This post discusses the benefits of Graham Technique and the teaching by Jean Christophe who taught at the Laban Summer Intensive.
I first took a Graham class in 2006 when I attended a class taught by Ruth Mills. I have attended workshops by Ruth on a number of occasions. I have also been taught Graham by Megan Curet | Trinity Laban and Fred Gehrig | Trinity Laban. And at the dance summer intensives on 5 occasions by Jean Christope. It does not get easier!!!
I do not have video clips of me doing Graham exercises, so I have found some on the web. These are similar to the ones I have completed. I may add a clip of me completing the extended sequence I learnt in Laban for the Summer School final performance and discuss how this was used to build a routine involving all class members. This provides a good learning reference for me.
Graham Technique &lt;img src=”https://d5nxst8fruw4z.cloudfront.net/atrk.gif?account=iDl/m1aMp4Z35T” style=”display:none” height=”1″ width=”1″ alt=”” /&gt;
As a dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham broke the rules defined by ballet dance. She ignited the revolution known as modern dance by combining creating a dance technique based on contraction-release, spirals and formal exaggerations of “natural” movements with groundbreaking choreography (such as Appalachian Spring) that often questioned cultural beliefs. Her unique dance vocabulary evolved over the years to meet her changing choreographic needs, but was eventually codified into a standard syllabus, and now, Graham-based movement is taught in studios around the world.
I noticed in the classes I attended and in the ones I teach that in general Jazz Dancers found achieving the contraction and release simpler than ballet dancers but that ballet dancers had more of the technique needed for control, weight placement and alignment found in Graham.
How To Prepare
If you’re new to Graham, spend a day paying attention to your breathing and how it changes with different activities, recommends Christine Dakin, former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and co-artistic director from 2002-2005. In class, those observations will help you better understand how to use breath efficiently as you move through fundamental concepts like contraction and release. Additionally, since Graham Technique emphasizes spirals in the body, observing the form and energy of spirals in nature—in plants, for instance—may help you understand how the pelvis and spine work together in twisting and curving the torso.
Here’s a list of the basic vocabulary of the Martha Graham’s dance technique:
– Contraction and release
– Deep stretches
– Turns around the back
– Graham plies (with contractions and S arms)
– Foot work with spirals and contractions
– Side contractions and fan kicks
– Circular walks
– Step draws
While Graham’s is a codified technique, with a set series of seated floor exercises, standing exercises and across-the-floor sequences, there are various ways of presenting material from the syllabus. When teaching a master class to students who are unfamiliar with Graham, Dakin sometimes adjusts exercises to hone in on one concept at a time. “In the regular exercises, there are multiple principles at play, but I might modify an exercise to just focus on the way the pelvis moves in contraction. Then later I’ll focus an exercise on spirals,” she explains. That way students can experience each concept individually, rather than trying to grasp many ideas at once.
- Floor work work on the floor for thirty to forty minutes. Students begin with “bounces” of the torso in three seated positions, and perform contraction exercises and kneeling combinations. The floor exercises emphasize core strength and stability, explore the articulation of the spine and torso, and start to coordinate the arms, legs and head.
- Standing exercises The floorwork exercises transition up to standing combinations, which work the legs, feet, and torso, and train balance and control.
- Across the floor These traveling combinations begin with simple walking exercises, and increase in complexity to include jumps and leaping turns. Students traditionally consider this section an opportunity for “real” dancing, in contrast to the other sections’ duly executed technical training.
- Falls Each fall consists of a contraction and concurrent move from the feet or knees to the back. The falls are meant to demonstrate control of the body at each of the vertical levels previously practiced.[9
- A typical Graham class begins on the floor with a series of bounces forward in the Graham’s first sitting position. Seated contractions and spirals concentrating on breathing follow. Floor work continues in a seated fourth position with the back leg’s inner thigh on the floor, the front knee bent at 90 degrees and slightly elevated, and the ball of the front foot touching the floor. Other exercises in the second, third and fifth sitting positions follow until evolving to stand up.
- Here are some recommended readings for your research:Helpern, Alice. “The Technique of Martha Graham.” Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Morgan & Morgan, 1994. Originally published in Studies In Dance History 2, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 1991).
Horosko, Marian. “Martha Graham: The Evolution of Her Dance Theory and Training.” Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1991.
The following video might also be of your interest. The visual information seems to be really close to the source:
Fundamental principles in Graham Technique include contraction and release, opposition, shift of weight and spirals. (See “Listen Up and Move,” for a list of terms you’re likely to hear.) You should also be prepared for movement that is dramatic—even in the opening exercises—because Graham’s choreography is filled with vibrant, powerful characters. Don’t be afraid to bring your own experiences and emotions into the movement. “Martha and other early modern dancers were experimenting to find individual ways of creating art,” Dakin says. “Be daring every time you move. You’re not there to reproduce what someone else did. Individual exploration is inherent to class and Martha’s movement.”
Take risks in class—it’s key in Graham Technique to move with volume and energy. “It’s important that dancers not simply see themselves as objects in space. They need to expand their body, energy and focus so they are amplified enough to fill that space,” Dakin says. “Martha said that dance is never a competition. You’re only in competition with the person you know you can become. So, it’s important to move big—especially in a master class—and make big mistakes. Don’t be afraid, and don’t watch other people. You’re there to focus on developing yourself.”
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/>(2) Curet Dance Class in Laban
ts of a middle-advance level: