Martha (Magill Book Reviews)
Agnes de Mille is a distinguished choreographer known for such Broadway shows as OKLAHOMA! and CAROUSEL, as well as the author of numerous books on dance. In MARTHA she turns to the subject of the great modern dance choreographer, Martha Graham (1894-1991), who created an immense body of masterpieces and single-handedly revitalized the twentieth century stage in America. The book’s main narrative ends in 1987, before Graham’s death, but de Mille still manages to trace the essential trajectory of Graham’s life: beginning, middle, and end.
The Martha Graham portrayed here is a great Romantic artist, suffering for her art, possessed by her muse and oblivious to more mundane matters. The basic elements of such a life are standard from other biographies of Romantic genius: single-minded devotion to art that destroys all such minor impediments as other people, humble beginnings with starvation for the art turning into later years of too-great opulence and honor that threaten to collapse the gift. De Mille’s Graham is a tortured genius in the grand style: ruthless, cruel, constantly liking for live, ungracious in defeat yet continually striving.
Graham began her career in the Denishawn school in Los Angeles, them moved to New York in the 1920’s where she gathered around herself a group of dedicated women dancers. She began to choreograph for men in the late 1930’s, and by 1950 had produced a string of masterpieces, many of them versions...
(The entire section is 357 words.)
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Martha (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Agnes de Mille is a distinguished choreographer known for such Broadway shows as Oklahoma! (1943) and Carousel (1945); she is also the author of numerous books on dance. In Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham, she turns to the subject of the great modern dance choreographer Martha Graham (1894-1991), who created an immense body of masterpieces and single-handedly revitalized the twentieth century stage in America. The book’s narrative ends in 1987, before Graham’s death, but de Mille still manages to trace the essential trajectory of Graham’s life. De Mille’s work serves as a major addition to the shelf of books by and concerning Graham, complementing especially the earlier, slightly more prosaic biography of Graham by Don McDonagh (Martha Graham: A Biography, 1973).
The interest of this book comes to a certain extent from de Mille’s zippy prose style and to a certain extent from the author’s real understanding of the nature of creative turmoil. Most essentially, however, it is created by the inherent power of the story de Mille has chosen to tell. It is both a tragedy and a hymn to greatness, combining an appreciation for the importance of Graham’s work with personal reflections on the price paid in human terms for this achievement, a price paid both by Graham and by those she drew to her. Moreover, for de Mille, these two aspects of Graham’s life are related. She writes: “William Butler Yeats...
(The entire section is 2041 words.)