Martha Graham, a pioneer in the establishment of American modern dance, was one of the principal choreographers of the twentieth century. Her work, which spanned more than seven decades, resulted in the development of a movement technique and a body of 180 choreographic works. Known also for her innovative collaborations, Graham worked with sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who designed over thirty-five sets for Graham works; lighting designer Jean Rosenthal; costume designer Halston; and many composers, including Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Robert Starer, William Schuman, and Louis Horst, who acted as accompanist, composer, and music director for Graham from 1926 to 1948. Graham founded a dance company in the 1920s that continues to perform her repertory.
This timeline documents Martha Graham and her choreographic works, beginning with her birth in 1894. Part I of the timeline (shown below) covers her life up to 1949. Part II (coming soon) will span 1950 until her death in 1991. Moving images and published articles about Graham also will be included.
Martha Graham is born on 11 May in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.
Graham begins studies with Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis at their Denishawn School.
Graham begins teaching at the Denishawn School.
Graham dances with Denishawn, appearing in title roles such as Xochitl, Serenata Morisca, and Spanish Suite I.
Graham appears in John Murray Anderson's Greenwich Village Follies, dancing Ted Shawn's Serenata Morisca and Michio Ito's The Garden of Kama.
Graham establishes her first dance company and begins to develop her specialized dance technique.
Graham presents her first independent concert on 18 April at the 48th Street Theater in New York City, assisted by the Martha Graham Concert Group. The New York Herald Tribune noted "Miss Graham gave a successful performance, showing ability to present a mood or a picture, with the assets of grace, agility, effective poses and well chosen costumes."
Premier: 18 April 1926, 48th Street Theater, New York City
- Arabesque No. 1 (Music by Claude Debussy)
- Chorale (Music by César Franck)
- Clair de Lune (Music by Claude Debussy)
- Danse Languide (Music by Alexander Scriabine)
- Danse Rococo (Music by Maurice Ravel; Costumes by Erle Franke)
- Désir (Music by Alexander Scriabine)
- Deux Valses (Music by Maurice Ravel)
- From a XII Century Tapestry (Music by Serge Rachmaninoff)
- Intermezzo (Music by Johannes Brahms)
- Maid with the Flaxen Hair (Music by Claude Debussy)
- The Marionette Show (Music by Eugene Goossens)
- Masques (Music by Louis Horst)
- Novelette (Music by Robert Schumann)
- Portrait--After Beltran-Masses(Music by Manuel de Falla)
- A Study in Lacquer (Music by Marcel Bernheim)
- Tanze (Music by Franz Schubert)
- The Three Gopi Maidens (Music by Cyril Scott; Costumes by Norman Edwards)
- Trois Gnossiennes (Music by Erik Satie)
Premier: 9 May 1926, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester
- The Flute of Krishna (Music by Cyril Scott)
Premier: 27 May 1926, Eastman School of Music, The University of Rochester
- Bas Relief (Music by Cyril Scott)
- Danza Degli Angeli(Music by ErmanoWolf-Ferrari)
- "Suite" from Alceste (Music by Christoph Willibald Gluck)
- Scene Javanaise (Music by Louis Horst)
Premier: 20 August 1926, Peterboro, New Hampshire
- Ribands (Music by Frédéric Chopin)
Premier: 28 November 1926, Klaw Theatre, New York
- Allegro Barbaro
(Music by Béla Bartók)
- Alt-Wein (Music by Leopold Godowsky)
- Baal Shem (Music by Ernest Bloch)
- From Heloise to Abelard (Music: Old French Airs)
- Scherzo (Music by Felix Mendelssohn)
- La Soirée dans Grenade (Music by Claude Debussy)
- Three Poems of the East (Music by Louis Horst)
Premier: 27 February 1927, Guild Theatre, New York
- La Canción (Music by Music by René Defosse)
- Flammes Sombres (Music by Alexander Scriabin)
- Lucrezia (Music by Claude Debussy)
- Peasant Sketches (Music by Vladimir Rebikoff; Alexander Tansman; Petr Ilich Tchaikovsky)
- Tunisia (Music by Eduard Poldini)
- Vibrations (Composer unknown)
Premier: 2 August 1927, Anderson-Milton School, New York
Graham did not dance on this program that featured students from the Anderson-Milton School.
