Martha Graham (1894-1991) is recognized as a primal artistic force of the 20th century alongside James Joyce, Pablio Picasso, Igor Stravinksy, and Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1998, TIME Magazine named Graham the "Dancer of the Century" and she was also named one of People Magazine's female "Icons of the Century". As a choreographer, she was a prolific as she was complex. She created 181 ballets and the modern dance dance technique that have been compared to ballet in its scope and magnitude. Many great modern and ballet choreographers have studied the Martha Graham technique or have been members of her company.
In 1926, Graham founded her dance company and school, living and working out of a tiny Carnegie Hall studio in midtown Manhattan. In developing her technique, she experimented endlessly with basic human movement, beginning with the most elemental movements of contraction and release. Using these principles as the foundation for her technique, she built a vocabulary of movement that would "increase the emotional activity of the dancer's body." Graham's ballets were inspired by a wide variety of sources, including modern painting, the American frontier, Native American religious ceremonies, and Greek mythology.
During her 70 years of creating, Martha Graham collaborated with other talented artists such as Ismu Noguchi, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, William Shuman, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Madonna.
She created roles for classical ballet stars such as Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nueyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, welcoming them as guests into her company.
Her unique American vision earned her numerous honors and awards, such as the Medal of Freedom and the United States National Medal of Arts.