study and analysis of physical movement. He was a third generation American of Irish descent and her mother Jane Beers was one of the tenth generations of puritan Miles Standish. Dr. Graham and family had a high standard living because of the negotiable salary they saved from their works. The Graham family had a reputed position in the society on account of their high standard living and good educational background. From the very tender age itself, Martha had the support of her family in matters related to education and career opportunities. Though her family was ever ready to provide her excellent guidance in education, Martha preferred her career as a dancing performer-disapproving her parents wish. After the completion of her educational career from Cumnock School, a junior college, she enrolled in the Denishawn Studio, a dancing school operated by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn (1891-1972) (Martha Graham, 2010). Analysing the biographical note of Martha, it is identfiable that after getting enrolled in Denishawn Studio, she devoted herself entirely for dancing and choreography. She married dancer Erick Hawkins in 1948 but their marriage proved to be failure and divorced in 1954. Later, as we see, she became proficient in dancing and tried her best to attain the highest position in this field. She focused her attention essentially in performing arts and practiced much by contributing her own methods to dancing. She tried her preeminent to open the new way for modern dance.
Special attraction/feature of her dancing
Martha Graham was a wonderful performer and good choreographer in America. Her choreography is very surprising and amazing to viewers that she created new style of body movements and facial expressions. While observing Martha’s performances, it is well evident that she always attempted to expose real passion and human experiences which helped her to stand aloof from other performers of her time. Martha Graham’s dance has often been compared to Picasso’s painting and Stravinsky’s music, and so on. One may not feel it as an exaggeration to reveal that her choreography and dance performances are incredibly attractive and stunning. Her contributions have transformed to different art forms which exerted notable influence in changing the old method of dancing. Martha’s innovative style of dancing has paved the way for expanding the style of word around dancing. She expressed herself very liberally and truthfully in almost all her dance performances. It was the sincere attempt from her part to develop dancing profession resulted for the establishment of Martha Graham Dance Company in 1926 (Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, 2006). As her profession was dancing, she could compose many dance programs. Her dance company offers support to the entire American dance students by including other brilliant dance teachers also in her dance troupe. Freedman (1998) rightly enlists Graham’s performance when he writes, “Graham invented a revolutionary new language of dance, an original way of moving that she use to reveal the joy, passions, and sorrows common to all human experience. She had a genius for connecting movement with emotion.”
Martha Graham is not only a resourceful dancer but also an excellent choreographer. Graham created new trends and attractive style for dancing by reminding the fact that dancing has significant role in society as a pure method of entertainment. Dance is a one of the important and transitory forms of expression. Martha Graham attempted to convey her ideas so naturally and translated these ideas to expression with facial and body movements. Graham strongly believed that body and facial expressions must be there in an excellent dance. Graham controlled her body movements and facial expressions with music. These movements attracted the attention of many modern observers and as such, they accepted this new style and recognized this performance as a modern dance. A good dance performer should be capable of creating different types expressions on his/her face. The idea produced by the dancing body can include physical identity and physical representations of thoughts. So Martha Graham’s new style of dancing can be considered as a representation and result of her thoughts. The performer and choreographer Martha Graham produced different gestures images, stances and poses. She had also included the physical representation of the feelings, moods and impulses. These styles or movements attracted a great deal of audience.
Martha’s Dance is a real representation of her personality- expression, and it conveyed different messages. Majority of the modern and traditional dancing forms tell a story which clearly coveyed the observer a message. Choreographer Martha Graham expressed her ideas in different ways and in different style. Thus one can infer that most of her performances were self expressive and self explanatory.
During her life span, Graham had composed and presented a large number of dance programs. Her 180 dancing performances in America within the period of fifty years acknowledge this fact. She had won many awards and achievements. Some of them include the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the French Legion of Honor in 1984 and presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976. She could maintain her status as a good dancer and choreographer till the end of her life. Her last dance performance, Maple Leaf Rag presented in 1990, a year before her death, was also a grant success. It is such grant performances that earned her the name, ’20th century revolutionary artist’. She has exerted a significant influence in relieving the dance form from the traditional methods or concepts, presented with comparatively dawdling movements. 20th century dance forms are fast and it also tells the theoretical form of the story instead of merely retelling a story.
Contribution to dancing
Graham had given remarkable contribution to dancing field by developing distinctive style of training. She founded Martha Graham Dance Company, one of the oldest modern dance groups in America, which provides the best training for new generation dancers and choreographers. Martha Graham’s new techniques and modern methods are really helpful to create classical ballet in the world. She avoided traditional and old methods, techniques and steps of classical ballet. Then her dancing form of classical ballet includes natural motion and music. She established different type style of dancing such as mobile scenery, symbolic props, and etc. Vision of the Apocalypse is the first large group piece of Martha Graham and it was performed in 1929. Other remarkable contributions are Dance Repertory Theater in New York in 1930 and Bennington School of Arts in Vermont, and so on. Her students and her co-worker helped to spread her ideas and style in the rest of the world.
What was her inspiration?
Though there are different things that attracted Graham to dancing, the most important among them were the classical mythologies she read. Other inspirations are the American past, biblical stories, historical figures, contemporary social problems, poems, stories, and so on. These motivations really helped her to develop new ideas and thoughts. These inspirations facilitate to found new music and gradually she won in her attempts to bring out new movements to express her own ideas.