Advance Praise for Martha Graham – When Dance Became Modern

Jul 24, 2022 | 0 comments

Biographer Neil Baldwin (Edison: Inventing the Century) reveals how the visionary Martha Graham (1894–1991) revolutionized dance and choreography, making them modern and free in this mesmerizing portrait. Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., Graham learned early on that “movement never lies.” The shy bookworm began to blossom once she arrived in exotic Santa Barbara. Inspired after attending a recital by the passionate diva Ruth St. Denis, Graham “knew at that moment I was going to be a dancer.” Studying first at the Cumnock School of Expression in Los Angeles, she trained under St. Denis and the innovative Ted Shawn, “coming to life” under his tutelage, and realizing “a dance must dominate me, completely, until I lose sense of anything else.” Influenced by contemporaries like Isadora Duncan, Michio Itō , Wassily Kandinsky, and Rouben Mamoulian, Graham learned to “do things in a new way,” emphasizing movement out of stillness and believing that “any great art is the condensation of a strong feeling.” The trailblazing Graham seemingly sculpted modern dance out of thin air, creating indelible works like Heretic, Lamentation, and Primitive Mysteries, always looking to the future. Provocative and passionate as the dynamo herself, this richly detailed and insightful page-turner will delight dance aficionados. (Oct.)Publishers Weekly Starred review.

Neil Baldwin’s majestic biography of Martha Graham comes at a time in these comic book days when our souls need to be inspired by the austere passion of this American pioneer, this fanatical ‘prophetess’, whose dances unleashed primitive sacred energies in the earth and created a new vocabulary for the human body.  Baldwin’s meticulously researched, immensely readable biography puts Graham shoulder to shoulder with those other avatars of the Modern, Frank Lloyd Wright and Gertrude Stein, who created frontiers that still demand exploration.  — John Guare – Tony, Dramatists Guild, and Obie-award winning playwright.

Neil Baldwin’s definitive biography of pioneering dancer Martha Graham is a compelling and brilliant study of a complicated, dedicated woman who gave everything she had to modern dance. Baldwin reminds us what a modernist Graham was: bringing dance directly from the domination of ballet into a modern American idiom. Baldwin draws upon his incisive knowledge of the stars in the panoply of modernism—from Mabel Dodge Luhan to Lincoln Kirstein—to a dramatic narrative of Graham’s development and success. Just as Graham made the many parts of a modern dance piece, from music to costumes, and, of course, her brilliant vision for the performance–work together, so Baldwin brings together the elements of
Martha Graham’s colorful life, writing with wit, verve, critical discernment, and a powerful lyricism. — Mary V. Dearborn – author, Ernest Hemingway : A Biography

Neil Baldwin’s (The American Revelation) comprehensive and engaging biography places choreographer Martha Graham and her athletic, furious, demanding, powerful dance technique in the milieu of music, art and poetry of the time. Graham founded her female dance company in 1926, to embody dance’s dramatic potential, rather than feature the smooth elegance of ballet. Erick Hawkins, the first male dancer, joined the company more than 11 years later. Graham and her dancers incorporated audible breathing, flexed feet and dramatic contraction and release to show the effort dance required. Baldwin includes detailed descriptions of specific recitals, Graham’s jersey-fabric dance wear, the lives of her dance colleagues (Ruth St. Denis; Ted Shawn; Lincoln Kirstein) and artists of the time (sculptor Isamu Noguchi; composer Aaron Copland). Side trips into Graham’s sometimes-complicated personal life (she married musician Louis Horst, and later, dancer Hawkins) broaden the book’s appeal. Almost 70 pages of research notes and a 40-page bibliography speak to Baldwin’s dedicated and detailed forays into correspondence and dance notebooks, papers, film footage, reviews, and his consultations with archivists and special collection librarians. A worthwhile addition to modern dance collections.—Maggie Knapp (Kirkus Reviews)