Dance pioneer Graham honored by 5th Ave. plaque

At the plaque unveiling, Janet Eilber, Martha Graham Dance Company artistic director, far left; Karen Loew, G.V.S.H.P director of East Village and special projects, second from left; David Van Zandt, New School president, fourth from left; former Graham star Stuart Hodes, fourth from right; and Phil Hartman, head of the Two Boots Foundation, third from right, along with former Martha Graham students and company members. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY TEQUILA MINSKY  |  In the 1930s and ’40s, in an upstairs studio in what is now The New School’s 66 Fifth Ave. building, Martha Graham offered dance lessons to the public and rehearsed her own company. The 5th Ave. Cinema was on the ground floor.

A plaque unveiling at The New School’s building recently celebrated Graham’s contributions to modern dance and teaching.

Innovative dancer and choreographer Graham died at age 96 in New York. She was the creator of nearly 200 dances and collaborated with artists across disciplines. And she was a teacher to generations of dancers.

Former students and dancers, fans, members of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation and Village neighbors commemorated Graham’s creative contributions at the unveiling of a plaque marking the spot where one of the 20th century’s foremost artists did some of her most important work.

Janet Eilber, artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, greeted these lovers of dance.

“There is nothing more essential to a dancer than space,” she said, adding, “From the remarkable works and creative output from her time here, this ground must be particularly holy!”

“Martha broke new ground in every aspect of dance and theater,” Eilber said. “Not only did she create a radical new style of movement — with her contraction and release — but she reinvented costuming and lighting design, and the use of space and time onstage. She pioneered new uses of music for dance, working with virtually all the top composers of her day. 

“Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham started their careers in her company,” she added. “She choreographed for seven decades, working well into her 90s.”

Graham moved her work Uptown, but in 2012, the Martha Graham Dance Company relocated back to the Village — to Westbeth, in the former studio of Merce Cunningham.

Among those who offered words were Phil Hartman, owner of Two Boots Pizza, whose partnership with G.V.S.H.P. sponsors the historical plaque program that enhances the sense of place, and New School President David Van Zandt, who spoke about the artistry and legacy of Graham.

Stuart Hodes, one of Graham’s artists and a star in her company, shared anecdotes of his times as a student at this location and a performer in her company.

After the unveiling, all those honoring Graham enjoyed Two Boots pizza.