Martha Graham: When Dance Became Modern

A major biography—the first in three decades—of one of the most important artistic forces of the twentieth century, the legendary American dancer and choreographer who upended dance, propelling the art form into the modern age, and whose profound and pioneering influence is still being felt today.

Time magazine called her “the Dancer of the Century.” Her technique, used by dance companies throughout the world, became the first long-lasting alternative to the idiom of classical ballet. Her pioneering movements—powerful, dynamic, jagged, edgy, forthright—combined with her distinctive system of training, were the epitome of American modernism, performance as art. Her work continued to astonish and inspire for more than sixty years as she choreographed more than 180 works.

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At the heart of Graham’s work: movement that could express inner feeling.

Neil Baldwin, author of admired biographies of Man Ray (“Truly definitive…absolutely fascinating” —Patricia Bosworth) and Thomas Edison (“Absorbing, gripping, a major contribution to our understanding of a remarkable man and a remarkable era” —Robert Caro), gives us the artist and performer, the dance monument who led a cult of dance worshippers as well as the woman herself in all of her complexity.

Here is Graham, from her nineteenth-century (born in 1894) Allegheny, Pennsylvania, childhood, to becoming the star of the Denishawn exotic ballets, and in 1926, at age thirty-two, founding her own company (now the longest-running dance company in America).

Baldwin writes of how the company flourished during the artistic explosion of New York City’s midcentury cultural scene; of Erick Hawkins, in 1936, fresh from Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, a handsome Midwesterner fourteen years her junior, becoming Graham’s muse, lover, and eventual spouse. Graham, inspiring the next generation of modern dancers, choreographers, and teachers, among them: Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor.

Baldwin tells the story of this large, fiercely lived life,
a life beset by conflict, competition, and loneliness—filled with fire and inspiration, drive, passion, dedication, and sacrifice in work and in dance creation.

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