Contemporary dance is a popular form of dance which developed during the middle portion of the twentieth century and has since grown to become one of the dominating performance genres for formally trained dancers throughout the world, with particularly strong popularity in the U.S. and western Europe. Although originally informed by and borrowing from classical, modern, and jazz styles, it has since come to incorporate elements from many styles of dance,1 but due to its popularity amongst trained dancers and some overlap in movement type, it is often perceived as being closely related to modern dance, ballet and other classical concert dance styles.
In terms of the focus of its technique, contemporary dance tends to utilize both the strong and controlled legwork of ballet and modern dance's stress on the torso, and also employs contact-release, floor work, fall and recovery, and improvisation characteristic of modern dance.2 Unpredictable changes in rhythm, speed, and direction are often used, as well. It sometimes also incorporates elements of non-western dance cultures such as elements from African dance including bent knees, or movements from the Japanese contemporary dance Butoh.34
Contemporary dance draws on both classical ballet and modern dance, whereas postmodern dance was a direct and opposite response to modern dance. Merce Cunningham, initially a student of Martha Graham, accompanied his dance in April 1944, with music that was composed and performed by John Cage, who said that Cunningham's dance "no longer relies on linear elements (...) nor does it rely on a movement towards and away from climax. As in abstract painting, it is assumed that an element (a movement, a sound, a change of light) is in and of itself expressive; what it communicates is in large part determined by the observer themselves." Cunningham continued to showcase his work until 1953, when he formed Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Cunningham is considered the first choreographer to "develop an independent attitude towards modern dance" and defy the ideas that were established by it. 45 Cunningham made over one hundred and fifty works for his dance company and his pieces have been incorporated into ballet and modern dance companies internationally. He is an inspiration to those who enjoy contemporary dance or those who want to follow in his footsteps. By Leah Griffin 45
Cunningham's key ideas include:
- Contemporary dance does not refuse the classical ballet's leg technique in favor of modern dance's stress on the torso
- Contemporary dance is not necessarily narrative form of art
- Choreography that appears disordered, but nevertheless relies on technique
- Unpredictable changes in rhythm, speed, and direction
- Multiple and simultaneous actions
- Suspension of perspective and symmetry in ballet scenic frame perspective such as front, center, and hierarchies
- Creative freedom
- "Independence between dance and music"
- Dance to be danced, not analyzed
- Innovative lighting, sets, and costumes in collaboration with Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns 4
Other pioneers of contemporary dance (the offspring of modern and postmodern) include Ruth St. Denis, Doris Humphrey, Mary Wigman, Francois Delsarte, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, Paul Taylor, Rudolph von Laban, Loie Fuller, Jose Limon and Marie Rambert.
There is usually a choreographer who makes the creative decisions. He/she chooses whether the piece is an abstract or a narrative one. Dancers are selected based on their skill and training. The choreography is determined based on its relation to the music or sounds that is danced to. The role of music in contemporary dance is different than in other genres because it can serve as a backdrop to the piece. The choreographer has control over the costumes and their aesthetic value for the overall composition of the performance and also in regards to how they influence dancers’ movements.6
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Dance techniques and movement philosophies employed in contemporary dance may include:
- Contemporary ballet
- Alexander technique7
- Bartenieff Fundamentals
- Contact improvisation
- Dance improvisation
- Hawkins technique
- José Limón technique
- Horton technique
- Humphrey-Weidman technique
- Graham technique
- Cunningham technique
- Corporeal mime - Étienne Decroux technique
- Release technique
- Sullivan Technique
- "Concordia University Contemporary Dance Program".
- Scheff, Helene; Marty Sprague, Susan McGreevy-Nichols (2010). Exploring dance forms and styles: a guide to concert, world, social, and historical dance. Human Kinetics. p. 87. ISBN 0-7360-8023-6.
- "Origins of Contemporary Dance". Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- "Contemporary Dance History". Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- "Modern Dance Pioneers". Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- "Choreo". Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- The Juilliard School - Dance Division - Curriculum Outline
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