All hail the mother of modern dance: Martha Graham. Though she died in 1991, her company, the Martha Graham Dance Company – the oldest contemporary dance troupe in the country – is now in its 85th year. And The Leaf is happy to report that all is well in Martha land.
She taught us how to think about our bodies in new ways, and was, in fact, the first to codify this new vocabulary. Obsessed, wildly talented, divinely beautiful, Martha was an American original. As such, she attracted major talents, including dancers Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham, who, after leaving Martha’s troupe, both went on to found their own contemporary companies. While Merce died in 2009 at age 90 – and his Merce Cunningham Dance Company will disband next year – Paul and his group keep on keeping on.
Madonna and Martha: The meeting of two icons.
“Movement never lies,” Martha once famously said, with artists, actors, dancers, composers and designers all flocking to her Manhattan studio. Among her many students were Bette Davis, Leslie Nielson and yes, even Madonna. Both Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev guested with Martha – on the same bill as the legendary Bolshoi prima, Maya Plisetskaya, now 85, who, I hear, still dances a mean Dying Swan.
Everyone wanted to have some of that Martha magic rub off on them. And while the grand dame herself may be gone, her brilliance lives on. How lucky we are to have had Martha Graham helping shape the 20th century, and now, some four generations later, her company keeps the Graham flame burning. Click here to read my Los Angeles Times review of the troupe in its recent Southland appearance, one celebrating her collaboration with the sculptor Isamu Noguchi.
And another former Graham dancer: the late great Betty Ford. Two remarkable and powerful women, Martha and Betty. Here they are with another mega-star, Liz Taylor. Ah, the dancing they did!