As a wide and unique genre of a concert dance, modern dance originated in Germany and the USA in the late nineteenth-twentieth centuries. If one tries to oversimplify the dance history, it may lead to an erroneous explanation. This form of art has emerged as a revolt against a classical form of ballet or simple rejection. If to look deeply, the economic, social and cultural changes in the USA and Europe brought the significant shifts in the dance world. Modern dance is often linked to the theatrical performance that had its distinct features in the twentieth century. It prospered in those areas that lacked ballet traditions, particularly in the USA, where the famous European ballet companies were operating. The paper will discuss the emergence and further development of modern dance as well as the contribution of the prominent dance artists. They have left a great legacy of their performances for the following generations.
The main birthplaces of modern dance
The world historians point to Europe, in particular Germany and the USA as the basic birthplaces of modern dance (“Modern Dance History”). Despite the fact that modern dance has evolved as a concert dance form, no direct roots can be observed among ballet artists and schools. Modern dance has emerged outside academic institutions. It was deemed as a consequence of time and often mentioned as a human reaction against ballet. One may contrast it to the ballet. Definite distinct traits can be viewed in the diverse modern dance that emerged a long time ago. Despite the fact that the birthplace of modern dance is in Europe, the USA had become a place for great experiments with dance by the 1930s (“Modern Dance History”). Every early modern dance was described as a miniature-solo with compressed effects. The late 19th century’s ballets that dominated at that time were famous for the large cast, recognizably different dance numbers, outstanding and unbelievable scenic effects. No one considered ballet as monumental. Over the centuries, ballet as well as modern dance have been developing and changing their nature in the period of existence.
The relation of modern dance to music
Probably the most significant aspect of modern dance is its relation to music. In a traditional form of ballet, the dance impulse goes in parallel with the music rhythm. It can be also seen in the present-day dance. However, it does not mean that it has to be so all the time. A choreographer may compose a dance first. A composer will write music afterwards emphasizing the movement impulses; and the dance momentum will run counter to the music rhythms. Moreover, music can be absent at all. The one may hear the sound of the dancer’s movement against the background of silence. In fact, the independent relation of music and dance has greatly affected ballet nowadays.
According to Kurth, America’s industrialization, the growth of a middle class, which had free time and disposable incomes, and the reduction of the Victorian era social restraints have caused a high interest in physical and health fitness among people (28). In this atmosphere, a new dance has emerged as a result of humans’ dissatisfaction with ballet and rejection of social constraints (Legg 1). At that time, individuals started to engage in the physical education prepared that a basis and way of development for modern dance. Gymnastic exercises were deemed as the starting points for females who wanted to dance. By the decade’s conclusion, colleges had been offered the courses on aesthetic dance (McPherson 5). At the same time, such dancers as Loie Fuller, Maud Allen, and Isadora Duncan paved the way for free and aesthetic dance in the theatrical concert settings. Since these dance artists avoided using a strict movement vocabulary, pointe shoes, and corsets, they sought to reach freedom in their movements. The author Emil Rath in his works wrote about the emerging form of art at that time. He considered music and rhythmic movement of a body as twin sisters of art that simultaneously had come into existence. Today, everyone can observe them in the artistic masterpieces of Isadora Duncan and Maud Allen. They strove to portray dancing forms in movements and demonstrate interpretative dancing with the help of expression, music, and composition.
The main periods of modern dance
According to Legg, the US modern dance has three main periods (8). The first is the early modern period that occurred in 1880-1923. The talented dancers Ted Shawn, Loie Fuller, the legendary one Isadora Duncan, and Ruth St. Denis were the main representatives of this period. Free dance, modern romanticism, and new dance as the forms and directions can also characterize this era. While the artistic practices significantly changed during this period, distinct dance techniques had not yet originated.
In the early 1900s, the US dancer, innovator, and the founder of the free dance tried to stress flowing dresses, torso, loose hair, bare feet, and incorporated humor in the emotional expression of her performances. She started to look to the natural body rhythms as a basis for the own style and philosophy (Warren and Youngerman 2). The history of modern dance deservedly named Duncan as an emblematic personality of freedom. It is not only because of her refusal to follow academic education.
