"I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It's permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.
Martha Graham was born on May 11, 1894 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Graham danced and choreographed for more than 70 years and her influence on dance was truly phenomenal, being likened to that of Stravinskys influence on music and Picasso's on the visual arts.
She performed at The White House (the first dance ever to), traveled abroad as an ambassador for culture and also received the USA's highest civillian award - Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 1925, Martha was employed by the Eastman School of Music where Rouben Mamoulian was head of the School of Drama.Together they produced the short two color film called The Flute of Krishna, featuring Eastman students. Mamoulian left Eastman shortly thereafter and Graham chose to leave also, even though she was asked to stay on.
The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance was established the following year.
In 1936 she created "Chronicle", it began a new era of contemporary dance. The piece brought serious issues to the stage for the general public in a very dramatic manner as it was influenced by by the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression and the Spanish Civil War. Through the dark setting of the scenery and costumes it created an element of isolation and depression.
In 1948 she married Erick Hawkins, he had been the very first man to dance with her company in 1938 and joined the following year as a permanant member and dancing many leading roles. He left in 1951 and they divorced in '54.
For most of her career Graham would not allow recordings of her dances nor to be filmed or photographed. She believed the performances should exist only live on the stage. At one point she even burned volumes of her diaries and notes to prevent them from being seen. In later years her thinking on the matter evolved and others convinced her to let them recreate some of what was lost.
Though Graham had started her career at an age that was considered late for a dancer. She was still dancing by the late 1960s and her works from this era included roles for herself which were more acted than danced and relied on the movement of the company dancing around her.
In the years that followed her departure from the stage Graham sank into a deep depression fueled by views from the wings of young dancers performing many of the dances she had choreographed for herself and her former husband. Graham's health declined precipitously as she abused alcohol to numb her pain.
In Blood Memory she wrote:
It wasn't until years after I had relinquished a ballet that I could bear to watch someone else dance it. I believe in never looking back, never indulging in nostalgia, or reminiscing. Yet how can you avoid it when you look on stage and see a dancer made up to look as you did thirty years ago, dancing a ballet you created with someone you were then deeply in love with, your husband? I think thatcircle of hell Dante omitted.
[When I stopped dancing] I had lost my will to live. I stayed home alone, ate very little, and drank too much and brooded. My face was ruined, and people say I looked odd, which I agreed with. Finally my system just gave in. I was in the hospital for a long time, much of it in a coma.
Graham not only survived her hospital stay but she blossomed and in 1972 she gave up drinking and returned to her studio, reorganized her company and went on to choreograph ten new ballets and many revivals. Her last completed ballet was 1990's Maple Leaf Rag.
Graham choreographed until her death in New York City from pneumonia in 1991, aged 96.