Premier: 16 October 1927, The Little Theatre, New York
- Adagio (Music by George Frederic Handel)
- Danse (Music by Arthur Honegger)
- Esquisse Antique (Music by Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht)
- Five Poems (Music by Alexander Scriabin)
- Ronde (Music by Rhené-Baton)
- Tanzstück (Music by Paul Hindemith)
- Two Poems from the East (Music by Louis Horst)
Historians have claimed that this work premiered on 16 October 1927 at The Little Theatre, New York City.
- Revolt (Music by Arthur Honegger) see Danse
Premier: 10 December 1927, The Cornell Dramatic Club
On 10 December, Graham performs at The Cornell Dramatic Club on a program billed as The Adolph Bolm Dance Recital. Other performers on the program included Ruth Page, Vera Mirova, Berenice Holmes, and Marcia Preble.
- Scherza (Music by Robert Schumann)
On 29 January, Graham dances for The MacDowell club of New York City. Other performers on that program included Michio Ito, Adolf Bolm, and Angna Enters.
- Chinese Poem (Music by Louis Horst "On listening to a flute by moonlight")
This choreography was likely reworked from the original 1926 Three Poems of the East and the 1927 Two Poems from the East. East Indian Poem was also performed on a program of 12 February 1928.
Premier: 16 October 1927 at The Little Theatre, New York City
Graham begins an association with the Neighborhood Playhouse and, in conjunction with the Cleveland orchestra, she performs in "Nuages" and "Fetes" (music by Debussy) with dancer/choreographer Michio Ito.
- View the program for The Cleveland Orchestra (May 6, 1928)
- Read review of "Orchestral Dramas" (May 23, 1928)
- Read review of "Dances in Israel" (May 5, 1928)
Premier: 22 April 1928, The Little Theatre, New York
- Fragments (Music by Louis Horst)
- Immigrant (Music by Josip Slavenski)
- Poems of 1917 (Music by Leo Ornstein)
- Resonances (Music by Cian Francesco Malipiero)
- Trouvères (Music by Charles Koechlin)
- Valse Noble (Music by Maurice Ravel)
Graham performs for a second time at The MacDowell Club of New York City at a dinner in honor of Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.
- The MacDowell Club of New York City Dinner in honor of Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge at the Clubhouse (Saturday January 5th, 1920 at seven o'clock) [concert program]
Premier: 20 January 1929, Booth Theatre, New York
Premier: 24 January 1929, Bennett School, Millbrook, NY
- Figure of a Saint (Music by George Frederick Handel)
Premier: 20 January 1929, Booth Theatre, New York
- Insincerities (Music by Serge Prokofiev)
- Three Florentine Verses (Music by Domenico Zipoli)
- Two Variations from Sonatina (Music by Alexander Gretchaninoff)
Premier: 3 March 1929, Booth Theatre, New York
- Adolescence (Prelude and Song) (Music by Paul Hindemith)
- Danza (Music by Darius Milhaud)
- Resurrection (Music by Tibor Harsányi)
The performance of 14 April 1929 marked the debut of Graham's concert group.
- Heretic (Music: Breton song--Old French; De Sivry)
- Moment Rustica (Music by Francis Poulenc)
- Sketches from the People (Music by Julien Krein)
- Spires (Music by Johan Sebastian Bach)
- Vision of the Apocalypse (Music by Herman Reutter)
26-27 April 1929
Graham appears for a second time with the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Cleveland Orchestra, dancing in Richard Strauss's Symphonic Poem, "Ein Heldenleben" and Debussy's "Nuages" and "Fetes." Other notable performers on this program included Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Anna Sokolow, and M. Senia Gluck.
