Modern dance pioneer Martha Graham was born on this day, May 11, in 1894. In the 1930’s, Martha Graham’s dance studio was located at 66 5th Avenue. This part of the Village was a hotbed of social activism, and Graham’s choreography, especially in pieces such as Panorama and Chronicle, was influenced by this. You can read more about this in Ellen Graff’s book Stepping Left.
Three years ago, Martha Graham Dance Company (which will soon be celebrating its 90th anniversary), and Martha Graham School relocated to the 11th floor of Westbeth, on West Street and the corner of Bethune Street. I spoke to artistic director Janet Eilber, who told me that the light and space of this studio have brought a new, higher level of “physical and psychic energy” to the dancers.
Of course, shortly after they moved into Westbeth, Hurricane Sandy arrived. As the basement of the building flooded, everything that the company had stored there was damaged or destroyed. The loss of costumes, equipment, sets (including those designed by Isamu Noguchi), and documents was devastating, although Janet told me that the company did not miss a single performance. Sometimes it meant borrowing costumes from other companies, but the show must go on!
It’s also worth mentioning that, early in her career, Martha Graham was involved with the Greenwich Village Follies. (You can read more about that here.) How fitting that the company and school that continue her work are now back at home in the Village. If you have not seen Martha Graham Dance Company, and if you have not been to the Studio Theatre in Westbeth, do yourself a favor and go. Tickets are affordable and the experience is amazing.
GVSHP is planning to unveil a plaque honoring Martha Graham at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9. The unveiling festivities will be at 66 Fifth Avenue (at 13th Street), where Graham had her studio in the 1930s and 40s. Stay tuned for details.