Both at Denishawn was where she learnt

Both Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham were dancers and
choreographers of the early 1900s up until the late 1900s. They made a great
difference in the evolution of dance from the classic technique of ballet,
bringing techniques to light that were deemed as ugly due to their unusual nature,
but now are widely used. Martha Graham was born in Pennsylvania in 1894, the
start of her Dance career sparked with influence from her father. Graham
trained for 8 years at Denishawn School of dance and related arts after seeing
St. Dennis perform in LA in the 1900s which inspired her to dance. After these
8 years – in 1923- she left Denishawn and a further 3 years later created her
own company names ‘Martha Graham Dance Company’ during this period of her life
she discovered her own way of moving –which at the time was labelled as ugly by
critics as it was unfamiliar. The 1930s saw her work focus on emotional themes,
her best emotional dance was ‘lamentation’ a dance about mourning. While being
at Denishawn was where she learnt various styles of dance training learning how
to incorporate dance, drama and themes into dances as a form of expression.
After training and creating her own company she established her own way of
movements. This training brought new abstract movements, technique expression
and an ability to tell a story in her works. Some dominant principles of this
technique are the “spiralling” of the torso around the axis of the
spine and contractions shown in dances standing and seated. Graham technique is
known for its unique dramatic and expressive qualities and distinctive floor
work; dance critic Anna Kisselgoff described it as “powerful, dynamic,
jagged and filled with tension.”

On the other hand Merce Cunningham was born later on in 1914
in Centralia. During Cunningham’s second summer in America he met some of the
most important dancers and choreographers of the time- one of which being
Martha Graham. The 1950s saw the pair (Cunningham and John Cage) play with the
idea of ‘chance’ a choreographic technique. From this he created his company in
1953 and by 1964 was touring in Europe and Asia. He developed his own technique
within his company and broadened to teach his technique in institutes all
around the world. Before creating his company Cunningham was a soloist for
Martha Graham from 1939-1945 where he broadened his dance technique and Graham
technique. In 1950 he created the technique of chance where his career as a
choreographer blossomed. Cunningham’s dance style looks on the surface quite
balletic but his motives and methods are completely different. He widely based
his choreography on moves such as tilts, lines, twists, shapes and turns these
were used as he wanted to create different abstract movements and focused on
the idea of dancing beyond our kinesphere.

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Graham shows her movement style in her choreographed piece
‘Adorations’ in 1975. This piece shows the glory, love excitement of movement
and the appetite for life that every dancer must have. Due to the dance being
an appreciation of the body Graham used many of her techniques which shows what
the body is capable of achieving in movement; contractions, breath, head tilts,
torso rotations, floor work etc. Graham expanded on the classic balletic
technique, while still using balletic moves evident in this dance where from
the start balletic arm lines are used, développé’s etc but from this classic
technique she expanded into her own technique of contracts to show to feeling
to her dance as well as showing how the body can be used in peculiar ways to
create a beautiful movement all together. Graham also used the torso, in the
floor section of Adorations the torso was used in a rotation in an attitude
position appearing the stretch the side of the body and latissimus dorsi to
create an odd movement –which was what she liked to do. In the early 1900s
contact work was not as prominent but Graham continued to use contact work in
her pieces and coming to later in her career this dance incorporated a lot of
jumps and lifts in the partner section where the male dancer created a illusion
of brushing the female across to floor to effortlessly sweep her back up.
Graham was also known for her curved lines of the arms, evidently in Adorations
on some of the turns – when balletic arms were not being used- the dancers
showed a high release curved V shape arm line.

In contrast I looked at Cunningham’s ‘Pond Way’ choreography
in 1998. As one of Cunningham’s nature studies, Pond Way evokes the trickling
effect of water, as the dancers move in wave like motions across the stage;
timing the movements so that one begins just after another. The movement was
inspired by Cunningham’s childhood game of skimming stones over a pond. This
peace illustrated many of Cunningham’s classic technical moves such as transfer
of eight, lines, turns etc. Like Graham Cunningham also used balletic movements
in his dances but only in small sections of the dance unlike Graham. He shows
balletic movement in the collaborate group section where the dancers perform
movements such as exaggerate assemblée’s which brought height and preciseness to
the dance. Cunningham showed very strong arm lines in his dancers from
beginning to end of Pond Way for example when the dancers illustrated a
crucifix position where there arms are elongated out of the side of the body
with a high release to project the body, every dancers arms looked 90 degrees
from the body, with extension and hands face down with fingers together this
shows the finer details were focused on and this therefore made the piece look
neat an well choreographed. Cunningham is also known for his use of stag leaps
in his dances – which he also did in this dance- the stag leap shown was
performed to the side of the stage in a split leap position only with the legs
bent at the knees to create the unusual shape of a stag leap.

In conclusion, both Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham
contributed greatly to the evolving of dance technique globally by bringing
tings to the table such as stag leaps, use of the torso, contraction, and
straight lines in contrast to the classic curved balletic arm lines. Where
Graham developed a whole new technique which was taught around the world,
Cunningham devised choreographic techniques which choreographers and dancers
make use of often in the modern dance world.


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