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Martha Graham

Martha Graham, dancer, teacher and choreographer, was a pioneer and world leader in modern dance, who introduced the world to her Contemporary technique, influencing how we dance today.

Born in Pennsylvania, USA in 1894, Martha was not encouraged in her youth to dance. However, that all changed in 1911 after the family moved to California, when she watched the first dance performance of her life. A few years later at the age of 22, Martha began her dance studies at the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, where she would stay until 1923.

In 1926 she founded the Martha Graham Professional Dance Company, which is the oldest

performing contemporary Dance Company in the world. In the same year, she opened the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York City, which is the oldest professional dance school in the United States.

For Martha, dance was more than entertainment. It was a means by which the dancer would

transform his or herself into the character they want to play, being direct opposite to classical ballet techniques that she has previously studied. She experimented with the basic human movement like contraction and release and her technique would expose the absolute depths of human emotion and expression.

Her modern ballets incorporated many themes but there were two that stood out the most,

Americana and Greek mythology. One of her most known pieces depicting an American life theme is Appalachian Spring in 1944, in which she choreographed and starred. In 1958, she choreographed and starred in Clytemnestra based on an ancient Greek legend. This modern ballet was a huge success and was called a masterpiece of 20th Century American modernism.

During her lifetime, Martha danced and taught for more than seventy years, revolutionizing the dance world and creating 181 modern dance compositions. She created roles for classical ballet stars Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov

and welcomed them as guests to her Dance Company.

She also taught many actors and performers, including Liza Minnelli and Madonna, how to use their bodies as an expressive movement. She received many awards for her contribution to dance. Among them was the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown, American Dance Festival’s award for her lifetime achievement, inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and

in 1998 was named ‘Dancer of the Century’ by Time magazine.

Martha continued to choreograph until her death in 1991, aged 96. In that same year, she finished the final draft of her autobiography, ‘Blood Memory’. It has been said that Martha Graham brought dance to the 20 th century. The dance world was forever altered by her vision and what she brought to the stage, and she continues to be a source of inspiration to dancers today.

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