February 10, 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!

Previously, in History of Dance Part 5: The Appearance of Modern Dance, we explained how the socioeconomic changes that took place in the early 20th century in Europe made a new style of dance emerge.

This new dance style was also described as an act of rebellion against the fixed dance rules of Classical Dance, and as its counterpart, it was named “Modern Dance”. In this way, American dancers such as Isadora Duncan and Loie Fuller became the pioneers of Modern Dance in Europe. Besides, theories of human movement and expression started to be developed. In America, dancers such as Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn made Modern Dance popular and mentored amazing dancers such as Doris Humprey and Martha Graham, who contributed to Modern Dance by developing their techniques and mentoring other great dancers as in the cases of Jose Limon and Anna Sokolow. So, let’s keep travelling in time as great dancers still contributed a lot to modern dance until it entered another phase. First, let’s have a look at African American modern dance.

Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus and Alvin Ailey

African American Modern Dance

Undoubtedly, African American dancers and choreographers played an important role in the development of modern dance and in what came next, as they were the first ones to integrate modern dance with folk dances and start to present a social discourse in their dance plays.

For instance, Katherine Dunham blended modern dance with African and Caribbean movements.

As a result, in 1945, she opened her dance school where she taught her technique, which was characterised by having a flexible torso and spine, articulated pelvis, isolation of the limbs, and polyrhythmic movement.

In the same way, Pearl Primus drew on African and Caribbean dances to create strong dramatic works characterized by large leaps, basing her work on black writers and racial issues.

What’s more, Alvin Ailey, who had been mentored by great Modern Dance masters such as Lester Horton and Martha Graham, choreographed a vast array of Modern Dance plays such as the widely known “Revelations” in 1960 with his dance company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Photos of Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins and Paul Taylor

The Beginning of Post-Modern Dance

Certainly, the pioneer of Post-Modern Dance, the next step after Modern Dance, was the great dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, a former Ballet student and dancer of Martha Graham, who, in 1944, embraced modernist ideology using postmodern processes in collaboration with the experimental musician John Cage.

Cunningham introduced chance procedures and pure movement to his choreography. Having also created his own dance technique, he set the seed for postmodern dance with his non-linear, non-climactic, and non-psychological abstract work.

Another dancer and choreographer who contributed enormously to post-modern dance was Erick Hawkins, a student of George Balanchine and the first male dancer in Martha Graham’s dance company. In 1951, Hawkins was really interested in the new field of kinesiology and opened his school and developed his own technique, becoming a forerunner of most Somatic Dance techniques.

Along with Hawkins, Paul Taylor, a student of the Juilliard School of Music and the Connecticut College School of Dance, with his performance at the American Dance Festival in 1952, started to attract the attention of several major choreographers, which made him perform in the companies of Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and George Balanchine.

In 1954, Taylor founded his own dance company and started presenting his own choreographies characterised by the use of everyday gestures in conjunction with a neoclassical dance influence, which would later be investigated in more depth by his pupils.

Photos of Yvonne Rainer and Twyla Tharp

The Era of Post-Modern Dance

Around the 1960s, Post-Modern Dance began solidifying as a new dance style.

As that decade was also characterized by cultural experimentation because society questioned truths and ideologies, this new style of dance was also marked by experimentation.

Choreographers no longer created specific schools or styles individually as much as before but collectively in some cases, and the influences from different periods of dance became more vague and fragmented. It should be added that Post-Modern Dance was also labelled as Avant-Garde Dance.

Various innovations appeared in dance, as is the case of Yvonne Rainer’s work. Rainer is an American dancer who focused on sounds and movements and often juxtaposed the two in arbitrary combinations due to the influence she received from Merce Cunningham.

Her choreography was a combination of classical dance steps contrasted with pedestrian movements. She used a great deal of repetition and employed spoken language and oral noises within the body of her dances.

Another American dancer who solidified Post-Modern Dance is Twyla Tharp, whom Paul Taylor mentored.

In 1966, she formed her own dance company, and in 1973, she became widely known after she choreographed “Deuce Coupe” to the music of The Beach Boys for the Joffrey Ballet, a mix of Ballet and Post-Modern Dance, which made her the first choreographer who made the first “Crossover Ballet”.

Later, in 1976 she choreographed “Push Comes to Shove” which featured the amazing dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and which is considered the best example of crossover Ballet.

Photos of Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton

The Judson Dance Theater Dancers

As we mentioned before, Post-Modern dance was also characterized by collective work between dancers and choreographers. This way of collaboration in dance had its peak in “The Judson Dance Theater” a collective of dancers, composers and visual artists who rejected the confines of Modern Dance practice and theory and focused on the experimentation that Post-Modern Dance carried out—this collective of artists performed at the Judson Memorial Church in New York City between 1962 and 1964.

Among its most famous founders, we have the American dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown, who had been trained in Cunningham and Limon technique.

In the late 1960s, Brown created her own works that attempted to defy gravity, using equipment such as ropes and harnesses to allow dancers to walk on or down walls or experiment with the dynamics of stability.

These “equipment pieces” were the first dances to comprise a distinct series in what would become a working method for Brown as she went on to create various dances throughout her career.

Finally, another of the most recognized founders of The Judson Theatre is Steve Paxton, an American dancer and choreographer who had an early background in gymnastics and who later trained with Merce Cunningham and Jose Limon. In 1972, Paxton named and began to develop the dance form known as Contact Improvisation, a form of dance that utilizes the physical laws of friction, momentum, gravity and inertia to explore the relationships between dancers.

He believed that even an untrained dancer could contribute to the dance form, and so he began his great interest in pedestrian movement. At this point, surely another era of Dance was about to come. So, we invite you to read part 7 of History of Dance as the captivating history of Dance continues, and S&C Dance will gladly tell you more about this fantastic art.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!