You may have heard Chris say in the studio: “Hail Goddess Martha!” and wondered who he was talking about. This week’s blog is going to give you an overview of who Martha Graham was, and why she is so renowned as an American artist of the 20th century and in the world of Pilates so that next time Chris exclaims this in the studio you know what he means.
As many of you will know, Pilates was started by Joseph Pilates. However, what most don’t realise that the modern day Pilates is largely shaped by Ron Fletcher, a Martha Graham dancer. Fletcher took much of what he learnt from Martha, and another mentor (Yeich Imura), and put it into Pilates. Fletcher went to Martha Graham’s dance company to evade a potentially career-ending surgery on an injured knee. Later, Fletcher would return to the dance company to aid his recovery from an addiction to alcohol that was negatively impacting his career.
What did Fletcher learn from Martha then? Martha was known for her ability to cross artistic boundaries with her creativity and her ability to embrace every artistic genre. Graham’s style was groundbreaking to the art world as she experimented with the movements of contraction and release. In this video below, Fletcher discusses the similarities between Martha and Joe in their views towards short spine and the contraction and release method.
Throughout her career, Martha received many awards and symbols of recognition in her time. Including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Kennedy Center of Honors, List of recipients of the National Medal of Arts, the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, US & Canada, and being the first dancer to perform at The White House. She was renowned around the world for the impact she was having in the world of dance. Martha was invited to be a cultural ambassador and was welcomed from Paris to Japan, and further. This attracted many dancers that would later go onto Broadway and dance companies like the Noemi Lafrance Dance Company, the Paul Taylor Dance Company and more. Martha also influenced generations of choreographers, such as Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp and Merce Cunningham. She also taught Bette Davis, Madonna, Liza Minelli, Tony Randall and many more actors to use their bodies as expressive instruments.
At the age of 96 years old, Martha died in her Manhattan home leaving a legacy that impacts dance and Pilates to this day through the people that she taught and the methods of expression she explored. For those that want to get to learn more about Martha Graham, this documentary is a fantastic exploration of her impact to the world of dance and using the body as an expressive art.
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