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   International Centre for Modern Dance
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Martha Graham

( 1894 Allegheny – 1991 New York City ) “DANCE IS COMMUNICATION”

Did Martha Graham invent modern dance? No, but she embodied and inspired American modern dance in a spectacular way. She became a dance legend: “The centre of the stage is where I am!”
Martha Graham’s impact on modern dance is often compared to that of Picasso’s on painting and Stravinsky’s on music.
Martha Graham developed an original technique involving the expression of primal emotions through stylized bodily movement of great intensity. Her pupils included dancers, but also actors and performers who attended her classes to learn how to use the body as an expressive instrument.

Photos : Elke Van De Velde

“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 full of inner meaning, with excitement and surge.”

For her choreographies Martha Graham was inspired by a wide variety of sources such as modern painting and Greek mythology.
As an artist Martha Graham conceived each new work in its entirety : dance, costumes and music.She was the first modern choreographer who collaborated with other modern artists to create her theatrical dancepieces. One of the masterpieces of American modern dance is her collaboration with the sculptor Isamu Noguchi and the composer Aaron Copland in “Appalachian Spring”.

The Martha Graham technique is the only codified and structured modern dance technique and has been compared to ballet in its scope and magnitude. It is important in the training of modern dancers and part of the vocabulary dancers all over the world have in common.

The warming up – influenced by Asian culture and yoga – starts with extensive floorwork. Then follow standing exercises and movement studies through space.  Martha Graham experimented endlessly with basic human movement, beginning with the most elemental movements of “contraction” and “release” . The contraction is the most basic use of the centre of the body, it engages the interior abdominal muscles that react as in a cough, a sob or a laugh.  In the Martha Graham technique all the movements start in the centre of the body and move out to the extremities. In the release the movement continues through the energy that is flowing from the body when the muscles relax. Equally important elements of the Martha Graham technique are : the breathing, the “spirals” and “high arches” of the torso, the shift of the weight of the body through space.  This technique is challenging and prepares the body for many different choreographic demands. It makes the modern dancer conscious of the power and the mystery of the human body.

“Every dance is a kind of fever chart, a graph of the heart… the instrument through which the dance speaks is also the instrument through which life is lived… the human body.”