The turn of the 20th century was a generally iconoclastic era, as life in Europe and the United States underwent some dramatic shifts. Industrialism was on the rise, many nations participated in the First World War, and society was rapidly changing. As the rules of life shifted underfoot, some dancers began to feel that the formal rules of classical ballet were too restricting, and they began to develop their own style of free- flowing dance, which came to be known as “modern” dance, to differentiate it from classical ballet.
In modern dance performance, the dancer is often barefoot or wearing soft shoes. He or she moves in a free, almost improvisational style, and it is common to see controlled falls and other interesting interplays of body weight and gravity. Unlike ballet, which reaches for the stars with leaps and high kicks, modern dance often lingers near the ground, especially in a piece heavily influenced by psychology and intense emotional states. Modern dance is ever changing and always evolving.
Its pioneering movement which is constantly absorbing new forms. Also throughout the 20th century there have been several significant changes in the world of dance, from the pioneers of modern dance, the expressionist movement in Germany and the influence of African Americans. Modern dance reflects and inspires society; it encompasses many different styles and cultures and continues to move in different directions, changing conventional roles of race, sexuality and gender.
Modern dancers can come from any training background, ranging from classical ballet to break-dancing, and they integrate bodywork techniques such as yoga and Pilates into their dance, along with systems such as the Alexander Method. The contemporary style places a heavy emphasis on the connection between mind and body, with dancers being encouraged to explore their emotions through dances that push against traditional boundaries. This style of dance often involves a great deal of playing with balance, floor work, fall and recovery, and improvisation.
While ballet follows a strict structure of steps and strives for a feeling of lightness, modern dance nurtures a freer style and responds to the pull of the earth. Projecting a feeling of weight, modern dancers fall to the floor, move close to the ground then overcome gravity by rising up and regaining balance. Rejecting the formality of tutu and toe shoes, they dance in bare feet and simple costumes. Rather than portraying idealized fairy tale creatures, they retain their own personalities.
Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance in America, created a technique based on the twisting of the torso and the powerful contractions and releases of the pelvis. Other distinctive styles were developed by inventive choreographers such as Doris Humphrey. Post -modern choreographers focus on everyday movements performed in gym clothes and tennis shoes. Modern companies present eclectic programs that mix modern dance with elements of ballet, jazz, martial arts and national traditions. The audience need not identify the style to enjoy the show, but its fun to try to pick out influences that inspire the choreographer.