Graham Hands: Martha Graham's Creative Expression in Shapes

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In this documentary, Acampora recounts Graham’s biography, recalling her most significant life events and personal influences - predominantly her father who used physical movements to heal nervous disorders. This source also thoroughly explains how Graham’s experience as a student at the Cumnock School of Expression heavily inspired her to open her world-renowned Martha Graham Dance Company in New York City and to also begin crossing various artistic boundaries as a choreographer.

Whilst this secondary source contains a number of excellent direct quotes from Graham, this YouTube documentary is somewhat unreliable, as the producer and publisher is not an accredited documentarian or historic expert on Graham. Despite its slight lack of credibility, Martha Graham Documentary effectively helped me validate information I have read from other scholarly sources; particularly concerning Graham’s inspiration to create ground-breaking new dance styles. As such, the successful cross-checking and substantiation of this secondary source will be useful when commenting on how Graham’s sharp, angular movements dramatically departed from the dominant classical ballet style of the time. This E-Book reviews the breadth of Graham’s creative output over the decades, drawing particular attention to how she challenged conventional traditions concerning the female body. Given Graham’s choreographic career spanned over almost sixty years, the author critically explores how “the development of Graham’s movement system can be viewed as falling into four distinct phases - 1926-1938, 1938-1950, 1950-1960 and 1980-1191” (Bannerman, 1999). In Graham Technique, Deakin critically explores how a dance student new to Graham technique could maximise a Graham masterclass, predominantly by “paying close attention to how your breathing changes with certain exercises” (Deakin, 2006). The author also encourages students to become acquainted with the terminology that has codified Graham technique such as “spirals”. Deakin argues that familiarisation of these key words will consequently help students recognise how the spine and pelvis work conjunctively with each other to rotate and arch the torso.

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This secondary source is trustworthy and scholarly, as Deakin is a previous principal dancer at the Martha Graham Dance Company. As a result, I will use this magazine as one of my main sources, as it efficiently helped me identify the vocabulary Graham devised that progressively developed into a codified technique. Graham Technique was also advantageous in providing me with an extensive list of secondary sources that I can read to further comprehend Graham’s monumental influence on contemporary dance both nationally and globally. Through this dance technique tutorial, Gutelius visually demonstrates how to execute a basic contraction and release exercise from a cross-legged position on the floor. In the video, she explains that “as you exhale and drop forward to the floor, feel the back curl” (Gutelius, 2014, 0:24), therefore allowing the spine to stretch vertebra by vertebra. Gutelius then instructs the viewer to repeat the exercise, which aims to strengthen and lengthen the abdominal and back muscles.

Gutelius is a former leading dancer of the New York City Martha Graham Dance Company, which makes this video a highly credible scholarly source. Considering its reliability, this audio-visual could prove extremely relevant, particularly when discussing the development of “contraction” and “release” – a fundamental Graham concept used to establish breathing and muscle control. This source will also prove beneficial when examining how Graham’s dancers create constricted and irregular movements by merely learning to contract the spine. This short BBC video displays snippets of a 1976 interview with Martha Graham, as well as excerpts of Graham’s most timeless and canonical creations including Appalachian Spring, Lamentation and Heretic. Additional interviews with an Artistic Director and Choreographer from the Phoenix Dance Theatre have also been included, with both arguing that Graham’s hefty use of the floor within her technique drastically changed the world of dance. Particularly because “up until that point, dance was about being high, about a sense of ease…and effortlessness” (McGregor, 2015).

This informative BBC arts video contains footage of Graham’s own words and her original choreographic work, which makes this video an extremely pertinent primary source. Given its high level of authenticity, I will use this video as one of my main sources - largely because it contains in-depth explanations of how Graham communicated a narrative, not only through the use of space, but also through the highly abstract physical dance movements she invented. This online newspaper investigates the two versions of Graham’s signature cupped hand position - the “formal” cup, whereby the thumb bends inwards whilst the fingers remain linear. On the other hand, the fingertips on the “soft” cup are wide, “with the energy originating from the heel of the hand” (Theys, 2016). Theys also details several other Graham hand positions including the “clawed”, “winged”, “clenched” and “flat” hand, which are collectively used to enhance and embellish the characters in Graham’s choreography.

Getting a hold of Graham Hands is concisely written, offering a comprehensive insight into Graham’s focus on the palms, fingers and heels of the hand. Given that this newspaper contains quotes from interviews with current principal dancers at the Martha Graham Dance Company; this source will be extremely valuable when commenting on the stark contrast between Graham’s eminent cupped hand position and the soft, elegant hand positions prominent in classical ballet.

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