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 was known by many people as quiet, shy with a small body. Her family moved to Santa Barbara, California when she attained the age of ten. She had a good childhood, as she was from 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 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 Xochiti, which they got from an Indian legend. During the period which she danced for the company, Martha learnt a lot of dance styles such as; the 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 dace company. At first, she only included women in her company, but later on, she started including men. The company has been a training centre for some of the most famous dancers, choreographers and the performers of today it has also received recognition from all over the world but especially in America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
In the late 1920’s, a few interested people joined her, and together they started a company that they 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 trying to look for new and strange movements to incorporate in her dancing. Her styles were unique and whoever watched them being danced approved that. They were mainly based on muscle relaxation and deep breathing, which made the dancers assume an angular shape.
Some of the people that Martha inspired, especially those that danced with her are also 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 in 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 by her passion to continue dancing, even in her old age.
Martha was influential to dance also because of her humble beginnings, from convincing her parents to let her join dance classes to later on in life start her own dancing company. 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 above all made a lot of people love dancing. She inspired many young dancers who had no hope of ever attaining their dreams of dancing from everywhere in America. She instructed and guided many students who later on became dance teachers, not only in America but also in other continents.
In the late 1920's, Martha came up with the dance 'sketches for the people', which showed the concerns that she had for the social life of common Americans. She also showed concern for the Americans who worked hard were and not paid well for their hard work. To demonstrate her concern for this, she composed a dance for the labor union and the way they handled the welfare of the workers. Martha decided to dedicate herself to fighting for the political and the social rights of the American workers. Another way in which Martha influenced the American culture was through an interest that she developed in the Indian- American culture. She did many works concerning religion and then afterwards started doing choreography that was 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 went ahead to encourage other choreographers to create dances that portrayed their patriotism to America.
In 1936, she choreographed a dance that she called 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, dance deep 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 the American history is the donation of some of her note books to be published in 1965. These note books had ideas that Martha had studied on some of the dances that she performed like ballets in the1940s to 1960s. Through her note books, she showed the Americans the transitions and changes that the American dances went through, 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.
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 that surrounded her. Some of the dances include, Lamentation, letter to the world, diversion of angels, deaths and entrances, cave of the heart, Errand into the maze, American document, American provincials, 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 at a time when many people were being killed in the war and many couples were afraid of what would happen to them. The Appalachian spring is one of the dances that Martha included a male dancer. This dance is a good example of what people’s feelings, on marriage were in the mid 1900s.
It is set around a young couple that is about to get married in the desert of Pennsylvania. It has eight major characters, among them the bride, the groom, and a priest, who acts as a representative of the religion in the early 19th century. There’s also an older pioneer woman, who acts as a support for the young couple about to be married. I n the dance, the dancers enter the stage, in turns, each at time as though introducing themselves. The groom and the bride together with the other dancers celebrate the joyous occasion through 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 of what lies ahead of them 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 of marriage life and she dances to show the couple that they need not to worry a lot and that they will be okay. The priest also gives a sermon in form of a dance and goes ahead to give a severe warning on what not to do incase of problems. He also casts the demons that may be out to attack the couple. The ceremony continues and at the end, the visitors depart leaving the couple together in the desert to face the unknown future as one.
In Night Journey, the protagonist is a lady named Jocastra, who realizes that she got married to her son Oedipus. As the dance starts, a woman stands still at the middle of the stage; on 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 with her life. The dance becomes more real and sad when later Jocastra hangs herself with the very rope she holds with her hands the dance shows a series of the events that led to her death; her meeting with Oedipus, their courtship and also their marriage. Jocastra 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 Jocastra is seen to want Oedipus as her own 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 that she introduced and the popularity of her creations.
Erdman J. Hawkins E. Helpern A. “Martha Graham”. Choreography and Dance. 5 (1999):53-55.
Foulkes .J.L “Modern bodies”. North Carolina: University of North Carolina.2002
Freedman. R. Martha Graham, “A dancer’s life”. Clarion books. 1998
Horosko M.” Martha Graham: The Evolution of Her Dance Theory and Training”. Florida University of Florida.2002
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