Modern dance

The modern dance as a reaction to classical forms and probably as a need to express more freely with the body. It is a dance class that seeks to express, through the dancer, an idea, a feeling, an emotion, like classical ballet, but mixing bodily movements of the twentieth and twenty-first century.

Its origin goes back to the end of the 19th century. In the beginning, an alternative to the strict technique of classical ballet was sought, dancers began to appear dancing barefoot and making less rigid jumps than the traditional ones on stage. Over time, variations were appearing in which the classical technique was conspicuous by its absence and even movements of other body techniques were introduced, such as flamenco, movements of tribal dances and even yoga. Until the end of the Second World War, this renewed style of dance was called modern dance, but its evolution from the late 1940s onwards led to the preference to use the expression thereaftercontemporary dance. Nowadays, modern techniques give way to a whirlpool of blends of styles, even becoming unclear to what style it resembles or what patterns are followed.

The choreographer usually makes creative decisions. He or she chooses whether the piece will have an abstract or narrative character. The dancers are selected based on their skill and training. The choreography is determined based on its relationship with the music or the sounds with which it is danced. The role of music in contemporary dance is different from that of other genres because it can serve as a background for the piece. The choreographer supervises the choice of costumes and their aesthetic value for the overall composition of the performance and also to see how it influences the movements of the dancers.

Modern dance is often considered to have emerged as a rejection of, or rebellion against, classical ballet. Socioeconomic and cultural factors also contributed to its development. In the late 19th century, dance artists such as Isadora Duncan, Maud Allan, and Loie Fuller were pioneering new forms and practices in what is now called aesthetic or free dance for performance. These dancers disregarded ballet’s strict movement vocabulary, the particular, limited set of movements that were considered proper to ballet, and stopped wearing corsets and pointe shoes in the search for greater freedom of movement.

Modern dance can talk about a concept, propose an environment or present movements in order to achieve a certain aesthetic, it does not always have to tell a story. On the other hand, classical dance is built through existing steps and always codified while contemporary dance seeks innovation and the creation of new forms of movement according to the needs of the choreographer or the interpreter. Classical dance seeks the preciosity, the structured and perfect, the connection with the ethereal, with the celestial; rather it is linked to the concept of the Apollonian. Modern dance seeks the connection with the earthly, with the human and its passions, the non-structure, the transgression; It is linked to the concept of the Dionysian.

Throughout the 20th century, sociopolitical concerns, major historical events, and the development of other art forms contributed to the continued development of modernist dance in the United States and Germany. Moving into the 1960s, new ideas about dance began to emerge, as a response to earlier dance forms and to social changes. Eventually, postmodern dance artists would reject the formalism of modern dance, and include elements such as performance art, contact improvisation, release technique, and improvisation.

American modern dance can be divided (roughly) into three periods or eras. In the Early Modern period (c. 1880–1923), characterized by the work of Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, and Eleanor King, artistic practice changed radically, but clearly distinct modern dance techniques had not yet emerged. In the Central Modern period (c. 1923–1946), choreographers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Katherine Dunham, Charles Weidman, and Lester Horton sought to develop distinctively American movement styles and vocabularies, and developed clearly defined and recognizable dance training systems. In the Late Modern period (c. 1946–1957), José Limón, Pearl Primus, Merce Cunningham, Talley Beatty, Erick Hawkins, Anna Sokolow, Anna Halprin, Paul Taylor introduced clear abstractionism and avant-garde movements, and paved the way for postmodern dance.

Modern dance has evolved with each subsequent generation of participating artists. Artistic content has morphed and shifted from one choreographer to another, as have styles and techniques. Artists such as Graham and Horton developed techniques in the Central Modern Period that are still taught worldwide, and numerous other types of modern dance exist today.

Modern dance is often considered to have emerged as a rejection of, or rebellion against, classical ballet, although historians have suggested that socioeconomic changes in both the United States and Europe helped to initiate shifts in the dance world. In America, increasing industrialization, the rise of a middle class (which had more disposable income and free time), and the decline of Victorian social strictures led to, among other changes, a new interest in health and physical fitness. “It was in this atmosphere that a ‘new dance’ was emerging as much from a rejection of social structures as from a dissatisfaction with ballet.” During that same period, “the champions of physical education helped to prepare the way for modern dance, and gymnastic exercises served as technical starting points for young women who longed to dance.” Women’s colleges began offering “aesthetic dance” courses by the end of the 1880s. Emil Rath, who wrote at length about this emerging artform at the time stated,

“Music and rhythmic bodily movement are twin sisters of art, as they have come into existence simultaneously…today we see in the artistic work of Isadora Duncan, Maud Allan, and others the use of a form of dancing which strives to portray in movements what the music master expresses in his compositions—interpretative dancing.”

