Brand building through storytelling

A lesson in courage from Martha Graham

Martha“I’ll be done in five minutes,” said the tech guy, taking over my place at the computer. Five minutes is just long enough to dip into a well-loved book. Instead of poetry, my usual choice for these odd little intervals, I reached forMartha: the Life and Work of Martha Graham.

I treasure this biography for a couple of reasons. The author, dancer/choreographer Agnes De Mille,was a protegee of Graham’s, and her evocative storytelling reflects an intimate knowledge of the formidably complicated private woman. The flamboyant public woman was one of the greatest creative minds of the 20th century. The Picasso of dance, Graham fought poverty, loneliness, disregard and ill health to bring her vision to the world stage.

Returning to Martha, I followed the trail I marked years ago with yellow sticky notes. I must have needed a jolt of courage, because one anecdote caught my attention.

Berlin OlympicsAt 41, poor and still unknown, Graham had a visit from a delegation of Nazis. It was 1935, when most of the world still strenuously denied that Hitler was a grave threat or that German Jews were in desperate trouble. The Nazis invited Graham to appear at the upcoming Berlin Olympics (how timely to be pondering this story as the Beijing Olympics approach). I’ll let Agnes De Mille take over from here:

[The Nazis] made their representation forcefully. Martha looked at them in astonishment. “But three-quarters of my group are Jewish,” she said.

“Do you think,” they responded, “that they will not be treated with courtesy and dignity?”

“Do you think,” she replied, “that I would go to a country where they treat hundreds of thousands of their coreligionists with the brutality and cruelty you have shown Jews?”

The Germans drew up in haughty anger. “If you don’t come,” they said, “everybody will know about it and it will be a bad thing for you.”

Martha recounted this incident to me and added gleefully that she had been placed on all the German lists for prompt attention after the happy conclusion of the contemplated war, when Germany would move into the United States and be free to eliminate undesirables.

Posted by Rona

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