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modern dance

Later Dancers

By the end of World War II, young choreographers had begun breaking the rules of the modern dance establishment—creating dances that had no theme, expressed no emotion, dispensed with the dance vocabulary of fall and recovery, contraction and release. Sybil Shearer's random fantasies, Katherine Litz's surrealistic vignettes, and Erick Hawkins's impressionistic soft rhythms changed the emphasis of choreography. They had no desire to uplift or inform.

Foremost of this third generation of modern dancers is Merce Cunningham, whose company bred avant-garde choreographers for more than 25 years. Cunningham freed dance from spatial restraints, eliminating strong central focus from choreographic patterns and devising dances that can be viewed from any angle. He also released dance from traditional musical constraints by using electronic music and other compositions of his musical director, John Cage. In addition, he liberated his own choreography from structural limitations by using techniques of chance, such as throws of the dice, to determine the order in which sections of a work should occur.

In 1957 Paul Taylor, a Cunningham and Graham veteran, presented an evening of minimal dance, which consisted of Taylor standing on the stage alone in street clothes and making only tiny changes in posture to the accompaniment of the recorded voice of a telephone operator announcing the time at 10-second intervals; outraged dance critics deliberately ignored the performance. His company ultimately became one of the most important of the post–World War II troupes. Another of the third generation, choreographer Alvin Ailey, who was influenced primarily by Lester Horton, combined elements of modern, jazz, and African dance in his work. The company he established 1958 has been internationally acclaimed and has brought recognition to many African-American and Asian dancers.

The social and artistic ferment of the 1960s provided fertile ground for even more radical departures into what later became known as postmodern dance. Twyla Tharp did away with any sound accompaniment that might distract the viewer's attention from the dance itself. She also took dance outside the theater, staging it in such spaces as the staircase of the Metropolitan Museum of New York City and New York's Central Park. Yvonne Rainer pioneered in the use of improvisations based on ordinary, nondance movements ranging from acrobatics, to military marching, to sports and games. Steve Paxton incorporated even more mundane actions into his dances (e.g., dressing and undressing) and went so far as to perform a duet with a chicken. Paxton, like other dancers and pop artists of the 1960s and 70s, was largely concerned with breaking down the barriers between dancers and audience, between art and life.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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