Theses Doctoral

The Strange Commodity of Cultural Exchange: Martha Graham and the State Department on Tour, 1955-1987

Phillips, Victoria

The study of Martha Graham's State Department tours and her modern dance demonstrates that between 1955 and 1987 a series of Cold Wars required a steady product that could meet "informational" propaganda needs over time. After World War II, dance critics mitigated the prewar influence of the German and Japanese modernist artists to create a freed and humanist language because modern dance could only emerge from a nation that was free, and not from totalitarian regimes. Thus the modern dance became American, while at the same time it represented a universal man. During the Cold War, the aging of Martha Graham's dance, from innovative and daring to traditional and even old-fashioned, mirrored the nation's transition from a newcomer that advertised itself as the postwar home of freedom, modernity, and Western civilization to an established power that attempted to set international standards of diplomacy. Graham and her works, read as texts alongside State Department country plans, United States Information Agency publicity, other documentary evidence, and oral histories, reveal a complex matrix of relationships between government agencies and the artists they supported, as well as foundations, private individuals, corporations, country governments, and representatives of business and culture. Because four elements of Graham's modern dance created by her biography can be traced back to ideas of American identity, human universalism, Asian culture, and the Western canon of ancient Greek, European, and biblical texts, the State Department deployed her work throughout Europe and Asia to transmit ideas about America with choreography that could demonstrate cultural convergences, or the merging of American modernist techniques with host country elements. This targeted strategy of advertisement for international leaders, which translated host-country traditions with a universal language of the modern dance, made in America, argued that the United States would and could partner with the nation states Graham visited in order to achieve foreign policy agendas.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Foner, Eric
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 24, 2013