..Honestly, it sounds like a fairly simple question. We have watched and experienced contemporary dance enough times to form a visual of it. It is loosely used all around us and has been given a rather permanent face thanks to the reality shows – jumps, tricks, turns, pointed feet and sorrow. The moment a sad/romantic song comes on, you know its going to be contemporary dance. But what exactly is the form about?
(The Green Table: Kurt Jooss)
It developed during the mid to late 20th century as a natural evolution of modern dance and the need to incorporate elements from different dance styles across the world. Because it employs aspects of technique from jazz, modern and ballet – it is often seen as being limited to only that. However, contemporary is not actually a fixed or structured form of dance, its boundaries are far reaching and malleable. It allows current influences and cultural developments to become a part of it’s expression. Its doors are open to the influence of all dance styles across the world.
People often confuse modern dance with contemporary. Afterall, both advocate that the origin of movement should be organic and real, and less about aesthetic quality or showcasing of technical prowess (like ballet). The difference between the two lies in the history. Modern dance originated in the early 1900s with Isadora Duncan, who wanted to rebel against the strict structures and irrelevance of ballet. Other iconic figures like Martha Graham joined in with their fierce stand against the form and fueled their performances with raw energy and passion. Over the years, modern dance grew as more and more dancers subscribed to the freedom it offered.
Modern dance, however, is an amalgamation of different schools of choreography and style, each with it’s own set of principles. Graham, Cunningham, Dunham, Horton etc – all developed their own unique style. Contemporary dance, while owing it’s roots to modern dance, isn’t really that definitive. In my opinion, ‘contemporary’ isn’t really a dance style but rather a never-ending wave of evolution and transformation that allows dance to change, grow and remain relevant.
This doesn’t, ofcourse, mean that any dance form can be termed as contemporary. One cannot mix hip hop with salsa and call it contemporary. As mentioned before, it does owe its roots to ballet and modern. Certain concepts like contact-release, floor work, fall-recovery and improvisation are employed by contemporary dancers all over the world. Lets just say it may not be definitive, but it does have a frame of reference.
It is still new in the Indian conscience, and not surprisingly, most people are confused about what it means. We have come to associate it with something like this:
While this is entertaining to watch and can be considered a part of contemporary dance, that is not just what it is. We have come to associate contemporary with tricks and flexibility, which is closer to gymnastics than the dance form. Thanks to it’s imperfect and elastic nature, contemporary dance is a sponge for the current happenings, cultural and political developments and social changes. It reflects the state of the “now”. Basically, it is a very relevant form of dance.
In the end, though, the beauty of contemporary dance lies in the freedom it offers to each individual to be interpreted differently. Every contemporary dancer has a different definition and experience of the dance form, and best part is that not a single one of them is wrong.