Opening stretch (02:27)
Single, double, triple contractions (01:18)
High release (in 6) (01:26)
Contraction w/rebound (in 9) (01:11)
Feet coming forward (02:03)
Opening of the leg (04:22)
Deep contractions (02:58)
Spirals around the back (03:12)
Back leg extension (02:25)
Plié (in 6) (05:45)
Tendu Dégagés (01:38)
Coupe/passé/passé w/plie (01:26)
Lunges w/S curve (01:29)
Prances (in 8 & 10) (Slow) (00:57)
Prances (in 8 & 10) (Fast) (00:47)
Triplets (slow) (02:16)
Triplets (quick) (01:53)
Graham walks (02:26)
Leaps (in 3) (01:27)
Leaps (in 2/4) (01:38)
Contractions w/back attitude press (01:49)
Tendu w/leg swings (8 & 10) (01:21)
Music For Martha
When I first became acquainted with the Graham technique, I began by researching Graham’s work. I also viewed many video interviews of Martha Graham to gain a sense of Graham as a person, my first video I watched was Martha Graham on Technique.
Because there are no written instructions or books of sheet music specific to accompanying Graham’s technique classes, I had to rely on improvisation and music visualization. For further inspiration, I viewed and listened to A Tribute to Martha Graham, then would go back to the classroom and musically mimic what I heard using improvised interpretations as I began to draft the music for each of the dance combinations. My improvised interpretations quickly became the framework for the various combinations in the Graham technique classes.
After researching the Graham codified technique, I understood that everything about Miss Graham’s technique was intentionally different from ballet technique; in Graham technique classes, the music is expected to be full of harmonic tension or played dramatically with strong syncopated accents to support her style of dance expression. After reading Horst and Russell’s Modern Dance Forms, it became clearer that Graham’s intention was to create a system of training in modern dance. Her system of training defied ballet technique and created a new American style and pedagogy movement in the modern dance movement of the 1920s. The phrase ‘Graham technique’ was registered as a trademark before Graham’s death and was the subject of a trademark dispute in the early 2000s.
The Graham technique is taught by dance companies and universities throughout the world and became the first enduring alternative to the idiom of classical ballet. “Powerful, dynamic, jagged and filled with tension, this vocabulary combined with Miss Graham’s distinctive system of training to set her above other dance innovators” (Kisselgoff, 1).
Virginie Mécène, director of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, describes Graham’s three signature moves: “the contraction, the release, and the spiral”. “The Graham contraction is a C-curve of the spine”. “The release is the response to the contraction, which returns the spine to a neutral position or opens the breastbone to the sky”. “The spiral is a twisting of the torso that starts at the pelvis and then moves up the body”. “Combinations of these three movements allow the dancer to project out into space” (2011, Dance Spirit). The contraction and release were both the basis for Graham’s weighted and grounded style. Graham utilized the weight of the body against the floor without denying gravity. Graham’s technique is based on the opposition between contraction and release, a concept developed on the breathing cycle, which has become a trademark of modern dance forms.
“The breathing cycle is something we are born with and have until our final breath” (Martha Graham). However, not all of Graham’s movement is forceful; her spiraling of the torso around the axis of the spine with the use of the arms is smooth and connected legato. The Graham technique is known for its unique dramatic and expressive qualities and distinctive floor work; dance critic Anna Kisselgoff described it as “powerful, dynamic, jagged and filled with tension” (Kisselgoff, 1).
Musically, I was drawn to the dramatic side of Graham’s taste of dance expression and chose to create intentionally short compositions that are dissonant, and, at times, allowing the piano to play a role that is more percussive than harmonic or melodic.
I began to write my compositions by using an improvisatory approach sublimated (modified) for each of the dance combinations. The framework of my pieces became set, as I found it necessary, for the beginning dance students, to play concisely (in tempo). I also found the use of repetition was critical, especially when the dance combinations were repeated or performed on the other side of the body (left and right, often referred to as reversed or flipped).
My original pieces are composed specifically for beginning Graham technique classes. In my compilation, the music differs from piece to piece and they are numerically arranged to follow the format of a typical beginning Graham technique class. Graham technique classes begin grounded, sitting on the floor, known as floor work, which works the legs, feet, and torso, and trains the student in balance and grounded body control. The floor work combinations transition to an upright standing position and include across-the-floor and standing combinations these include Graham walks, spirals, leaps, falls, jumps, and many other combinations. The floor work begins the first part of a Graham technique class and at the college level usually lasts around thirty minutes by the mid-semester. The Graham technique classes I’ve played for begin with opening stretches which allow the muscles of the body to warm up. Other floor combinations include bounces and single, double, and triple contractions and releases in three seated positions. Additional floor combination vocabulary includes high releases, contraction with rebound, feet coming forward, the opening of the leg, deep contractions, spirals around the back, back leg extension, and pleadings. The across-the-floor combinations and standing floor combinations emphasize the body’s core strength, stability, and balance, and incorporate the hands, arms, feet, legs, and head movements.
The audio portion of my project consists of twenty-five musical compositions. I use little manipulation of the timing such as rallentando (gradually getting slower) and accelerandos (increasing in speed). I use consistent cadences throughout my compilation and do not use fermatas (a pause of unspecified length on a note or rest) or grand pauses. An exception is at the ending of each piece of music for the floor work combinations, where I use a rallentando to end each piece of music, allowing for the dance students to perform a final stretch of the body. I use accents, such as subito sforzando (sfz)(a sudden loudness with force) to accent contractions and strikes (dance term associated with the Graham technique). Harmonically, I chose to use primarily minor chords, pedal points, inverted pedal points, tritones, and dissonant poly-chords with a percussive feel.