The name Martha Graham is practically a synonym for the still young art form known as modern dance, which dates from her pioneering days in the late 1920’s. Often seen as a rebellion against the 350-year-old tradition of classical ballet, modem dance is the world’s first lasting alternative to that tradition.

Graham has been rightly called a genius and one of the greatest artists the United States has ever produced. Yet, as she is now over 90 years old, many people have wondered whether her legend will survive. This question is more to the point because change has certainly been a major factor in Graham’s career. In the early 1920’s, Graham came to feel that the radical changes brought by World War I required a new and different style of dancing. After attending a famous dance school in California called Denishawn, she and two other dancers made a dramatic breakaway from the Denishawn dance company.

Martha Graham - The Mother of modern Dance
Martha Graham

In 1927, a reporter for the New York Times coined the term ‘modern dance’ to describe their new and innovative style. Graham’s early dances of the 1930’s were stark and simple; these contrast with the poetic theater pieces of the 1940’s and even more sharply with the complex dance-dramas based on Greek mythology that characterized the 1950’s and 1960’s.

In these, several performers would each portray different aspects of the same character’s personality. Often, scenes from the past, present, and future would occur at the same time, making it impossible to distinguish clearly one period of time from another. Even the dancers themselves don’t look the same as they once did.

The full-bodied dancers of the past, whose weight gave them a certain power, have been replaced by thinner dancers with a lighter style. In Graham’s view, these younger dancers are the product of diets and vitamins, but by using them, she has kept pace with the changing times. “The absolute thing is now,” she says, “change is the only constant.”

Not surprisingly, Graham’s changes of direction have caused controversy, and some of her most devoted admirers have been upset by her new work that does not fit their memories of her past. She protested strongly when, in 1984, an application for grant money was refused by a foundation that felt the artistic standards of her company were not what they used to be.

Yet, despite the changes and controversy, one of Graham’s beliefs has remained fixed over the years: that dance expresses emotion we often try to hide and cannot express in words. “I don’t want to be understandable,” she declared. “I want to be felt.”
Graham’s dances are open to many interpretations, and like abstract painters, she invites the viewer to bring his or her emotions to the work, to complete the picture. She remembers being influenced by Wassily Kandinsky when, as a young woman, she happened to see a painting of his a slash of red against a field of blue – and decided, “I will dance like that.”


Mark the best choice.

1. Modern dance is associated with the name Martha Graham .

a) because she was the first to dance in the modern style

b) as she is one of the best artists in the USA

c) due to her rebellious personality as a young woman

d) since she is the person who devised the term


2. Martha Graham .

a) changed her career following the social transformations brought by World War I

b) persuaded other dancers to leave the Denishawn dance company

c) believed that a new style of dancing was necessary to go with the changes after the war

d) left the dance company after she became famous enough to make changes in the world of dance


3. Graham’s early dances .

a) were based on themes derived from Greek mythology

b) were different from the dance-dramas as they avoided complexity

c) were based on the different types of human personality

d) were influenced by the style of performers of the 1930’s


4. In the plays and dance-dramas of the mid-1900’s, .

a) the same artist played different aspects of a character’s personality

b) there was only one main character

c) scenes from different periods took place at the same time

d) Both (b) and (c).


5. In the past, .

a) it was desirable for dancers to be well-built

b) dancers were not as powerful as they are now

c) dancers had a different style

d) Both (a) and (c)

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