Thursday, December 13, 2007

Modern Dance History





Modern Dance History
European Perspective


Brief History:
Although often considered an American phenomenon, the evolution of modern dance can also be traced to Central Europe and Germany where the most influential person was probably Rudolf von Laban He is generally acknowledged as the founder of modern dance theory. His great contribution lay in developing a systematic analysis of human movement in time and space that lead to a coherent system of dance notation known as kinetography or Labanotation. He championed Dance Movement Therapy and formulated theories on educational dance and studies of time and motion in relation to industrial production.
Although there is almost no documentation to describe his choreography, he founded (1910) a school in Munich. Exiled in the 1930s, he emigrated to England where he established (1946) the Art of Movement Studio in Manchester. Laban worked until his death on his system of notation.
One of Laban's most celebrated students and associates was MARY WIGMAN. She enjoyed fame as a choreographer and performer in the period between the two World Wars. She began studying dance under Rudolf Laban in 1913. Mary Wigman wanted to establish the independence of dance as an art form and began by divorcing dance from its dependence on music. Her work had great expressive force. After studying with Laban Wigman performed in Germany and opened her own school in Dresden (1920). She became the most influential German exponent of expressive movement and toured extensively. Her school was closed by the Nazis but she reopened it in Berlin in 1948.
HANYA HOLM was a student of Mary Wigman and a teacher at the Wigman School in Dresden. In 1931 Holm founded the New York School of Dance. She introduced the Wigman technique to American modern dance, as well as Laban's theories. She was herself an accomplished choreographer. Her dance work "Metropolitan Daily" was the first modern dance composition to be copyrighted in the United States. Holm choreographed extensively in the fields of concert dance and musical theatre.
KURT JOOSS was also part of this Central European dance movement and formed together with SIGRID LEEDER, the Ballets Jooss. "The Green Table" (1932) was an Expressionist vision of the horrors of war which contained a famous scene of masked diplomats negotiating round the Green Table. He abandoned straight storytelling in favour of a variety of themes loosely interconnected. Like Laban he had to flee Hiltlers Germany.

L = Left side
C = Centerlinie
R = Right side
1 = Support column
2 = Leg gesture column
3 = Body column
4 = Arm column
5 = Head column


There are nine horizontal direction symbols derived from the rectangle.
P = Place
F = Forward
B = Backward
L = Left
R = Right
LF = Left forward
RF = Right forward
LB = Left backward
RB = Right backward



Labanotation figures

Mary Wigman’s Philosophy about dance:

LIKE THE BEST OF THE GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST PAINTERS, many German modern dancers realized that feelings could not be communicated to other people simply through emotional outpouring. The dancers and the painters alike believed that art is most powerful when form and content are inseparably joined.

Scores of dance lovers of the 192O’s and early 193O’s considered the works of Mary Wigman to be among the most memorable examples of such a union. Wigman loved to say, "Without ecstasy there is no dance. Without form there is no dance." For Wigman, form was not merely a container for ecstasy (or for any other passion or idea), but its very embodiment, and her ability to externalize feelings made her one of the greatest choreographers of the twentieth century.

Often expressionistic, her works ranged from gentle dances of nature to the macabre. She believed that “art grows out of the basic cause of existence. "

Characteristics of Wigman’s work:

Several aspects of Wigman's productions prompted comment. One was her use-or nonuse-of music. Some of her dances were performed in silence. Others did have music. But to assert the autonomy of dance as an art, Wigman's accompaniments were composed by musicians along with the choreography or entirely after the choreography had been created. Her scores were often spare and were intended to be of no artistic interest apart from the dances for which they were written. They also made extensive use of percussion instruments. For her 1931 American tour, Wigman brought over two Hungarian flutes, an assortment of drums, five Chinese gongs, one set of Indian bells, and a pair of cymbals. The rhythms of such instruments helped call attention to or intensify the choreographic rhythms.

Wigman sometimes danced wearing masks, not merely to look fantastic or bizarre, but in an attempt to escape from or transcend her ordinary self. She made a subtle distinction between makeup and masks: "Makeup gives the dancer's features a second skin and plays along with his finest and most detailed facial expressions. Not so the rigidity of the mask. It preserves its clearly defined contours, its sculptural shape. It gives the dancer a second face, it characterizes and typifies, but can never be exploited psychologically."

Possibly as a result of her training with Laban, Wigman possessed a remarkable awareness of space. She viewed the stage not as a floor to cross, but as a three-dimensional entity with which she could have emotional as well as physical relationships. Hanya Holm, one of her pupils who became a distinguished choreographer and teacher in her own right, has remarked that in Wigman's dances "she alternately grapples with space as an opponent and caresses it as though it were a living, sentient thing."



Hanya Holm (3 March 1893, Worms, Germany – 3 November 1992, New York City) was the professional name of Johanna Eckert, dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Holm was one of the pioneers of modern dance.
Born in Worms, Germany, Holms was a student and assistant of Mary Wigman and instructor at the Wigman School in Dresden. Holm founded the New York Wigman School of Dance in 1931 (which became the Hanya Holm Studio in 1936) introducing the Wigman technique, Laban's theories of spatial dynamics, and later her own dance techniques to American modern dance. After 1974, she taught dance at the Juilliard School in New York.
An accomplished choreographer she was a founding artist of the first American Dance Festival in Bennington (1934). Holm's dance work Metropolitan Daily was the first modern dance composition to be televised on NBC, and her labanotation score for Kiss Me, Kate (1948) was the first choreography to be copyrighted in the United States. She also worked on My Fair Lady (1956), Camelot (1960), and Anya (1965). Holm choreographed extensively in the fields of concert dance and musical theatre.
Her students included Glen Tetley, Alwin Nikolais, and Alvin Ailey.

About her work:

Holm was a petite person with fair skin and blonde hair. There was a distinct delicacy and an expressive lyricism in her dancing. She developed an impressive fleetness and strikingly quick footwork. What also distinguished Holm's dancing was her intimate relationship with music, which strongly motivated her.

Her lecture-demonstrations, which explored the space and tension on which her teaching was based, were almost dreamlike in their lyric molding of space and mood. The distinctive movement of her students had a light and lyric air. Holm knew how to fuse her principles of the old world with the vitality, the energy, the swift spirit of the American dancers.
When she created for the concert stage, her dances were emotional responses to life

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