Martha Graham was a pioneer of modern dance and one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century. Her love of expression through sharply precise movements of the body, and her radical challenge to the smoother moves of classical dance, shaped modern dance. She had her first independent recital in New York in 1926, after studying in Los Angeles at the Denishawn School (founded by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn); by the 1930s she had her own school and had founded the Martha Graham Dance Company. Her most famous early ballets include Lamentation (1930), Frontier (1935) and Appalachian Spring (1944, with composer Aaron Copland). Her later works were informed by tales of North American lore, Greek mythology, the Bible and historical figures, including Joan of Arc and Emily Dickinson. Graham continued dancing to the remarkable age of 75. During her long career she had a devoted following and her school turned out some of the most prominent American dancers of the century, including Alvin Ailey and Twyla Tharp. She received Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in 1978, and was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1984. She published the memoir Blood Memory in 1991.
Martha Graham says in Blood Memory that she danced at the White House for eight different U.S. presidents. Franklin Roosevelt was the first, in 1937… She married the dancer Erick Hawkins in 1948, after a long love affair. The marriage was short-lived, and they divorced in 1954. It was Martha Graham’s only marriage and she had no children… She is no relation to Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post.
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