Contemporary Dance

  • Loie Fuller born.

  • Isadora Duncan born.

  • Isadora Duncan moves to London.

  • Pioneers tour Europe.

    Loie Fuller invites Isadora Duncan to tour Europe with her.
  • Duncan opens first school.

    Isadora Duncan establishes school in Berlin-Grunewald, Germany.
  • Katherine Dunham born.

  • Period: to

    World War One.

  • Denishawn School Opens.

    Together St. Denis and Shawn founded the Los Angeles Denishawn school in 1915. Students studied ballet movements without shoes, ethnic and folk dances, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, and Delsarte gymnastics.
  • Doris Humphrey attends Denishawn.

    Humphrey moved to California and entered the Denishawn School of Dancing & Related Arts where she studied, performed, taught classes & learned choreography. Her creations from this era, Valse Caprice (Scarf Dance), Soaring, and Scherzo Waltz (Hoop Dance) are all still performed today. She remained involved for the next decade.
  • Pearl Primus born.

  • Duncan moves to Moscow.

  • Period: to

    Isadora Duncan's last US tour.

    Isadora alluded to her communism during her last United States tour, in 1922–23: she waved a red scarf and bared her breast on stage in Boston, proclaiming, "This is red! So am I!"
  • Martha Graham Dance Company and School Established.

    In 1926 the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance was established in a small studio on the Upper East Side. On April 18 of 1926 Graham debuted her first independent concert, consisting of 18 short solos & trios that she had choreographed. This performance took place at the 48th Street Theatre in Manhattan. She would later say of the concert: "Everything I did was influenced by Denishawn." On Nov 28, 1926 Martha Graham & her company gave a dance recital at the Klaw Theatre in New York City.
  • Isadora Duncan dies.

  • Humphrey/Weidman School & company established.

    H & W left Denishawn to found their own school & company. Humphrey wanted to move away from the sentimentalism & romanticism of Denishawn to a new dance vocabulary & style that was truly "modern." She told a reporter that she was "stimulated by our enthusiasm for some discoveries about movement, which had to do with ourselves as Americans--not Europeans or American Indians or East Indians, which most of the Denishawn work consisted of--but as young people of the 20th century living in the US."
  • Loie Fuller dies.

  • Martha Graham's Heretic.

    Following her first concert made up of solos, Graham created Heretic (1929), the first group piece of many that showcased a clear diversion from her days with Denishawn, and served as an insight to her work that would follow in the future. Made up of constricted and sharp movement with the dancers clothed unglamorously, the piece centered around the theme of rejection—one that would reoccur in other Graham works down the line.
  • Ballet Negres established.

    At the age of 21, Dunham formed a group called Ballets Nègres, one of the first black ballet companies in the United States. After a single, well-received performance in 1931, the group was disbanded.
  • Ted Shawn buys Jacob's Pillow.

    Shawn set up Men Dancers who worked at Jacob's Pillow. The company ended in 1940 due to WW2; they disbanded & most of the members joined the military. Debt forced Shawn to consider selling. In 1940 he leased JP to dance teacher Mary Washington Ball, but her festival was financially unsuccessful. British ballerinas Alicia Markova & Anton Dolin wanted to buy JP. With fundraising & support from a millionaire, $50,000 was raised to buy it. The festival was revived & Shawn was director until he died.
  • Alvin Ailey born.

  • Katherine Dunham's School Negro Dance Group established.

    Negro Dance Group. It was a school for Dunham to teach young black dancers about their African heritage.
  • Katherine Dunham Receives Rosenwold & Guggenheim Grants to study.

    Dunham was awarded travel fellowships to conduct ethnographic study of the dance forms of the Caribbean. Her field work began in Jamaica. Then she travelled to Martinique & Trinidad & Tobago, primarily to do an investigation of Shango, the African god who was still considered an important presence in West Indian religious culture. In 1936, she went to Haiti, to investigate Vodun rituals & made extensive research notes, particularly on the dance movements of the participants.
  • Martha Graham at Whitehouse.

    1938 became a big year for Graham; the Roosevelts invited Graham to dance at the White House, making her the first dancer to perform there.
  • L'Ag'Ya Premiere.

    Dunham became associated with designer John Pratt, whom she later married. Together, they produced the first version of her dance composition L'Ag'Ya, which premiered on January 27, 1938, as a part of the Federal Theatre Project in Chicago. Based on her research in Martinique, this three-part performance integrated elements of a Martinique fighting dance into American ballet.
  • Period: to

    World War Two.

  • Pina Bausch born.

    Bausch's parents ran a restaurant in Solingen attached to a hotel where, along with her siblings, Pina helped out. She learned to observe people, above all the fundamental things which drive them. The atmosphere of her early childhood seems to find an echo later in her pieces; music is heard, people come and go, and talk of their yearning for happiness. Yet her early experience of the war is also reflected in the pieces, in sudden outbursts of panic, fear of an unnamed danger.
  • Pearl Primus Joins New Dance Group.

    Primus began her formal study of dance with the New Dance Group under founders, Jane Dudley, Sophie Maslow & William Bates. She was NDG's first black student. She gained a foundation for her contemporary technique. The Group's motto was “dance is a weapon of the class struggle.” they believed dance is a conscious art & those who view it should be impacted. They trained dancers to be aware of political & social climates. Primus’ exposure to this encouraged theme of social protest in her work.
  • Pearl Primus visits the deep south.

