FEATURE A—Z OF MARTHA GRAHAM
The A—Z of
As the legendary Martha Graham Dance Company limbers up to hit the Festival stage, Ellie Carr helps you brush up on your facts with the A—Z on the ﬁrst lady of modern dance.
sk most folk to name a famous dancer and chances are they’ll say'Martha Graham. Never mind that she’s been dead ﬁve years and that her brilliant career peaked in the 505. The influence of the dinky little dancer from Pennsylvania over ZOth century dance is unparalleled.
With a bold, stark, striking new dance language that said no to sylphs and swan maidens and yes to expressing real life, Graham burst onto the scene in the 30s, dug her heels in and stayed till the 905. She duly went down in 'history as the pioneer of early modern dance. What Pablo Picasso did for art, Martha Graham has done for dance. Need we say more.
Ais for Allegheny, USA. The Pennsylvania
town ain’t famous for much, but it is the place where Martha Graham was born on ll May 1894.
B is for Black tights. Graham wore them when she took her ﬁrst modern dance steps in the 205 and 303, and in them came to represent the most enduring alternative to the pink tights and tutus monopoly on 20th century dance.
is for Contraction, Graham’s most famous
dance move. Invented as a direct response to the upright lines of ballet, it’s basically a dramatic spinal curve designed to shoot energy through the body and express the whole gamut of human emotions - not just sugary-sweet ballet ones. And you thought contractions were something women have lots of just before they give birth.
Dis for Discipline. Modern dance isn’t just sitting around in black tights having contractions all day you know. ‘Those who do not have order and discipline can never be dancers,’ the tough-as-old-tutus Graham told her students. Scary.
Eis for Ego. Big time. While the rest of the modern dance world was busy trashing the stellar hierarchy of ballet, Graham still favoured the old soloist-surrounded-by-supporting—cast routine. And guess who always got the star pan? She was also, however, her own biggest critic. ‘Many times in the early days,’ she said, ‘1 would come off-stage and say: That was a bad dance. I will never perform it again. And I never did.’
Q The List I6-22 Aug I996
is for Frocks. Black tights are the business
for class, but when it comes to performing the Martha Graham way, simple, ankle-length circular skirts (for the girls at least) are (almost) the only costumes for the job.
Gis for Graham. the surname of our Martha, and also the name of the strong, gruelling dance technique now practised daily by professional dance students across the world.
His for Hips. While bottoms of any real signiﬁcance are a no-no for ballet dancers, being dinky with child-bearing hips — as Graham was — is a distinct advantage for Graham’s earthy, chunky moves.
is for lsami Noguchi, the go-ahead Japanese designer whose sculpture-like set-designs part of Graham’s
became an integral
choreography over some twenty collaborations.
Jis for Jersey. the fabric Graham famously chose to wrap round her head and body for her 1930 study of. grief, Lamentation. The image of Ms Graham all trussed up in stretchy jersey has become to modern dance what top hat and tails are to the musical.
Kis for Kandinsky, the abstract artist who caused the young Graham to declare: ‘l will dance like that’, when she first laid eyes on his paintings in 1922.
is for Lycra, the stretchy fabric Graham
would have wrapped round her head and body in Lamentation if only it had been invented then.
is for Men, who did not figure highly in Graham’s dance scheme-of-things, and