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Transcript of Modern Dance
Was an American actress with no dance training, she became a wizard of creating magical illusions of natural forms with lighting and drapery. Idolized in France, she made Paris her permanent home. Fuller began her theatrical career as a professional child actress and later choreographed and performed dances in burlesque (as a skirt dancer), vaudeville, and circus shows. An early free dance practitioner, Fuller developed her own natural movement and improvisation techniques. Fuller combined her choreography with silk costumes illuminated by multi-coloured lighting of her own design.
Isadora Duncan (1878-1927)
Was a revolutionary who danced solos to classical music and whose private life defied political and sexual norms. Fervently believing that dance could enhance the spiritual health of society, she became a legend through her interpretive artistry and personal example. She rejected traditional ballet steps to stress improvisation, emotion and the human form. Duncan believed that classical ballet, with its strict rules of posture and formation, was "ugly and against nature"; she gained a wide following that allowed her to set up a school to teach.
Virtually single-handedly, Isadora restored dance to a high place among the arts. Breaking with convention, Isadora traced the art of dance back to its roots as a sacred art. She developed within this idea, free and natural movements inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature and natural forces as well as an approach to the new American athleticism which included skipping, running, jumping, leaping and tossing. With free-flowing costumes, bare feet and loose hair, Duncan restored dancing to a new vitality using the solar plexus and the torso as the generating force for all movements to follow. Her celebrated simplicity was oceanic in depth and Isadora is credited with inventing what later came to be known as Modern Dance.
Duncan's fondness for flowing scarves was the cause of her death in an automobile accident in Nice, France, on the night of September 14, 1927, at the age of 50. The scarf was hand-painted silk from the Russian-born artist Roman Chatov, which got caught on the wheel, and she was pulled out and dragged along behind.
Ruth St. Denis
Ruth St. Denis (1880-1968).
After an international career performing lyrical interpretations of Asian myths, she returned to the U.S. and formed the Denishawn Company (1915) with her pupil and husband, Ted Shawn. The dominant serious dance company of the 1920s, Denishawn was the training ground for Graham, Humphrey, and Weidman, among others. Ruth St. Denis founded Adelphi University's dance program in 1938 which was one of the first dance departments in an American university. It has since become a cornerstone of Adelphi's Department of Performing Arts.
Her early works are indicative of her interests in exotic mysticism and spirituality. Many companies currently include a collection of her signature solos in their repertoires, including the programme, “The Art of the Solo,” a showcase of famous solos of modern dance pioneers.
Denis was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame in 1987.
Martha Graham (1894-1991).
After a late start at age twenty-two as a Denishawn student, this intensely passionate artist developed a contraction-and-release technique based on breathign that became the most widely taught of modern styles in the U.S. Developing a company as she built a repertory, Graham explored Greek myths, the Bible, the American frontier, and the human heart while struggling against our Puritan heritage. Among the choreographers she nurtured were Hawkins, Cunningham, Taylor, and Sokolow, as well as May O’Donnell and John Butler.
Graham started her career at an age that was considered late for a dancer. She was still dancing by the late 1960s and her works from this era included roles for herself which were more acted than danced and relied on the movement of the company dancing around her.
In her 1991 autobiography Blood Memory Graham herself lists her final performance as her 1970 appearance in "Cortege of Eagles" when she was 76 years old.
In the years that followed her departure from the stage Graham sank into a deep depression fueled by views from the wings of young dancers performing many of the dances she had choreographed for herself and her former husband. Graham's health declined precipitously as she abused alcohol to numb her pain. In Blood Memory she wrote:
“It wasn't until years after I had relinquished a ballet that I could bear to watch someone else dance it. I believe in never looking back, never indulging in nostalgia, or reminiscing. Yet how can you avoid it when you look on stage and see a dancer made up to look as you did thirty years ago, dancing a ballet you created with someone you were then deeply in love with, your husband? I think that is a circle of hell Dante omitted. When I stopped dancing I had lost my will to live. I stayed home alone, ate very little, and drank too much and brooded. My face was ruined, and people say I looked odd, which I agreed with. Finally my system just gave in. I was in the hospital for a long time, much of it in a coma.”
Graham not only survived her hospital stay but she rallied. In 1972 she quit drinking, returned to her studio, reorganized her company and went on to choreograph ten new ballets and many revivals.
