Type: Narrative Essays
Sample donated: Kristy Fleming
Last updated: July 23, 2019
Contemporary dance is also known as modern dance for its tradition oftheatrical dance, it originated in Germany in the later 19th and earlier 20thcentury, however by the 1930s the United States had become the centre forexperimentation in modern dance. Modern dance is considered to have emerged asrejection/rebellion against classical ballet. In the late 19thcentury practitioners such as Isadora Duncan and Maud Allan overlooked ballet’sstrict movement and stopped wearing corsets and pointe shoes in the aim forgreater freedom of movement. They also developed movements from a basicalignment of facing the audience, maintaining an erect posture and in a turnedout position where as modern dancers use a multidimensional orientation in thetheatre space. They challenged ballet and deliberately stood sideways or turnedtheir backs to the audience as well as not always remaining upright to createdynamics and falling motions. Moderndance is easily divided into three eras.
The Early Modern period(c. 1880–1923), branded by the work of Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Mary Wigman who all changed their practice techniqueand looked upon exotic sources for inspiration. Their work contrasted whatdancers had been previously taught about in ballet as their movements were alot freer and less strict.
Isadora Duncan has always haddance in her background as at the age of 6 she began to teach movement in herneighbourhood to little children and at the age of 10 she left public schoolalong with her sister so they could earn money from teaching as her classes had expanded. The wayshe taught was to teach any pretty thing that came into her head. She continuedthis throughout her teenage years and then later joined the AugustinDaly’s theater company in New York. Isadora travelled the world and openeddance schools in Berlin and Paris and finally finished with one in the UnitedStates. Her aim for the dance schools was to inspire the young children andthis is one of her famous quotes. “Thedancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniouslytogether that the natural language of that soul will have become the movementof the body. This is the mission of the dancer of the future. She is coming,the dancer of the future: the free spirit, who will inhabit the body of newwomen; more glorious than any woman that has yet been; more beautiful than allwomen in past centuries: The highest intelligence in the freest body.
” Isadora Duncan style wasinfluenced by Greek sculpture and Greek arts as a movement source that includedskipping, running, jumping and leaping. She was known for dancing in bare feetrather than the original ballet slippers as well as wearing a simple tunic. Allof her movements evolved from the solar plexus as she created dances thatalternated between resisting and yielding to gravity. Reflecting this work backto my experience I have been learning throughout this term I can see clips oforiginal pieces of contemporary movements still being shown such as the weightof the body and the movements coming from the centre of the body. Another practitioner who first started makingcontemporary dance was Ruth St.
Denis who turned to the dance styles of India,Egypt, and Asia, as the basis for her structure. One of her choreographic innovationswas ‘music visualization’ which called for movement equivalents to the timbres,dynamics and structural shapes of music. She also had a technique called’synchoric orchestra’ that compared to the eurthmics of ÉmileJaques-Dalcroze that allowed one dancer to interpret the rhythms of eachinstrument of the orchestra. Mary Wigman had influence overGermany for modern dance as she began working with Rudolph Laban and shecreated a dance school in Dresden for students to learn something new which wasin fact a creative experience that is an expression of emotional impulses.
Shewanted her dancers to be conscious of the impulses that lay within themselvesand how to express them. Her movements wanted to create a cathartic function todance in ancient societies and will be remembered for their tragic, darkcharacter and introspective dances that reveal vibrant, vital and passionateinner states of being. It was in fact the rise of the Nazi political party inGermany in the 1920s ended the German modern dance movement.In the Central Modern period (c. 1923–1946),choreographers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidmanstarted to develop distinctively American movement styles and vocabularies andworked with these into their own individual training systems. Due to theiramazing success their techniques are still being taught worldwide today andhave been developed and grown upon by many others since. Martha Graham was introduced todance when she watched Ruth St.
Denis perform in Los Angeles, she later joinedher dance school and when she left she wanted to make dance a form of art thatwas more grounded in the rawness of the human experience rather than a form ofentertainment. Her main techniques is known as ‘contraction and release’ aseach movement could be separated to express either a positive or negative,freeing or constricting emotions and this all came upon the placement of thehead. Her early work explored movement that initiated in the torso whichcrossed linked with previous choreographer IsadoraDuncan.
