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Updated: September 5, 2013 18:28 IST

What is contemporary dance?

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Medling many things: to give it a distinct expression
The Hindu
Medling many things: to give it a distinct expression

Contemporary dance is a ‘radical break’ from classicism

There is a whole lot of confusion, particularly in India, about what ‘contemporary dance’ is. Perhaps, the reason is that the definition of contemporary dance is not static, but rather inclusive and malleable. It adapts itself over and over again to include newer discoveries and experiments in dance. Having said that, the definition of contemporary dance is not all inclusive. If it were, one might argue that all dance falls into that category, including classical and modern dance, as well as commercial dance forms. For the purpose of this article, I refer primarily to western contemporary dance. For Indian contemporary dance is a somewhat different story.

Many young dancers, as well as dance companies in India, claim to practice, teach and perform contemporary dance, but actually teach other forms distinct in their own right, such as salsa, ballroom and different variants of jazz. This is inaccurate. But this may be because we aren’t entirely clear what contemporary dance is, and so we cannot possibly be clear on the matter of what contemporary dance is not.

It is not an easy question to answer. Many contemporary dancers themselves are stumped when they are asked exactly what contemporary dance is. Well, I don’t have the answers. But Philippe Noisette, author of “Let’s talk about contemporary dance”, says one of the ways to recognise contemporary dance is to realie that it’s not about uniformity of dancers or of costumes; or formations such as the corps de ballet. While he states that contemporary dance has no boundaries, he also insists that it is not synonymous with chaos. While a minimalist solo is as acceptable as a choral dance for hundreds of dancers, and while dancers are allowed to be bare feet or with high heels on; thanks to the training of the dancers, choreographers are able to create harmony amidst apparent chaos.

Another thing that defines contemporary dance, is a ‘radical break’ from classicism. Because contemporary dance is relatively nascent, it is unequivocally up-to-date and doesn’t hesitate to meld art, music, imagery and fashion into it, says Noisette. In countries where ballet has traditionally originated and flourished, choreographers have tried to reconceptualise the form and content of it, thereby radically breaking from tradition and the classical way of looking at the forms. Some examples of contemporary dancers who have done this are Merce Cunningham in America, Pina Bausch in Germany and Maurice Bejart in France. In the 1970s, French dancers “declared war” on Bejart’s ‘modern’ methods, and that became a further radical break.

Contemporary dance is also defined by its beginning. According to Noisette, it’s not possible to determine the exact time when contemporary dance began, but it is definitely a twentieth century phenomenon. It is during this century, he says, that dance underwent “successive cultural revolutions spanning several continents”. Free from the rules and regulations of ballet, choreographers sought to invent new forms, as yet nameless, which later came to be grouped under the term ‘contemporary dance’.

In short, Noisette contends that contemporary dance was and is different from ballet, it reflects our times, cultivates variety, and combines several kinds of art. It takes a discerning eye to determine what is contemporary dance and what is not. Read ‘Let’s talk about contemporary dance’ by Philippe Noisette, Flammarion, S.A., France, 2011 for information in more detail.

There are Indian Choreographers with a very clear grounding in and understanding of Contemporary Dance. So while there may be some confusion in some parts surrounding this genre, your focus on Western dance forms is unsettling. Many dancers and choreographers are doing extraordinary work in Contemporary Dance with the specific focus on deconstructing classical forms and pushing boundaries. This is not a "fusion" or an admixture of other forms. There are many Sophisticated Indian choreographers who understand this. One pioneering company in Particular is Ananya Dance Theatre in Minneapolis, MN. I recommend you research it.

from:  Gina Kundan
Posted on: Sep 6, 2013 at 19:52 IST

Lets say contemporary dance [i am referring to reality dance shows] is
gymnastics or acrobatics, while the traditional dance forms are...,
well, Dance or art.

from:  Ramachandra
Posted on: Sep 6, 2013 at 10:31 IST

Dance is based on what the people see as life and reality and is
surrealistic.It is not very difficult for people who are at the base
level to understand what is projected.However it is only a perception
and the conclusion is not always what is predicted by the
choreographer as the end is not always as one desires.The end could
be different and that is what has to be understood.The Conclusion
could be different but is usually projected to please the
audience.The interested altruistic person who cannot bear to see the
hurt could step in and save a situation,or the individual person
could end it with a desire to end the situation.Not really what the
artistic beauty merits.

from:  Prof.Paul.V.John
Posted on: Sep 6, 2013 at 05:42 IST
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