Martha Graham

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Martha Graham (1948)

Martha Austin Graham (born May 11, 1894 in Allegheny County , Pennsylvania , † April 1, 1991 in New York ) was an American dancer , choreographer and dance teacher. Graham is considered an innovator of modern dance in the professional world .

life and work

Martha Graham was the eldest daughter along with two other sisters of George Graham, a psychiatrist, and Jane Beers. After her father's death in 1916, she began dance training in Los Angeles at Denishawn School and then joined the Denishawn Company . Denishawn was directed by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, where classical ballet was also taught. At the invitation of Rouben Mamoulian , she taught at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester near New York from 1925 and at the Cornish College of the Arts from 1930 . Until then, her style was still eclectic and romantic, but that soon changed with her own studio in New York.

Dance style: body language as an expression of "inner music"

In 1926 she founded the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in Manhattan , which later became the Martha Graham Dance Company . Here Graham revolutionized classical ballet by no longer subordinating the forms of dance to a standardized sequence of movements, but instead gave feeling and emotion unconditional priority over movement. In ever new attempts at self-exploration, she finally built her spectrum of dance techniques on the elementary components of tension and relaxation as well as breathing. Her Martha Graham technique , which has meanwhile been standardized by herself , is characterized by powerful, dynamic, craggy and tense motor skills and movements. Martha Graham's ballet art was also inspired by a wide variety of cultural influences such as modern painting, the American pioneering days, the religious ceremonies of the Native Americans and Greek mythology .

Staff and students

Martha Graham with Bertram Ross in “Visionary recital”
Photo: Carl Van Vechten , 1961

She worked with artists from other origins such as the composers Aaron Copland , Samuel Barber and her mentor Louis Horst. Sculptors like Isamu Noguchi and fashion designers like Halston , Donna Karan and Calvin Klein also worked on their projects. Stars of classical ballet such as Margot Fonteyn , Rudolf Nurejew and Mikhail Baryshnikov (1987 to 1989) danced in their pieces. She also taught well-known actors like Bette Davis , Kirk Douglas , Madonna , Liza Minnelli , Gregory Peck and Tony Randall . Her most famous students were the choreographers Merce Cunningham , Bessie Schönberg , Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp . From 1934 to 1938 she headed the Bennington School of Dance in Bennington (Vermont) alongside Doris Humphrey , Charles Weidmann and Hanya Holm . They performed their latest dance programs during the summer Bennington Festivals . Merce Cunningham and Erick Hawkins came to Bennington from 1939 to 1942 and became solo dancers in their company. Even today, all the important representatives of modern dance gather every year for seven weeks at this “Contemporary Dance Festival”.

In over 60 years of stage work, Graham created 181 works. At the age of 75 she gave her last own dance performance with great regret. At the age of 96 she was still choreographing her dance pieces.


"Dance is the hidden language of the soul."

- Martha Graham, 1985
(Translation: Dance is the hidden language of the soul.)

Awards (excerpt)


  • 1993: Stravinsky's » Spring Sacrifice «. Choreographies and choreographers. Directed by Jacques Malaterre. With Vaslav Nijinsky , Maurice Béjart , Pina Bausch , Martha Graham, Mats Ek , Mary Wigman . Music: Igor Stravinsky ; Production: Josette Affergan, La Sept, ARTE , Telmondis. 1 video cassette (VHS, 61 min.) Color, mono.
  • 1994: Martha Graham. A portrait. Director: Catherine Tatge. With Martha Graham Dance Company. Production: Tatge / Lasseur Prod .; 1 video cassette (VHS, 56 min.), Mono.


  • Martha Graham: The dance, my life. An autobiography. Heyne, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-453-05600-0 .
  • Shelley C. Berg: Le sacre du printemps. 7 productions from Nijinsky to Martha Graham. UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor 1988, ISBN 0-8357-1842-5 .
  • Ioanna-Paraskevi Kazantzaki: Martha Graham. The importance of different influences for your artistic work in dance. German Sport University Cologne , 1991. (Diploma thesis)
  • Marian Horosko (Ed.): Martha Graham. The evolution of her dance theory and training 1926–1991 . cappella books, Pennington NJ 1991, ISBN 1-55652-142-1 .
  • Robert Tracy: Goddess. Martha Graham's dancers remember. Limelight Editions, New York 1996, ISBN 0-87910-086-9 .
  • Dorothy Bird, Joyce Greenberg: Bird's eye view. Dancing with Martha Graham and on Broadway. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh Pa 1997, ISBN 0-8229-3980-0 .

Web links

Commons : Martha Graham  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Alice Helpern ao: Martha Graham: A Special Issue of the Journal Choreography and Dance. Routledge, London 1999, ISBN 90-5755-098-9 , p. 7.
  2. Sabine Huschka: Merce Cunningham and modern dance: body concepts, choreography and dance aesthetics. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2000, ISBN 3-8260-1668-8 , p. 34.
  3. Martha Graham reflects on her art and a life in dance. In: The New York Times . March 31, 1985
  4. ^ American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Book of Members ( PDF ). Retrieved April 2, 2016
  5. Honorary Members: Martha Graham. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 2, 2019 .