February 7, 2024

About the Author: Urpi

Urpi is the lead dance instructor at S&C Dance, where her passion for movement knows no bounds. Alongside her captivating dance classes, she also teach singing!

Earlier, in History of Dance Part 4: The Golden Age of Ballet, we talked about the next steps on the evolution of this beautiful art and its superstars.

Firstly, we saw the development of Ballet from the Classical and Romantic choreographies created by the great Ballet Master Marius Petipa and danced by his students who became astonishing dancers such as Anna Pavlova and Agrippina Vaganova.

Secondly, we saw the experimentation that was carried out by Serguei Diaguilev’s dance company resulting in Modern and Neoclassical choreographies created by the amazing Russians dancers and choreographers Vaslav Nijinsky and George Balanchine respectively.

Last but not least, we saw how the Soviet Revolution made two of the most legendary dancers in Ballet history defect and move to Europe and America, as are the cases of Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Certainly, the sovereignty of Western dance has been held by Ballet since it became popular internationally. Nevertheless, it also has had its counterpart.

So, let’s keep travelling in time and let’s have a look at the early 20th century where a “free dance” appeared.

Isadora Duncan

A Free Dance and Its Precursors

In the early 20th century, a vast array of socioeconomic changes took place in both the United States and Europe, such as the increasing industrialisation and the rise of the middle class.

The latter gave people more disposable income and free time, and they became interested in health and fitness.

According to art historians, it was in this environment that a new dance named “Modern Dance” emerged principally due to the rejection of social structures, although it is also believed that the principal cause was the dissatisfaction with Ballet as it is totally codified and Modern Dance appeared as an act of rebellion against Classic dance.

It is worth adding that, despite the fact Ballet has many eras or phases in its evolution such as Classic, Romantic, Modern and Neoclassical, it is commonly seen as Classic dance as this term involves all its phases.

By 1902, the popularity of an American dancer was growing really fast as she was performing in different theatres around Europe, dancing in a style never seen before.

This was the case of Isadora Duncan, who is widely known as the main predecessor of modern dance and started dancing with loose-haired, free-flowing costumes and bare feet, leaving ballet shoes aside.

She was inspired by Classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature, natural forces and new American athleticism such as skipping, running, jumping, leaping and abrupt movements.

Along with Duncan, another pioneer of Modern Dance emerged, the American dancer Loi Fuller, who developed a form of natural movement and improvisation techniques that were used in conjunction with her revolutionary lighting equipment and translucent silk costumes.

She even patented her apparatus and methods of stage lighting that, included the use of coloured gels and burning chemicals for luminescence.

In fact, Loi Fuller invited Isadora Duncan to tour with her, and despite mixed reactions from the critics, they became popular with their distinctive dance styles and started to influence other dancers.

Young people performing at Laban's Choreographic Institute-in-Berlin

Expressionist and Early Modern Dance in Europe

As Isadora Duncan and Loi Fuller, both American dancers, were developing a dance career in Europe, in Germany, dance was becoming more expressive as the main focus was on individual artistic presentation characterised by a lot of feelings.

In this context, Mary Wigman, Francois Delsarte, Emile Jacques-Dalcroze and Rudolf Von Laban developed theories of human movement and expression and methods of instruction that led to the development of Modern dance.

Doris Humphrey

Second Generation of Modern Dance Precursors

Parallelly, in the United States, influenced by the actress Sarah Bernhardt and Japanese dancer Sada Yacco, another dancer developed her translations of Indian culture and mythology, as is the case of Ruth St. Denis, who is seen as the pioneer of Modern Dance in America.

Her performances quickly became popular, and she toured extensively while researching Asian culture and arts. Then, in 1915, Ruth St. Denis founded the Denishawn School and Dance Company with her husband, Ted Shawn, from which amazing dancers came out.

One of the outstanding pupils of the Denishawn School was Doris Humphrey, who followed her forerunners in exploring the use of breath and developing techniques that are still taught today.

Moreover, she developed the theory of “Fall and Recovery” which is based on the change in center of gravity. Humphrey theorised that moving away from the centre should be followed by an equal adjustment to return to the centre to prevent a fall.

Nonetheless, the best-known pupil of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn was definitely Martha Graham, who is seen as the most distinctive Modern Dance Master of the second generation of Modern Dance pioneers due to the international success of her technique.

Graham’s technique hinges on concepts of contraction and release and she wanted her students to “feel” which means having a heightened sense of awareness of being grounded to the floor while, at the same time, feeling the energy throughout the entire body, extending it to the audience.

Her principal contributions to dance were the focus on the “center” of the body, in contrast to Ballet’s emphasis on limbs, coordination between breathing and movement and a dancer’s relationship with the floor.

Anna Sokolow

The impact and influence of Doris Humprey and Martha Graham were so great that these two amazing dancers, choreographers and teachers trained fantastic dancers who would follow in their footsteps.

Such is the case of Jose Limon, who was Humprey’s student and, in 1946, established his own company with Humphrey as artistic director and developed his own dance technique.

On the other hand, we have Graham’s pupils, such as Anna Sokolow, who focus more on abstract dance.

At this point, another era of Dance was on the verge of arriving, so we invite you to read part 6 of History of Dance as the fantastic history of Dance still continues and in S&C Dance, we will gladly tell you more about this amazing art.

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