Living History

III. Prelude to Action. Part of Martha Graham's politically inspired Chronicle.

“Iconic.” “Trailblazer.” “Mother of modern dance.” Martha Graham has been called all these names and more. And dancers everywhere, young and old, should know her name and her contribution to the dance world.

I talk about Graham quite often in my dance classes and my mouth always drops when a dancer asks, “Who’s that?”

How does one describe Graham technique in a few words to a group of young dancers who have no experience with modern dance. I have been dancing for more that 15 years and I am still learning the ins-and-outs of her style. I start by telling them how they can identify a Graham dance. “Look for long-sleeve leotards and long flowing skirts; Sharp, angular movements based off of every day activities; And, of course, DRAMA.”

In a Graham dance every move has a purpose, including the facial expressions. Graham also loved music that had a pounding almost frenzied feel to it. Graham’s Panorama, which her company performed this past weekend at the Winspear Opera House in Downtown Dallas, is a perfect example. Dressed in red tops and long red skirts, more than 30 SMU – Meadows School of the Arts dancers walked, ran, jumped and pranced with military precision around the stage. They ran with arms out, elbows bent and came to rest with legs spread apart and toes gripping the floor. Even the dancers’ stillness contained tension.

The gestures were classic Graham. High fifth arms, but wider apart with broken wrists. B plus position (one leg crossed behind the other with thighs touching) but with bent knees and a turned-in back leg. The hands never flat, but broken at the knuckles creating a pyramid shape. I, personally, love how she ends her pieces, usually with the dancers still moving as the lights and music fade.

The Company also performed Lamentation Variations, a response to Graham’s now iconic solo, Lamentation, and Chronicle, a dance inspired by the menace of fascism in Europe.


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