From Paris How One Dancer is Keeping the American Modern Emblem afloat in europe
By. Rafael Molina
Martha Graham, a woman that changed the face of dance in the western world. A modern dance pioneer who pushed boundaries and developed a new language that would live on far beyond her passing.
Martha Graham died in 1991 and was posthumously named "Dancer of the Century" by Time magazine. Though her work does not yet belong to the past. She continues to move today’s dancers and audiences on a global scale, as students come from abroad to study her technique at the Martha Graham School in NYC. In addition, the Martha Graham Dance Company tours her repertory internationally.
Martha Graham’s genius spawned a legacy. We forthcoming generations of “Graham babies”- distinguished artists who she trained and fostered so that they could develop their individual voices. Many artists in the 20th Century emerged from performing, collaborating or studying with Martha Graham. Whether they continued her path or worked in direct opposition (Merce Cunningham being the best example), much of what we know and associate with American Modern dance, began with Martha Graham.
A renaissance of Graham in Europe
In Europe, Graham’s legacy hasn’t always received the success it deserves. Ballet remains the ultimate training and contemporary dance; more Cunningham-base has gone today into many different directions. Graham’s contribution is often underestimated, if not ignored. This is about to change. It is time for a renaissance of Graham in Europe. It is time for #GrahamForEurope.
#GrahamForEurope is a European platform dedicated to dancers and others passionate about the Martha Graham technique (™). It aims to connect this community and foster collaboration, as well as to increase connections between the Martha Graham Center and the old Continent. Myself Rafael Molina initiated this project a native of France, after studying at the Martha Graham School on a Fulbright scholarship, graduating in 2014.
#GrahamForEurope’s first mission consists in listing all known Graham teachers and classes in each European country. While this task appears monotonous, it is a necessary networking tool. Until this platform launched, finding Graham teachers in Europe proved extremely difficult. The #GrahamForEurope website also features relevant and inspiring content about the technique, teaching process, and Graham-based opportunities available for dancers. In the first six months of the project’s launch, it is impressive how many wonderful initiatives occurred throughout Europe.
New Graham dynamics in the UK, in France, Italy and Spain.
Eliot Smith, a young British dancer and choreographer was supported by the British Council of the Arts for his project and book: ‘Martha and Me: one dancer’s determination to welcome Martha Graham Back to the UK’. This project was achieved through a combination of thorough research, intimate interviews with some of those closest to Martha Graham herself, and Eliot’s inspiring story. With these elements, the reader is drawn into the living, breathing world of contemporary dance in the UK from 1954 to 2017.
Paris, contains more Graham than one would expect. Five schools include Graham in their curriculum, and there are seven teachers all year round. With Graham For Europe, it has become easier to organize Master Classes by guest teachers: Soloist Lloyd Mayor, Principal Dancer Blakeley McGuire, former company member Kim Jones and Brazilian Teacher Andrea Raw were invited to teach between April and July. Such events created opportunities to offer scholarships for students to attend the intensives at the Martha Graham School and help students learn more information about the different programs the school offers.
On June 16th, 2017, Kim Jones and Blakeley McGuire presented at the Arts in Society Conference 2017 in Paris a workshop about their re-imagining of Graham’s lost dance, IMPERIAL GESTURE (1935). After an introduction and contextualization, participants were invited to explore and follow the same research and creative process that the two dancers went through.
In Rome, Caterina Rago is about to welcome students from all over Europe and even from the States for the first Summer Intensive of Tecnica di Danza Moderna, a program of study that introduces Italian dancers to the American modern dance techniques. Caterina is seeking to develop the program in other parts of Europe and offered half-scholarships for students in Madrid, Paris and Bratislava.
In June, the Martha Graham Dance Company toured in the north and center of Spain. It was quite moving to watch Deep Song performed there, a solo about the Spanish Civil War, which Martha Graham choreographed in 1936. South of the country, the Graham company was also welcomed with open arms.
A Graham Teacher Workshop with a Master in Málaga
Marnie Thomas taught a one-week Teacher Workshop at the Conservatorio Superior de Málaga. It was the first time this kind of workshop was organized in Europe and it was a wonderful way to share tools with European teachers.
Marnie Thomas entered the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1958 when she was 20 years old. She performed the repertory and worked with Martha Graham on new pieces until 1968. Those 10 years were also the last years seeing Martha Graham herself performing on stage with the dancers. Since 1968, Marnie Thomas stayed attached to Graham, and taught the technique. That's an immeasurable 60 years of Graham experience.
Everyone who studied with Marnie understands her impact to the technique: optimistic, full of life and generous. She shared what she knows about Martha Graham and what Graham created. Even though each person might have a different experience, a different technical level or even understanding of what the technique offers, but for Marnie it matters most what we do with it. She wanted us to understand the principles and then make our own choices when we share “our” Graham. Marnie wanted us to breathe, to explore and enjoy Graham. She wanted her to make it ours and to share it. In another word, she wanted us to be free. Isn’t that what technique should be always about anyway?
A new generation
Our generation is going to be key. We are the first generation that hasn’t known Martha Graham herself and the last generation to be able to learn from dancers who have worked very closely with her. How we engage with Graham’s work is going to determine if her legacy will go on or fade.
We have tools that previous generations did not have though. Internet and social media allow us to connect, gather a community and organize. While young dancers have always travelled for residencies and tours, we are afforded more opportunities than ever thanks to low cost airlines.
In a context of Brexit, growing anti-liberalism and tension, it seems essential to share a universal language that can go beyond borders, nationalities, genders, ethnicities and religions. Where words might fail, dance can succeed.
Graham’s legacy has a bright future in Europe
Today’s companies want versatile dancers. That doesn’t mean they don’t need a center and roots. Graham is a powerful home, which contemporary dancers can come back to and from which they can blossom.
You will always find people claiming that Graham is irrelevant, unpopular and old-fashioned. We are proving them wrong. Martha Graham’s reputation is moving forward thanks to the excellent work and rejuvenation of the Martha Graham Company. Europeans have also a role to play to keep sharing her creative power and genius. Graham For Europe is just the beginning of this exciting endeavor. Will you join me in keeping this American Emblem alive?
Rafael Molina studied ballet and contemporary dance at the St Etienne Conservatory from which he graduated in 2006. After an Internship with the dance company TanzTheater München in Germany, he also trained in theater. In 2012, he danced and acted as Creon in the theater piece « Médée » by Compagnie Rhinocéros throughout France and at the Festival d’Avignon. In 2012, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Martha Graham School in NYC from which he graduated two years later. in 2013, he joined the second company, Graham 2, and performed the Graham repertory. Since 2015, he has been touring a contemporary piece « Love and Kindness » with Compagnie Polypous in Europe, Israel and Singapore. He also performs neoballet pieces in France with Ballets Ethery Pagava and Compagnie Mouvance D’arts.