Owing to her courage, she could break social codes and dance traditions proposing own aesthetical ideas.
The natural forces, social dances, folk dances, classical Greek arts, and American athleticism, namely abrupt movements, leaping, jumping, running, and skipping were those things that inspired Isadora Duncan. The woman viewed ballet as nonsensical and ugly gymnastics. Despite the fact that she returned to America for a variety of life circumstances, her performances did not receive a positive feedback from the public. Afterwards, she came to Europe, where he tragically died in 1927.
In 1891, a pioneer of modern dance and a burlesque skirt dancer Loie Fuller started to experiment with the effects that gas lighting had brought to the silk dresses (Brown 2). She had improvised with techniques and used them together with voluminous dresses and innovative lighting equipment. The artist patented various devices of stage lighting. She also applied burning chemicals with colored gels for illumination during performances.
The legendary Sarah Bernhardt and dancer from Japan Sada Yacco was affected by the works of the eminent pioneer of modern dance Ruth St. Denis. The woman explored the Indian culture and tried to incorporate it in her own performances. She started to tour extensively because her performances quickly became popular abroad and continued her research on the Eastern art and culture.
Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, Francois Delsarte, and Mary Wigman as the eminent European dance artists developed their own theories dedicated to the human expression. Moreover, they improved instructional methods and developed European expressionist and modern dance. Moreover, the radical dancers tried to increase the public’s consciousness by dramatizing the socioeconomic, political, and ethnic issues of the time caused by European fascism and Great Depression.
In the 1920s, the passion for interpretive dancing swept the US (Brown 4). Moreover, political, economic and cultural concerns affected the further development of modern dance in the USA and Germany. The America’s Great Depression, the rise of fascist sentiments, and the World Wars greatly affected the development of various forms of art. It, in particular, inspired modernistic dance. In the 1960s, in the time of social rebellion in America, the new and fresh ideas about dance emerged largely as a response to early dance forms and socioeconomic changes (Warren and Youngerman 8). Postmodern dancers rejected the formalism of modernistic dance. They included such elements as improvisation, a technique of release, and art in their performances (Scheff, Sprague, and McGreevy-Nichols 87).
The second period 1923-1946 is a central modern period (Legg 8). Lester Horton, Charles Williams, Katherine Dunham, Doris Humphrey, and Martha Graham were the major representatives of this era. During this period, a lot of dancers sought to find an American way of moving and generate the American unique form of art. Moreover, these performers also developed a recognizable dance training system, known to the whole world.
Newspapers regularly started to assign the critics Edwin Denby and Walter Terry. They approached dance performance from a standpoint of the movement specialists rather than as music reviewers. Many educators included modern dance into the college/university curriculum as a part of performing art and physical education. Numerous designers, musicians, and artists were presented in various concert series across the continent. Their performances were free from the limitations and constraints of huge monopolistic managements preferring to see Europeans. As a result, the US dancers started to tour throughout the country for the first time. This event marked the beginning of their personal solvency (De Mille 20).
The third period 1946-1957 is the late modern period that paved the way for post-modern dance, clarified abstractionism, and gave its rise to avant-garde (Legg 8). The main representatives of this era are Cunningham, Taylor, Halprin, Sokolow, and Limon.
Further development of modern dance
The successive generation of performers continued to develop modern dance. The artistic content has grown. It has also shifted from one choreographer to another. The same thing happened with techniques and styles. The eminent dancers Horton and Graham have offered numerous techniques that are still well-known across the world. Various types of contemporary dance exist nowadays. The legendary masters and teachers teach them at many famous schools.
Nowadays, modern dance is very popular throughout the world. Many ballet companies have incorporated this into their class repertoire and performances. Modern dance is an only form of art that allows a free expression. Therefore, millions of people adore and admire it. An ability to be free while dancing is the exceptional quality since not so many dance forms can possess it.
There are no boundaries in modern dance. Performers simply dance through the own feelings and emotions creating a great and unbelievable form of art. The heritage of modern dance is observed in the lineage of the concert forms in the twentieth century.
Despite the fact that many numerous talented dancers often produce divergent forms of dance, they still share a common legacy that one can trace back to free dance.