John Martin (1893-1985) was America's first major dance critic. The John Martin papers (1890-1985) document the pioneering critic's career, as well as his interests in theater, the history of dance, and dance education.
Biographical/historical: John Martin (1893-1985) was America's first major dance critic. His early career was as an actor, publicist, and editor in both Louisville, Kentucky, and New York. After serving in World War I, Martin worked with the Chicago Little Theatre where he met his wife, Hettie Mick. Martin also studied the actor Konstantin Stanislavsky's system which emphasized moving with dramatic impulses that come from within.
In the early part of the century, ballets and other dance performances were reviewed by music or theater critics, who often had little to no interest in dance as an art. With the growth of modern dance and dancers - Ruth St. Denis, Martha Graham, and others - developing a language and protocol for dance criticism became necessary.
The New York Times hired Martin as its very first dance critic in 1927. As this was completely uncharted territory, Martin had to both educate the audience as to how to analyze what was happening onstage, and educate the dancers as to standards of professionalism. Determined that dance criticism would not become just a side note to general arts criticism, Martin began giving lectures on the role of the audience and other topics at the New School for Social Research and at Bennington College. Eventually, his thoughts on dance were compiled into his 1933 book The Modern Dance. Throughout his many articles and books over the years, Martin emphasized the need for the audience to keep an open mind to what the dancers were saying with their bodies, and for dancers to dance completely through inner compulsions, thus bringing about a truly honest art form. Other books by Martin include An Introduction to the Dance, John Martin's Book of the Dance, and America Dancing.
After retiring from the New York Times in 1962, Martin took a position at the University of California at Los Angeles. He remained there until 1967, when he returned to New York. In 1971 he moved to Saratoga Springs, New York to share a house with his close friend Zachary Solov. While in Saratoga Springs he continued to write, publishing Ruth Page: An Intimate Biography. He remained in there until the end of his life in 1985.
Content: The John Martin papers (1890-1985) document the pioneering critic's career, as well as his interests in theater, the history of dance, and dance education. The collection includes professional correspondence, personal and family documents, a large collection of dance photographs, programs and playbills from performances Martin attended, scrapbooks of his work for the New York Times, and plays and articles Martin wrote before he began work as a dance critic.