- View Program for Neighborhood Playhouse/Cleveland Orchestra
- Read a review of the 27 April 1929 performance (New York Telegram)
- Read "Things Musical,"by Nena Gray, June 1929 (Theatre Arts Monthly)
19 May 1929
New York Times critic John Martin notes that Graham's "strides in the past year, both as a solo dancer and choreographer, place her in the first line of modern dances, whether native or foreign."
Graham joins with Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and [Helen] Tamiris to form The Dance Repertory Theatre. The goal was "to give annually a season of continuous dance programs which will be representative of the art of dance in American and will give native artists an outlet for their creative work." The group's inaugural concert took place on 5 January at Maxine Elliott's Theatre, New York City.
- View The Dance Repertory Theatre [brochure]
- View program from Maxine Elliott's Theatre (5 Jan 1930)
- Read reviews of The Dance Repertory Theatre from the New York Times, New York Herald Tribune and Dance Magazine
Premier: 8 January 1930, Maxine Elliott's Theatre, New York City
- Harlequinade (Music by Ernst Toch)
- Lamentation (Music by Zoltán Kodály)
- Prelude to a Dance (Music by Arthur Honegger)
- Project in Movement for a Divine Comedy (Performed without music)
- Two Chants (Music by Ernst Křenek)
- Unbalanced (Music by Tibor Harsányi)
20-22 February 1930
Graham performs for the third time in a program sponsored by The Neighborhood Playhouse and the Cleveland Orchestra. Graham dances in "A Pagan Poem," op. 14 (music by Charles Martin Loeffler) and "New Year's Eve in New York," Symphonic Poem (music by Werner Janssen). Other performers included Bessie Schöenberg, Anna Sokolow, Charles Weidman, and Henry Fonda.
11-14 April, 1930
Martha Graham performs in the American premiere of Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (choreographed by Leonide Massine) with the Philadelphia Orchestra (conducted by Leopold Stokowski). This program, presented in cooperation with The League of Composers, also featured the American premiere of a staged production of Arnold Shoenberg's "Die Glueckliche Hand."
- View the full concert program
- Martha Graham in the leading dance characterization of "Le Sacre du Printemps" [clipping]
- Read reviews and articles on the performances from New York Times (27 April 1930), New York Herald Tribune (27 April 1930), New York World (23 April 1930), New York Times (24 April 1930), New York American (23 April 1930), New York Sun (23 April 1930), Musical America (25 April 1930), Philadelphia Public Ledger (12 April 1930), Phildelphia Record (12 April 1930), Musical Leader (17 April 1930), Musicial Courier (19 April 1930), and the New York Times (12 April 1930)
Premier: 2 February 1931, Craig Theatre, New York City
- Bacchanale (Music by Wallingford Riegger)
- Dolorosa (Music by Hector Villa-Lobos)
- Primitive Mysteries (Music by Louis Horst)
- Rhapsodics (Music by Béla Bartók)
- Two Primitive Canticles (Music by Hector Villa-Lobos)
Premier: 6 December 1931, Martin Beck Theatre, New York City
- Dithyrambic (Music by Aaron Copland)
- Incantation (Music by Hector Villa-Lobos)
- Serenade (Music by Arnold Schonberg)
Premier: 28 February 1932, Guild Theatre, New York City
- Ceremonials (Music by Lehman Engle)
Premier: 2 June 1932, Ann Arbor, MI
- Bacchanale No. 2 (Music by Wallingford Riegger)
- Ecstatic Dance (Music by Tibor Harsányi)
- Offering (Music by Hector Villa-Lobos)
Premier: 15 November 1932, Broad Street Theatre, Philadelphia
- Ceremonial (Music by Imre Weisshaus)
Premier: 20 November 1932, Guild Theatre, New York City
- Chorus of Youth--Companions (Music by Louis Horst)
- Dance Songs (Music by Imre Weisshaus)
- Prelude (Music by Carlos Chavez)
Graham performs in the inaugural program of Radio City Music Hall. Other artists on the program include, ballerina Patricia Bowman, The Tuskegee Choir, tap dancers the Berry Brothers, German modern dancer Harald Kreutzberg, Ray Bolger, and Radio City Music Hall "Roxyettes."
