One of our CAT (Centre for Advanced Training) students, Molly Hick, went to New York's Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance for their 2013 Summer School. Here is her story...
This summer I was very lucky to attend the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York.
Before I arrived I was quite nervous as I knew I was going to be dancing alongside some great dancers. However once I got to know everyone and had built up my confidence the experience was amazing, I feel that this once in a lifetime opportunity has made me want to push even harder to become the dancer I want to be.
Each morning we had a Graham technique class, during each class something new and more challenging would be added onto the previous exercises. We kept learning new and more advanced movements and as the week progressed I became more comfortable with the style of dance. One part of the Graham technique is the use of contraction in the movement of your body, we learnt how contraction is formed by your breathing. As you breathe out your muscles automatically contract and make a C shape, we were taught to think of breathing deeply which will then help to make your contraction deeper.
As well as learning the Graham technique, we were also taught about Martha Graham herself. For example, she liked to observe the way animals moved and how they communicated with their bodies in their natural surroundings, these movements influenced much of Graham's choreography. During the two weeks we were also introduced to the Cunningham technique. I found this technique quite a precise and powerful style requiring a lot of strength to be able to control the movements, especially when holding your legs up. We also learnt that Cunningham would often use sounds such as water and crackles rather than music to accompany his choreography and this made his work much more abstract.
Technique class was then followed by a ballet class. We would begin at the barre and then move into the centre to do longer combinations. Whilst in ballet class I realised the technique is very similar to the technique we learn at Northern Ballet, concentrating on the structure of the body and how the body works. Our teacher referred to lengthening from the hip joints quite a lot and also to imagine someone is pulling the top of your head so you lift up more.
Every other day we would have composition and repertoire. I found composition really enjoyable as we got to create and develop pieces of our own, this involved working independently as well as with smaller groups, showing how our choice of moves were influenced. For the composition we had to base the dance sequences around the themes of circles, lines and angles. I felt that the angles sequence was the hardest to develop as you are always having to create an angle with some part of your body and the movement I felt needed to be very sharp, clean and precise.
In repertoire we learnt a piece of choreography named ‘Celebration’. It is a very lively and joyful dance which has many jumps in it. (My friend and I tried to count the number of jumps, we managed to count over 300, my calves burned afterwards.) The rep was very different to other pieces I’ve seen choreographed by Martha Graham. I really enjoyed learning the choreography although it was very new to me.
Whilst in New York I was also very lucky to actually see the Martha Graham Dance Company perform at an open air concert in the middle of Central Park. It was fantastic! The movements were so precise and strong, yet they all seemed to link into one another and be flowing. During one piece the dancers were in yellow unitards and were doing movements I recognised from my morning’s technique class. Seeing the company perform live really showed me how different and unique the Graham technique is, there is so much passion and emotion within it.
I’m so glad I was able to attend the summer school. The opportunity to learn the Martha Graham and Cunningham techniques in more detail has been amazing, I will always remember it and hopefully will be able to include it within my future training.