Free dance
1877: Isadora Duncan was a predecessor of modern dance with her stress on the center or torso, bare feet, loose hair, free-flowing costumes, and incorporation of humor into emotional expression. She was inspired by classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature, natural forces, and new American athleticism such as skipping, running, jumping, leaping, and abrupt movements. She thought that ballet was ugly and meaningless gymnastics. Although she returned to the United States at various points in her life, her work was not very well received there. She returned to Europe and died in Nice in 1927.

1891: Loie Fuller (a burlesque skirt dancer) began experimenting with the effect that gas lighting had on her silk costumes. Fuller developed a form of natural movement and improvisation techniques that were used in conjunction with her revolutionary lighting equipment and translucent silk costumes. She patented her apparatus and methods of stage lighting that included the use of coloured gels and burning chemicals for luminescence, and also patented her voluminous silk stage costumes.

1905: Ruth St. Denis, influenced by the actress Sarah Bernhardt and Japanese dancer Sada Yacco, developed her translations of Indian culture and mythology. Her performances quickly became popular and she toured extensively while researching Oriental culture and arts.
Expressionist and early modern dance in Europe

In Europe, Mary Wigman, Francois Delsarte, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (Eurhythmics), and Rudolf Laban developed theories of human movement and expression, and methods of instruction that led to the development of European modern and Expressionist dance. Other pioneers included Kurt Jooss (Ausdruckstanz) and Harald Kreutzberg.

Radical dance
Disturbed by the Great Depression and the rising threat of fascism in Europe, the radical dancers tried to raise consciousness by dramatizing the economic, social, ethnic and political crises of their time.

Hanya Holm, a student of Mary Wigman and instructor at the Wigman School in Dresden, founded the New York Wigman School of Dance in 1931 (which became the Hanya Holm Studio in 1936) introducing Wigman technique, Laban’s theories of spatial dynamics, and later her own dance techniques to American modern dance. An accomplished choreographer, she was a founding artist of the first American Dance Festival in Bennington (1934). Holm’s dance work Metropolitan Daily was the first modern dance composition to be televised on NBC and her labanotation score for Kiss Me, Kate (1948) was the first choreography to be copyrighted in the United States. Holm choreographed extensively in the fields of concert dance and musical theater.

Anna Sokolow—A student of Martha Graham and Louis Horst, Sokolow created her own dance company (circa 1930). Presenting dramatic contemporary imagery, Sokolow’s compositions were generally abstract, often revealing the full spectrum of human experience reflecting the tension and alienation of the time and the truth of human movement.

José Limón—In 1946, after studying and performing with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, Limón established his own company with Humphrey as artistic director. It was under her mentorship that Limón created his signature dance The Moor’s Pavane (1949). Limón’s choreographic works and technique remain a strong influence on contemporary dance practice.
Merce Cunningham—A former ballet student and performer with Martha Graham, he presented his first New York solo concert with John Cage in 1944. Influenced by Cage and embracing modernist ideology using postmodern processes, Cunningham introduced chance procedures and pure movement to choreography and Cunningham technique to the cannon of 20th-century dance techniques. Cunningham set the seeds for postmodern dance with his non-linear, non-climactic, non-psychological abstract work. In these works each element is in and of itself expressive, and the observer (in large part) determines what it communicates.

Erick Hawkins—A student of George Balanchine, Hawkins became a soloist and the first male dancer in Martha Graham’s dance company. In 1951, Hawkins, interested in the new field of kinesiology, opened his own school and developed his own technique (Hawkins technique) a forerunner of most somatic dance techniques.

Paul Taylor—A student of the Juilliard School of Music and the Connecticut College School of Dance. In 1952 his performance at the American Dance Festival attracted the attention of several major choreographers. Performing in the companies of Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, and George Balanchine (in that order), he founded the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1954. The use of everyday gestures and modernist ideology is characteristic of his choreography. Former members of the Paul Taylor Dance Company included Twyla Tharp, Laura Dean, Dan Wagoner, and Senta Driver.