Premier: 27 December 1932, Radio City Music Hall
- Choric Dance for an Antique Greek Tragedy (Music by Louis Horst)
5 & 12 February 1933
Graham stages Six Miracle Plays that date from the 13th to the 15th centuries. She takes on the role of The Virgin Mary in four of the plays, which were presented at the Guild Theatre, New York City.
- View an advertisement for Six Miracle Plays
- View the Concert Program for Six Miracle Plays
- Read reviews and articles on the performances from New York Post (6 February 1933), New York Times (6 February 1933), New York Herald Tribune (12 February 1933), New York Times (12 February 1933), Boston Transcript (8 February 1933), The New Republic (1 March 1933)
Premier: 20 February 1933, Fuld Hall, Newark, NJ
- Tragic Patterns (Music by Louis Horst)
"Chorus for Furies" was first performed as part of the inaugural concert for the opening of Radio City Music Hall in December 1932.
Premier: 4 May 1933, Guild Theatre, New York City
12 June 1933
Graham choreographs dances for Cecil Lewis's play Iron Flowers with music by Paul Creston. The performances run for a full week at Westchester Country Center in White Plains, N.Y.
- View Concert Program for Iron Flowers
- Read reviews from New York Times (13 June 1933) and White Plains Reporter (13 June 1933)
Premier: 19 November 1933, Guild Theatre, New York City
Premier: 18 February 1934, Guild Theatre, New York City
- Celebration (Music by Louis Horst)
- Four Casual Developments (Music by Henry Cowell)
- Phantasy: Prelude, Musette, Gavotte (Music by Arnold Schönberg)
- Transitions (Music by Lehman Engel)
Premier: 22 April 1934, Alvin Theatre, New York City
- Intégrales (Music by Edgar Varèse)
Premier: 11 November 1934, Guild Theatre, New York City
- American Provincials: Act of Piety (Music by Louis Horst)
- Dance in Four Parts: Quest, Derision, Dream, Sportive Tragedy (Music by George Antheil)
Premier: 10 February 1935, Guild Theatre, New York City
Premier: 28 April 1935, Guild Theatre, New York City
- Perspectives: Frontier and Marching Song (Music: Frontier by Louis Horst; Marching Song by Lehman Engel)
Premier: 14 August 1935, Bennington, VT
- Panorama (Music by Norman Lloyd; Mobiles by Alexander Calder)
On 12 October, Graham performs a concert at the Six Plenum Celebration, Jewish Section, IWO, New York.
In November and December, New Theatre publishes two articles "Modern Dance Forms" by Paul Douglas and "'Revolutionary' Dance Forms" by Irving Ignatin. Both articles are complementary to Graham's work.
Premier: 10 November 1935, Guild Theatre, New York City
15 December 1935
Graham and her dance group performed at Carnegie Hall in a program sponsored by International Labor Defense, a legal defense organization then headed by the Workers Party of the United States.
- Read reviews of the performance from the New York Times (16 December 1935) and New York Post (16 December 1935) and Dance Observer (Jan. 1936)
Premier: 23 February 1936, Guild Theatre, New York City
- Horizons (Music by Louis Horst)
In February, Graham receives an invitation to appear at the Olympics, to be held in Berlin, Germany. On 14 March, she sends a letter, which declines the invitation.
- Read articles related to Graham's declining the invitation to Germany from Rockford Register-Republican (14 March 1936), New York Times (13 March 1936), New York World Telegram (13 March 1936), Akron Times Press (19 March 1936), Philadelphia Jewish Times (20 March 1936), Dance Observer (April 1936), New York Herald Tribune (13 March 1936), Variety (18 March 1936), Boston Transcript (2 April 1936), Knoxville News Sentinel (29 March 1936), New York Sun (13 March 1936), New Theater (May 1936), and Christian Science Monitor (29 April 1936)
Premier: 7 April 1936, Philharmonic Auditorium, Los Angeles
- Salutation (Music by Lehman Engel)
Premier: 20 December 1936, Guild Theatre, New York City
- Chronicle (Music by Wallingford Riegger)
14 February 1937
Graham appears as a speaker at a symposium titled "Nazi War Over Europe," sponsored by the American Committee for Anti-Nazi Literature, New York City. Read article from the Dance Observer.
