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3 Fun Facts About the Mother of Modern Dance (That You Probably Don't Know)

Martha Graham in Deaths and Entrances (1943). Photo by Chris Alexander, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

Martha Graham was the "Mother of Modern Dance," influencing generations of dance artists with her incomparable choreography and technique that featured the pioneering concept of contraction and release. But did you know...


1. Graham frequently created her own costumes. In a 1989 interview, Graham commented, "Dance is theater and larger than life. Makeup and costume, correctly chosen, define movement in a different way."

Take a look at the vivid costumes in Graham's Clytemnestra (1958).

2. Graham created one of her most famous works, Heretic (1929) in one night. Revered dance educator Bessie Schönberg, a student of Graham's, remembered the creation of Heretic fondly: "It was a pleading figure against a hostile group—terse, brief, stark; I think no other dance quite represented her personal statement with such power, although all her dancers were personal statements."

As was the case with many of her dances, Martha Graham danced the lead role in Heretic.

3. Graham had strong feelings about marking during rehearsals. Helen McGehee, a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1944 to 1972, recalled her mentor's stance on marking: "Don't! if you must, then mark the physical movement but keep intensely the dramatic meaning. Never mark that. And keep the true timing and musicality of the role. Always be involved with what you are intending."

Check out the energetic quality in Graham's Chronicle (1936).

Source: Martha Graham: The Evolution of Her Dance Theory and Training 1926–1991, by Marian Horosko

Want more Graham? Next week on October 17 and 18 at 7 pm, the Martha Graham Dance Company hosts NEW@Graham: Lamentation Variations 10th Anniversary Celebration. The event features conversations with choreographers who have created variations on Graham's groundbreaking solo Lamentation (1930), as well as performances of past and present Lamentation Variations.

See the emotional intensity in Graham's Lamentation.

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Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

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@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

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Courtesy Oleson

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Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

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