/arts-days/april/18

April 18

Martha Graham Dance Company

Martha Graham, recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1979, collaborated with composers like Aaron Copland, who created original music specifically for Graham’s choreography.

Photo by John DeaneJan.

1926: Mother of Modern Dance
Martha Graham first performs on stage
The first dance performance Martha Graham attended at age 16 with the legendary Ruth St. Denis on the program, may have flickered through Graham’s mind when the lights went down at the 48th Street Theater in New York City, just before she made her debut. The movements she and her fellow dancers were performing that night were anything but traditional. What the audience witnessed was an early public display of Graham’s “contract and release” technique, in which muscles were held taut, then let go in accordance with the emotions a dancer sought to convey. The movements were angular, athletic, jagged—in marked contrast to the graceful style of classical ballet.

Within a year, Graham opened a dance school, attracting attention from many in the dance community. One of the most acclaimed dancers in history, Graham’s choreography shook up the world of modern dance.
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