After centuries of the rigid structure of ballet, dancers grew tired of always following the rules. Thus contemporary and modern dance were born. Contemporary dance is a form of concert dance that emerged in the 20th century that fuses different types of modern and postmodern methods and techniques, while getting rid of the strict rules of classical ballet. Contemporary dance employs a specific philosophy where dancers explore the natural energy and emotions of their bodies that results in very raw, personal and emotional performances. Since all rules on structure and form are omitted, defining contemporary dance is a bit difficult.
But does that mean contemporary dance comprises of people just dancing how they feel on stage? Of course not! Contemporary dance companies like Apex take a lot of pride in creating original, unique choreography that’s limitless in structure and technique. In this article, you’ll learn more about:
- Contemporary Dance History
- Contemporary Dance Techniques
Contemporary Dance History
The changes seen in dance became very parallel with the changes people saw in modern and contemporary painting. Contemporary dance roots actually begin with modern dance’s argument against ballet’s upright posture and vertical movements. Modern dance pioneers like Mary Wigman focused on relaxing the ballerina by unfolding her body from her living, breathing center (For those of you who don’t speak artsy-fartsy, this means getting rid of some of the rules and constricting costumes associated with ballet. Many modern dancers wear simple clothing and dance in their bare feet).
Contemporary dancers like Martha Graham wanted to move even further from the rules and more toward improvisation. Rather than rejecting ballet as modern dance did, contemporary dance fused it with modern dance and redefined the “axis” of body movement.
In ballet, that axis is vertical and upright, as if the dancer is being held upright by a string. In modern dance, that axis rotated and allowed for more grounded movement. Contemporary dance movements and more abstract dance forms like butoh changed not only body movement…
…but also incorporated more theatrical elements such as crazy imagery, audio/visual, linear stories, less constricting costumes and even some comedic elements.
Notable pioneers of contemporary dance include:
Contemporary Dance Techniques
The philosophy of contemporary requires a lot of different techniques that deal with movement and breathing. Below is a list describing some of those techniques used by many dancers in choreography.
- The Cunningham Technique. Merce Cunningham was once described by Martha Graham as “made for the air.” His technique of juxtaposing natural movements with technical ones is still used by young dancers today.
- Pilates. Contemporary dancers don’t put on an aerobics demonstration on stage, but practicing with pilates helps them with movement in relation to breathing and the alignment of the spine.
- The Hawkins Technique. Erick Hawkins, pupil and ex-husband of famed Martha Graham, developed a technique that took dance into the same direction that abstract art took painting. He focused more on aesthetics rather than a sociopolitical agenda or music analogue.
- The Humphrey-Weidman Technique. A modern dance technique by Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman in the earliest 20th century dealing with the theory and action of fall and recovery.