If modern visual arts has Picasso, music has Stravinsky and architecture has Frank Lloyd Wright, modern dance has Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991). She had pushed the limits of this art form to incredible heights – influencing many contemporary dancers and choreographers worldwide.
Dance is not my strength. Perhaps I’m gifted with both left feet. But ever since my venture into the world of performing arts in the Philippines, I’ve heard about her name countless times from dancers and choreographers who idolized her which made me curious to discover who Martha Graham is.
She revolutionized the dance world by pushing its boundaries and creating a genre that is presently known as modern dance. In 1926 she founded her own company known as the Martha Graham Dance Company which became the oldest dance company in America. Dancing and choreographing for over seventy years, dance was all her life that when she stopped dancing, she lost the will to live. She resorted to drinking, attempted suicide and was hospitalized. She made a U-turn so to speak by quitting alcohol, returning to studio, reorganizing her company and creating ten new ballets and revivals. She continued choreographing in New York city until she succumbed to pneumonia at age 96.
A generous artist that she was, Martha never complained when other artists would steal or copy her work, the techniques and personal vocabulary she developed. I guess if she were still alive today, she would not give much fuss about copyright and intellectual property rights.
Martha’s philosphy is very clear in the beautiful words she said to long-time friend Agnes de Mille who choreographed the musical show Oklahoma: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
In 1998, Time magazine named her as Dancer of the Century while People Magazine honored her as one of the female Icons of the Century.
This is my humble analogue tribute to her greatness and sheer perfection. Created doubles and triples with Warhol’s portraits, old pictures of Martha and light blur.