Modern dance is a theatrical dance that began to
develop sometime in the late 19th century towards the early 20th
century. It evolved as a rebellion or as a reaction against the traditional
ballet as well as a way to express contemporary social concerns. Even though
modern dance originated in Europe it flourished in the United States of
American, away from the strong European ballet traditions. At the beginning many
early modern dances were performed by only one person and they had a highly
compressed effect on stage in contrast with the large casts and impressive
stage effects of ballet. The history of modern dance can be separated in three
main periods. The first period was the early phase that started around 1900,
the second period began sometime around the 1930s and the third around 1945,
right after the end of World War II and continues until this day.
First period (1900)
start of the 19th century and for the following thirty years –
highlighting the careers of American modern dancers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St.
Denis along site with the German dancer Mary Wigman – was the time when
reactions against the traditional ballet start to emerge. Alongside these
reactions there were two major developments that pushed the free dance movement
forward. One of them was eurhythmics which was a system created by the Swiss
music editor Emile Jaques-Dalcroze that teaches how to express musical rhythms
through the movement of the body. This technique later became very popular
among many dancers. The other one was a system of natural expressive gestures
that was developed as an alternative to the artificial mannerism by a French
philosopher that goes by the name of Francois Delsarte.
In order to give more communication power to their new
way of dancing, the first modern dancers looked for different sources of
inspiration that were different from the traditional ballet and other western
theater dances. Even some ballet dancers such as Michel Fokine, a Russian born
choreographer, looked for new sources of to get inspired.
Ancient Greek sculpture is what inspired Isadora
Duncan to use as a new source of movement. She danced bare foot and wearing
simple shirts instead of using ballet dancing shoes and the traditional corset.
She focused her movements to ‘defy’ gravity while music composers like Frederic
Choping and Franz Liszt controlled the form of her choreography. Duncan left
France and in 1921 she establishes dance schools in the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately Isadora Duncan dies in 1927 at age 49.
art is just an effort to express the truth of my being in gesture and movement”
St. Denis began as a solo dancer and was inspired by dance styles from
different places around the world such as India, Asia and Egypt.In 1915 she
founded the Denishawn School of dance along with her partner Ted Shawn who she
marries later that year. The Denishawn School of dance opens in Los Angeles and
it was named after its founder’s names. In order to attract the American audience the
couple toured the vaudeville circuit and part with the Hollywood movie industry
by providing them male and female dancers from the Denishawn School. Ruth St.
Denis and Ted Shawn tour many countries with their dance school between 1925
and 1926 including Japan, India and China among other countries.
like St. Denis, Mary Wigman with other German modern dancers offered solo and
group works and her inspiration for her choreography came from Asia and Africa.
Because of that she was known to use masks in many of her appearances.
Unfortunately the modern dance movement in Germany ended when the Nazis rose to
power in the 1920s.
Another dancer that helps spark the fire that is
modern dance was Loie Fuller. Just like Duncan and St. Denis, she wanted to
express herself as a dancer in her own very persona way. Fuller was born in
Illinois in 1862 and she was performing in stages and theaters as an actress
from a very early age. She perfected her dance by touring the United States
where she was looked at as good entertainment by the American audience. But
Fuller wanted something more substantial for her career and so she travel to
Europe and more specific she moved to Paris. There she was not consider just as
good entertainment but she found herself celebrated as an artist and eventually
became a fixture at the Folies Bergere and later received huge recognition and
success at the Paris exposition.
one was visiting the Paris Exposition in the 1900 and wanted to watch Loie
Fuller perform they would have to pass from the vine-carved entrance of the Le
Theatre de la Loie Fuller. There Fuller using her own electric dynamo would
transform into butterflies, fire and flowers leaving the audience speechless with
her magical performance. Both Isadura Duncan and Ruth St. Denis were part of
that audience and they were mesmerized by Fuller. After watching Loie perform
Duncan said, “Before our very eyes she turned to many colored, shining
orchids, to a wavering, flowing sea flower, and at length to a spiral-like
lily, all the magic of Merlin, the sorcery of light, color, flowing form. What
an extraordinary genius.”
died in 1928 and so did her art due to the fact that it was too personalized
and so it couldn’t survive without her.