February 15, 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!

Formerly, in The History of Dance Part 6: From Modern to Post-Modern Dance, we saw how after African American dancers Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus and Alvin Ailey integrated Modern Dance with Folk Dances and presented a social discourse in their dance around the 40’s and 50’s Modern Dance was entering into another era called Post-Modern Dance.

This was initiated by the great dancers Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins and Paul Taylor, who focused on abstract works, somatic dance techniques and everyday gestures with neoclassical dance. Then, in 1960, post-modern dance was solidified and characterised by experimentation with the work of Yvonne Rainer and Twyla Tharp, dancers who combined pedestrian movements with classical dance.

Finally, two of the founders of The Judson Theater Dance, Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton, defied gravity in their works and created Contact Improvisation, a dance technique that focuses on relationships between dancers. So, let’s keep travelling in time as another era of dance was about to begin, but first, let’s have a look at the work of one of the pioneers of this new era, who was also the pioneer of Dance Theatre.

Pina Bausch Frühlingsopfer

The Beginning of Contemporary Dance with Dance Theatre

While Post-Modern Dance was in its heyday, a young German brilliant dancer named Pina Bausch was starting her training at the Juilliard School after graduating from the Folkwang School in Essen, where she received lessons from Kurt Jooss, the great master of German Expressionist Dance.

At Juilliard, Pina Bausch was mentored by great dance masters of Ballet, Modern and Post-Modern Dance, such as Antony Tudor, Jose Limon and Paul Taylor, and after finishing her dance studies in the U.S., she returned to Germany. Back in her country, she started to develop her transcendental style as a choreographer which she baptised as “Dance Theatre”.

With successful choreographies such as “The Rite of Spring” (1975) by the music of Igor Stravinski, “The Seven Deadly Sins” (1976) by the music of Kurt Weill or her masterpiece “Café Müller” (1978), her Dance Theatre style began to be distinctive due to the cooperation between different expressions.

Her work incorporated many expressly dramatic elements and often explored themes connected to trauma, feelings of existential human anguish and dissociation, absence of plot, surreal situations, public involvement and spoken texts.

Nevertheless, what made her also one of the pioneers of the new era in dance, named lately Contemporary Dance, was the way she approached her creation, especially in terms of dance vocabulary.

For instance, Bausch completely separated herself from the conventions of Classical Ballet, introducing a rehearsal method in which she generated questions to her dancers and created a choreography based on their responses, which were thus reflected in the physical, verbal and visual aspects of the piece.

Therefore, during the 1970s, Bausch became, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the dancers who most influenced the nascent generations of Contemporary Dance that would come.

Jiri Kylian

The Reveal of New Possibilities in Contemporary Dance

Along with Bausch, another choreographer who set the seeds of Contemporary Dance is the amazing Czech dancer and choreographer Jiri Kylian, who started his dance training in Ballet at the school of the National Ballet Prague and was mentored by the wonderful Zora Zemberova, one of the best Czech Ballet dancers.

In 1967, Jiri Kylian was offered a scholarship to study at the Royal Ballet School in London and in 1968, he joined the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany and began his relevant career and own dance style as a choreographer to later become Artistic Director of Nederlands Dans Theater in 1976 where he has worked until now.

Among his large list of choreographies, the ones that have impacted the world of dance are “Forgotten Land” (1981), “Falling Angels” (1989) and “Petite Mort” (1991), which clearly showed the way he conceived movement in his creation.

However, some critics have catalogued Jiri Kylian as a choreographer whose work could also fit into Dance Theatre; his work clearly differs from Bausch’s as his main influences have always been the works of Martha Graham and George Balanchine, which certainly belonged to opposite dance styles.

As a result, Kylian’s work manages to mix perfect elements of Ballet by keeping the Point shoes and the work of “Pas de deux” but completely breaking the rules of academicism in order to look for new possibilities, making him a relevant figure in dance as one of the first choreographers who started developing Contemporary Dance.

William Forsythe

The Visuals Arts in Contemporary Dance

While it is true that since the appearance of Modern Dance there has been an interest of choreographers to combine visual arts with dance, definitely one of the choreographers who started to experiment the most with visual arts and has used them in his work deeply and widely, is the exceptional American dancer and choreographer William Forsythe.

Forsythe began studying dance at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York in 1969, and in 1973, he joined the Stuttgart Ballet, where he began his prominent career as a choreographer. In 1976, he became Stuttgart’s resident choreographer and also started to choreograph for other dance companies.

Then, in 1984, he was appointed director of the government-sponsored Ballet Frankfurt to later founded his own dance company, the acclaimed and well-known “Forsythe Company” in 2005, which started touring across all of Europe.

