History Modern dance is a theatrical dance that began todevelop sometime in the late 19th century towards the early 20thcentury. It evolved as a rebellion or as a reaction against the traditionalballet as well as a way to express contemporary social concerns. Even thoughmodern dance originated in Europe it flourished in the United States ofAmerican, away from the strong European ballet traditions. At the beginning manyearly modern dances were performed by only one person and they had a highlycompressed effect on stage in contrast with the large casts and impressivestage effects of ballet. The history of modern dance can be separated in threemain periods. The first period was the early phase that started around 1900,the second period began sometime around the 1930s and the third around 1945,right after the end of World War II and continues until this day.First period (1900) Thestart of the 19th century and for the following thirty years –highlighting the careers of American modern dancers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St.Denis along site with the German dancer Mary Wigman – was the time whenreactions against the traditional ballet start to emerge.
Alongside thesereactions there were two major developments that pushed the free dance movementforward. One of them was eurhythmics which was a system created by the Swissmusic editor Emile Jaques-Dalcroze that teaches how to express musical rhythmsthrough the movement of the body. This technique later became very popularamong many dancers.
The other one was a system of natural expressive gesturesthat was developed as an alternative to the artificial mannerism by a Frenchphilosopher that goes by the name of Francois Delsarte. In order to give more communication power to their newway of dancing, the first modern dancers looked for different sources ofinspiration that were different from the traditional ballet and other westerntheater dances. Even some ballet dancers such as Michel Fokine, a Russian bornchoreographer, looked for new sources of to get inspired.Ancient Greek sculpture is what inspired IsadoraDuncan to use as a new source of movement.
She danced bare foot and wearingsimple shirts instead of using ballet dancing shoes and the traditional corset.She focused her movements to ‘defy’ gravity while music composers like FredericChoping and Franz Liszt controlled the form of her choreography. Duncan leftFrance and in 1921 she establishes dance schools in the Soviet Union.Unfortunately Isadora Duncan dies in 1927 at age 49. “Myart is just an effort to express the truth of my being in gesture and movement”- IsadoraDuncan RuthSt.
Denis began as a solo dancer and was inspired by dance styles fromdifferent places around the world such as India, Asia and Egypt.In 1915 shefounded the Denishawn School of dance along with her partner Ted Shawn who shemarries later that year. The Denishawn School of dance opens in Los Angeles andit was named after its founder’s names. In order to attract the American audience thecouple toured the vaudeville circuit and part with the Hollywood movie industryby providing them male and female dancers from the Denishawn School. Ruth St.Denis and Ted Shawn tour many countries with their dance school between 1925and 1926 including Japan, India and China among other countries. Justlike St. Denis, Mary Wigman with other German modern dancers offered solo andgroup works and her inspiration for her choreography came from Asia and Africa.
Because of that she was known to use masks in many of her appearances.Unfortunately the modern dance movement in Germany ended when the Nazis rose topower in the 1920s. Anotherdancer that helps spark the fire that is modern dance was Loie Fuller. Justlike Duncan and St. Denis, she wanted to express herself as a dancer in her ownvery persona way. Fuller was born in Illinois in 1862 and she was performing instages and theaters as an actress from a very early age.
She perfected herdance by touring the United States where she was looked at as goodentertainment by the American audience. But Fuller wanted something moresubstantial for her career and so she travel to Europe and more specific shemoved to Paris. There she was not consider just as good entertainment but shefound herself celebrated as an artist and eventually became a fixture at theFolies Bergere and later received huge recognition and success at the Parisexposition. Ifone was visiting the Paris Exposition in the 1900 and wanted to watch LoieFuller perform they would have to pass from the vine-carved entrance of the LeTheatre de la Loie Fuller. There Fuller using her own electric dynamo wouldtransform into butterflies, fire and flowers leaving the audience speechless withher magical performance. Both Isadura Duncan and Ruth St. Denis were part ofthat audience and they were mesmerized by Fuller. After watching Loie performDuncan said, “Before our very eyes she turned to many colored, shiningorchids, to a wavering, flowing sea flower, and at length to a spiral-likelily, all the magic of Merlin, the sorcery of light, color, flowing form.
Whatan extraordinary genius.” Fullerdied in 1928 and so did her art due to the fact that it was too personalizedand so it couldn’t survive without her.Second Period (1930) In1929 a second wave of American dancers such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphreyand Charles Weidman along site the German born dancer Hanya Holm turned to thebasic natural human movements like walking, running and even breathing andtransformed them into dance moves and techniques that are still taught todayaround the world. They also developedmovement styles, vocabularies and important training systems. Martha Graham who was a dancer in the Denishawn Schoolfocused her technique of contraction and release on exhaling and inhaling. Inher first steps she practiced movements that started in the torso area.
