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Dance Heritage Coalition

Administrative Information Table of Contents Scope and Content Note

Graham (Martha) Center of Dance Records, 1944-1955

- Historical Note

Historical Note

The Martha Graham dance legacy, which embodied principles of contraction and release, was brought into prominence in 1928. The Group, as she called her dancers, were selected from the private students that Graham (11 May 1894-1 April 1991) took on while teaching dance at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Graham and her cultivated students debuted as The Group on 14 April 1929. The arrangement was such that the dance fueled classwork just as classwork influenced the dance. The Group remained an all female group until 1938. That year Erick Hawkins joined, an event eclipsed only in 1939 when Merce Cunningham became a member. This period marked a new development for dance. The fusion of sculptural elements, through Isamu Noguchi's stage designs, coalesced with dance in Frontier (1935). Sculpture was to the 1930s what literary content was to the 1940s. Landmark performances for the incorporation of spoken word in dance include Letter to the World (1940).

The company continued to evolve in other ways. Since 1934, the company rehearsed at Bennington School of the Dance. In 1941 Bennington fell apart and the company moved to teaching dance at the American Dance Festival at Connecticut College. That same year Diversion of Angels (1948) was also the first time that Graham choreographed a dance without performing in it herself. In 1950 Erick Hawkins left the company following Cunningham's earlier departure in 1945. Despite these company changes, tours and commissions continued. On two separate occasions in 1950 and 1951, the Louisville Arts Council commissioned the company to perform with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra. Later, the U.S. State Department sponsored an Asian tour in 1954. In the 1960s the company increased its male members which somewhat altered Graham's choreography toward the masculine. Her last performance occurred on 20 April 1969 for The Lady of the House of Sleep. Although she stopped performing, Graham spent the 1970s and 1980s preparing for her dancers to replace her. In 1975 Halston began designing her company's costumes, a task that Graham always participated in believing that the costumes contributed to the dance's expression of the mental state. Despite deteriorating health, Graham continued to choreograph but in 1977 she began using pre-existing compositions. This marked a departure from the earlier days when musical director Louis Horst composed original music for the company. In the end of her life Graham was bestowed many awards including the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur from the Paris Opera in 1984 and the Carina Ari Medal awarded in 1985 by the Princess of Sweden. Even after Graham's death in 1991, her dance tradition continues today in the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Administrative Information Table of Contents Scope and Content Note