Martha Clarke was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 3, 1944. As the second child and only daughter in a financially secure and artistically inclined family, she was encouraged to pursue her creative interests at an early age. Her father was a lawyer who had been a jazz musician and songwriter. Her mother played the piano, and her mother’s father, a businessman, presented string quartets at his home on Tuesday nights and collected antique musical instruments. Shirley Clarke, the avant-garde filmmaker, was Martha’s aunt, on whose suggestion her niece was named after dancer/choreographer Martha Graham.
Clarke’s childhood was spent in Pikesville, Maryland. She attended a small private school in Baltimore, whose board of trustees included her father. At age six, she began studying dance at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and taking drawing lessons on Tuesday afternoons at the Baltimore Museum. Horseback riding was another favorite activity and one she pursued in the summers at the Perry-Mansfield Camp in Colorado. There, in 1957, she met Helen Tamiris, who cast her, at age thirteen, as a child in Ode to Walt Whitman. Clarke says that she was hooked on dancing from the first time she worked with Tamiris.
When Clarke was fifteen, Tamiris and Daniel Nagrin asked her to attend their first summer workshop in Maine. Nagrin hoped to make Clarke an apprentice in the new company they were forming. Instead, Clarke chose to attend the American Dance Festival in Connecticut, where she first met Louis Horst, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, José Limón, Charles Weidman, and Alvin Ailey, and where she first saw the work of Anna Sokolow, whose dramatic dances greatly impressed her.
The next year, when she applied to the Juilliard School, Horst was on her jury, and he encouraged her to begin classes immediately and skip her senior year in high school. At Juilliard, she studied dance composition with Horst, who inspired and intimidated her. Horst’s class in modern forms, in which dance studies are composed based on medieval and primitive art and Impressionist painting, was instrumental in developing her theatrical style.
Although Clarke was a Graham major and Horst was Graham’s associate, it was the work of Sokolow and Anthony Tudor to which the young student was attracted. For two years, she studied with Tudor and as a sophomore danced a large part in a small ballet that he choreographed. She admired Tudor’s work and its musicality. Also at Juilliard, she danced in the companies of Ethel Winter and Lucas Hoving, performing Suite for a Summer Day by the latter in 1962. She was in the first Dance Theater Workshop production with Jeff Duncan, after which she joined Sokolow’s company. During her three years with the company she appeared in Session for Six (at Juilliard), Lyric Suite, Time + 7, and Dreams. Clarke left the company because she found the work bleak and believed that she was becoming artistically limited.
Shortly after she was graduated from Juilliard, she married sculptor Philip Grausman, a Prix de Rome winner. For the first five years of their fifteen-year marriage (they were divorced in 1980), Clarke stopped dancing. The couple lived in Italy for part of this time, immersing themselves in the art world. Shortly after their return to the United States, their son David was born. Grausman was named artist-in-residence at Dartmouth College, but Clarke saw herself as a twenty-seven-year-old mother and retired Anna Sokolow dancer. She and her husband moved into a large farmhouse, which resembled her childhood home, and built a dance studio for Clarke.
By this time, the four men who started Pilobolus were already touring. Clarke met Alison Chase, the Pilobolus men’s dance teacher at Dartmouth, and the two became close friends. One of the members of Pilobolus, Robert Morgan Barnett, was an art major at Dartmouth and an assistant to Grausman....
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