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2nd Generation Modern Choreographers/Innovators

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Christine Shawl

on 25 February 2016

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Transcript of 2nd Generation Modern Choreographers/Innovators

Martha Graham
Doris Humphrey
Charles Weidman
Mary Wigman
The Graham Technique
A Typical Graham Technique Class

All Graham classes spend approximately 30-45 minutes performing exercises on the floor at the beginning of class. Much like a ballet technique class, there is a progression of specific exercises, each which can be altered to fit the ability level of the class. The floor work is especially focused on the use of the contraction/release and the spiral.
The middle of class is spent on center work with a set of standard exercises to warm up the legs and feet and to get the dancers moving. The rest of the class is spent applying the concepts learned in the beginning of class to combinations that move across the floor. Choreography from Graham dances may sometimes be used during this portion of the class to demonstrate the intersection of technique with repertory.
Graham Choreography
Doris Humphrey
“The Dancer believes that his art has something to say which cannot be expressed in words or in any other way than by dancing ... there are times when the simple dignity of movement can fulfill the function of a volume of words. There are movements which impinge upon the nerves with a strength that is incomparable, for movement has power to stir the senses and emotions, unique in itself. This is the dancer's justification for being, and his reason for searching further for deeper aspects of his art.”

Mary Wigman
2nd Generation Modern Choreographers & Innovators
Biographical Information
Born in Allegheny, PA in 1894

Studied and then taught at Denishawn in LA, California for 8 years

Left Denishawn becasue of creative differences
Martha Graham 1894-1991
“She invented a new language of movement, and used it to reveal the passion, the rage and the ecstasy common to human experience.”

Contraction/Release & Spiral
The Contraction
A Graham contraction begins from the pelvis and travels up the spine, lengthening the space between each vertebra, up to the neck and head, which remain in line with the spine. Each contraction is accompanied with an exhalation of breath. To the inexperienced eye, a contraction may look like a sucking in of the gut or a hunching over of the torso. However, any change in the rib cage, shoulders, or neck, is a result of the building of the contraction from the pelvis and occurs automatically when it has been performed correctly.
Charles Weidman


Laurel Leaf of the American Composers Alliance in 1959 for her service to music.

Her colleagues in theater, the members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local One, voted her the recipient of the 1986 Local One Centennial Award for Dance, not to be awarded for another 100 years.

In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford bestowed upon Martha Graham the United States' highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, and declared her a "national treasure," making her the first dancer and choreographer to receive this honor.

Another Presidential honor was awarded Martha Graham in 1985 when President Ronald Reagan designated her among the first recipients of the United States National Medal of Arts.
The Release
The release is the counter to the contraction. It occurs on the inhalation of breath. A release also begins from the pelvis and travels up the spine to return the torso to a neutral, straight position.
A second type of release, called the high release occurs when a dancer opens their breastbone to the sky and seems to rest their torso on an invisible shelf beneath the shoulder blades. The rib cage maintains alignment over the hips with no break in the lower back. The head remains in line with the spine.

Martha Graham was an American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Picasso had on the modern visual arts, Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture.
Opened the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and started the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1926

Dancers: Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, Pearl Lang, Elisa Monte, Paul Taylor, Pascal Rioult, Peter Sparling.

The Martha Graham Dance Company even mentions among its alumnae Betty Bloomer, who, after dancing with the Company in 1938, became better known as First Lady Betty Ford.

The Contraction serves as the foundation of Graham technique. Graham developed the idea from observing the physical manifestation of grief in the body. It is one of the fundamental characteristics of her choreography and as such, most of Graham exercises were created with the contraction in mind. While Graham was the creator of the contraction, the move has become a staple of modern dance and has been used, altered, and redefined by many subsequent choreographers.
The Spiral
A twisting of the torso around the spine, or spiral, is another fundamental part of Graham technique. Like the contraction, the spiral begins in the pelvis and travels up the spine to the neck and head, although the head always stays in line with the spine. The changes in the torso take places as a cause and effect process as the spiral moves up from the pelvis. The lower spine must move before the shoulders which move before the neck, etc. As the dancer releases from the spiral and returns to a neutral position, the movement, again, originates from the pelvis and travels upwards.
1926 - Chorale. Music by César Franck

1930 - Lamentation. Music by Zoltán Kodály

1931 - Primitive Mysteries. Music by Louis Horst

1935 - Frontier. Music by Louis Horst

1936 - Steps in the Street (part of Chronicle).

1936 - Chronicle. Music by Wallingford Riegger, lighting by Jean Rosenthal

1940 - Letter to the World. Music by Hunter Johnson.

1944 - Appalachian Spring. Music by Aaron Copland. 2, 3, 4

1946 - Cave of the Heart. Music by Samuel Barber.

1947 - Errand into the Maze. Music by Gian Carlo Menotti, sets by Isamu Noguchi and
lighting by Jean Rosenthal.

