Contemporary dance is a dance performance genre that developed during the mid twentieth century and has since grown to become one of the dominant genres for formally trained dancers throughout the world, with particularly strong popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Although originally informed by and borrowing from classical, modern, and jazz styles, it has since come to incorporate elements from many styles of dance. Due to its technical similarities, it is often perceived to be closely related to modern dance, ballet and other classical concert dance styles.
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In terms of the focus of its technique, contemporary dance tends to combine the strong and controlled legwork of ballet with modern dance’s stress on the torso, and also employs contract-release, floor work, fall and recovery, and improvisation characteristic of modern dance.
Unpredictable changes in rhythm, speed, and direction are often used, as well. It sometimes also incorporates elements of non-western dance cultures such as elements from African dance including bent knees, or movements from the Japanese contemporary dance Butoh
Contemporary dance performed by Le Sacre
Contemporary dance draws on both classical ballet and modern dance, whereas postmodern dance was a direct and opposite response to modern dance. Merce Cunningham is considered to be the first choreographer to “develop an independent attitude towards modern dance” and defy the ideas that were established by it. In 1944 Cunningham accompanied his dance with music by John Cage, who observed that Cunningham’s dance “no longer relies on linear elements (…) nor does it rely on a movement towards and away from climax.
As in abstract painting, it is assumed that an element (a movement, a sound, a change of light) is in and of itself expressive; what it communicates is in large part determined by the observer themselves.” Cunningham formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1953 and went on to create more than one hundred and fifty works for the company, many of which have been performed internationally by ballet and modern dance companies.
Other pioneers of contemporary dance (the offspring of modern and postmodern) include Ruth St. Denis, Doris Humphrey, Mary Wigman, Francois Delsarte, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, Paul Taylor, Rudolph von Laban, Loie Fuller, Jose Limon and Marie Rambert.
Contemporary Dance Terms
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Corporeality: (or corporeity) this is a term used by dance researchers mainly. Its introduction is attributed to the French philosopher Michel Bernard. It replaces the word ‘body’, under the justification that it is a broader concept that understands the body as an imaginary and malleable matter, a sensitive net with a constant pulse, inseparable from an individual and collective history.
Correct alignment: placing the body (mainly bones and muscles) in such a way that they are physiologically correct. This means that when moving under such an alignment, the dancer will not hurt her/him self and there will be a more efficient expenditure of energy as a consequence. For example, when falling from a jump, knees should point in the same direction of feet. The better that alignment is, the safer the jump is. Read the definition for ‘body placement’ above to expand.
Counterpoint: this is a musical term used to talk about dance as well. When referring to music, it expresses the harmonic interdependence or relationship between two melodic lines whose rhythm and contour are different. When referring to dance, it expresses the same but in choreographic terms: two (or more) choreographic fragments with different use of space, time and/or body are executed together and make part of a choreographic unity.
Dance steps: this is an expression that we use to refer to codified movements, which make part of a dancing vocabulary. A dance step is not necessarily a common step (with a leg), but can be any movement of the body that is already recognized as part of a dance type or style. The expression ‘dance moves’ is also used for the same purpose.
Dance Theatre: this expression is used to refer to a stage genre that combines aesthetic features or methods that belong both to dance and to theatre. Choreography, use of voice and text, creation of dramatic situations, dance improvisation or any practice that belongs to those two aesthetic languages are combined and used freely according to each specific artistic project.
Director: the director of a contemporary dance performance is usually its choreographer too, but this is not a rule. It is called the director if he coordinates general production and delegates a part (or all) of the artistic work to other members of his group. She/he is generally the author of the original idea and the person who makes the final decisions over aesthetic and practical matters.
There is usually a choreographer who makes the creative decisions. He/she chooses whether the piece is an abstract or a narrative one. Dancers are selected based on their skill and training. The choreography is determined based on its relation to the music or sounds that is danced to. The role of music in contemporary dance is different from in other genres because it can serve as a backdrop to the piece. The choreographer has control over the costumes and their aesthetic value for the overall composition of the performance and also in regards to how they influence dancers’ movements.
Le Sacre du Tempo
Dance techniques and movement philosophies employed in contemporary dance may include Contemporary ballet, Dance improvisation, Modern dance styles from United States such as Graham technique, Humphrey-Weidman technique and Horton technique, Modern dance of EuropeBartenieff Fundamentals and the dance technique of Isadora Duncan (also see Free dance).
Contemporary dancers train using contemporary dance techniques as well as non-dance related practices such as Pilates, Yoga, the acting practice of Corporeal mime – Étienne Decroux technique and somatic practices such as Alexander technique,Feldenkrais Method, Sullivan Technique and Franklin-Methode, American contemporary techniques such as José Limón technique and Hawkins technique and Postmodern dance techniques such as Contact improvisation and Cunningham technique, and Release technique.
Some well-known choreographers and creators of contemporary dance created schools and techniques of their own. Paul Taylor developed a dance technique called Taylor technique, which is now taught at modern dance schools like The Ailey School in New York City.