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Photo by Melissa Sherwood, courtesy of MGDC

Martha Graham Dance Company created The EVE Project to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of U.S. women's right to vote. The female-focused initiative includes new works, as well as the company's classic repertoire highlighting Martha Graham's heroines and antiheroines. In April, the company is showing the newly reconstructed Circe, Graham's 1963 interpretation of the Greek myth, at New York City Center. Dancing the role of Circe is company member So Young An. Here, she shares thoughts on The EVE Project and how she's approaching her role in Circe, the 57-year-old work that invites audiences to consider pressing conversations about womanhood.

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Martha Graham Dance Company in rehearsal for a new work by Bobbi Jene Smith and Maxine Doyle. PC Kelsey Grills.

In a sun-soaked studio in Manhattan, members of the Martha Graham Dance Company (all women) lie on the floor with their feet and heads hovering off the ground. Choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith encourages the dancers to be unapologetic about being looked at as their bodies begin to tremble with exhaustion and they move into a new formation.

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As you assemble your gratitude list for this Thanksgiving, stop and consider some of the works that paved the way for the diverse dance world we enjoy today. Whether they introduced a radical new style of movement, controversial subject matter or a particularly poignant message, these five works broke choreographic barriers and have withstood the test of time.


The Rite of Spring (performed by the Joffrey Ballet)

Vaslav Nijinsky's The Rite of Spring (1913) Audience members rioted at the Paris premiere of this work about a virgin sacrifice. Nijinsky's stark, geometric choreography complemented Igor Stravinsky's highly rhythmic score.

Lamentation (performed by PeiJu Chien-Pott)

Martha Graham's Lamentation (1930) Using only a tubular piece of purple fabric and a bench, Graham created one of the most recognizable images of modern dance. Her solo about grieving contains anguished movement set to sparse piano accompaniment.

The Green Table (performed by American Ballet Theatre)

Kurt Jooss' The Green Table (1932) This politically charged work turned heads with its strong antiwar statement. Bald men in black coattails gather around a green conference table to declare war. Soldiers, women and profiteers all perish as the character Death marches on behind them.

Revelations (performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

Alvin Ailey's Revelations (1960) Ailey's tribute to the African-American spirit, set to gospel music, takes audience members through the gamut of human emotion––from the soulful duet Fix Me, Jesus to the joyous finale, Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.

Rainer was a leading figure in the postmodern dance movement.

Yvonne Rainer's Trio A (1966) This postmodern solo, now a staple in college dance history courses, includes basic pedestrian movement and passive gestures. Like her Judson Church–era cohort, Rainer was interested in function over form.

Photos from top: by Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of the Joffrey Ballet; by Hibbard Nash, courtesy of Martha Graham Dance Company; by Marty Sohl, courtesy of American Ballet Theatre; by Gert Krautbauer, courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

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Martha Graham in Deaths and Entrances (1943). Photo by Chris Alexander, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

Martha Graham was the "Mother of Modern Dance," influencing generations of dance artists with her incomparable choreography and technique that featured the pioneering concept of contraction and release. But did you know...


1. Graham frequently created her own costumes. In a 1989 interview, Graham commented, "Dance is theater and larger than life. Makeup and costume, correctly chosen, define movement in a different way."

Take a look at the vivid costumes in Graham's Clytemnestra (1958).

2. Graham created one of her most famous works, Heretic (1929) in one night. Revered dance educator Bessie Schönberg, a student of Graham's, remembered the creation of Heretic fondly: "It was a pleading figure against a hostile group—terse, brief, stark; I think no other dance quite represented her personal statement with such power, although all her dancers were personal statements."

As was the case with many of her dances, Martha Graham danced the lead role in Heretic.

3. Graham had strong feelings about marking during rehearsals. Helen McGehee, a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1944 to 1972, recalled her mentor's stance on marking: "Don't! if you must, then mark the physical movement but keep intensely the dramatic meaning. Never mark that. And keep the true timing and musicality of the role. Always be involved with what you are intending."

Check out the energetic quality in Graham's Chronicle (1936).

Source: Martha Graham: The Evolution of Her Dance Theory and Training 1926–1991, by Marian Horosko

Want more Graham? Next week on October 17 and 18 at 7 pm, the Martha Graham Dance Company hosts NEW@Graham: Lamentation Variations 10th Anniversary Celebration. The event features conversations with choreographers who have created variations on Graham's groundbreaking solo Lamentation (1930), as well as performances of past and present Lamentation Variations.

See the emotional intensity in Graham's Lamentation.

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Photo by Esta McKayle, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

This past week, the University of California, Irvine, Etude Ensemble paid tribute to Donald McKayle, with a performance of Journey of the Heart: A Celebration of Works by Donald McKayle. The renowned choreographer created the student performance group in 1995 when he was an active professor in the dance program. The tribute included audience favorites, Death and Eros (2000), Crossing the Rubicon (2017) and Songs of the Disinherited (1972).

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Isabella Boylston and Calvin Royal III in Christopher Wheeldon's This Bitter Earth. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy of New York City Center

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Damian Woetzel's leadership at the Vail International Dance Festival, a new four-day event will be held in New York City, November 3–6. Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC brings three programs to New York City Center, along with a special lecture/demonstration focused on footwork, hosted by Woetzel. Featured performers include: Lil Buck, Michelle Dorrance, Wendy Whelan, Robert Fairchild, Matthew Rushing and Yo-Yo Ma. Works by George Balanchine, Alexei Ratmansky, José Limón, Martha Graham, Larry Keigwin and Christopher Wheeldon will be performed. Vvf.org/arts/vail-international-dance-festival

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For 12 years, Italian choreographer Caterina Rago studied Graham technique with Elsa Piperno at the Accademia Nazionale di Danza in Rome. Piperno taught her to be comfortable taking risks.

"She encouraged us to push beyond our limits to understand what our limits were. I remember her saying, 'Even if you fall on the floor, you know the floor is not too far away from your body. Eventually you will fall and you will recover. No problem!'"

See Caterina Rago Dance Company perform Labir Into (“labyrinth”) at New York Live Arts tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 pm.

Photo courtesy of Rago

Don’t miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Martha Graham (left)

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique. They are great because of their passion.” —Martha Graham

“To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on Earth and it is yours for the taking" —Agnes de Mille

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” —Twyla Tharp

“If you dance with your heart, your body will follow.” —Mia Michaels

“Dancers are made, not born.” —Mikhail Baryshnikov

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.” —Ruth St. Denis

“Dancing is bigger than the physical body. Think bigger than that. When you extend your arm, it doesn’t stop at the end of your fingers, because you’re dancing bigger than that. You’re dancing spirit.” —Judith Jamison

Photo courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

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