“I wanted to begin not with characters or ideas, but with movements . . .I wanted significant movement. I did not want it to be beautiful or fluid. I wanted it to be fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.”–Martha Graham
Martha Graham’s impact on dance was staggering and often compared to that of Picasso’s on painting. Her contributions transformed the art form and expanded dance around the world.
She was born in 1894 in Pennsylvania.
She was inspired by a performance by Ruth St. Denis.
Graham enrolled in the Denishawn School.
In 1926 she created the Martha Graham Dance Company, one of the oldest dance companies in America.
She also created the Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance in New York.
"Letter to the World" (1940) Photo by Barbara Morgan
s a teacher, Graham trained and inspired generations of fine dancers and choreographers. Her students included such greats as Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor. She collaborated with famous composers and sculptors.
One of her most famous early works was “Appalachian Spring” (1944).
Another famous work was “Night Journey” (1947) based on the play, Oedipus Rex.
In 1948 Graham and Erick Hawkins married, but the marriage was short-lived.
Despite her age, she continued to dance throughout the 1960s. It was not until 1969 that Graham announced her retirement from the stage.
She continued to teach and choreograph until her death in 1991. She was 96.
Martha Graham’s continued experimentation and her constant attention to human emotion, frailty, and perseverance, is one of the greatest individual achievements in American cultural history.
The current artistic director is Janet Eilber.
In Toronto, you can take Graham classes at Toronto Dance Theatre
José Limón was a critical figure in the development of modern dance: his powerful dancing shifted perceptions of the male dancer.
He was born in 1908 in Mexico.
Limón started out as a painter.
When he saw his first dance performance he said:“What I saw simply changed my life. A man could, with dignity and towering majesty, dance”.
“The UnSung” (1970)
e studied with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman in their Humphrey-Weidman) school in New York.
Limón founded the José Limón Dance Company in 1946 with Doris Humphrey as the first artistic director.
In the company, he developed his repertory with Doris Humphrey and established the principles of the style that was to become the Limón technique.
The Limón technique is based on principles of weight, fall and recovery as established by Limón and his mentors, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.
Limón was best known as a choreographer who made dance dramas, often based on literary or biblical themes.
His most famous dance is “The Moor's Pavane” (1949), based on Shakespeare's “Othello”.
Limón continued to work and choreograph until he died in 1972 at the age of 64.
“The Moor’s Pavane” (1949)
imón taught at Juilliard from 1951 on, and today, dancers come to New York from all over the world to study with the Limón company.
Carla Maxwell, a former JLDC member, became the artistic director in 1978.
In Toronto, you can take Limón classes at Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre.
Alvin Ailey is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in dance.
Ailey's choreographic masterpiece “Revelations” is believed to be the best-known and most often seen modern dance performance.
Born in Texas in 1931.
Ailey grew up during a time of racial segregation and rumors of violence and lynchings against African-Americans. The rape of his mother by white men when he was five made him fearful of whites.
Ailey was inspired by performances of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company
e created a dance style than a technique.
He said that what he wanted from a dancer was a long, unbroken leg line ("a ballet bottom") combined with a dramatically expressive upper torso ("a modern top"). "What I like is the line and technical range that classical ballet gives to the body. But I still want to project to the audience the expressiveness that only modern dance offers."
His choreography was inspired by the blues, spirituals and gospels.
The current Artistic Director is Judith Jamison, one of AAADT’s most dazzling dancers from 1965 to 1980.
Today, the company continues to perform his work.
His company gained the nickname "Cultural Ambassador to the World" because of its extensive international touring.
He created 79 works over his lifetime.
Merce Cunningham was a solo dancer of commanding presence, a controversial choreographer, an influential teacher, and an organizer of an internationally acclaimed avant-garde dance company.
He was born in Washington in1919.
From 1939 to 1945, he was a soloist in the Martha Graham Dance Company.
He collaborated with music composer, John Cage, in 1942, to present his first New York solo concert.
He began to produce abstract dances with the focus on movement itself.
Cunningham and Cage developed a method of creating known as "Chance Operations”. He would invite a musician to create a score and an artist to create a visual environment while he created the choreography. Each would work on their area separately and then combine the elements for the first time on stage before an audience.
Cunningham’s dancers are famous for learning and rehearsing a work in silence and not hearing the music until the first performance.
Merce created the Cunningham technique.
Merce Cunningham continues to work as the artistic director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which is a group of fourteen dancers (seven women, seven men).
Even today, in spite of the physical limitations imposed by age, he still demonstrates to his company the movements he wants them to perform in class or in a new dance.