Graham choreographed until her death in New York City from pneumonia in 1991, aged 96.
Charles Weidman (1901-75) and Doris Humphrey (1895-1958) in their Humphrey-Weidman Company (1928-45) developed a movement vocabulary based on fall and recovery. His wit meshed comfortably with her idealistic humanism that stretched the body to its physical limits.
It originated in 1928 when Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman broke away from the Denishawn school and moved to New York City. There they pioneered modern dance in the United States by founding a dance school and company to teach and perform their technique. Doris Humphrey disbanded the Humphrey-Weidman school and company in the 1940s.
Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey
Lester Horton (1906-53).
In 1946 she established Dance Theater in Los Angeles, the first U.S. performing space devoted exclusively to dance. Horton formed his first dance company, the Lester Horton Dancers, in 1932. That company evolved into what was briefly known as the Lester Horton California Ballets (1934) and then the Horton Dance Group (1934). The Horton Dance Group, billed in its film appearances as the Lester Horton Dancers, lasted until early 1944. Later, Horton attempted to develop a company on the East Coast for dancer Sonia Shaw, but Shaw's husband stopped underwriting the venture and the company collapsed before it could give any public performances. After a brief hiatus, Horton formed the Dance Theater of Los Angeles with his longtime leading dancer, Bella Lewitzky; their partnership ended when Lewitzky left in 1950. Horton's final company continued until 1960 under the direction of Frank Eng.
Horton developed his own approach to dance that incorporated diverse elements including Native American Folk Dance, Japanese arm gestures, Javanese and Balinese isolations for the upper body, particularly the eyes, head and hands. Horton also included afro-carribean elements, like hip circles. Horton's dance technique, which is now commonly known as Horton Technique, has no style, per se. The technique emphasizes a whole body, anatomical approach to dance that includes flexibility, strength, coordination and body and spatial awareness to enable unrestricted, dramatic freedom of expression.
Merce Cunningham (b. 1919). He explored and conquered an unknown world when he removed the cause-and-effect relationship between music and dance. Cherishing independence, he gave similar freedom to the artists who were his collaborators; they repaid him with stunning lighting, settings, and costumes.
Cunningham initially received his first formal dance and theater training at the Cornish School (now Cornish College of the Arts) in Seattle, which he attended from 1937–9 at age 20. During this time, Martha Graham saw Cunningham dance and invited him to join her company.
In the fall of 1939, Cunningham moved to New York and began a six-year stint as a soloist in the company of Martha Graham. He presented his first solo concert in New York in April 1944 with composer John Cage, who became his life partner and frequent collaborator until Cage's death in 1992.
In the summer of 1953, as a teacher in residence at Black Mountain College, Cunningham formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as a forum to explore his new ideas on dance and the performing arts.
In addition to his role as choreographer, Cunningham performed as a dancer in his company into the early 1990s.
He continued to lead his dance company until his death, and presented a new work, Nearly Ninety, in April 2009, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, to mark his 90th birthday.
Cunningham lived in New York City, and was Artistic Director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He died peacefully in his home.
Alvin Ailey (1931-89) explored the black experience in America more widely than any other choreographer. Hope, despair, success, faith, and joy – all have found expression in his work. He drew inspiration from the deep belief of spirituals and from the elegant sophistication of Ellington.
Ailey is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in 20th century concert dance. His company gained the nickname "Cultural Ambassador to the World" because of its extensive international touring. Ailey's choreographic masterpiece Revelations is believed to be the best-known and most often seen modern dance performance.
Ailey made use of any combination of dance techniques that best suited the theatrical moment. Valuing eclecticism, he created more a dance style than a technique. He said that what he wanted from a dancer was a long, unbroken leg line and deftly articulated legs and feet ("a ballet bottom") combined with a dramatically expressive upper torso ("a modern top"). "What I like is the line and technical range that classical ballet gives to the body. But I still want to project to the audience the expressiveness that only modern dance offers, especially for the inner kinds of things."
Ailey's dancers came to his company with training from a variety of other schools, from ballet to modern and jazz and later hip-hop. He was unique in that he did not train his dancers in a specific technique before they performed his choreography. He approached his dancers more in the manner of a jazz conductor, requiring them to infuse his choreography with a personal style that best suited their individual talents. This openness to input from dancers heralded a paradigm shift that brought concert dance into harmony with other forms of African-American expression, including big band jazz.