George Eastman Debuts Martha Graham

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1926

At a time when film was often viewed as crude and vulgar entertainment, George Eastman was adamant that it could become a respectable art form. Between the projection of movie reels at his Eastman Theater in Rochester, New York, snatches of ballet or operatic music were often presented to the audience.

In 1925, an avant-garde dancer who had broken with classical ballet, named Martha Graham, was hired to train dancers for these interlude performances. Mr. Eastman was generous with her, and she had wide opportunities to develop her new art. Graham created entirely novel techniques for her Rochester students, and presented them not only locally but also in an April 1926 performance in New York City where she and three of her acolytes danced 18 numbers. A month later, a work created by Graham called the “Flute of Krishna” was itself turned into a 12-minute film in the Eastman School’s Kodak studio.

Martha Graham then returned to Manhattan and went on to create much of the aesthetic and physical language of modern dance. She would be remembered as one of the most influential American artists ever.

  • Elizabeth Brayer, George Eastman: A Biography, (University of Rochester Press, 2006), p. 466-7