The term Contemporary Dance encompasses an enormous array of dance movement and styles. It means a variety of things to different people within the dance and cultural communities throughout the world. However, it is fair to say that Contemporary Dance is a genre within its own right. Under its umbrella one finds a diverse amount of movement. This is a short summary about its past, present and the future from the perspective of Berlin Dance Institute.
To understand how Contemporary Dance came into being one must take a glimpse at the history of dance in general. There was Modern Dance from 1920s to the 1960s, then came Post Modern Dance. This was followed by Contemporary Dance in the 1970s. American Modern Dance was greatly influenced by the German expressionist dancers like Mary Wigman (1886-1973) and Hanya Holm (1893-1992).
In the forefront of the American modern dance movement were Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) and Ruth St Denis (1879-1968). Consequently, they opened the door for dancers and choreographers like Doris Humphrey (1895-1928) and Martha Graham (1884-1991). Both choreographers turned their backs on what they considered to be the rigid confinement of classical ballet. In other words, they sort to develop movement and technique based upon human emotion.
Focus on body and creativity
The experimentation of new dance movement developed into new dance techniques. These included Graham, Limón, Cunningham, Nikolais and Horton. The desire to get away from the confines of ballet and find different approaches to dance movement is evident in the use of the body in modern dance. More emphasis was placed upon flexibility in the upper body and in addition an earthy connection was developed between the dancer’s entire body and the use of the floor.
The further development of dance occurred when modern dance techniques became as codified as Classical Ballet. Post Modern Dance challenged every aspect of dance, its essence, its construction, how it was viewed and understood. It began to make new demands on the dancers body and ultimately on how the body was trained. In the 1960s new ideas began to flourish, for example, all movers were dancers and improvisation and contact improvisation were no longer class room exercises. They became creative processes resulting in live performances.
The consequence: Contemporary Dance
The term Contemporary Dance is attributed to the period around the 1970s to the present day. Whilst many of the codified techniques were still being used throughout the world, they no longer pushed the boundaries. Therefore they no longer challenged the further development of dance. Contemporary Dance took over this role. As a result, one begins to witness the metamorphosis of Modern Dance techniques into newer styles, which then went on to influence dance training and in particularly choreographers. Contemporary Dance is about what is present and what is current. One sees this as dance continues to evolve according to its present day influences. This started with the integration of other movement forms like Yoga and Feldenkrais. The collaboration of multiple art forms and influences from street and cultural dance, with media and communication are making it possible for artists to have maximum exposure.
Contemporary Dance styles continue to develop. This is perhaps easier to witness through the work of choreographers than the dancer per se. Look at Batsheva Dance Company, DV8, Akram Kahn Company or Sasha Waltz – they are all different, but they all contemporary and relevant to our time.
Contemporary Dance in Berlin
The contemporary dance education programme at Berlin Dance Institute integrates the codified techniques with the most relevant contemporary techniques. These are supported by improvisation, contact improvisation and choreography. Our programme is dedicated to the exploration and development of personal movement style. It builds a foundation that enables the dance artist to discover the depths, challenges and future of the ever evolving aspects of contemporary dance.
Wendy Taylor, November 2016