Discuss the influence Martha Graham had on the development of Modern Dance. Make detailed reference to her technique, choreography, and performing. Modern Dance is a style of dance that originated in the early 1920s as a rejection of Classical Ballet; it can be used to show raw emotion, political/social issues, and freedom. Martha Graham (11th May 1894 – April 1st 1991) was an American dancer who had a large impact on Modern Dance. The development of Modern Dance was largely impacted by Martha Graham, particularly by her influence on technique, choreography, and performance.
Martha Graham was the first person to develop a technique for Modern Dance; this had a huge a huge influence on the dance’s development. The technique Graham developed was the ‘contract and release’ technique. Contractions in Modern Dance show negativity and vulnerability. The contractions are shown by the body pulling in at the torso and the arms, legs, and head, being pulled toward the torso as if in an attempt to protect it and appear smaller. The release shown in Modern Dance shows positivity and fearlessness.
It is shown when the arms and head are held out from the body and the torso is pushed out, this movement appears bigger than the contract movement. Martha Graham attended the ‘Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts’; the style of dance which Ruth St. Denis taught was very oriental based. The Denishawn School was the first dance school for Modern Dance. Attending the Denishawn School was a good start for Graham although she wanted to develop her own ideas and not only learn from others.
Attending Denishawn inspired Graham to develop her own technique and helped her to do so; this technique drastically influenced Modern Dance in the years of its development. Graham’s choreography was often inspired by cultural issues and largely featured abstract movement. Martha Graham often used abstract movement in her choreography to show emotions. Abstract movement was a technique which entailed boiling down emotions and movements to the purest and most raw form. She used abstract movement in her work piece ‘Lamentation’(1930).
This showed her portraying the feeling of grief; not the act of grieving but the feeling itself without any attachment or already known ideas of acts of grieving. During the 1920s America was dealing with the backslash of The First World War and was beginning to enter into an era of carelessness, parties, bootlegging, and The Great Depression. Classical Dance was becoming an ever-more popular form of entertainment however it was devoid of any real meaning or messages; it was this that brought about the rise of Modern Dance.
Martha Graham used Modern Dance as a medium for expressing her views on these social issues and took a lot of inspiration from these issues. One example of a dance based on social or cultural events is Appalachian Spring (1944). Appalachian Spring is a dance based on the celebration of the American pioneers after building a farmhouse, showing that they had successfully settled into America.
Conveying ideas about social and cultural issues was a new concept in dance as was abstract movement and these concepts greatly influenced Modern Dance. Martha Graham was original in the way that she would create the performances that she made. Graham was the first in Modern Dance to collaborate with other artists so as to include all art forms in her performances. She collaborated with Louis Horst, Isamu Noguchi, and Aaron Copland while creating her performances.
Louis Horst was a music accompanist and would play music while she performed, Isamu Noguchi was a sculptor and would sculpt Graham’s props and sets, and Aaron Copland was a composer and he would compose the music to go with Grahams dances. One of the things Graham did to highlight the differences between Modern Dance and classical dance was that she would choreograph a dance and then music would be written to accompany the dance as opposed to the order which takes place during classical dance where the music has already been written and a dance is choreographed to accompany the music.
Because of the ways that Martha Graham produced her performances this influenced Modern Dance through example. Modern Dance’s development has been hugely influenced by Martha Graham. She has influenced dance through her introduction of techniques, her new ways of choreographing dance, and through her ideas for new ways to produce performances.