Choreographer Graham’s film ‘A Dancer’s World’ to be presented by her former student

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

Modern Choreographer Martha Graham thought dance to be a “graph of the heart.”

As not the first, but one of the most original modern dancers of her time, Graham was a revolutionary of sorts. She brought modern choreography to the forefront of the industry, insisting for a while that ballet should have nothing to do with it. She of course changed her mind, slowly incorporating turned-out feet in to her movements.

Bonnie Crosby, founding co-president of the Chautauqua Dance Circle, was a student of Graham’s. She was a ballet-oriented dancer who happened to study at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.

Crosby will introduce the 1957 film “A Dancer’s World” at 3:30 p.m. today in Smith Wilkes Hall as part of CDC’s weekly lecture series.

She said she chose this video as a way to educate the audience on a style of dancing often not seen on the grounds.

“There is so little of a modern dance scene at Chautauqua,” Crosby said. “We see contemporary ballet, but we don’t see modern dance in the style of Martha Graham, who was after all, I think, the forerunner of, and her technique the forerunner of, most modern dance companies today.”

Graham narrates the 30-minute film, as she was not able to dance at this point. The video takes the viewer through her philosophies as members of her company display her technique. Crosby studied with several dancers in the film, she said.

Graham herself did not start dancing until she was in her 20s. She first studied under Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn until deciding to branch out on her own, Crosby said. She started her own company, the Martha Graham Dance Company, in 1929.

Graham worked closely with Louis Horst, a pianist and composer. Graham viewed Horst as her confidante, Crosby said. He pushed her to define her technique and became a major figure in modern dance as well.

As Graham’s career progressed, she continued to dance well past her prime.

Time magazine described her movements as the “cornerstone of postwar modern dance.”

“They are part of the air every contemporary dancer breathes,” Terry Teachout of Time wrote in 1998.

But Crosby said it’s often noted that Graham could have, and should have, stopped dancing long before she actually did. Time also wrote that she danced into her 70s, unwilling to let younger soloists take her place on stage. She died at age 96.

Nevertheless, her legacy remains. Crosby said she remembers Graham as a theatrical character, as do many who worked under Graham. Though she rarely taught at her school when Crosby was a student, she said her presence was palpable.

“When she was there, she made her grand entrance,” Crosby said, also describing her as a philosophical, intelligent and educated person, often overshadowed by her demanding nature.

Though Graham’s work is vastly different from the classical and neoclassical work mostly performed by Chautauqua’s resident ballet company, North Carolina Dance Theatre, it’s not completely absent here.

NCDT performed Jacqulyn Buglisi’s “Requiem” at Wednesday’s performance. Buglisi was a member of Graham’s company, with her work often being very Graham-based.