Alwin Nikolais—A student of Hanya Holm. Nikolais’s use of multimedia in works such as Masks, Props, and Mobiles (1953), Totem (1960), and Count Down (1979) was unmatched by other choreographers. Often presenting his dancers in constrictive spaces and costumes with complicated sound and sets, he focused their attention on the physical tasks of overcoming obstacles he placed in their way. Nikolais viewed the dancer not as an artist of self-expression, but as a talent who could investigate the properties of physical space and movement.

European School

First generation: European pioneers

Philosophers and thinkers

François Delsarte (French, 1811-1871)
He was the inspiration for contemporary dance, firstly with the name of «expressive gymnastics» (Bode) or, later, «rhythmic gymnastics». He affirms that spiritual states must be represented through attitudes and movements of the body as a unit, and not only of the face. The concern for the technique is much greater than in the previous one. Divide the body into three variable zones:

The lower limbs express force
The torso and arms, express the spiritual and emotional
And the head-neck, the gesture, reflect the mental state
His ideas were taken to the USA. by one of his disciples, Steele Mackaye, who along with Genevieve Sebbins spread and introduced these ideas for the best schools in New York.

In Europe it is Hedwig Kallmeyer, a student of Sebbins, who disseminates his ideas. In 1930, she founded the Institute of Expressive and Corporal Culture in Germany, where she teaches the Delsarte system as a form of PE for women, and with this she achieves her inclusion in the school; also publishes Beauty and health, which is a reaction against traditional gymnastic movements.

Delsarte develops the «laws of harmonious movement», which are:

Law of harmonic posture: balanced and natural position as the perfect resting position of the Greek statues.
Law of the opposite movement: every movement demands by equilibrium principles an opposite movement of the other segments.
Law of harmonic muscle function: muscle strength must be directly related to the size of the muscles.

Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (Swiss, 1865-1950)
He was the creator of rhythmic gymnastics, eurythmy. He was a versatile man: musician, choreographer, actor, composer and pedagogue. His musical and corporal knowledge led him to realize the need to learn these two activities for the development of the person and from here he began to investigate the laws of musical rhythm through body movement.

The observations he made in his solfeggio students at the Conservatory of Geneva were the origin of his method of rhythmic gymnastics:

He observed that some progressed auditorily in a normal way; however, they lacked the ability to measure sounds, the sense of duration and the rhythm of successions.
He found that they often reacted with involuntary movements of certain parts of the body as a result of the music (eg: hitting the ground with the feet), thus inferring that there could be some relationship between the acoustics and the higher nervous centers.
Not all children reacted in the same way. Many could not coordinate their movements, not responding correctly to nervous orders body.

Based on these observations, he concluded that:
Everything that is dynamic and dynamic in music depends not only on the ear, but also on the touch.
He considered that purely auditory musicality was incomplete.
The musical arrhythmia is the result of a general arrhythmia.
It is not possible to create musical harmonies without having an inner harmonic musical state.
The Dalcroze method is a method of musical teaching through rhythm and movement. It uses a variety of movements as analogies to refer to musical concepts, to develop an integrated and natural feeling for musical expression. For his method, he points out three central elements: rhythm, solfege and improvisation. Its purpose is to harmonize the faculties of perception, awareness and action on the part of the student. It aims to regulate the child’s nervous reactions, develop his reflexes, provide him with temporary automatisms, fight against his inhibitions, refine his sensitivity and reinforce his dynamisms.

For Dalcroze rhythm is not an art in itself, but a means or instrument to reach the other arts. His contribution was revolutionary as he was the first to point out the importance of music in personal development and to mark the beginnings of what would later be music therapy.

The work contents used are:

physical reconditioning exercises
exercises for the education of the mind
active study and creator of body rhythm.
active study and creator of the musical rhythm.

Creators of techniques

Rudolf Laban (Hungarian, 1879-1958)
Interested in the essential sciences for understanding movement, he studied mathematics, physics, chemistry, anatomy and physiology. He traveled around the world in search of natural and cultivated activity. The ballet claimed its greatest attention. He was a declared enemy of the “points” and believed that the expressive gesture had to give rise to a total liberation of the soul and the body, in the same line as Isadora Duncan.

Laban elaborates and interprets the concepts of movement and dance, defining three systems:

Labanotation: it is a way of remembering movements by means of symbols. It manages to establish a technique of written and reliable language of the movements, of the dynamisms, of the space and of all the motor actions of the body.
The icosahedron technique: allows dance students to see the points to and from which they move, improving their precision in movement.
The expressive, free, creative dance or modern educational dance: establishes a set of principles and concepts about the movement with the purpose of serving as a guide for research and reflection on the way to effect and conceive the movement. In this way, the individual, based on specific themes, has to explore and become familiar with the movement, discovering his own technique and developing his own body language.
For Laban, dance is a form of corporal expression of an individual or group, and each one has its own dance; for that reason the technique of the same one has to facilitate diverse possibilities of action that make him reinforce his personality.

