Contemporary exotic sources for inspiration. Their work contrasted

Contemporary dance is also known as modern dance for its tradition of
theatrical dance, it originated in Germany in the later 19th and earlier 20th
century, however by the 1930s the United States had become the centre for
experimentation in modern dance. Modern dance is considered to have emerged as
rejection/rebellion against classical ballet. In the late 19th
century practitioners such as Isadora Duncan and Maud Allan overlooked ballet’s
strict movement and stopped wearing corsets and pointe shoes in the aim for
greater freedom of movement. They also developed movements from a basic
alignment of facing the audience, maintaining an erect posture and in a turned
out position where as modern dancers use a multidimensional orientation in the
theatre space. They challenged ballet and deliberately stood sideways or turned
their backs to the audience as well as not always remaining upright to create
dynamics and falling motions. 

Modern
dance 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 technique
and looked upon exotic sources for inspiration. Their work contrasted what
dancers had been previously taught about in ballet as their movements were a
lot freer and less strict.

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Isadora Duncan has always had
dance in her background as at the age of 6 she began to teach movement in her
neighbourhood to little children and at the age of 10 she left public school
along with her sister so they could earn money from teaching as her classes had expanded. The way
she taught was to teach any pretty thing that came into her head. She continued
this throughout her teenage years and then later joined the Augustin
Daly’s theater company in New York. Isadora travelled the world and opened
dance schools in Berlin and Paris and finally finished with one in the United
States. Her aim for the dance schools was to inspire the young children and
this is one of her famous quotes. “The
dancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously
together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement
of 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 new
women; more glorious than any woman that has yet been; more beautiful than all
women in past centuries: The highest intelligence in the freest body.” Isadora Duncan style was
influenced by Greek sculpture and Greek arts as a movement source that included
skipping, running, jumping and leaping. She was known for dancing in bare feet
rather than the original ballet slippers as well as wearing a simple tunic. All
of her movements evolved from the solar plexus as she created dances that
alternated between resisting and yielding to gravity. Reflecting this work back
to my experience I have been learning throughout this term I can see clips of
original pieces of contemporary movements still being shown such as the weight
of the body and the movements coming from the centre of the body.

Another practitioner who first started making
contemporary 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 innovations
was ‘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 Émile
Jaques-Dalcroze that allowed one dancer to interpret the rhythms of each
instrument of the orchestra.

Mary Wigman had influence over
Germany for modern dance as she began working with Rudolph Laban and she
created a dance school in Dresden for students to learn something new which was
in fact a creative experience that is an expression of emotional impulses. She
wanted her dancers to be conscious of the impulses that lay within themselves
and how to express them. Her movements wanted to create a cathartic function to
dance in ancient societies and will be remembered for their tragic, dark
character and introspective dances that reveal vibrant, vital and passionate
inner states of being. It was in fact the rise of the Nazi political party in
Germany in the 1920s ended the German modern dance movement.

In the Central Modern period (c. 1923–1946),
choreographers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman
started to develop distinctively American movement styles and vocabularies and
worked with these into their own individual training systems. Due to their
amazing success their techniques are still being taught worldwide today and
have been developed and grown upon by many others since.

Martha Graham was introduced to
dance when she watched Ruth St. Denis perform in Los Angeles, she later joined
her dance school and when she left she wanted to make dance a form of art that
was more grounded in the rawness of the human experience rather than a form of
entertainment. Her main techniques is known as ‘contraction and release’ as
each movement could be separated to express either a positive or negative,
freeing or constricting emotions and this all came upon the placement of the
head. Her early work explored movement that initiated in the torso which
crossed linked with previous choreographer Isadora
Duncan.
As her work went on she incorporated themes into her
work and the main ones were Americana and Greek mythology this was seen in her
performances of Appalachian Spring and Cave of heart.  In the late 1930s Graham wanted her
work to have narrative structure and literary subject matter, so she started
working with Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi where she
created narrative locales that were both mythic and psychic. Her work had huge
influences especially as she worked with many other choreographers and this is
why her style is still being taught. Looking back at my work in class I notice
that my teacher likes to use movements of contraction and release to create
different dynamics and also portray a story.

