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Contemporary dance

(You will find contemporary dance on DVD 2, tracks 32–35)

Background information

Contemporary dance is a style of theatrical or artistic dance. This dance style could be said to have its roots in the work of three Americans – Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, and Ruth St. Denis – who danced at the end of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century. Fuller concentrated on visual effects through the use of lighting, and her dances often represented nature. Duncan also used nature as her guide. She rejected the ballerina's tutu and pointe shoes as well as the corset, which women wore at the time. St. Denis' early work was inspired by Orientalism (a fascination with the Orient). She and Ted Shawn, who began his career as a ballroom dancer, formed the Denishawn company, a school of dance that helped dancers to perfect their dancing talents. Some of its students, like Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, went on to develop their own techniques. In Germany, the work of Rudolf Laban gave rise to a dance form called susdrucktanz or 'expressive dance'. Today, in many countries including New Zealand, people study contemporary dance and perform in contemporary dance companies. These companies often focus on the work of a particular choreographer (for example, Black Grace – Neil Ieremia; Commotion – Michael Parmenter).

Unlike many dance genres or styles that focus their movements in particular parts of the body, contemporary dance tends to express movement through the whole body. Contemporary dancers often perform in bare feet. Their movement emphasises the use of gravity, momentum, moving on and off balance, and suspension. Dancers often have contact with the floor and make use of all levels – low, medium, and high. Some specific techniques have their own defining features, such as the contraction of the lower abdomen in Martha Graham's technique.

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