5 Iconic Modern Dance Performances & Examples 5 Iconic Modern Dance Performances & Examples
Photo by Gert Krautbauer

5 Iconic Modern Dance Performances & Examples

story by Danceus Staff for DanceUs.org

In the world of modern dance, there are certain choreographers who have blazed the way for those who came after them. Here are five iconic modern dance examples that inspired and influenced the discipline, along with video clips, so you can see how groundbreaking these choreographers and their works really were. 

Martha Graham: Appalachian Spring

Martha Graham created masterpieces that broke from the traditions of ballet and used her own method of training that emphasized strong core movement origination. All those contractions you do in modern dance class? Yeah, you can blame her for those. Her choreography to Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring is as much an American treasure as the Declaration of Independence or the Liberty Bell. 


Alvin Ailey: Revelations

Alvin Ailey was a student of Martha Graham and carried on her movement heritage in new directions. His signature piece, Revelations, is an expression of the African-American experience through dance to spirituals and gospel tunes.


Paul Taylor: Esplanade

Yet another product of the Martha Graham School, Paul Taylor (who formed Paul Taylor Contemporary Dance Company) choreographed stunning works that seamlessly blended ballet and modern dance in athletic, risky and exhilarating ways. His piece Esplanade was based on having seen a young girl slipping and falling while running for the bus, and it transforms an everyday occurrence into a masterpiece example of lasting beauty.


Twyla Tharp: Push Comes to Shove

Twyla Tharp became known as the first real cross-over choreographer when she began pairing her dance moves with pop music. From the Beach Boys to Billy Joel, Tharp found innovative and exciting ways to show the cultural zeitgeist through movement (she also choreographed the musical "Hair"). Her work with American Ballet Theater produced one of the most legendary pairings of all time, and she created Push Comes to Shove for the incomparable Mikhail Baryshnikov.


Pilobolus: Untitled

Formed in 1971 by a group of Dartmouth students, Pilobolus has endured to bring completely unique and gravity-defying choreography to the whole world, not just dance audiences. While they have done pieces on major ballet companies, Pilobolus choreographers have also showcased their work in such diverse venues as the Olympic games and the Oprah show. The works, seen here in a montage containing an early pivotal piece, Untitled (tall women in bonnets and long dresses), paved the way for performers like Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil.

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