Allow me to indulge my imagination for a moment with regards to dance history. I know, I know, history is boring. Just hang in there with me for a moment. I’ll make it quick:
So, imagine a battlefield, Civil War style, with two opposing armies lined up on opposite sides of a field. They march toward one another. On the right, we have The Ballerinas. Elegant and refined, they bourreé forward effortlessly on their pointes, their slim necks holding their heads high with pride. On the left, the Modern Dancers advance, skipping across the battlefield. As a mob of free flowing movement, their jumping and rolling completely contrasts with the linear formations of The Ballerinas.
The Ballerinas came first in dance history and placed ballet on a pedestal of luxury and extravagance. The Modern Dancers intruded on this domination of the art form, rebelling against the order and refinement of ballet. Thus, they must fight to win the power to dominate the future of the art form. The two armies clash in the middle and the battlefield. The dance-off has begun.
Ok, ok. Perhaps that was a bit of a stereotypical and grossly simplified portrayal of the fusion of classical ballet and modern dance. However, I feel it illustrates a point: our art form historically evolved from clearly classified genres of dance that today are muddled and fused in a beautiful, ever-changing way. When ballet and modern clashed on the battlefield of dance history, an amazing thing occurred. Both were preserved as their own, individual genre of dance, but many of these brave soldiers walked away arm in arm, combining their forces to test the boundaries of dance. They formed a new genre of dance can be very vaguely defined as “contemporary” dance.
So what exactly is contemporary dance? Well, this term can be applied to a huge variety of companies and choreographic works. Sometimes contemporary work is danced en pointe, sometimes in flat shoes, sometimes in bare feet, and sometimes in socks. And sometimes, like at Texture, it’s danced in all of the above! However, the footwear isn’t all that relevant. What is important is that “contemporary”, in my opinion, is a label for dance that demonstrates attention to the line of the body while exploring the limitless dynamics and movement possibilities of the human body. And of course, the whole point of this is so that the dance can convey some sort of theme, or story, or perhaps just an overall emotional tone or energy.
I feel like contemporary dance uses the best of both the ballet and modern world. It draws on some technical aspects of classical ballet and also modern dance’s emphasis on movement stemming from emotions and feelings in the body. Here at Texture Contemporary Ballet, we use our ballet class to set up our bodies at the beginning of the day. We find our balance, train our muscles, perfect the clarity of our positions, and basically put the sore and broken pieces of our bodies back in alignment. (I’m kidding, we aren’t all broken, at least not all the time!) After class, we learn and create choreography that goes way beyond the technique we practice. Sometimes we aggressively throw ourselves around like crazy people, only to contrast this with a balance in a perfect arabesque, causing the audience to catch its collective breath in surprise. I love this about Texture. We are encouraged to explore the extremes of our body’s ability to move, and then manipulate these discoveries within what we know about ballet technique. Basically, we get to be like pretty ballerinas and wild, crazy, kamikaze ninja dancers all in a days work!
Contemporary dance allows for an amazing exploration of meaningful and thought-provoking dance. So, in closing, I’d like to propose a question. Who cares? Does it really matter how we categorize contemporary dance? As dancers, audience members, choreographers, and patrons of the arts, we have the important job of defining the future of dance. What is the relevance of labeling what we watch in the theatre as ballet or contemporary or modern? From a dancer’s perspective, do I need to label myself as a contemporary dancer or a modern dancer or a ballerina?
I believe that dance is dance. It is universal because it is human bodies moving in space. It is fleeting moments of motion that disappear and then are subjects to be categorized by our perception and opinion. Paul Taylor, a modern choreographer, says often that he “makes dances”. Not modern dances, not contemporary dances. Just dances. I find this profound. Categorization aside, whatever happens out there on the battlefield of dance history is the making of dances. Perhaps as long as that continues to happen, it does not matter what type of dance we call the product.