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Graham, Martha (1894 – 1991) By Franko, Mark

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM958-1
Published: 09/05/2016
Retrieved: 12 April 2024, from


In a career as dancer and choreographer that spanned the twentieth century, Martha Graham made major contributions to modernist choreography, dramaturgy, performance, costume design, and dance technique. Her illustrious collaborators—among them Aaron Copland, William Schuman, Erick Hawkins, Isamu Noguchi, Bertram Ross, and Barbara Morgan—underscored her gift of discerning what was necessary to her success. Indeed, her work was seminal in redefining concert dance as modern art alongside literature, music, and painting. To do this, Graham immersed herself in Anglo-American Modernism and its roots in psychology, anthropology and cultural archaeology. But it was her work in the studio and on bodies that brought these ideas to fruition in and as dance. Some of Graham’s movement innovations include the emphasis on weight rather than flight, the contraction of the spine rather than the vertical posture, the flexed foot rather than the pointed foot, the turning in of the legs from the hips rather than the proverbial turning out, running on the knees (and related floor work), new ways of falling to the floor and returning to a vertical position, off-balance extensions of the legs and torso, the dynamic projection of energy from the pelvis, and the dramatic accentuation of gravity and tension as well as an aesthetics of discontinuity and fragmentation.

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Citing this article:

Franko, Mark. Graham, Martha (1894 – 1991). Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis,

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