1947 - Night Journey, Martha Graham. Music by William Schuman.

1948 - Diversion of Angels. Music by Norman Dello Joio.

1958 - Clytemnestra. Music by Halim El-Dabh.

1959 - Episodes. Commissioned by New York City Ballet to music by Anton Webern.

1975 - Adorations. Music by Mateo Albéniz, Domenico Cimarosa, John Dowland and Girolamo Frescobaldi

1981 - Acts of Light. Music by Carl Nielsen. 2

1984 - The Rite of Spring. Music by Igor Stravinsky.

1990 - Maple Leaf Rag. Music by Scott Joplin and costumes by Calvin Klein.


Doris Humphrey was born in Oak Park, Illinois, 1895.

Studied piano, ballet, ballroom dance, Americanized Delsarte and Dalcroze's system of Eurythmics. Inspiration came from Mary Wood Hinman who taught dance at the school she attended from kindergarten through high school.

In 1913, at the age of eighteen, opened a dance school in Oak Park. Her mother was the business manager and accompanist.

Mary Wood Hinman encouraged her to go to L.A. for a summer course at the Denishawn School in 1917, She was given solo roles and taught classes.

At Denishawn, Miss Ruth encouraged Doris to choreograph. Her first composition was "Valse Caprice" (also known as "Scarf Dance"), followed by "Soaring", and "Scherzo Waltz" (also known as "Hoop Dance"), all of which continue to be performed by various companies today.

Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman broke away from Denishawn in 1928. They opened a school and established the Humphrey-Weidman Dance Company in NYC.

She created a new vocabulary based on the principle of FALL and RECOVERY from gravity.

As a choreographer, Doris Humphrey excelled in her designs for groups, mass movements and sculptural shapes.

In 1945 gave up performing and devoted herself to serving as Artistic Director for the Jose Limon Company and creating works for it.

In 1958, she made her last contribution, a book, The Art of Making Dances, in which she set forth her choreographic principles.

Humphrey's Theory of Dance
By 1931, the Humphrey and Weidman companies and their joint studio/school were firmly established in New York City. With Graham, Humphrey was considered by most critics to be a primary innovator of the new modern dance. Her theory of "fall and recovery"-- and the technique that sprang from it--was the foundation of her teaching method and her choreography. Underlying it, according to Humphrey, was the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche's idea about the split in the human psyche between each person's Apollonian side (rational, intellectual) and our Dionysian side (chaotic, emotional). The true essence of the modern dance was the movement that happened in between these extremes, which Humphrey labeled "the arc between two deaths."

The Fall and Recovery Concept
Like Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey was interested in the fundamental importance of tension and relaxation in the body, and used it as the foundation of her own system of movement principles. She called her version of the contraction and release of muscles and of the breath cycle "fall and recovery." Unlike Graham, who stressed the tension in the cycle, Humphrey located the height or apex of the continuum in the suspension of tension. As a result, her vocabulary was based on the notion that all movement patterns fall into three divisions: opposition; succession; and unison and that all movement characteristics fall into three divisions: sharp accent; sustained flow; and rest. She codified this system in her book The Art of Making Dances (1958).


Like Martha Graham, Humphrey was interested in moving away from the sentimentalism and romanticism of the Denishawn company toward a new dance vocabulary and style that was truly "modern." In a newspaper article from this period, she told a reporter that she and her students were "stimulated by our enthusiasm for some discoveries about movement, which had to do with ourselves as Americans--not Europeans or American Indians or East Indians, which most of the Denishawn work consisted of--but as young people of the twentieth century living in the United States."

"Theatre Piece," an exposition of innate human competitiveness and rivalry.

"With My Red Fires," a portrayal of emotional life, the consuming passion of love.

"New Dance," a depiction of the possibility of reaching a state of human harmony which recognizes individualism.

"Water Study," "Two Ecstatic Themes," and "The Shakers“ examples of repertory built on Fall & Recovery

“Air for the G String“ and "Variations on a Theme of Handel“, called attention to the relationship between movement and music, emphasizing their formal qualities, like structure, design, and dynamic. She did not attempt to tell a story, or to evoke a specific emotion. Instead, Humphrey was interested in purely aesthetic considerations. In her use of these abstract principles of composition, Humphrey was perhaps the most "modern" of the early modern dance innovators.

"Day on Earth," "Night Spell," "Ruins and Visions" examples of choreography she created for the Jose Limon Dance Company.


Born Lincoln, Nebraska 1901

At age 19 he received a scholarship to the Denishawn School.

Weidman soon became a leading Denishawn dancer partnering Martha Graham and replacing Ted Shawn in important roles.

In 1927, he and Doris Humphrey left Denishawn in protest against the romanticism of the repertory, and together they established a company and a school devoted to exploring a new aesthetic.