As her work went on she incorporated themes into herwork and the main ones were Americana and Greek mythology this was seen in herperformances of Appalachian Spring and Cave of heart. In the late 1930s Graham wanted herwork to have narrative structure and literary subject matter, so she startedworking with Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi where shecreated narrative locales that were both mythic and psychic. Her work had hugeinfluences especially as she worked with many other choreographers and this iswhy her style is still being taught. Looking back at my work in class I noticethat my teacher likes to use movements of contraction and release to createdifferent dynamics and also portray a story. At a young age Doris Humphrey tookpart in dance lessons and then toured with a company at a young age but, aftershe graduated school she had to open a dance school straight away tofinancially cope for herself and her family. Doris got offered a place for thesummer course at the Denishawn School where hertalents were recognized. After atwo-year tour of the Orient and several seasons of dancing throughout theUnited States in top vaudeville theaters, Doris Humphrey and CharlesWeidmanbroke away from Denishawn in 1928. They settled in New York where theybecame leaders of the radical new dance form known as “modern dance”.
Doris Humphrey’s techniquewas all about giving into and taking the rebound from gravity to create thefall and recovery image. This technique became a metaphor for the relationshipof the individual to a greater force, whether a social group or spiritualpresence. Humphrey continued to choreograph for her protégé, theMexican-American dancer and choreographer José Limón who carried on her dance style after shestopped performing and left the company she had formed with Charles Weidman. In my own work of contemporary dance youcan see the influence Doris Humphrey had with the fall and recovery techniqueas a lot of the movements allow you to extend and then release which is oftenworking at different dynamics creating the feeling of falling. Duringher childhood Hanya Holm attended the Institution of EmileJacques-Dalcroze and from that became a member of the Wigman School in Dresden.Wigman saw the potential of Hanya Holm during the Egyptian dancewas where shehad the creative ability to piece together a choreographic vision into reality.
Holm’s movement emphasized the freedom and flowing quality of the torso andback and focused on the importance of pulse, planes, floor patterns, aerialdesign, direction, and spatial dimensions. Holm trained through improvisation so, a specific movement vocabulary or phrasing thatcould be carried on through classes does not exist; instead her focus was aboutlearning through discovery. Her work was often an extension to Wigman andRudolf Laban as her movements focused on the body’s relation to space andemotion.
In the late 1940s, she choreographed for musicalsin which she was one of the first people to bring modern dance to the Broadwaystage. Duringthe 1930s ballet and modern choreographers focused on the purity of theirtraditions and were clearly made separate from each other. In the Late Modern period (c. 1946–1957), José Limón, Merce Cunningham, Steve Paxton and many others introduced clear abstractionism and lead the way for postmodern dance.
Merce Cunningham first experienced dancewhile living in Centralia, he took tap class from a local teacher, and it was heremphasis on precise musical timing and rhythm that provided him a clearunderstanding of musicality. He studied acting at the Cornish School in Seattlebut found drama’s reliance on text and miming too limiting and concrete so hewent back to dance as it provided him to explore movement. MarthaGraham saw Cunningham dance and invited him tojoin her company in which he stayed there for six years and danced as a soloistwithin her company but he later created his own dance company. MerceCunningham fused Graham’stechnique with ballet, locating the source of movement in the spine. His workrevealed individual dancers experiencing their feelings to present time andabstract space and often worked upon chance.
The absence of hierarchy inCunningham’s use of the performing space, in contrast to ballet’s emphasis onsymmetry and centre stage, was echoed in other aspects of his dances as well: thelack of a rigidly controlling front view, so that simultaneous views of thesame motif were possible, as in cubism; the absence of a time progressionleading to a climax, but on the contrary the possible simultaneity of equalevents; the openness of expression that observers were free to interpret forthemselves; the lack of a hierarchy among the dancers. Jose Limon was inspired to dance after attending oneof Harald Kreutzberg and Yvonne Georgi’s performances and enrolled in theHumphrey-Weidman school. He performed in many shows in Broadway and later inlife went to open his own school.
In his choreography, Limón spoke to thecomplexities of human life as experienced through the body. His dances featurelarge, visceral gestures such as reaching, bending, pulling, grasping tocommunicate emotion. Inspired in part by his teacher DorisHumphrey’s theories about the importance of bodyweight and dynamics, his own Limón technique emphasizes the rhythms of fallingand recovering balance and the importance of good breathing to maintaining flowin a dance.Steve Paxton was influenced by the experimental arts andperformance scene in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, and he was interested inhow the body could create a physical playground. He developed the style ofcontact Improvisation that is often done in duets, that pulls elements frommartial arts, social dance, sports, and child’s play.
His technique to this wasthat two bodies must come together to create a point of contact, give weightequally to each other, and then create a movement dialogue that can last for anundetermined amount of time, as long as both participants are fully engaged. Youcan see that we touch upon this style in our contact lessons as we were set atask to try and move around our partner and experience different weights whilststill remaining in contact, whether that was with our head or our hand itdepended on the situation.