Rebellion Against Modern Dance

Contemporary Changes and Conforms to What is Currently Happening in Culture. Contemporary Draws Influence from Ballet, Modern, and Jazz.

The Components of Contemporary Dance

Contemporary came about in the mid-twentith century. It started as a way of rebelling against modern dance because it conforms to what is happening now in society and in culture and incorporates a mix of styles, such as ballet, modern, and jazz. Contemporary is different than any previous genre of dance because it is site specific; the dance can be performed anywhere and reflects the area in which it is being performed. Contemporary encompasses other specific techniques that make the genre unique. Pedestrian movement is a major component in contemporary dance that takes everyday common movements and incorporates them into the choreography. Improvisation is a movement that comes from a spontaneous place. Rather than choreographing every move, dancers move in the moment. Contact improvisation involves the same methods as improvisation but adds a partner. Contemporary also includes Japanese Butoh which came about after the bombings on Japan at the end of World War II. It is an artistic response that reflects the reactions of the Japanese during the World War II era; thus, the dancers portray a pale, sick and suffering look and move in ways that are low the ground that pulls of sense of pity and depression. Aerial work was influenced by Japanese Butoh, which is work hanging from a ceiling. Aerial work frees the dancers because they are no longer confined by gravity and are allowed to move and bend the body in ways that could never be made as beautifully in previous times.

Merce Cunningham 

Merce Cunningham, 1970

Merce Cunningham, 1970

Merce Cunningham appearing on the television program 'Gateway' in 1967.

Merce Cunningham appearing on the television program ‘Gateway’ in 1967.

Merce Cunningham (April 1919 – July 2009) was an American modern dancer and choreographer who developed new forms of abstract dance movement including pedestrian movement, improvisation, and contact improvisation. Cunningham began to study dance at 12 years of age. After high school he attended the Cornish School of Fine and Applied Arts in Seattle, Washington, for two years. He then went on to study at Mills College (1938) with dancer and choreographer Lester Horton and at Bennington College (1939), where he was invited by Martha Graham to join her company. As a soloist for her company, he created many important roles. Encouraged and inspired by Graham, Cunningham began to choreograph in 1943. Among his early works were Root of an Unfocus (1944) and Mysterious Adventure (1945). Cunningham left Graham’s company in 1945 and began to work professionally with composer John Cage whom he developed a relationship with. They collaborated on annual recitals in New York City and on a number of works such as The Seasons (1947) and Inlets (1978). In 1952, Cunningham formed his own dance company called the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Chance Dance

Chance Dance was created by Merce Cunningham and is a way of utilizing improvisational movement. Cunningham was intrigued by the potential of random methods as determinants of the structure of dance. Inspired also by the pursuit of abstract movement to draw emotional implications, Cunningham developed “choreography by chance,” a technique in which selected isolated movements are assigned a sequence by random methods such as tossing a coin or a voting system. This specific way of arrangement was utilized for the dances in Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three (1951), and in Suite by Chance (1952) the movement patterns themselves were so constructed. Suite by Chance was also the first modern dance performed to an electronic score commissioned from American experimental composer Christian Wolff.

Cunningham’s abstract dances vary in mood but are frequently characterized by abrupt changes and contrasts in movement. His dances include the common movements special for contemporary, such as pedestrian movement where he takes everyday movements and puts it into choreography. He also utilizes improvisation, movement that comes from a spontaneous place, and contact improvisation, spontaneous movement using partnering and improvisational structures.

In 1974, Cunningham abandoned his company’s 20-year repertory, for what he called “Events,” excerpts from old or new dances, sometimes two or more simultaneously. He choreographed performances created for videotape, which included Blue Studio: Five Segments (1976) and began working with film and created Locale (1979). Later dances included Duets (1980), Fielding Sixes (1980), Channels/Inserts (1981), and Quartets (1983).

Merce Cunningham Dance Company

Cunningham’s company drew to an end with a two-year legacy tour in December 2011, giving its last-ever performance on New Year’s Eve.

cunningham dance company

Members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company


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