In 2009, London held a month-long “Focus on Forsythe” celebration that included events across the city, a travelling multimedia installation and the performance of “Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time”, an elaborate installation piece at the Tate Modern, in which dancers weaved through hundreds of suspended pendulums.

All this celebration took place due to the huge success of pieces that became known worldwide, such as “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” (1987), which was commissioned by the legendary Rudolf Nureyev for the Paris Opera Ballet and starred the mesmerizing Sylvie Guillem, “One Flat Thing Reproduced” (2000), “I Don’t Believe in Outer Space” (2008) and many others.

Nonetheless, what makes William Forsythe a crucial figure in the development of Contemporary Dance is, in the first place, his innovative dance style.

Forsythe believes that Classical Ballet is a language with rules to follow. However, although he is trained with these rules, he is much more interested in bending and eventually breaking these guidelines.

That’s why his style is based on Classical Ballet, using traditional positions but developing them to the extreme. In fact, many of his pieces are danced on pointe, but he has used all kinds of footwear, including work boots, socks and slippers, to explore different choreographic results.

Besides, the weight change plays a major part in his work, especially in his partner’s work. The dancers stretch and pull each other far from their center-lines until counterbalance is created between.

His movement style is characterised by dynamics and having a lot of emphasis on space as the movements are big, long and exaggerated with very fast footwork taking inspiration from the musicality, speed and lightness of Balanchine’s work.

In the second place, his creation process has been a reference as he plays with the unexpected, experimenting with a freer approach to choreography in which the dancers can choose order and timing.

In third place, Forsythe is probably the Contemporary choreographer who has experimented the most with visual arts in his work, and he has produced and collaborated on numerous installation works.

As a matter of fact, he has collaborated with different educators and media specialists in order to create new ways to document dance as is the case of his first online program, a computer application titled “Improvisation Technologies: A tool for the Analytical Dance Eye” which he created in 1994.

This application has been used by professional companies, dance conservatories, universities, postgraduate architecture programs and secondary schools worldwide, and it inspired his later application, “Synchronous Objects”.

Therefore, Forsythe’s legacy is undeniable and inspirational.

Ohad Naharin

The Somatic Experience in Contemporary Dance

Last but not least, another relevant figure who has contributed a lot to the growth of Contemporary Dance is the amazing Israeli dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharim.

Despite being raised in a very artistic family with a father who was an actor and a mother who was a Feldenkrais instructor, choreographer and dancer, Naharim did not start dancing until the age of 22 years old when he joined the Batsheva Dance Company in 1974.

Having been accepted in the company with little training, he soon became better and stood out as he had natural dance qualities. Due to his undeniable talent, guest choreographer Martha Graham invited him to join her own company in New York during his first year of dancing.

Between 1975 and 1076, Naharim studied at the School of American Ballet, The Juilliard School and other renowned dance masters. Then, in 1990, Naharim was appointed Artistic Director of Batsheva Dance Company until 2018, launching the company into a new stage as he started to develop his well-known signature style and technique

Amazing choreographies such as “Echad Mi Yodea” (1998), which was set to be performed at a celebration of Israel’s 50th anniversary as a nation-state, “Decadence” (2000), “Hora” (2009), among others, present his unique and popular dance style.

As he mentions in many interviews, he seeks to create a universal yet personal movement. He always has a clear social and political conscience in his works, but his dances are not meant to be political as he prefers to explore the ability of his dancers to use texture and multi-layered movement.

He contrasts physical explosiveness with stillness, taking an interest in contrasts, edges and extremes, creating vital distance and space in dances. The ingredients of his work are space, movement, light and speed.

Moreover, developing a movement language and pedagogy called “Gaga” has consecrated him as one of the most relevant and celebrated choreographers for the rise of Contemporary Dance.

“Gaga” is a practice that resists codification and emphasises the practitioner’s somatic experience. It consists of a teacher leading dancers through an improvisational practice based on a series of images described by the teacher.

The descriptions are used to help the dancer initiate and express movement in unique ways from parts of the body that tend to be ignored in other settings; the goal is that dancers move beyond familiar limits.

In the practice of “Gaga”, dancers do not rehearse in front of a mirror as this enables them to move away from self-critique and allows them to feel the movement from within.

This language movement is still practised by Batsheva Dance Company and characterised Israeli contemporary dance, but it has also become a reference for hundreds of choreographers and contemporary dance companies worldwide.

So, we invite you to read part 8 of History of Dance as the wonderful history of Dance still continues and at S&C Dance, we will gladly tell you more about this fantastic art.

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