Contemporary Dance – Concept, characteristics and representatives

We explain what contemporary dance is, its differences with classical ballet and its characteristics. In addition, its main exponents.

contemporary dance
Contemporary dance responded to a need to express oneself more freely.

What is contemporary dance?

Contemporary dance or modern dance It is a scenic art that emerged at the end of the 19th century. It was a reaction against classical dance forms (especially classical ballet) and responded to a cultural need in the West to express oneself more freely with music and the body.

While classical ballet bet on stylized and conventional forms, contemporary dance broke in with more aggressive forms, representing both the beautiful and the ugly of the life. It was against traditional canons, not requiring a homogeneous outfit, or incorporating different surfaces and environments to the choreography.

The origins of contemporary dance date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as a reaction against the restrictive dynamics of traditional dance. It was created by dancers such as the Americans Loie Fuller (1862-1928), Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), Ruth Saint Denis (1879-1968), Martha Graham (1894-1991), Doris Humphrey (1895-1958) and the German Mary Wigman (1886 -1973).

Stages of such importance as the Universal Exposition in Paris or the London stages of the time were the first places where this new proposal began to be shown to the public, with barefoot dancers and less rigid choreography.

However, soon this active search for freer expression inspired many other artists who already suffered from expressive restrictions. Thus, until the Second World War there was talk of “modern dance” to refer together to these new trends. But from the 1940s onwards, contemporary dance was called a veritable whirlwind of styles and trends, gestated within the new genre.

Dance characteristics

Broadly speaking, contemporary dance is characterized by the following:

  • Avant-garde stage management, with respect to the classic ballet montages: different and sometimes uneven clothing, unusual scenarios in which the floor plays a role in the dance, sound effects, visual effects, decorations and a set of choreographic elements that incorporate a dramatic sense to the dance. The choreographer, therefore, makes creative decisions and pursues expressive concepts, experimentations, and searches through stage management.
  • The movements of the dancers are no longer as rigid or rhythmic as in ballet, but they drink from different influences and tendencies. Usually the movements are freer, more daring and innovative. Far is the preciousness of classical ballet.
  • It breaks with the conventions according to which a man had to carry a woman in the mounts, allowing several men to carry a woman or for a woman to carry a man. The traditional roles of the dancer are left behind.
  • Constantly chase change and not afraid to incorporate elements of other traditions musical or rhythmic (African, Asian, etc.).
  • Your bet is of type expressionist, in the sense of reflecting the emotional interiority of artists and try to express subjective content, rather than classical and impersonal beautiful forms.

Main exponents of contemporary dance

contemporary dance isadora duncan
Isadora Duncan considers herself the creator of contemporary dance.

There have been many innovators and practitioners of contemporary dance in its more than 100 years of history, and in general there is a tendency to classify them into two different schools: the American, born in the United States, and the European, both spanning three generations. of artists and creators. Among the main exponents of both schools we find:

  • Loie fuller. Born in the United States in 1862, she was an important dancer, actress, producer and writer, whose work had an immense impact in Europe, with more than 130 new dances incorporating visual effects, floating fabrics and multi-colored lights.
  • Isadora Duncan. American dancer and choreographer born in 1877, is widely considered the creator of contemporary dance. Using classical Greek precepts, Duncan reinterpreted dance movements to aspire to more natural forms, with greater emotional expression, hand in hand with expressionism. Aware that she was a revolutionary in her genre, she did not always have the acceptance of an audience accustomed to classical forms: during her South American tour in 1916, for example, she had numerous problems both with colleagues and with the public, whom she finally insulted. in Buenos Aires during a staging, accusing them of being uneducated.
  • Rudolf von laban. Hungarian master of modern dance born in 1879, he inaugurated in 1925 his Choreographic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, of which he later had large and important branches in the rest of Europe. In 1928 he proposed a method of mathematical notation of great importance in the art of choreography (the Labian notation). He passed away in 1958 in Surrey, England.
  • Mary Wigman. German by birth in 1886, she is considered the main European promoter of expressionist dance. She was a student and assistant of the teacher Rudolf von Laban, and was closely linked to the German Expressionist literary group Die Brücke, and to the Zurich Dada group during the First World War. In 1920 he created his own contemporary dance school.
  • Jose Limon. Mexican dancer born in 1908 and died in the United States in 1972, he was a dance teacher and choreographer, creator of his own style that highlighted the male role in dance, and considered a precursor of contemporary dance.