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Martha Graham is one of the legendary dancers, known and adored by many people in America and beyond. She was admired for her affectionate dancing and choreographing. She was born in the suburbs of Pittsburg on May 11, 1984. She was the young common town girl who many people knew as quiet and shy with a small body. Her family moved to Santa Barbara, California, when she was ten. She had a good childhood in a well-up family. She became interested in dance when she saw Ruth St Denis, a famous dancer dancing in 1914. Martha, with a great desire to dance, managed to convince her parents to let her enroll in dancing classes at the Denishawn studio. This happened in 1916 when she was 22 years old, just after she finished her University studies, where she majored in theatre and dance.
With her great determination, Martha impressed her teacher. Due to her good performance, she toured with his teacher and her fellow dancers in a production of Xochitl, which they got from an Indian legend. During the period in which she danced for the company, Martha learned a lot of dance styles such as; Native American, experimental, and many others. She also created a lot of lasting friendships, not only with her fellow dancers but also with other influential dancers from other groups. Having had an experience in dancing, Martha left this company to dance solo for two years with the Greenwich Village Follies. In 1926, Martha started her dance company. At first, she only included women in her company, but later on, she started including men. The company has been a training center for some of today’s most famous dancers, choreographers, and performers. It has also received worldwide recognition, especially in America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Martha’s influence to dance
In the late 1920s, a few interested people joined her, and together they started a company called the group. Though the group was small, they worked tirelessly and never despaired because they felt they were doing what they loved, so they knew that later on, they would benefit. At this time in America, many dancing styles were coming up, such as those which Martha introduced. She would spend her extra time, especially at night, looking for new and strange movements to incorporate into her dancing. Her styles were unique, and whoever watched them being danced approved of that. They were mainly based on muscle relaxation and deep breathing, which made the dancers assume an angular shape.
Some of the people Martha inspired, especially those who danced with her, are remembered today. They are dancers like Sophie Maslow and Jane Dudely, to mention but a few. Her students, later on, became dance teachers, not only in America but also on other continents. When Martha could no longer dance as she used to as a youth in her fifties, her students would perform the demanding parts of the dance. She inspired her dancers with her passion for continuing dancing, even in her old age.
Martha was also influenced to dance because of her humble beginnings, from convincing her parents to let her join dance classes to starting her own dancing company later in life. She faced many challenges, especially because she started to dance when not many people appreciated dancing when there were almost no dancers in America. Martha is known for her many captivating performances and choreography, which pleased and attracted an audience and made many people love dancing. She inspired many young dancers who had no hope of ever attaining their dreams of dancing everywhere in America. She instructed and guided many students who later on became dance teachers, not only in America but also on other continents.
Martha’s influence on America’s development
In the late 1920s, Martha came up with dance sketches for the people, which showed her concerns for the social life of common Americans. She also showed concern for the Americans who worked hard and were not paid well for their hard work. To demonstrate her concern for this, she composed a dance for the labor union and how they handled the workers’ welfare. Martha dedicated herself to fighting for American workers’ political and social rights. Another way Martha influenced the American culture was through her interest in the Indian- American culture. She did many works concerning religion and afterward started doing choreography concerned with the heritage of both North and South America. Martha loved to show her audience that she was a true American citizen by demonstrating her feelings in her dances. She even encouraged other choreographers to create dances that portrayed their patriotism to America.
In 1936, she choreographed Chronicle, a dance about the First World War. In this dance, she showed people’s lament and devastation because of homelessness. She also pledged the Americans to live in unity and love for one another. Moreover, Martha composed the deep dance song in 1937, which was based on the sorrow and the suffering that the women went through when the men in their lives were sent to war and then brutally killed. Another contribution of Martha Graham to American history is donating some of her notebooks to be published in 1965. These notebooks had ideas Martha had studied on some of the dances she performed, like ballets in the the1940s to 1960s. Through her notebooks, she showed the Americans the transitions and changes that the American dances underwent, hence her contribution to the history of America. She made history in America such that people recognized her dances and made her an American classic.
The works of Martha Graham
Martha did many dances that are common today. It is also good to note that most of her creations were inspired by real-life situations or the environment surrounding her. Some dances include Lamentation, letter to the world, diversion of angels, deaths and entrances, the cave of the heart, Errand into the maze, American document, American provincials, and Salem Shore, to mention but a few.
Appalachian spring was created during the toughest times of the Second World War. Being concerned with the social welfare of the people, Martha noticed that those in marriage or about to get married needed encouragement. She created the dance when many people were killed in the war, and many couples feared what would happen to them. The Appalachian spring is one of Martha’s dances, including a male dancer. This dance is a good example of people’s feelings about marriage in the mid-1900s.
It is set around a young couple about to get married in the desert of Pennsylvania. It has eight major characters, the bride, the groom, and a priest, representing the early 19th-century religion. There’s also an older pioneer woman who supports the young couple about to be married. In the dance, the dancers enter the stage in turns, each at a time, as though introducing themselves. The groom, bride, and other dancers celebrate the joyous occasion by performing a happy dance. The groom and the bride then dance together. Facial expressions of happiness are seen. There are also expressions of fear and anxiety ahead, while the groom shows pride and eagerness in what lies ahead in marriage.
However, the couple dances interactively at some point in the dance to show that though they may not know exactly what lies ahead of them, they will find a way to work out any challenges together. Among the dancers is a woman who has an idea about marriage life, and she dances to show the couple that they need not worry a lot and will be okay. The priest also gives a sermon in the form of dance and a severe warning on what not to do in case of problems. He also casts the demons that may be out to attack the couple. The ceremony continues, and the visitors depart at the end, leaving the couple in the desert to face the unknown future.
In Night Journey, the protagonist is a lady named Jocasta, who realizes she has got married to her son Oedipus. As the dance starts, a woman stands still in the middle of the stage; in her hand, she holds a small rope tied to form a loop. The woman appears to be in deep thought, perhaps because she is devastated by her life. The dance becomes more real and sad when later, Jocasta hangs herself with the same rope she holds with her hands. The dance shows a series of events that led to her death; her meeting with Oedipus, their courtship, and their marriage. Jocasta is also frustrated because she had gone as far as having children with Oedipus, besides being her lover, until a blind seer, Teiresias, reveals to her the fate of their relationship and marriage. The dance shows us two sides of Oedipus, one where she acts like Jocastra’s lover, while the other is that which she acts as her child.
However, the most striking part of the dance is where Jocasta is seen to want Oedipus as her child and also as her husband. Martha choreographed this dance in 1947. The dance focuses on how many people rush to marry, even without knowing those they intend to get married to.
Martha died in 1991, at the age of 96 years, having started, established, and fought for the rights of her company. She remains a legend in the history of dance for the unique styles she introduced and her creations’ popularity.
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