|Martha Graham portrait by Paul Raphael Meltsner|
Naturally, they danced around the topic.
“I went to see her one afternoon in her apartment on East 63rd Street and immediately I had the feeling, as I always did when I was alone with her, of being in the presence of greatness — a greatness frayed, at this moment, by rage and despair. She knew why I was there, and she must have hated the sight of me.
“Yet, for our first hour together, she was her usual seductive, manipulative self. There were occasional interruptions, brief visits to a back room from which she returned each time with brighter eyes and seemingly heightened energy.”
Houseman remembered her saying, “I’m a proud, vain, spoiled woman, John, and have been for 40 years … my analyst tells me I’ll realize one day that I’m not a goddess.”
“(L)ayer by layer, the full depth of her distress was revealed. I couldn’t blame her. For close to 50 years, much of the time by herself, she had fought and struggled to create, with her brain and her muscles, a body of entirely personal and dangerously original work. During that time she had assembled a company of high quality and held it together under terrible conditions of deprivation and public indifference.
“Finally, in middle age, she had achieved a measure of success that she had built gradually into general acceptance and international fame. Now, in her mid-70s, with her spirit undaunted and her creative powers at their peak, she was facing the horror of her own inevitable physical deterioration. Gradually her own dancing — the essential instrument of her creation — was becoming a liability to herself and her company.
“Better than anyone else she was aware that critics and audiences were being tolerant of her failing powers out of respect and admiration for her past achievements; aware, too, (and it hurt and angered her) that there was a growing feeling, among audiences and among her own people, that it was her artistic obligation to herself and to her company to let younger women replace her in the great dancing roles which she had created for herself over the years but which it was still emotionally impossible for her to accept could be danced by anyone else.”
Source: “Final Dress” by John Houseman