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Government Resources: Arts: Dance

Martha Graham (Library of Congress)

Martha Graham, American dancer and choreographer, was born on May 11, 1894, in Pittsburgh. In 1908 her family moved to Santa Barbara, California. From 1913-1916, Graham studied theater and dance at the University of Cumnoch. After graduating in 1916, she joined the Denishawn School, run by Ruth Saint-Denis and Ted Shawn in Los Angeles, where she danced several important roles, including Shawn's Xochtil. In 1926, she started teaching at the Eastman School of Rochester, and she gave her first recital on April 18, at the 48th Street Theatre, in New York. It included 18 short pieces by Scriabine, Debussy, Satie, Ravel, Schumann, and Horst, and it starred Betty McDonald, Evelyn Subier, and Thelma Braerce. Graham opened the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in 1927. During this time, her pieces, including Immigrant, Vision of Apocalypse, Lamentation, and Revolt, often dealt with social problems. In 1929, she choreographed her first non-solo ballet, Heretic. During the 1930s, because of the Depression, her ballets had no sets, and she made most of the costumes herself. In 1930s and 1940s Graham's dance company toured the United States and Cuba, and in 1954 had its first tour in Paris. In 1944, she created Appalachian Spring, her first collaboration with set designer, Isamu Noguchi. Many of her pieces during this period dealt with mythology, including Cave of the Heart, which told the story of Medea, Errand Into the Maze, which dealt with the Minotaur, and Night Journey, which explored the story of Oedipus and Jocasta. In 1948 she married Erick Hawkins, the leading dancer in her company. In 1956 she won the Dance Magazine Award. In 1959 she created Episodes with George Balanchine. Graham had a few years of depression and health problems that forced her to stop dancing. Her last dance was in Cortege of Eagles when she was 76 years old. She died in 1991 at the age of 96. Library of Congress.

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