Celebrating Martha Graham

Martha Graham & Bertram Ross in "Visionary recital", June 27 1961

Today is Martha Graham’s birthday!

It is important to note the profound influence Graham had over the development of modern dance, and to how it is referred today. Throughout her life from May 11th 1894 to April 1st 1991, Graham established her dance and choreographic career over the span of 70 years, and is now considered the mother of modern dance, having created a fully codified modern dance technique. Graham choreographed 181 masterpiece dance compositions during her lifetime, each of which utilise specific movements of her technique, such as the contraction, release and spiral.

The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance was established in 1926, through which Graham was, and still is, renowned for her intense, dramatic portrayals of life through movement. This signalled the beginning of a new era in modern dance, with tutus and pointe shoes falling by the wayside as block-coloured unitards, extravagant costumes and bare feet took to centre stage. Costume continues to be an important aspect of the Graham repertoire, reflecting the nature of the works performed by the company, perhaps the most famous being Graham’s Lamentation in which she wore a tube-shaped Lycra costume in her portrayal of grief.

To celebrate what would have been Graham’s 117th birthday in 2011, Google dedicated their logo to the life and legacy of Graham for a day, demonstrating the sheer influence Graham had over the United States, regardless of the rest of the world and the dance industry (see our article about the Martha Graham Google Doodle). Echoed through her use of costume – from, for example, dressing male dancers in traditional ballet tights to showcasing their leanness in minimal underwear today – Graham caused dance to evolve, adding further abstraction and creativity to the twentieth century and beyond. She has inspired numerous artists from all genres within the world of the arts and revolutionised dance by creating an entire movement vocabulary that is still celebrated today.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Urban Strides

Urban Strides, the renowned street dance specialists, pride themselves providing the ultimate street dance experience for every dance ability level from the age of 7 to adult. Urban Strides aims to fulfil this through creating the most exciting, inspirational and authentic street dance experience possible, delivered with passion, positivity and fun, and possibly some knee pads!

Founder Andy Instone’s sheer passion and commitment, emotionally, physically and mentally, launched Urban Strides on the road to success. Originally self taught, Instone has since studied mainstream forms of dance – Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary and Tap – and has travelled around the globe to learn from the pioneers of original street dance and hip hop styles, taking authentic dance, movement and expression to as many people as possible. Instone fuses funk movement with classical training techniques and choreographic conventions in order to add quality and dynamics to Urban Strides’ ethos and work.

Urban Strides offers classes, workshops, community work and performances, having also branched out into creating “streetwear” dance clothes and DVDs of their work. A variety of street dance styles are practised by Urban Strides, in order to provide a whole and comprehensive experience for those involved in the Urban Strides t-shirt clan. Additionally, Urban Strides has extensive experience and understanding of the education sector, regularly providing workshops for A Level and GCSE students, as well as inspirational workshops for beginners. Performances conducted by Urban Strides are additionally produced to be as accessible as possible for audiences, opening up the dance sector to everyone with their vibrant and exciting choreography.

The philosophy of Urban Strides means it aims to provide the highest quality possible at an affordable price, be it classes, workshops or performances. The accessibility of Urban Strides too means that if it’s your first day stepping into your urban dance sneakers, or you fifth year of pulling on your favourite street dance hoodie, Urban Strides is for you.

The Pointe of the Debate

Pointe Shoes

Photo: Megyarsh, Flickr

A controversial question throughout the ballet world surrounds the “correct” age for dancers to go en pointe. For the aspiring ballet dancer, pointe work may begin at a much younger age (approximately 11 or 12) than perhaps a dancer who enjoys the “ballet tights ideal” of one or two casual classes per week.

Many strands run through the age argument, such as those regarding the height of the instep, the individual and relative strength of the foot – in its complex structure of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles – and the dancer’s ability to control their body en pointe. Naturally, different circumstances affect each and every decision to train the body for this transition into pointe shoes.

In addition to this debate is the decision of the brand and type of shoes to select. Each foot requires different constructions of shoes, and a ballet dancer often remains committed to one type of pointe shows throughout their whole career. The most popular choice of brands appears to centre on those from the likes of Capezio, Bloch, and more recently, Gaynor Minden. Each shoe has its own appeal and its own unique design, meaning a first fitting for pointe shoes can be a rather long process! Despite the fact that there are few bespoke creators of pointe shoes, brands can often be customised by the dancer to suit their own feet.

For example, the Freed Studios shoe, as a stock shoe, tends to fit many people. However, an increased workload or intense pointe classes may mean that a more customised shoe is needed. Bloch shoes, in comparison, have been seen to incorporate rather innovative techniques of heating the shoe and using this to mould its shape to the individual foot. This therefore emphasises that the art of acquiring pointe shoes is no less than the art of twirling in a tutu: the shoe must be completely right for the foot that may one day posé into a leading role.

Yonah Takes The Lead!

Diaghilev's Ballet Russes
Photo: Russian Ballets Russe, Wikimedia Commons

Yonah Acosta, the English National Ballet winner of both the Emerging Dancer Award and The People’s Choice Award, has recently spoken of the admiration he holds for Royal Ballet principal dancer (and uncle) Carlos Acosta.

He also described his own self-consciousness, and the pressure he feels to break from his uncle’s celebrated career, despite his recent award success. One thing’s for sure: Yonah has one large pair of ballet shoes to fill!

Yonah grande-jeté’d onto the British dance scene at the young age of 13, when he played his Cuban uncle as a boy; his first taste of professional life. Now 22, having taken part in two of the most prestigious dance competitions in the UK, Yonah has begun to carve out his own destiny.

This is the third year of the Emerging Dancer Award, featuring a number of upcoming dancers. Drawing particular attention was fellow English National Ballet dancer Nancy Osbaldeston, wearing a striking red lace leotard of her own design. Meanwhile, Yonah, who performed solos from both Don Quixote and Diana And Acteon, wowed audiences with his incredible acrobatic interpretations of the pieces, costumed in a simplified toga design and taupe ballet shoes.

The English National Ballet’s Autumn Tour and Christmas season at the London Coliseum lead to Yonah’s additional winning of The People’s Choice Award, voted for by members of the public across the UK and in London. It is now expected that Yonah will continue this winning streak in the upcoming Beyond Ballets Russes programme at the London Coliseum, featuring alternative dancewear designs by both David Bamber for the World Premiere of a new Firebird, and by Kinder Aggugini, for revamped ballet The Rite of Spring.

Watch out for Yonah celebrating the legacy of Diaghilev’s famous company with English National Ballet, as they step out in a new direction!