Evolution of Modern Dance: Contemporary Themes & Classic Styles Evolution of Modern Dance: Contemporary Themes & Classic Styles

Evolution of Modern Dance: Contemporary Themes & Classic Styles

story by Danceus Staff for DanceUs.org

Modern Dance Themes

The Second Generation of Modern dance included Martha Graham

Since the earliest days of modern dance, this action within this dance form has always revolved around a theme. The reason for creating modern dance themes had more to do with inspiring dancers to convey through modern dance movement the synchrony between physical action and communication using only head, facial expression, limbs and body. Today's modern dance themes are a far cry from the themes used by modern dance pioneers like Ruth St. Denis, Isadora Duncan, Ted Shawn, Rudolph von Laban, Loie Fuller and Mary Wigman. The "Second Generation" of Modern dance included Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, Katherine Dunham, Merce Cunningham and Jose Limon to name a few. 

Ease on Down with Modern Dance Themes

The ease with modern dance themes are incorporated with classic styles of modern dance is best exemplified by the use of modern dance in Martha Graham's modern dance theme entitled, "Clytemnestra" in 1958. This modern dance piece required incorporation of a Greek Tragedy into dance form. It has been more recently performed by the Martha Graham Dance Company. 

Few modern dancers incorporate modern dance themes with Classic Styles better than Jose Limon. Using the tradition of precision timing and a commanding stage presence, Jose Limon's choreography in Danzas Mexicanas is a startling tribute to a riotous color drama and quantified dance technique. Note that in several sequences of Danzas Mexicanas the geometric artistry balances modern dance use of height, depth and traditional positions of dancers. 

Classic Styles of Modern Dance Choreographers

It has been believed that modern dance is merely "free form" ballet. The reality is that modern dance technique relies heavily on the ability to use the entire body to form the dance theme while following classic styles of modern dance steps. Modern dance is not contemporary dance or lyrical dance. It has a syllabus that uses the names of the most famous modern dance choreographers like Jose Limon, Martha Graham and Cunningham. Thus, the modern dance syllabus contains classic techniques such as:

  • Cunningham
  • Limon
  • Graham
  • Release

Most of the actual modern dance steps have French ballet names like chasse, coupe, pas de bouree" and "tendu." Borrowing some of the movements of modern jazz, modern dancers also perform arabesque extensions, chaine turns and use certain of the ballet positions of the arms and feet. Today's modern dance themes often are based on certain pieces of classical movement like the stunning modern dance artistic director and former Alvin Ailey dancer who performed "Cry." 


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