‘Ballet for Martha’

When you hear the name ‘Martha Graham’, you do not usually think of the word ‘ballet’ so often, but rather ‘modern dance’ and ‘greatest modern dance choreographer’.

But Graham’s most famous and popular work ‘Appalachian Spring’, has a musical score by Aaron Copland, which he entitled ‘Appalachian Spring: Ballet for Martha’. When I was exploring more of her work, I found that most of her dances, while not ever using pointe shoes, or classical ballet technique, are often referred to as ‘ballets’. Graham is the only choreographer who has a separate technical method outside classical ballet technique, usually called only ‘Graham technique’. She did not become a dancer until 25, almost unheard of, but here she is in ‘Appalachian Spring’: “Graham technique is a modern dance movement style and pedagogy created by American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham (1894–1991). … Graham technique is based on the opposition between contraction and release, a concept based on the breathing cycle which has become a “trademark” of modern dance forms. :”

Image result for martha graham appalachian spring images
This is one of the very few films of Graham herself dancing, and the film Martha Graham in Performance is easily found on Amazon and eBay. It includes an introduction by Graham in her dressing room as she prepares herself to dance Jocasta in ‘Night Journey’, after which are followed whole forms of both ‘Night Journey’, with Bertram Ross as Oedipus, and ‘Appalachian Spring’ with Matt Turney as the ‘Pioneer Woman’ and Stuart Hodes as ‘The Husbandman’. She, like many other dances, thought that the essence of dance could not be captured by film, and that live performance cannot be substituted for. That’s eventually true, but reproduced versions are always worthwhile if you cannot attend a live performance, and as an introduction. And with these filmings, she put her own blessing on it.

The school’s teachers are veterans of the company and were taught by Graham in her school and company in the years before her death.


The company has always been based in New York City, but has changed locations since her death. There is always a season in New York, and sometimes more–most often at the Martha Graham Studio Theater but also at the Joyce Theater on 8th Avenue at 18th Street. But the company tours extensively. The next performances of the company will be in Vail, Colorado, on August 9, and will include this very ‘Ballet for Martha’, ‘Appalachian Spring’. If you are in the area and are interested, you can purchase tickets here: https://vaildance.org/event/martha-graham-dance-company-2019/ Tickets are $50-100.

From August 14-17 the company will be performing in one of their favourite venues, Jacob’s Pillow, at the Ted Shawn Theater in Becket, Massachusetts. This program will also include ‘Appalachian Spring’, but also the all-female ‘Chronicle’ Tickets are available here, and those on sale now are $75, $65, and $45: https://www.jacobspillow.org/events/martha-graham-dance-company/

A free performance on Sunday, August 18, 2019, beginning at 1:00 is offered in Williamstown, Massachusetts, at the Clark:

Martha Graham Dance Company
For more informatio n, look here: https://www.clarkart.edu/ImportedEvents/1435-43689

Going into the Autumn, the Company can be seen again at the Martha Graham Studio here in New York at the Graham Studio Series, where tickets start at $25, $15 for students. You may purchase tickets here: http://www.marthagraham.org/studioseries/ for performances, including the Depression-era ballet ‘Steps in the Street’, from September 24 through September 27.

October finds the Company at the Modlin Center for the Arts in Richmond, Virginia on October 9/10 https://modlin.richmond.edu/ and at the Jesse H. Jones Hall in Houston, Texas at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, with ticket prices starting at $39 https://www.spahouston.org/performances/martha-graham-dance-company/ The Houston performance will also include ‘Chronicle’, in celebration of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote to women.

Still within 2019 is another Graham Studio Series in New York, where you can meet choreographers who are making new work for the company.

http://www.marthagraham.org/studioseries/ Tickets for this November 5-6 series are the same as the above: $25, and $15 for students with valid ID.

Montclair, New Jersey sees the company again with the 75th year of ‘Appalachian Spring’

Auditions Peak Performances Featured

Here we see almost the exact same set and costumes worn in the late 50s film with Martha herself, dancing to ‘Simple Gifts’ with The Husbandman, as the Pioneer Woman looks on. https://peakperfs.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=1631&ActCode=164132 Tickets begin at $30 for these 4 nights of performances–November 14-17 at the Alexander Kasser Theater, and include a new work by Troy Schumacher, ‘Auditions’, with music by Augusta Reed Thomas. This work is meant to resonate with the great Graham masterpiece.

The final stop is once again the company’s home, New York City, with ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, a holiday event, in the Graham Studio Series on December 7, 2019. http://www.marthagraham.org/studioseries/


The body of work by Martha Graham over many decades is so immense that this barely scratches the surface. But, having seen a number of Martha Graham Dance Company performances live, I hope I have given at least some people and idea of where to look for performances if they live near any of these venues or will be travelling to them.

I welcome any comments to this site, and any queries about biographies about Graham I will be glad to answer, including the book on Martha’s on Notes for many of her dances, which is available online and is very illuminating, bringing a deeper appreciation of these already profound works, which you can enjoy (at least in many cases) without knowing too much about them. But the more we know, the more enhancement we find, especially in an artist as towering as Martha Graham.

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