In the1930s she collaborated with the Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi and producednarrative locales that were mythic and physic. Her choreography involved femaledancers acting in moments of crisis. DorisHumphrey inspiration came from the connection between an individual, in thiscase a dancer, and a greater force such as gravity. Her technique was calledfall and recovery which comes from the nature of human footfall. Even thoughHumphrey discontinued her performing career she didn’t give up on modern danceand so she continued her work through her student Jose Limon.
Humphrey’ssources later developed from movements to gestures and words. UnlikeGraham and Humphery that work with more specific techniques, Hanya Holm wasinvolved in a variety of shows ranging from musicals and social commentary tohumorous and entertaining dances. She was one of the first dancers that tookmodern dance to the Broadway stage in New York. Duringthe nineteen-thirties choreographers defined modern dance and ballet incompetition to one another.
Modern dance was known as a technique with its veryown inner coherence whereas ballet was known for keeping the essential systemsof belief of its subculture. Both modern and ballet performers andchoreographers stayed loyal to their traditions. Third period (1945) TheSecond World War ended in 1945 and with that a new period started for moderndance that continues until this day. Many American dancers found inspirationfor their techniques and moves from modern dance in combination with ballet andsocial dance. Some of those dancers include Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp andJames Waring. Likewise ballet dancers and choreographers used techniques andmovements developed by modern dancers. Combiningtraditional ballet with Graham’s technique, Merce Cunningham was able totransform conventional dance making the spine the centre of movement.
Unlikeother dancers that were inspired by history, Cunninghams inspiration came frompresent times and that was shown through his works and choreographies. Musicand stage decoration were not considered to depend on the dance style accordingto Cunningham. Workingwith their modern dance companies as well as some ballet companies James Waringand Twyla Tharp included some sense of humor in their choreographies. They wereable to achieve this by including strange moves and parodies in theirchoreographies and with the help of talented American modern dancers AlwinNikolais and Paul Taylor. Inthe 1960s, when Twyla Tharp started her dance career, modern dance was goingthrough a very experimental phase and it was testing the limits of what peopleconsider to be dance by including everyday activities, movements and the use ofordinary objects. These dances were accepted by the dance community in theearly 1970s.
Twyla Tharp took advantage of the social and artistic excitementthat people were feeling in the 1960s and tried different approaches to moderndance. For example, Tharp believed that music was distracting the audience andso she performed without using music as part of her choreography. She also tookher performances outside the traditional theater and danced in odd places suchas the stairs of the Metropolitan Museum and the central park in New York.Tharp is by many credited for the fusion of ballet, modern dance jazz and tapinto one entity. Furthermore she did work for Mikhail Baryshinikov and theJoffrey Ballet Company during the 1970s.
“How do you make a dance? My answer is simple. Putyourself in motion.” -Twyla Tharp Bythe mid-1980s to early 1990 modern dance lost all interest in the traditionalmovements and techniques, instead the use of theatrical elements was gettingpopular among new modern dancers.
Sankai Juke was a Japanese dance group whospecialize in modern and classical dance. The group used ropes that wereattached on the ceiling to suspend themselves upside down on the stage andwithout using a lot of movement or costumes they would decent to the stagefloor. Their goal was to use the minimum of structural choreography but at thesame time express emotions.Present day Todaymodern dance is a huge part of the dance industry and it is offered in almostevery dance studio. This is mostly because most dancers like the idea oflearning ballet but at the same time they don’t want to spend the time andeffort to learn the difficult techniques or they just don’t have the disciplineand the focus that it’s needed.
The past two decades there has been a rise indance competitions worldwide where judges are looking for dancers that have theability to perform modern dance. Therefore dancers that have the ability toexpress motions and feeling throughout their performance are the ones thatusually succeed in these competitions. Watching these performances, judges aswell as companies that are interested in modern dance dancers, are looking fordancers that not only have the best technique but also have their own uniqueway to transfer that emotion to the crowd. Conclusion Asthe sphere of modern dance has expanded and developed and other types of danceshave become more established, modern dance as a term has become almostoutdated.
This is mostly because it is now expressed and presented through manydance genres such as jazz, contemporary and classical. From the beginning backin the 1900 until now, modern dance has been redefined countless times. Eventhough it is evidently not ballet by any means, it still uses some balleticmovements. Moreover sometimes it examines multiple dance elements and sometimesit refers to a specific dance element or movement. As new generations of moderndancers appear the concepts, the movements, the practices and the techniqueswill always change and so will the meaning of the term modern dance.