A contemporary dance session could contain the following elements:

Body training: body and physical conditioning.
Study of the movement: it is the center of the session; Experiences and sequences of individual and group movements are experienced.
Composition: verifies the domain of the previously worked topic.
Conscious observation: observation of the previous compositions to favor the critical spirit, and active or passive relaxation.

Other contributions by Laban are:

The choirs of movement: which are characterized by the emphasis placed on the identical movements of several dancers to express emotions.
A technique of the movements considering them from four aspects:
Time: you are interested in the speed and slowness and the changes between the two (acceleration and deceleration).
Weight: consider the movement strong and light. The factors of time and weight give the dynamic quality to the movement.
Space: it relates to both the way we move and the direction in which we do it.
Flow: this factor penetrates the entire movement and confers the sensation of being stopped or held.

Mary Wigman (German, 1886-1973)
Disciple of RV Laban, contributes as an element the “creative intuition”. Consider that the dancer’s job is a vocation. He influenced the training of dancers, creating his own school. His influence on the evolution of modern gymnastics is based on the exaggerated expressiveness of gestures and the alternation between contraction and relaxation, maintaining tense and tense continuous attitudes that vary towards dynamic movements and cheerful rhythms. He uses different stages in his teaching and training of dance: part of the dance without any musical accompaniment, then he introduces percussion instruments (in which the drums stand out) and finally the music arrives.

Kurt Jooss (German, 1901-1979)
He was a German teacher, dancer and choreographer. After studying dance with Rudolf Laban, he opened a school and his company called Ballets Jooss. He became a dance teacher in 1930 for the opera house in Essen, where he choreographed his ballet The Green
Second Generation
Herald Kreutzberg
Gret Palucca
Vera Skonel
Dore Hoyer
The Sakharov: Alexandre Sakharov and Clotilde von Derp

Third Generation
In the middle of the Cold War, classical-contemporary dance developed in very different ways in different European countries. The influence of the schools of Laban and Mary Wigman is exercised on numerous artists and a few interpreters-choreographers who do not manage to create a school appear everywhere. Neither the economic situation (Europe recovers from two wars) as geopolitics (Europe divided by the “Iron Curtain”) favor the creation of schools or stable movements of Dance.

Also important is the establishment of various North American choreographers and educators, from Modern Dance in France, Spain, Sweden, Germany and Austria. The dissemination of the Graham, Limón, Horton and Cunningham techniques will be important in the future development of current European dance.

In the United States

Early modern dance in America
In 1915, Ruth St. Denis founded the Denishawn school and dance company with her husband Ted Shawn. St. Denis was responsible for most of the creative work, and Shawn was responsible for teaching technique and composition. Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman were all pupils at the school and members of the dance company. Seeking a wider and more accepting audience for their work, Duncan, Fuller, and Ruth St. Denis all toured Europe Fuller’s work also received little support outside Europe. St. Denis returned to the United States to continue her work.

Martha Graham is often regarded as the founding mother of modern 20th-century concert dance. Graham viewed ballet as too one-sided: European, imperialistic, and un-American. She became a student at the Denishawn school in 1916 and then moved to New York City in 1923, where she performed in musical comedies, music halls, and worked on her own choreography. Graham developed her own dance technique, Graham technique, that hinged on concepts of contraction and release. In Graham’s teachings, she wanted her students to “Feel”. To “Feel”, means having a heightened sense of awareness of being grounded to the floor while, at the same time, feeling the energy throughout your entire body, extending it to the audience. Her principal contributions to dance are the focus of the ‘center’ of the body (as contrast to ballet’s emphasis on limbs), coordination between breathing and movement, and a dancer’s relationship with the floor.

1923: Graham leaves Denishawn to work as a solo artist in the Greenwich Village Follies.
1928: Humphrey and Weidman leave Denishawn to set up their own school and company (Humphrey-Weidman).
1933: Shawn founds his all male dance group Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers based at his Jacob’s Pillow farm in Becket, Massachusetts.
After shedding the techniques and compositional methods of their teachers the early modern dancers developed their own methods and ideologies and dance techniques that became the foundation for modern dance practice:

Martha Graham and Louis Horst

Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman
Helen Tamiris—originally trained in free movement (Irene Lewisohn) and ballet (Michel Fokine) Tamiris studied briefly with Isadora Duncan but disliked her emphasis on personal expression and lyrical movement. Tamiris believed that each dance must create its own expressive means and as such did not develop an individual style or technique. As a choreographer Tamiris made works based on American themes working in both concert dance and musical theatre.

