roble dancers womens athletics 40s-50s

ASSU knows Graham is no cracker

Modern dance pioneer Martha Graham graces Stanford with her radical presence, courtesy of ASSU sponsorship. According to the ASSU records, the Martha Graham Dance Recital Contract was developed “to furnish the artistic services of Martha Graham, dancer, for a recital on the campus of Stanford University beginning at 8:30pm the evening of April 2, 1936.”

Americans for the Arts 2002-2006 ad campaign, featuring Martha Graham in Letter to the World, 1940. Photograph by Barbara Morgan


In defiance of balletic classicism, Graham developed her trademark dance technique, recognizable by its signature angular, dissonant, and contracting choreographic forms. Her collaborations with composer Aaron Copland and sculptor Isamu Noguchi led to a distinctively American rendering of Gesamtkunstwerk. Graham’s breakthrough work, Chronicle, a study of isolation and alienation inspired by the Great Depression and Spanish Civil War, premiered during the year she visited Stanford.

Bent Spoon emblem

Modern dance still flourishes on campus under Diane Frank, TAPS Lecturer, modern dancer, and choreographer, as well as Bent Spoon, a student-organized modern dance company established in 2001. Prior to Frank’s arrival at Stanford in 1988, she toured in the U.S. and abroad with Douglas Dunn and Dancers and taught technique and repertory at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio in New York City. She received a 2011 Dance Teacher Magazine Award and in the spring of 2012, her work Twilight Composite – performed by eight Stanford students – was one of two from the region selected to be performed at the National College Dance Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Featured image: Stanford dancers in Roble Gym, circa 1940s-1950s.  Photograph by Dan C. Baker, Stanford Historical Photograph Collection