Martha Graham: You Have To Be Terribly Bold

Photograph by Arnold Newman

From Artistic Suicide

You have to be terribly bold--almost reckless--to create anything that will reach people, change them, open their eyes and their minds. For a number of years now, I've noticed that people auditioning for my school or my company come in and essentially perform a tribute to me, thinking this is the way into my class and into my heart. They are quickly proven wrong: I want to know what you've seen and how you have threaded it through your own experience, your own mind, your own heart, your own history. I want to see what the works of all the dancers you've seen has become as it trickled down through your being. Don't just replicate what you think is fashionable or acceptable or, God forbid, what you think is the greatest. What you think is the greatest right this minute, I promise you, you will laugh at in two years, or less. You will keep changing, or you should keep changing.

Strike out on your own. Read, look, and listen, and ask yourself, How is this or that speaking to me? What can I make of it? What personal footnote might I add to this piece or to this time in which I live? We leave our mark by taking--as if it were a baton--from our predecessors, and then making it wholly our own.

I find today no one making anything their own. There are too many homages and tributes and replicas. You ask me about suicide, but I think more in terms of murder, because we are killing so many chances for new voices and new ideas and new angles to come to fruition.

©2013 by James Grissom


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