Contemporary dance is a popular form of dance which developed during the middle portion of the twentieth century and has since grown to become one of the dominating performance genres for formally trained dancers throughout the world, with particularly strong popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Although originally informed by and borrowing from classical, modern, and jazz styles, it has since come to incorporate elements from many styles of dance but due to its popularity amongst trained dancers and some overlap in movement type, it is often perceived as being closely related to modern dance, ballet and other classical concert dance styles.
In terms of the focus of its technique, contemporary dance tends to utilize both the strong and controlled legwork of ballet and modern dance's stress on the torso, and also employs contact-release, floor work, fall and recovery, and improvisation characteristic of modern dance. Unpredictable changes in rhythm, speed, and direction are often used, as well.
Contemporary dance draws on both classical ballet and modern dance, whereas postmodern dance was a direct and opposite response to modern dance. Merce' Cunningham is considered to be the first choreographer to develop an independent attitude towards modern dance and defy the ideas that were established by it. In 1944 Cunningham accompanied his dance with music by John Cage, who observed that Cunningham's dance no longer relied upon linear elements nor did it rely on a movement towards and away from climax. As in an abstract painting, it is assumed that an element, a movement, a sound, a change of light, is in and of itself expressive. What it communicates is, in large, part determined by the observer themselves. Cunningham formed the Merce' Cunningham Dance Company in 1953 and went on to create more than one hundred and fifty works for the company, many of which have been performed internationally by ballet and modern dance companies.
Cunningham's key ideas include:
Contemporary dance refuses the classical ballet's leg technique in favour of modern dance's stress on the torso.
Contemporary dance is not necessarily narrative form of art.
Choreography that appears disordered, but nevertheless relies on technique.
Unpredictable changes in rhythm, speed, and direction.
Multiple and simultaneous actions.
Suspension of perspective and symmetry in ballet scenic frame perspective such as front, centre, and hierarchies.
Independence between dance and music.
Dance to be danced, not analyzed.
Innovative lighting, costumes and sets .
Other pioneers of contemporary dance (the offspring of modern and postmodern) include Ruth St. Denis, Doris Humphrey, Mary Wigman, Francois Delsarte, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, Paul Taylor, Rudolph von Laban, Loie Fuller, Jose Limon and Marie Rambert.
Usually there is a choreographer who makes the creative decisions. They choose whether the piece is a narrative or abstract one. Dancers are selected based on their skill and training. The choreography is determined based on its relation to the music or sounds that is danced to. The role of the music in contemporary dance is different from in other genres because it can serve as a backdrop to the piece. The choreographer has control over the costumes and their aesthetic value for the overall composition of the performance and also in regards to how they influence the dancers’ movements.
"Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests.
It's a miracle, and the dance is a celebration of that miracle."