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Famous Pittsburghers: Martha Graham (1894-1991)

Martha Graham was born in 1894 in a small city outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her father was an "alienist," the term then used to describe a physician who specialized in human psychology. Dr. Graham was particularly interested in the way people used their bodies, an interest that he passed on to his eldest daughter. In later years, Martha Graham often repeated her father's dictum: "movement never lies."

Though the dances Graham created in the late 1920s were derivative of Denishawn pieces, by 1930 she was beginning to identify a new system of movement and new principles of choreography.

Critics and audiences soon became accustomed to Graham's innovative style of movement and she developed a following among serious dance patrons, scholars and critics.

Graham's movement system and her theory of contraction and release are central to the development of modern dance in the United States.

Graham was the first modern dance choreographer to fully use collaborations with other modern artists to create her dance theatre masterpieces. Her collaboration with Isamu Noguchi and Aaron Copland in "Appalachian Spring," for example, remains one of the dance's great masterpieces. 

Martha Graham produced some of the greatest masterpieces of the American modern dance. She danced and choreographed for over seventy years. Graham was the first dancer ever to perform at the White House, travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and receive the highest civilian award of the USA: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.The Martha Graham Dance Company is still a vital force and can be seen in residence in New York City and on tour. 

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