Lester Horton—choosing to work in California (3,000 miles away from New York, the center of modern dance), Horton developed his own approach that incorporated diverse elements including Native American dances and modern jazz. Horton’s dance technique (Lester Horton Technique) emphasises a whole-body approach including flexibility, strength, coordination, and body awareness to allow freedom of expression.

In 1927, newspapers regularly began assigning dance critics, such as Walter Terry, and Edwin Denby, who approached performances from the viewpoint of a movement specialist rather than as a reviewer of music or drama. Educators accepted modern dance into college and university curricula, first as a part of physical education, then as performing art. Many college teachers were trained at the Bennington Summer School of the Dance, which was established at Bennington College in 1934.

Of the Bennington program, Agnes de Mille wrote, “…there was a fine commingling of all kinds of artists, musicians, and designers, and secondly, because all those responsible for booking the college concert series across the continent were assembled there…. free from the limiting strictures of the three big monopolistic managements, who pressed for preference of their European clients. As a consequence, for the first time American dancers were hired to tour America nationwide, and this marked the beginning of their solvency.”

African American modern dance
The development of modern dance embraced the contributions of African American dance artists regardless of whether they made pure modern dance works or blended modern dance with African and Caribbean influences.

Katherine Dunham—An African American dancer, and anthropologist. Originally a ballet dancer, she founded her first company Ballet Negre in 1936 and later the Katherine Dunham Dance Company based in Chicago, Illinois. In 1945, Dunham opened a school in New York where she taught Katherine Dunham Technique, a blend of African and Caribbean movement (flexible torso and spine, articulated pelvis, isolation of the limbs, and polyrhythmic movement) integrated with techniques of ballet and modern dance.

Pearl Primus—A dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist, Primus drew on African and Caribbean dances to create strong dramatic works characterized by large leaps in the air. Primus often based her dances on the work of black writers and on racial and African-American issues. Primus created works based on Langston Hughes The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1944), and Lewis Allan’s Strange Fruit (1945). Her dance company developed into the Pearl Primus Dance Language Institute which teaches her method of blending African-American, Caribbean, and African influences with modern dance and ballet techniques.

Alvin Ailey—A student of Lester Horton, Bella Lewitzky, and later Martha Graham, Ailey spent several years working in both concert and theater dance. In 1958, Ailey and a group of young African-American dancers performed as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. Ailey drew upon his “blood memories” of Texas, the blues, spirituals and gospel as inspiration. His most popular and critically acclaimed work is Revelations (1960).

Legacy of modern dance
The legacy of modern dance can be seen in lineage of 20th-century concert dance forms. Although often producing divergent dance forms, many seminal dance artists share a common heritage that can be traced back to free dance.

Postmodern dance
Postmodern dance developed in the 1960s in United States when society questioned truths and ideologies in politics and art. This period was marked by social and cultural experimentation in the arts. Choreographers no longer created specific ‘schools’ or ‘styles’. The influences from different periods of dance became more vague and fragmented. It is very common for postmodern dance to be performed to little or no music at all.

Contemporary dance
Contemporary dance emerged in the 1950s as the dance form that is combining the modern dance elements and the classical ballet elements. It can use elements from non-Western dance cultures, such as African dancing with bent knees as a characteristic trait, and Butoh, Japanese contemporary dancing that developed in the 1950s. It is also derived from modern European themes like poetic and everyday elements, broken lines, nonlinear movements, and repetition. Many contemporary dancers are trained daily in classical ballet to keep up with the technicality of the choreography given. These dancers tend to follow ideas of efficient bodily movement, taking up space, and attention to detail. Contemporary dance today includes both concert and commercial dance because of the lines being blurred by pop culture and television shows. According to Treva Bedinghaus,”Modern dancers use dancing to express their innermost emotions, often to get closer to their inner-selves. Before attempting to choreograph a routine, the modern dancer decides which emotions to try to convey to the audience. Many modern dancers choose a subject near and dear to their hearts, such as a lost love or a personal failure. The dancer will choose music that relates to the story they wish to tell, or choose to use no music at all, and then choose a costume to reflect their chosen emotions.”

Source from Wikipedia