cover image Martha Graham: When Dance Became Modern

Martha Graham: When Dance Became Modern

Neil Baldwin. Knopf, $40 (576p) ISBN 978-0-385-35233-8

Biographer Baldwin (Edison: Inventing the Century) reveals how the visionary Martha Graham (1894–1991) revolutionized dance and choreography, making them modern and free in this mesmerizing portrait. Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., Graham learned early on that “movement never lies.” The shy bookworm began to blossom once she arrived in exotic Santa Barbara. Inspired after attending a recital by the passionate diva Ruth St. Denis, Graham “knew at that moment I was going to be a dancer.” Studying first at the Cumnock School of Expression in Los Angeles, she trained under St. Denis and the innovative Ted Shawn, “coming to life” under his tutelage, and realizing “a dance must dominate me, completely, until I lose sense of anything else.” Influenced by contemporaries like Isadora Duncan, Michio Itō , Wassily Kandinsky, and Rouben Mamoulian, Graham learned to “do things in a new way,” emphasizing movement out of stillness and believing that “any great art is the condensation of a strong feeling.” The trailblazing Graham seemingly sculpted modern dance out of thin air, creating indelible works like Heretic, Lamentation, and Primitive Mysteries, always looking to the future. Provocative and passionate as the dynamo herself, this richly detailed and insightful page-turner will delight dance aficionados. (Oct.)