Leading Lady : Martha Graham

“I feel that the essence of dance is the expression of man--the landscape of his soul. I hope that every dance I do reveals something of myself or some wonderful thing a human can be.”

When Martha Graham was 17 years old, she attended a performance by dancer Ruth St. Denis. Martha was inspired and felt her fate had been sealed: she would become a dancer. But Martha's father disapproved of this ambition, and she didn't pursue her dream until after his unexpected death. At 22 years old, Martha was told she was too old to start studying dance. Undeterred, she enrolled at Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts where she spent 8 years studying, performing, and eventually instructing.

Martha left Denishawn to choreograph and perform with The Greenwich Village Follies. In 1925, she was offered a position at Eastman School of Music that allowed her complete control of the dance program. Martha used the opportunity to experiment, using the floorwork, spiraling, and contraction and release techniques that would transform modern dance. The Martha Graham Dance Company, now the oldest modern dance company in America, was founded in 1926.

Graham performed through the 1960's and continued to choreograph until her death in 1991, having composed 180 pieces. Martha used the art of dance to express human emotion and, in her words, "make visible the interior landscape." Her pieces explored mythology, the struggles and triumphs of women, and serious social, political, and economic issues of her time. She was the first choreographer to regularly employ Asian and African American dancers and the first dancer to perform at The White House. Martha Graham revolutionized set design and movement in the performing arts. The Graham Technique is considered the cornerstone of American modern dance and continues to be taught and used globally. - Kelly Longhurst


Photo Credit : Barbara Morgan