The Most Important Dancer of the 20th Century

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Martha Graham was an American choreographer during the twentieth century, whose lifelong pursuit of expressing herself openly and honestly through movement led to many of the innovations we find today in modern dance. Her impact on the dance world is so monumental that it has been likened to that of Picasso’s on painting. Indeed, Graham’s endless search for new forms of expression and honesty through movement have many calling her the most important dancer of the twentieth century. Although Martha Graham was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in 1894, she spent most of her childhood and adolescent years on the west coast, raised by her father, a doctor specializing in nervous disorders. Her father’s work was essential to Graham’s inspiration, as he was primarily interested in using movement to remedy nervous disorders. However, it was not until her late teens when Graham found her calling. In 1911, Graham attended a performance by the ballet dancer, Ruth St. Denis, at the Mason Opera House in Los Angeles. Provoked by St. Denis’ performance, Graham enrolled in an arts-oriented junior college. Eventually she would transfer to the Denishawn School, which was founded by St. Denis. Graham would eventually become an instructor at Denishawn and make it her home for eight years. While at Denishawn, Graham worked primarily with choreographer, Ted Shawn. Shawn was so impressed by Graham’s talent that he created an entire show, “Xochital”, around her. In this production, Graham danced the role of an attacked Aztec maiden. Graham’s performance of the character was so beautifully emotional that she garnered much critical acclaim. Upon completing eight years at Denishawn, Graham left the institution in search of more experimen... ... middle of paper ... ...ce would be one of many creating a theme for Graham’s work, the successes and failures of great and ordinary women. Although age was beginning to become a factor for Graham, she continued dancing until 1969. Still, Graham never truly left the dance world, continuing to instruct and choreograph until her death in 1991. Her influence spreads far and wide in the artistic community, with everyone from Woody Allen to Betty Davis citing her as a major influence in their work. Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance, is perhaps the most important dancer of the twentieth century, thanks to her opposition to standard traditions in the entertainment world and in life- she was the first choreographer to consistently employ African American and Asian American dancers. Through her efforts to be more open, she has completely changed the landscape for a new era of dancers.

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