Featured Facts About Martha Graham Dance Company

March 17, 2022

In 1926, Martha Graham founded her dance company and school, living and working out of a tiny Carnegie Hall studio in midtown Manhattan, New York City. In developing her technique, Martha Graham technique experimented endlessly with basic human movement, beginning with the most elemental movements of contraction and release. Martha Graham’s dancing and choreography exposed the depths of human emotion through movements that were sharp, angular, jagged, and direct. The dance world was forever altered by Martha Graham’s vision. 

The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance continues to be a world leader in the evolving art form of modern dance by leveraging a legacy of innovation. Home to the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, and Martha Graham Resources and Licensing, the Center supports creative activity in all divisions — from new theatrical programming and commissioned art, to experiential curricula and innovative engagement opportunities for all types of audiences.

Xin Ying and Anne Souder in Martha Graham’s Chronicle

Photo of Xin Ying and Anne Souder in Martha Graham’s Chronicle by Melissa Sherwood.

An American Original. Founded in 1926, Martha Graham Dance Company is the oldest contemporary dance company in America. Graham created 181 ballets and a dance technique that has been compared to ballet in its scope and magnitude.

Images from Voque article

Source: Vogue - Pas de Deux: Matching Dancer Martha Graham’s Costumes With Looks From the Current Collections
by Laird Borrelli-Perssson. Photos - Yannis Vlamos / Indigital.tv; Bettmann / Getty Images

Fashion Forward. Graham frequently created her own costumes. She later collaborated with designers including Halston and Calvin Klein and continues to inspire the world of fashion today.

Martha Graham poses

Strike a Pose. Created as part of Martha Graham Dance Company’s The EVE Project, The 19 Poses (for the 19th Amendment) went viral with the #19Poses Insta-Graham Challenge.

Martha Graham with President Gerald Ford

<p>President Ford and Martha Graham.</p>

An Award-winning First. Founder Martha Graham was the first dancer to perform at the White House, the first dancer and choreographer to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and among the first recipients of the United States National Medal of Arts. She also received honors ranging from Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown to the Key to the City of Paris.

Dancer in stretched red dress in a squating pose looking up with arms behind and one leg out to side

Inspiration Everywhere. Martha Graham’s  technique and repertory were inspired by a wide variety of sources, including the American frontier, religious ceremonies of Native AmericansGreek mythology and modern paintings like those of Wassily Kandinsky, which influenced her famous work Diversion of Angels. Many of her most important roles portray great women of history and mythology from Clytemnestra to Joan of Arc and Emily Dickinson.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Martha Graham

Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. (1989). Martha Graham Dance Company rehearsal of American Document with Martha Graham and Mikhail Baryshnikov, choreography by Martha Graham.

Best in the Business. Graham’s repertoire of 181 works has engaged noted performers from Mikhail Baryshnikov and Liza Minnelli to Kathleen Turner.

Canticle for Innocent Comedians rehearsal with Sonya Tayeh

Lost and Found. Northrop’s Centennial Commission, Canticle for Innocent Comedians, is an extraordinary new collaboration inspired by the themes and format of the lost Graham work from 1952. This regional debut by eight choreographers (including Lead Choreographer Sonya Tayeh) features an original score by jazz pianist and composer, Jason Moran and led under Artistic Director Janet Eilber.

Leslie Andrea Williams in Martha Graham’s Chronicle - long black dress jumping with legs out to the sides and strong arms looking to the side

Photo of Leslie Andrea Williams in Martha Graham’s Chronicle ©Hibbard Nash Photography.

Paving the Way. Martha Graham Dance Company has been an unparalleled resource in nurturing many of the leading choreographers and dancers of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Merce Cunningham and Anna Sokolow. While attending Graham’s original Canticle for Innocent Comedians (which included Martha Graham’s Moon), Paul Taylor was inspired to become a choreographer.

Martha Graham and her Company have expanded contemporary dance’s vocabulary of movement and forever altered the scope of the art form by rooting works in contemporary, social, political, psychological, and sexual contexts, deepening their impact and resonance. Members of the Martha Graham Dance Company continue to expand its mission to present the work of its founder and her contemporaries, and remains a leader by catalyzing new works with commissions that bring fresh perspectives to dance classics.