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The Martha Graham Legacy Project

Jeanne Suggs

The goal of the project is the Documentation and Preservation of the Martha Graham Dance Technique. We will be producing in association with the Martha Graham Dance Company, comprehensive, interactive digital video files of the Intermediate and Advanced exercises and movements. MARTHA GRAHAM worked tirelessly to invent a new language of dance, one that could reveal the passion, the rage and the ecstasy that is part of the human experience. Our goal is to document these exercises as Martha Graham taught them-with the counts, positioning, energy and movement flow.

Details
The Documentation of the Martha Graham Technique

Project Objectives
Our project is  the creation of a complete, comprehensive documentation of the modern dance technique of Martha Graham. Three interactive 2 hour DVDs with detailed explanations of each exercise along with commentary from dancers that worked with Ms. Graham will be produced.  In addition dance historians will provide the cultural and historical context in which Ms. Graham created her work. 

The primary objective is the preservation of the Martha Graham technique with an easy to use record of her movement vocabulary.  The need to do this now is imperative since 20 years have passed since Martha Graham’s death at age 96, and the first generation of dancers who worked with her  in her early days are now in their 80’s and 90's. Dance Spotlight plans to document the technique as Martha Graham created and taught it, using the crucial input of this living legacy.  The interactive DVDs produced in this project will document, analyze and preserve the exercises and sequences which make up the movement vocabulary of the Graham technique.  We will record sequences in a way that captures the proper emphasis, proper placement and alignment, and emotional significance of the technique.  Our aim is to recapture the anatomical direction that was essential to Ms. Graham.  This invaluable reference will allow the continuity of a more accurate technique and the ability to learn the movements necessary to perform the Graham choreography. We intend to document all generations of the technique including some movements from the early years that need to be resurrected from recordings. The DVDs will teach the language of the technique so dancers can use it either to express the emotions of the repertory or to create new works.  

In addition to documenting the technique sequences, Dance Spotlight will interview key members of the Martha Graham Company who worked directly with Martha Graham.  These members will provide their invaluable first-hand insights into the technique, including how it was intended to be danced and performed, and how it evolved over time.  These interviews will add an important element of oral history, as well as a fascinating personal and historic context, to the documentation of the technique.  
   
Why Preserve the Graham Technique
Martha Graham changed the direction of dance in America.  She was one of the foremost pioneers in modern dance—a revolutionary. She worked tirelessly to invent a new language of dance, one that could reveal the passion, the rage and the ecstasy that is part of the human experience.  This new language of dance was different from everything that preceded it, and left everything that came after it indelibly changed.                     

Pieces from the repertory choreographed by Martha Graham have been recorded, but the elements which make up the movement vocabulary have not been documented or recorded in a comprehensive and systematic method. The technique takes on individual character with each teacher and choreographer so it gradually evolves away from the original.  Also choreography is often changed if dancers can’t perform certain movements.  In order for the technique to be properly executed and the choreography of Graham to be performed into the future accurately and technically well, a thorough teaching tool and documentation of the technique is essential.  It will enable dancers to understand, recreate and interpret the unique Graham movement vocabulary. Without well trained dancers and teachers of the technique, choreographers don’t have the tools with which to create and keep the technique alive.   

The Graham technique is taught in major dance schools, universities, colleges, and dance companies around the world.  This project will provide greater knowledge of and access to this extraordinary legacy.  These DVDs will be available to students, teachers, libraries, and the public around the world. They will have an enormous impact and be a lasting, cultural gift to future generations.     

The Team Production Company
Producers Babette Coffey-Fisch and Jeanne Suggs, the principals of Dance Spotlight, were brought together because of their love of dance.  They accomplished the complete documentation of the Lester Horton dance technique, which is taught and used around the world as well as being the foundational technique of the Alvin Ailey School.  They had the dream of documenting the Graham technique and were approached by the Graham Company to do the documentation.  The producers and the Graham Company recognized the historical importance of getting it done and the necessity of the documentation for the preservation of the technique.  

Dance Director
Miki Orihara, has worked in the Martha Graham Dance Company since 1987 and is currently one of their principal dancers.  Beginning in 1981, Miki Orihara studied intensely with Yuriko, a key person on whom Martha Graham shaped her technique.  Yuriko danced with the Graham Company from 1944 to 1967. As Yuriko was Martha Graham’s assistant, Miki became Yuriko’s assistant. Miki has worked with Yuriko to analyze and define the technique as Martha Graham taught it. Miki has the desire and passion to see this project through completion in order to preserve the technique.  

Project Format
The documentation of the Martha Graham technique is designed to be produced in 3 stages—beginner, intermediate and advanced—in 3 successive years, 2011, 2012 and 2013.  This timetable allows the dancers participating in the documentation to be trained in the full range of the exercises.  This is especially necessary for the perfection of those exercises which are not regularly taught but should be included.   

The project intends to make use of current technology to enhance the teaching aspect of the videos and increase ease of access to additional explanations and instruction.  The videos will be released on DVD because currently that is the most popular and accessible medium for the projected audience of dance teachers and students.  

These will be interactive DVDs with 2 levels of video.  The top level of video is a full 75-90 minute class.  The viewer can choose to play the class in its entirety without stopping; or by clicking on the video during any exercise while they are viewing it, the viewer can access a second layer, with more explanation, details, and slow motion footage of each exercise.   A final (fourth) DVD will contain interviews with former Martha Graham Company members, giving their insights on the technique and particular movements, as well as personal memories of Ms. Graham.