Magnificent Martha Graham

The release of Pina, Wim Wenders’s magical documentary tribute to the choreographer Pina Bausch, has put us in mind of the pioneering work of Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance. For a splendid sample of Graham’s legendary work, check out Criterion’s release Martha Graham: Dance on Film, comprising a series of television shows from the late 1950s created by Nathan Kroll, a musician turned film and TV producer who was devoted to bringing the performing arts to the masses. In two ballets—Appalachian Spring, filmed in 1958, and Night Journey, filmed in 1961—we see the beauty and mystery of Graham’s choreography, and in A Dancer’s World, filmed in1957, Graham addresses the camera, filling us in on her methodology as well as her philosophy on dance and movement. These are all elegantly composed, artful films in their own right. They are also invaluable documents of the work of one of the most important artists of the last century. Graham herself is one of the chief pleasures on offer here—her flinty yet fabulous personality is on full display in A Dancer’s World. In the clip below, watch Graham get into costume while expounding on the mysteries of the human body, and stick around for some beautiful moves by members of her company.

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