Dancers who did not want to follow strict classical ballet and lyrical dance forms, but instead wanted to explore the area of revolutionary unconventional movements that were gathered from all dance styles of the world are known as Contemporary dancers. Contemporary dances try to develop totally new forms and dynamics, such as quick oppositional moves, shifting alignments, expressions of raw emotions, systematic breathing, movement performed in non-standing positions (lying on the floor), and try to find the absolute limits of our human form and physique.
This popular dance movement can be traced to several influential dance visionaries such as Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. They all wanted to show the world that contemporary dancers should embrace freedom, ignore traditional dance protocol, and explore the limits of the human body and visual expression of feelings.
Isadora Duncan (1878-1927)
Known as the dancer of the future, Isadora Duncan watched nature for her inspirations. She wanted movement to be in harmony with the earth - winds, waves, birds, etc. Her mission of a dancer was to express what is the most moral, healthful and beautiful in art. Isadora rejected ballet because she felt it went against the natural will of an individual. She felt movement was unending and no two dancers should be alike. Movement should not immitate, but be the perfect expression of the individual body and soul.
Isadora's choreography was reconstructed from pictures and statues of Greek art. To her, the Greeks evolved their movements from the movement of nature. "Dancing, like any art of any time should reflect the highest point the spirit of mankind has reached in that special period."
Isadora Duncan was the first to be recognized as a modern dancer. She allowed the music to flow into her and assist her in creating movement. She used scarves and went back to a more primitive form of dancing by skipping and leaping as the music moved her. There was a certain joy to her movement as it was free and lively.
An American, Isadora traveled and lived primarily in Europe. Her extensive repertoire includes: Brahms Waltzes (1905), Fifth Symphony (1915), Marseillaise (1915), and Marche Slave (1917). Her dancers (followers) were called Isadorables.
Martha Graham (1894-1991)
Martha Graham turned Isadora Duncan's method of using music as a basis for movement
upside down and instead turned to the world around her. Rather than music, she turned to historical events, mythology, social issues, poems, paintings, the Bible, etc for inspiration. Graham also began to include psychology in her choreography.
Graham moved away from the traditional movement of ballet as she felt it was not expressive enough. She experimented with what she called "contract and release." When she began using this method in her company's performances, critics called it ugly. Now dancers come from everywhere to learn this method of modern dance.
Creating 181 dance compilations, Martha Graham was the first to use her world as inspiration and dance to emote something other than a story. This is something dancers are now taught to do in their works. To look beyond what they see, dig deep for emotion and be inspired by the world around them. She opened the door for not only modern dance, but all dance. She inspired and shook her generation to its core and her works remain timeless to this day. Martha's company still produces her original work to preserve her memory and wonderful creativity and many others draw upon her work and methods for inspiration.
Merce Cunningham (1919-2009)
Merce Cunningham was deeply influenced by Martha Graham, having danced in her company for many years. Branching out on his own in 1942, he worked extensively with musician John Cage to establish the particular relationship between dance and music. "My work is without literary reference or without psychological determination in any way. The music does not support the dance in any conventional way. The music is made separately from the dance. What you have in my work is the dancing itself." Merce considered movement expressive and beyond any intention. He felt there was no need to tell a story or reflect something.
Contemporary dance history considers Merce Cunningham as the first choreographer that looked at movement abstractly or randomly. He broke the rules of perspective and symmetry defined by ballet.
During his long career, Cunningham was regarded as one of the greatest creative forces in American dance, educating dozens of worldwide famous dancers and thousands of professional dancers who still preserve his style. He is known for his stage works, Rainforest (1968), Walkaround Time (1968) and Duets (1980), and he also pioneered the use of new technology for dance through Lifeforms software.
"Dancing gives you nothing back, it is a single fleeting moment when you feel alive." - M. Cunningham