Humphrey and Weidman established new principles of technique involving gravity, fall and recovery, sustained, suspended, and vibratory movement.

After Humphrey’s retirement from performing in 1945, Weidman continued to create dances, perform, and teach. He was especially popular at colleges and universities throughout the United States where he taught many master classes and repertory workshops.

He established a school and company of his own – The Charles Weidman School of Modern Dance and the Charles Weidman Theatre Dance Company.

In 1960, he created and established the Expression of Two Arts Theatre in New York City where, despite the limitations of the small space , he presented regular weekly performances until his death.

Humphrey & Weidman

influenced a great many dancers. Among the best-known artists: Jose Limon, Jack Cole, Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse, and Alvin Ailey.
Movement Themes:

Movement vocabulary based on gravity. Explored how giving into gravity makes one fall, while balancing your body against gravity could create movement as well. Emphasized the movements that occurred before and after falling (suspension & succession)

"Arguably, no one has dramatic skill equal to Weidman". His choreography was very expressive and usually very emotional. His range of emotion went from comedy to seriousness—yet the expression is always important and always present in his choreography.

Along with Graham & Humphrey focused on American themes


Flickers: a comedic sketch of silent films.
This Passion: a suite of dances depicting popular murder cases

On My Mothers side: a succession of dances based on different members of his mothers side of the family

Lynchtown: a portrait of a community consumed by violent passions


Born in Hanover, Germany

Leading modern dance choreographer in Europe
Student of Rudolf Laban, became his assistant

Opened a school in Dresden 1920
Her most famous students, Hanya Holm, Alwin Nikolais

Expressionist style or "absolute" style of dance meaning it is independent of any literary or interpretive content

Used bells, gongs, cymbols, flute and drums for music

Sometimes danced without music

Often wore masks

Most famous dance, "Witch Dance"

2nd Generation Modern Choreogrpahers
Katherine Dunham
Katherine Dunham

Born in Joliet, Illinois

Danced with Mark Turbyfill
Danced with Adolph Bolm – IRB school, danced with Diaghilev & Pavlova
Danced with Ruth Page
Page was a Diaghilev dancer, Pavlova dancer, teamed with a Wigman student to choreograph ballet mixed with sport movement and everyday gesture


Dancer, choreographer, anthropologist, writer
Books: Journey to Accompong, Island Possessed, and Dances of Haiti
At the University of Chicago - on scholarship for social anthropology
began researching the origins of black social dance of the 1920’s
Awarded a Travel Fellowship in 1936 for her combined expertise in dance and anthropology
travelled to the West Indies (Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Haiti, Martinique) to do field research in anthropology and dance.
First African American dance company in US
First in US to perform African/Caribbean dance and movement
Broadway dancer/choreographer Cabin in the Sky
Hollywood choreographer/dancer Stormy Weather, Carnival of Rhythm, Star-Spangled Rhythm
Company dances: L'Ag'Ya, Shango, Haitian Suite, Tropics and Le Jazz Hot: From Haiti to Harlem
Legendary dance artist and activist Katherine Dunham described the historical moment in 1944 when her dance company was asked to perform for a segregated audience in a Lexington, Kentucky theatre. The Katherine Dunham Dance Company was the first black modern-dance company in North America, performing internationally for over 30 years. Ms. Dunham's legacy continues today through the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities in East St. Louis, Illinois, the Katherine Dunham Collection at the Library of Congress, and the generations of dancers, scholars, and theater artists who have been profoundly influenced by her work.

In 2002, Ms. Dunham spent a week in The School at Jacob's Pillow, teaching classes in the Cultural Traditions Workshop, appearing onstage as part of a public tribute, and participating in interviews about her life's work. The PillowTalk excerpted here is one of many videos documenting the week's activities.

Katherine Dunham
(June 22, 1909 -- May 21, 2006) An anthropologist, author, educator, song writer, dancer, choreographer and activist. Dunham worked as an anthropologist studying ethnographic dance in the Caribbean, predominantly Haiti, where she even became a mambo (priestess) in the Vaudon (Voodoo) religion. Her entrenched studies not only spearheaded a new idea of "dance anthropology" in academia but also launched Dunham into her future as a political activist in the States as well as the Caribbean. Her life and studies abroad profoundly shaped her career as a choreographer. Her dance company, Katherine Dunham Dance Company, introduced authentic African moment to the concert stage connecting her dancers with their African heritage as well as codifying a new dance technique, known as the Dunham Technique, which trains the body to express the unique principles of the African-Caribbean diaspora. She founded the Dunham School for Arts and Research in 1946, wrote many books, appeared in various hollywood films, and performed on Broadway. Her life transformed modern dance, expanded the anthropological field of research, broke down immense walls of racism in the United States as well as abroad and paved the road for a new generation of professional black dancers.

1. the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind.

2. the study of human beings' similarity to and divergence from other animals.

3. the science of humans and their works.
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