At a young age Doris Humphrey took
part in dance lessons and then toured with a company at a young age but, after
she graduated school she had to open a dance school straight away to
financially cope for herself and her family. Doris got offered a place for the
summer course at the Denishawn School where her
talents were recognized.  After a
two-year tour of the Orient and several seasons of dancing throughout the
United States in top vaudeville theaters, Doris Humphrey and Charles
Weidmanbroke away from Denishawn in 1928. They settled in New York where they
became leaders of the radical new dance form known as “modern dance”. Doris Humphrey’s technique
was all about giving into and taking the rebound from gravity to create the
fall and recovery image. This technique became a metaphor for the relationship
of the individual to a greater force, whether a social group or spiritual
presence. Humphrey continued to choreograph for her protégé, the
Mexican-American dancer and choreographer José Limón who carried on her dance style after she
stopped performing and left the company she had formed with Charles Weidman. In my own work of contemporary dance you
can see the influence Doris Humphrey had with the fall and recovery technique
as a lot of the movements allow you to extend and then release which is often
working at different dynamics creating the feeling of falling.

During
her childhood Hanya Holm attended the Institution of Emile
Jacques-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 she
had the creative ability to piece together a choreographic vision into reality.
Holm’s movement emphasized the freedom and flowing quality of the torso and
back and focused on the importance of pulse, planes, floor patterns, aerial
design, direction, and spatial dimensions. Holm trained through improvisation so, a specific movement vocabulary or phrasing that
could be carried on through classes does not exist; instead her focus was about
learning through discovery. Her work was often an extension to Wigman and
Rudolf Laban as her movements focused on the body’s relation to space and
emotion. In the late 1940s, she choreographed for musicals
in which she was one of the first people to bring modern dance to the Broadway
stage.  

During
the 1930s ballet and modern choreographers focused on the purity of their
traditions 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 dance
while living in Centralia, he took tap class from a local teacher, and it was her
emphasis on precise musical timing and rhythm that provided him a clear
understanding of musicality. He studied acting at the Cornish School in Seattle
but found drama’s reliance on text and miming too limiting and concrete so he
went back to dance as it provided him to explore movement. Martha
Graham saw Cunningham dance and invited him to
join her company in which he stayed there for six years and danced as a soloist
within her company but he later created his own dance company. Merce
Cunningham fused Graham’s
technique with ballet, locating the source of movement in the spine. His work
revealed individual dancers experiencing their feelings to present time and
abstract space and often worked upon chance. The absence of hierarchy in
Cunningham’s use of the performing space, in contrast to ballet’s emphasis on
symmetry and centre stage, was echoed in other aspects of his dances as well: the
lack of a rigidly controlling front view, so that simultaneous views of the
same motif were possible, as in cubism; the absence of a time progression
leading to a climax, but on the contrary the possible simultaneity of equal
events; the openness of expression that observers were free to interpret for
themselves; the lack of a hierarchy among the dancers.

Jose Limon was inspired to dance after attending one
of Harald Kreutzberg and Yvonne Georgi’s performances and enrolled in the
Humphrey-Weidman school. He performed in many shows in Broadway and later in
life went to open his own school. In his choreography, Limón spoke to the
complexities of human life as experienced through the body. His dances feature
large, visceral gestures such as reaching, bending, pulling, grasping to
communicate emotion. Inspired in part by his teacher Doris
Humphrey’s theories about the importance of body
weight and dynamics, his own Limón technique emphasizes the rhythms of falling
and recovering balance and the importance of good breathing to maintaining flow
in a dance.

Steve Paxton was influenced by the experimental arts and
performance scene in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, and he was interested in
how the body could create a physical playground. He developed the style of
contact Improvisation that is often done in duets, that pulls elements from
martial arts, social dance, sports, and child’s play. His technique to this was
that two bodies must come together to create a point of contact, give weight
equally to each other, and then create a movement dialogue that can last for an
undetermined amount of time, as long as both participants are fully engaged. You
can see that we touch upon this style in our contact lessons as we were set a
task to try and move around our partner and experience different weights whilst
still remaining in contact, whether that was with our head or our hand it
depended on the situation. 

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