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An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary

May 11, 2011

Google doodle celebrates "mother of modern dance" Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary by showing dancers performing a series of flowing, emphatic Graham-esque moves. The whirling trails of their limbs spell out the six letters of the google search engine's name.

An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary
The movements of the dancers in the Google doodle are based on dance moves conceived of by Graham in the Twenties and Thirties
An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary The Fine Arts Center kicked off its 75th anniversary celebration Tuesday night with a powerhouse appearance by the Martha Graham Dance Company.

The house was full. So were the first-come folding chairs at the back of the SaGaJi Theatre. More important than bodies, though, was the palpable excitement coursing through hall. This was an event with a capital "E" and every person in that room likely knew at least one person who wanted to be there but were too slow reserving tickets.

Graham, already a revolutionary dancer and choreographer when she christened that stage in 1936, puzzled The Gazette reviewer with her barefoot soliloquy to grief, "Lamentation," and other works. And the impact of her vision hasn't lessened one bit. They are just as breathtaking, electric and yes, puzzling, as they were when she made them.

The first half explored a handful of suites from "Dance is a Weapon," which collaged the vision of multiple artists -- including Isadora Duncan, Eve Gentry and Sophie Maslow. The most powerful works were "Time is Money," which borrowed from the very modernist attraction to words over music and "Steps in the Street" and "Prelude to Action," which sidestepped narrative in favor of raw emotion and political subtext.

The dancers were admirably precise and inevitably elegant, as if each tiny gesture were triggered by a cog and an arm and a key turned in a vast corporeal machine.

In the second half, the company replayed the emblematic work "Lamentation," this time through the eyes of three young choreographers. Called "Lamentation Variations," the works took the theme to sometimes more playful, more intimate and even more overtly narrative places." "Move Variations," which featured Katherine Crockett, was Graham stark but with dappled light and less declarative modern feel. Likewise, the "Keigwin Variation," which saw the full company not only embodying grief as Graham had intended, but living it in every angular jab, every clenched fist and thrust chest, every nervous, defiant slide.

Finally, artistic director Janet Eilber narrated a sampling from Graham's great collaboration with composer Aaron Copland, "Appalachian Springs." In it, she sought to portray an essential American-ness of Big Sky country and the pioneers and dreamers who made it home. It is unmistakably modern, but in contrast with the other works, "Appalachian Spring" radiated a rosy, raw boned glow. Not nostalgic, although it might inspire nostalgia, but sturdy and honest, just as Graham saw America itself. 


Dance critics say Graham, who died in 1991 at the age of 96, was to modern dance as Pablo Picasso was to modern art.

An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary
Modern: Members of the Martha Graham dance ensemble perform 'Steps in the Street' during the final dress rehearsal of Martha Graham Dance Company 80th Anniversary gala in New York



She is credited with developing a new and codified dance vocabulary that broke the mold of traditional choreography and established a lasting alternative to the ballet tradition.

The five movements the dancers in the doodle make are actually concepts and moves Graham invented in the Twenties and Thirties.

Graham, a Pittsburgh-born daughter of a mental health physician, choreographed more than 180 works and continued to perform until the age of 75, giving her last performance in 1979.

She was the first dancer to perform at The White House, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom among other honours.

Her legacy lives on with the Martha Graham dance company and centre for contemporary dance, which is based in new York.
Modern: Members of the Martha Graham dance ensemble perform 'Steps in the Street' during the final dress rehearsal of Martha Graham Dance Company 80th Anniversary gala in New York

A few weeks ago Google provoked much speculation after celebrating the anniversary of the ice cream sundae with a doodle.

The picture was supposedly to mark the 119th anniversary of the dessert's creation, but online blogs were buzzing with claims Google will shortly release an 'Ice Cream' operating system.

Last month, Google paid tribute to what would have been the 200th birthday of Bunsen burner inventor Robert Bunsen with an animated doodle showing a flame changing colour from blue to purple as various chemicals bubble brightly in pots and test tubes.

In February, the search engine marked Valentine's Day with a tribute to artist Robert Indiana's famous 'LOVE' sculpture.

Its homepage exhibited a remodelled version of the landmark piece of Pop Art.

The doodle kept the simple red, blue and green colour of the original art and replaced the first 'O' in Google with a love heart, while slanting it's second 'O' in homage.

That same month the search engine marked the 183rd anniversary of the birth of French science-fiction writer Jules Verne.

That doodle turned the Google logo into a cluster of submarine portholes of a distinctly vintage variety.

Behind these windows lay an ocean peacefully splashing away - but users were able to control the depth and direction of the submarine using the lever to the right of the logo.

Perhaps Google's most famous interactive Google Doodle was the Pac Man game last May. The playable game was posted online to mark the 30th birthday of the classic arcade title.

An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary

An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary

An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary

An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary

An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary

An ode to Martha Graham on her 117th anniversary