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Research Guides

Chamber Dance Company Archive: Martha Graham

A unique collection of video documenting the UW Chamber Dance Dance Company's over 25 year history of performing modern dance classics.

Martha Graham

Martha Graham

American dancer, choreographer, and company director

We learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. One becomes in some area an athlete of God

                                       Martha Graham

Born Allegheny, Pennsylvania, May 11,1894. Died April 1, 1991

Martha Graham is recognized as a primal artistic force of the 20th century. She was named “Dancer of the Century” by Time and has been compared with other creative giants such as Picasso, Einstein, Stravinsky, and Freud. She created 181 ballets and a technique that has revolutionized dance throughout the greater part of the past century. Using the founding principles of contraction and release, she built a vocabulary of movement to “increase the emotional activity of the dancer’s body,” exploring the depth and diversity of human emotion. A wide range of sources, from the American frontier to Greek mythology, inspired her ballets. She created and portrayed prominent women in her work, including Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Medea, Phaedra, Joan of Arc, and Emily Dickenson. During her seventy years of creating dance, she collaborated with other great artists––Noguchi, Copland, Barber and Schumann, and her mentor, Louis Horst, among others. Her company was a training ground for many generations of choreographers, including Cunningham, Taylor, Tharp, and Monte. Her creative genius earned numerous honors and awards, including the Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of the Arts. Primitive Mysteries is one of Graham’s early compositions, premiering in 1931, and reveals her interest in the primitive and the struggle of the individual. In Chronicle, premiered in 1936 at the Guild Theatre in New York City, Graham reacts to the Spanish Civil War. When she died on April 1, 1991, she was working on a new ballet for the Olympic Games of Barcelona, called The Eye of the Goddess. When she passed away in 1991, Graham left behind her body of work, a new dance vocabulary, and scores of dances steeped in her technique, philosophy and approach. She has left an indelible mark upon the bodies and minds of dancers and artists alike, affecting teachers and students of dance in their daily practices and in the way they think about and approach movement.

Watch some of Martha Graham's works, including Primitive and excerpts from Chronicle, at the Media Arcade in Vol. 5 of the Chamber Dance Company Archive (DVD UWDP 001 v.05).