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modern dance


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A term widely used in America and Britain to denote theatrical dance that is not based on the academic school of classical ballet. Through early 20th-century practitioners such as Isadora Duncan, Ruth St Denis, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey, modern dance developed in opposition to classical ballet, rejecting the latter's structural formality and its occasionally frivolous subject matter. Modern dance pioneers eschewed the language of the danse d'école in favour of a freer movement style—favouring bare feet over pointe shoes, for example, and a far more mobile use of the torso. Choreographers like Graham and Humphrey developed their own methods of teaching the new techniques required for their work. Early subject-matter was often political or psychological (Graham in particular was influenced by Jungian psychology). In the 1950s Cunningham took the form one step further by stripping dance of its literary and narrative context, as well as isolating it from its musical accompaniment. Subsequent generations have continued to experiment with new languages and new approaches. Modern dance choreographers in the 1960s and 1970s pared their vocabulary down to minimalist or pedestrian moves, or alternatively explored the possibilities of improvisation. Non-dance elements like text, video imagery, and art installations featured increasingly in productions. Other movement languages, such as T'ai Chi, South Asian dance, hip-hop, or capoeira were also used as sources of new inspiration, to the point where the term modern dance became extremely elastic.

A parallel development to this rapid expansion of style and aesthetic has been the softening of distinctions between ballet and modern dance. Dancers frequently take class in both techniques while modern choreographers like Tharp, Taylor, Morris, and McGregor are among many to create work for classical companies. (McGregor was appointed resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet.) Classical choreographers in turn have incorporated elements of modern dance into their work. Tetley was one of the first to be described as a ‘crossover’ choreographer, with ballets like Pierrot Lunaire.

Subjects: Dance.


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