Martha Graham – The ‘Picasso of Dance’

Martha Graham (1894 – 1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Picasso had on the modern visual arts, Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture.

Rejecting classical European ballet, the dancer searched in primitive societies the inspiration for her spiritual-like naturalistic moves. With her shows, she illustrates strong emotions and her social battles, such as Chronicle, in 1936 that depicted depression and isolation. 

Graham was the first dancer ever to perform at the White House, travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and receive the highest civilian award of the US: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In her lifetime she received honors ranging from the Key to the City of Paris to Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown. She said, in the 1994 documentary The Dancer Revealed:

“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.”

Her style, the Graham technique, fundamentally reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide.

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Edward Steichen, Portrait of Marthe Graham, 1931

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Edward Steichen, Portrait of Martha Graham, New York, 1931

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Barbara Morgan, Portrait of Martha Graham in “Lamentation”, 1935

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Barbara Morgan, Portrait of Martha Graham in “Lamentation”, 1935

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Barbara Morgan, Portrait of Martha Graham “Frontier”, 1935

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Portrait of Martha Graham, 1930’s

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