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The titles of her early works--Lamentation (1930) and Primitive Mysteries (1931), for example--reveal Freudian concerns. Letter to the World (1940), based on the life of Emily Dickinson, is often called the first modern dance ballet.

Graham was fearless in dealing with sexuality. Some of her greatest work, for example Clytemnestra (1958) and Phaedra (1962), was inspired by Greek myth and drama, but it is most significant for its frank expression of women's lust for men. This primal subject found expression in Graham's own life when she fell in love with Erick Hawkins, an intellectual, bisexual dancer and sexual athlete famous for his stamina and for the size of his penis.

Graham and Hawkins were briefly married. Many members of her convent-like troupe of women were disgusted by the new dynamic in Graham's choreography, its adoration of male virility. When asked how she, among all choreographers of either sex, so well understood and appreciated the male sex, Graham replied, "Well, dear, I like men."

Theatrical Dance

The movie industry and stage musicals during the twentieth century utilized the talents of uncounted gay male and lesbian dancers and choreographers, but fear of reaction caused most of them to hide their sexuality. The two great dancing stars of the Hollywood musicals--Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly--were self-consciously heterosexual.

Astaire (1899-1987) was a most unlikely masculine icon, with his reed slim, white-tie-and-tails elegance and effete appearance; but his witty songs, wise-cracks, and nimble tap-dancing won the public. In collaboration with gay dance director Hermes Pan, Astaire created innovative choreography for the cinema.

Gene Kelly (1912-1996), a hoofer imported from Broadway almost as an antidote to Astaire, came to fame in the post-World War II years. Kelly had a short body and a limited dance vocabulary, but he compensated for these limitations by dancing with great physical vigor. His persona was the wise-cracking, blue-collar, all-American man.

His worst effort was when he unwisely attempted to show himself the equal of ballet dancers in the film Invitation to the Dance (1956). His greatest performance was his virtuoso solo in Singin' in the Rain (1952). Some of Kelly's films are marred by an element of homophobia, an ingredient no doubt added to reassure the public that not all male dancers were queer.

Even though the term "chorus boy" (like "hair dresser") was almost synonymous with "gay male," the New York stage also attempted to deny or minimize the gay presence in its ranks. Such was also the case with the many television shows that employed their own companies of dancers during the heyday of the musical. Indeed, homophobia was often overtly expressed by dance professionals such as choreographers Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins, the latter himself bisexual.

Robbins was particularly unusual for his ability to shift gears from musical theater to concert dance and back again. Although he pursued sexual relationships with men and women alike, he was deeply closeted about his bisexuality, yet in The Goldberg Variations (1971), he choreographed a stunning male-male duet.

Among other gay and bisexual choreographers who have made original contributions to the dance element in Broadway musicals are Michael Bennett and Tommy Tune, both of whom were dancers and directors as well.

Limón, Hawkins, Nikolais, Louis

Many of the most significant dancers and choreographers of modern dance are aesthetic descendants of Martha Graham.

José Limón (1908-1972), for example, was a handsome Mexican-American with an heroic presence. He danced with great masculine force, but without macho brutality. He first danced with the Humphrey-Weidman Company, and then after serving in World War II formed his own company, for which he created his most famous ballet, The Moor's Pavane (1949), based on Shakespeare's Othello. The ballet is a masterpiece whose theme is homosexual jealousy. Another work with deep moral sensibility and homoerotic subtext is The Traitor (1954), based on Judas's betrayal of Christ.

Erick Hawkins (1909-1994), Martha Graham's lover and catalyst, formed his own company after the end of his marriage to Graham, but he never escaped her shadow. He developed an abstract style influenced by Greek and Asian art. He created a repertoire in close collaboration with composer Lucia Dlugoszewski, whom he also married. However, despite his marriage, he continued an active, though discreet, gay sex-life until his death.

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