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Modern dance is usually performed in bare feet, often with non-traditional costuming.


Modern dance is a dance form developed in the early 20th century. Although the term Modern dance has also been applied to a category of 20th Century broom dances, Modern dance as a term usually refers to 20th century concert dance.

Origins

In the early 1900s two American female dancers, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, as well as one German female dancer, Mary Wigman, started to rebel against the rigid constraints of Classical Ballet. Shedding the authoritarian controls surrounding classical ballet technique, costume, and shoes, these early modern dance pioneers focused on creative self-expression rather than on technical virtuosity. Modern dance is a more relaxed, free style of dance in which choreographers use emotions and moods to design their own steps, in contrast to ballet's structured code of steps. It has a deliberate use of gravity, whereas ballet strives to be light and airy.

In the United States

In the United States of America people such as Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St Denis, Doris Humphrey and also Martha Graham developed, styled and also laid down the foundations of American modern dance.

In Europe

In Europe, Mary Wigman, Francois Delsarte, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, and Rudolf von Laban developed theories of human movement and expression, and methods of instruction that led to the development of European modern and Expressionist dance. Their theories and techniques spread well beyond Europe to influence the development of modern dance and theater via their students and disciples, and subsequent generations of teachers and performers carried these theories and methods to Russia, the United States and Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

History

Free dance

  • 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.


  • 1903 - Isadora Duncan developed a dance technique influenced by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and a belief that dance of the ancient Greeks (natural and free) was the dance of the future. Duncan developed a philosophy of dance based on natural and spiritual concepts and advocated for that acceptance of pure dance as a high art.




Fuller, Duncan and St. Denis all toured Europe seeking a wider and more accepting audience for their work. Ruth St. Denis returned to the United Statesmarker to continue her work. Isadora Duncan returned to the United States at various points in her life but her work was not very well received there. She returned to Europe and died in Paris in 1927. Fuller's work also received little support outside Europe.

Early modern dance

In 1915, Ruth Dorthy St. Denis founded the Denishawn school and dance company with her husband Ted Shawn. Whilst St. Denis was responsible for most of the creative work, 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.



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.





  • 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 Californiamarker (three thousand miles away from the center of modern dance - New York), 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.




European modern and expressionist dance



Popularization of American Modern Dance

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." (de Mille, 1991, p. 205)

Development of modern dance

Whilst the founders of modern dance continued to make works based on ancient myth and legends following a narrative structure, their students, the radical dancers, saw dance as a potential agent of change. Disturbed by the Great Depression and the rising threat of fascism in Europe, they tried to raise consciousness by dramatizing the economic, social, ethnic and political crises of their time.



  • 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.




  • 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.


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 Caribbeanmarker 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, Illinoismarker. Dunham opened a school in New York (1945) where she taught Katherine Dunham Technique, a blend of African and Caribbeanmarker movement (flexible torso and spine, articulated pelvis and 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.




Legacy of modern dance

Modern dance often utilizes floor work.
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 and Contemporary dance

Both Postmodern dance and Contemporary dance are built upon the foundations laid by Modern dance and form part of the greater category of 20th century concert dance. Where as Postmodern dance was a direct and opposite response to Modern dance, Contemporary dance draws on both modern and postmodern dance as a source of inspiration. The social and artistic upheavals of the late 1960s and 70s provoked even more radical forms of modern dance. Modern dance today is much more sophisticated in technique and technology than when modern dance was founded. The founders composed their dances entirely of spirit, sould, heart and mind as opposed to today's modern which has more of a technical aspect as well. The concern with social problems and the condition of human spirit is still expressed, but the issues that are presented would have appalled many of the early modern dancers. The essence of modern dance is to look forward, not back. Ballet and modern sometimes fuse together and enrich both forms, but neither is likely to lose its identity in the process. It is impossible to predict what directions moder dance will take in the future. Each style could go in so many different directions and are usually very radical. If this trend keeps up, future audiences can look forward to an interesting dance forum.

Teachers and their students

This list illustrates the basic teacher / student links in modern dance. For more detailed information see the individual artists entries.





See also





References



Further reading

  • Adshead-Lansdale, J. (Ed) (1994) Dance History: An Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-09030-X
  • Anderson, J. (1992) Ballet & Modern Dance: A Concise History. Independent Publishers Group. ISBN 0-87127-172-9
  • Au, S. (2002) Ballet and Modern Dance (World of Art). Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-20352-0
  • Brown, J. Woodford, C, H. and Mindlin, N. (Eds) (1998) (The Vision of Modern Dance: In the Words of Its Creators). Independent Publishers Group. ISBN 0-87127-205-9
  • Cheney, G. (1989) Basic Concepts in Modern Dance: A Creative Approach. Independent Publishers Group. ISBN 0-916622-76-2
  • Daly, A. (2002) Done into Dance: Isadora Duncan in America. Wesleyan Univ Press. ISBN 0-8195-6560-1
  • de Mille, A. (1991) Martha : The Life and Work of Martha Graham. Random House. ISBN 0-394-55643-7
  • Duncan, I. (1937) The technique of Isadora Duncan. Dance Horizons. ISBN 0-87127-028-5
  • Foulkes, J, L. (2002) Modern Bodies: Dance and American Modernism from Martha Graham to Alvin Ailey. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-5367-4
  • Graham, M. (1973) The Notebooks of Martha Graham. Harcourt. ISBN 0-15-167265-2
  • Graham, M. (1992) Martha Graham: Blood Memory: An Autobiography. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-57441-9
  • Hawkins, E. and Celichowska, R. (2000) The Erick Hawkins Modern Dance Technique. Independent Publishers Group. ISBN 0-87127-213-X
  • Hodgson, M. (1976) Quintet: Five American Dance Companies. William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0688080952
  • Horosko, M (Ed) (2002) Martha Graham: The Evolution of Her Dance Theory and Training. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-2473-0
  • Humphrey, D. and Pollack, B. (Ed) (1991) The Art of Making Dances Princeton Book Co. ISBN 0-87127-158-3
  • Hutchinson Guest, A. (1998) Shawn's Fundamentals of Dance (Language of Dance). Routledge. ISBN 2-88124-219-7
  • Kriegsman, S, A.(1981) Modern Dance in America: the Bennington Years. G K Hall. ISBN 0-8161-8528-X
  • Lewis, D, D. (1999) The Illustrated Dance Technique of Jose Limon. Princeton Book Co. ISBN 0-87127-209-1
  • Long, R. A. (1995) The Black Tradition in Modern Dance. Smithmark Publishers. ISBN 0831707631
  • Love, P. (1997) Modern Dance Terminology: The ABC's of Modern Dance as Defined by its Originators. Independent Publishers Group. ISBN 0-87127-206-7
  • McDonagh, D. (1976) The Complete Guide to Modern Dance Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385050555
  • McDonagh, D. (1990) The Rise and Fall of Modern Dance. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 1-55652-089-1
  • Mazo, J, H. (2000) Prime Movers: The Makers of Modern Dance in America. Independent Publishers Group. ISBN 0-87127-211-3
  • Minton, S. (1984) Modern Dance: Body & Mind. Morton Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0895821027
  • Roseman, J, L. (2004) Dance Was Her Religion: The Spiritual Choreography of Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Martha Graham. Hohm Press. ISBN 1-890772-38-0
  • Sherman, J. (1983) Denishawn: The Enduring Influence. Twayne. ISBN 0-8057-9602-9
  • Terry, W. (1976) Ted Shawn, father of American dance : a biography. Dial Press. ISBN 0-8037-8557-7
  • A great series of articles on Analyzing trends in the modern dance movement can be found here.



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