25 February 1937
At the invitation of President Franklin D. and Mrs. Roosevelt, Graham is the first dancer to appear at the White House.
- View program from the event
- Read an article written by Eleanor Roosevelt printed in the Pittsburgh Press
Premier: 30 July 1937, Bennington School of the Dance, Burlington, VT
Premier: 19 December 1937, Guild Theatre, New York City
- Deep Song (Music by Henry Cowell)
Premier: 26 December 1937, Guild Theater, New York
- American Lyric (Music by Alex North)
Graham takes Erick Hawkins, the first male, into her ensemble. Hawkins appears courtesy of Ballet Caravan and performs in American Document.
Premier: 6 August 1938, Vermont State Armory, Bennington, VT
- American Document (Music by Ray Green)
In December Graham publishes an article, "This Modern Dance," in London's Dancing Times.
5 February 1939
Graham participates in the Second Annual Dance for Spain, presented by the Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy.
In May, Graham and her group appear at the New York World's Fair.
- Read an article from the Dance Observer
- View a photo from the New York World's Fair by Barbara Morgan
Premier: 27 December 1939, St. James Theatre, New York City
Merce Cunningham becomes the second male to join Graham's company.
15 February 1940
Graham and her Company appear as guest artists in a concert with Betty Carper and Group, Lyric Theater, Richmond, VA.
Premier: 11 August 1940 Bennington College Theater, Bennington, CT
5 June 1941
Via a German radio program, Dr. Otto Koishwitz addresses a talk to Graham. The NBC Shortwave Monitoring Service provided a transcript to Graham.
Premier: 10 August 1941, Bennington College Theater, Bennington, VT
- Punch and the Judy (Music by Robert McBride)
The name of the company is changed to the Martha Graham Dance Company during the summer of 1941.
On behalf of Graham, Erick Hawkins begins a dialogue with arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge that leads to the eventual commissioning of Appalachian Spring (1944, music by Aaron Copland), Herodiade (1944, music by Paul Hindemith) Imagined Wing (1944, music by Darius Milhaud), Dark Meadow (1946, music by Carlos Chávez), and Night Journey (1947, music by William Schuman).
- Letter from Erick Hawkins to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, May 21, 1942
- Letter from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge to Erick Hawkins, May 29, 1942
- Letter from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge to Erick Hawkins, June 16, 1942
- Letter from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge to Erick Hawkins, October 10, 1942
Premier: 14 March 1942, Chicago Civic Opera House
- Land Be Bright (Music by Arthur Kreutz)
Premier: 18 July 1943, Bennington College, Bennington, CT
- Deaths and Entrances (Music by Hunter Johnson)
Premier: 26 December 1943, 46th Street Theater, New York City
- Salem Shore (Music by Paul Nordoff)
Premier: 30 October 1944, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Sets by Isamu Noguchi; Costumes by Edythe Gilfond
- Appalachian Spring (Music by Aaron Copland)
- Herodiade (Music by Paul Hindemith)
- Imagined Wing (Music by Darius Mihaud)
Premier: 23 January 1946, Plymouth Theater, New York City
- Dark Meadow (Music by Carlos Chávez)
Premier: 10 May 1946, McMillin Theater, Columbia University, New York City
- Cave of the Heart (Music by Samuel Barber)
Premier: 28 February 1947, Ziegfeld Theater, New York City
- Errand into the Maze (Music by Gian-Carlo Menotti)
Premier: 3 May 1947, Cambridge High School, Boston, MA
- Night Journey (Music by William Schuman)
Premier: 13 August 1948, Connecticut College, New London, CT
- Diversion of Angels (Music by Norman Dello Joio)
Graham did not choreograph any new works in 1949.