In his foreword, Terry states that he reveres Graham “as a great woman” and cherishes her “as a very dear friend.” He is frankly admiring of her work, but, as a critic, he remains objective and analytical in his approach. When Graham began her independent work in the late 1920’s, there were few dance critics; performances were customarily reviewed in newspapers by the music critic, who had little knowledge or background in the language of movement. Graham once said that she would prefer to be reviewed by a sportswriter over a music critic because at least the sportswriter “can see and appraise the only instrument the dancer has, a body.” Dance critics came into existence in 1927 through the pressuring of the Denishawn troupe, founded by St. Denis and her husband, Ted Shawn; a few years later, the author of Frontiers of Dance, Walter Terry, joined their ranks. Yet few critics could evaluate or translate the works of the prominent modern dancers, and the general public was puzzled and antagonized by what they did not understand.
Terry concentrates upon the major events of Graham’s career rather than upon her personal life. By mid-1925, she had left the Denishawn company and vaudeville to teach at the Eastman School of Music, where she began to develop her own talents. Composer Louis Horst, her first real love, recognized her genius and helped her to shape her “divine discontent” into artistic form.
Terry paints a vivid picture of the struggles of dancers in those early days. Money was scarce, but through teaching at the Robert Milton-John Murray Anderson School of Theatre, Graham managed to eke out a meager existence through the 1930’s. Those in her company who were less fortunate worked as waiters or clerks during the day and rehearsed and performed at...
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A problem that twentieth century biographers face is the accumulation of too much material. In Frontiers of Dance, Terry has managed to condense reviews, records, and interviews into a readable work accessible to young people. Terry’s critical understanding of modern dance allows him to provide valuable interpretations of particular works, and his personal friendship with Graham adds interesting anecdotal material.
The career of Graham serves to inspire not only those who are interested in dance but also those seeking encouragement for a unique path of their own. As Graham once said, “Each of us is unique and if you don’t fulfill that uniqueness in whatever course your life may take, in whatever position you may hold, it is lost for all time.” Although Graham was not part of the feminist movement, her life and work illustrate her understanding and commitment to the female experience. Many of her dances were portraits of particular women, such as Dickinson, the Brontës, Clytemnestra, and Medea, and in most of the others the central figure is a woman. Graham revolutionized modern dance and influenced all who came after her. Her legacy, as described by Terry in Frontiers of Dance, is composed of luminous performances, masterpieces of choreography, and an indomitable spirit.