    Primus was interested by the relationship between the African-slave diaspora & different types of cultural dances. She visited the Deep South to research the culture & dances of Southern blacks, posing as a migrant worker with the aim “to know [her] own people where they are suffering the most.'' Primus attended over seventy churches & picked cotton with sharecroppers. After her field research, she was able to establish new choreography while developing her former innovative works.
  • Pearl Primus' Strange Fruit.

    Strange Fruit debuted in 1943 & was based on the poem by Lewis Allan about a lynching. The performer is portraying a female member of a lynch mob's reaction after witnessing a lynching. “The dance begins as the last person begins to leave the lynching ground & the horror of what she has seen grips her... she has to do a smooth, fast roll away from that burning flesh.” Primus depicts the aftermath of the lynching through the remorse of the woman, after she realised the horrible nature of the act.
  • Katherine Dunham School of Dance and Theatre opened near Times Square in New York City.

    Her dance company was given rent-free studio space for 4 years by patron, Lee Shubert; it had an initial enrolment of 350 students & courses in dance, drama, performing arts, applied skills, humanities, cultural studies & Caribbean research. In 1947 it became Katherine Dunham School of Cultural Arts. It thrived for 10 years. Schools inspired by it were later opened in Stockholm, Paris, & Rome by dancers trained by Dunham. Alumni included future celebrities, such as Eartha Kitt.
  • Pearl Primus travels to Africa to study dance.

    Pearl Primus receives a Rosenwald Foundation scholarship to travel to Africa to study dance, which would become the first of many research trips.
  • Pearl Primus Rosenwold Grant to study in Africa.

    Primus was the last recipient & gained the most amount of money ever given for an 18-month research tour of the Gold Coast, Angola, Cameroons, Liberia, Senegal & the Belgian Congo. The Oni & people of Ife called her "Omowale", the child who returned home. She mastered dances like Bushasche & Fanga. Primus took long rituals, dramatized & shortened them & preserved the movement's foundations. On returning to the US, she used the knowledge she gained in Africa & staged pieces for Alvin Ailey.
  • Martha Graham tours Britain.

    Martha Graham Company performed in Britain for the first time. Hotelier and philanthropist Robin Howard was inspired by these performances to bring contemporary dance to Britain.
  • Pina Bausch studies at Folkwang School Essen.

    At 14 Bausch began studying with Kurt Jooss' school. Jooss was a significant proponent of pre/post-war German modern dance which freed itself from the shackles of classical ballet. He sought to reconcile the free spirit of the dance revolutionaries with the fundamental rules of ballet. Bausch gained techniques for free creative expression & command of a clear form. Other arts taught there: opera, music, drama, sculpture, painting, photography, design, influenced her open approach to other forms.
  • Doris Humphrey's The Art of Making Dances publish posthumously.

    She shared her observations & theories on dance & composition. She observed that ballet changed radically in the 20th century. "Suddenly the dance, the Sleeping Beauty, so long reclining in her dainty bed, had risen up with a devouring desire." She believed in emotions & movement moving "from the inside out", but also believed in working abstractly where specific events & characters were not illustrated in a way that made sense.
  • Pina Bausch at Julliard NYC.

    Bausch spent a year at Juilliard. NYC was seen as a dance Mecca, where classical ballet was being reinvented thanks to George Balanchine and modern dance further developed. Bausch's teachers inc. Antony Tudor, José Limón, dancers from Graham's company. She took every opportunity to see performances. She was employed by Antony Tudor at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Revelations Premieres.

    Ailey said that one of America’s richest treasures was the African-American cultural heritage— “sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful.” Revelations is a tribute to that tradition, born out of Ailey’s “blood memories” of his childhood in rural Texas & the Baptist Church. It has been performed continuously around the globe, transcending barriers of faith & nationality, & appealing to universal emotions, making it the most widely-seen modern dance work in the world.
  • Pina Bausch dances & choreographs for Kurt Jooss.

    Jooss asked Bausch to return to Essen. He had succeeded in re-invigorating the Folkwang Ballet, now re-named the Folkwang Tanzstudio. Pina Bausch danced in works by Jooss, both old and new, as well as assisting him with choreography. As the Folkwang Tanzstudio needed new pieces, she began to choreograph independently and created works such as Fragment or Im Wind der Zeit (In the Wind of Time), for which she was awarded first prize at the International Choreographic Workshop of 1969 in Cologne.
  • Period: to

    Judson Dance Theatre.

    A group of choreographers, visual artists, composers, & filmmakers gathered in Judson Memorial Church in New York for a series of workshops that redefined dance. The performances that evolved from these workshops incorporated everyday movements; their structures were based on games, simple tasks, & social dances. Spontaneity & unconventional methods of composition were emphasised. Judson artists investigated the fundamentals of choreography, stripping dance of its theatrical conventions.
  • Yvonne Rainer's No Manifesto.

    No to spectacle.
    No to virtuosity.
    No to transformations and magic and make-believe.
    No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.
    No to the heroic.
    No to the anti-heroic.
    No to trash imagery.
    No to involvement of performer or spectator.
    No to style.
    No to camp.
    No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.
    No to eccentricity.
    No to moving or being moved.
  • Yvonne Rainer's Trio A.

    Rainer: “Early on, I began to question the pleasure I took in being looked at, this dual voyeuristic, exhibitionistic relation of dancer to audience.” Fuelled by questioning & opposition to tenets of classical & modern dance, she made Trio A. It uses no music & is a seamless flow of everyday movements. “It's about a kind of pacing where a pose is never struck...no dramatic changes, like leaps. There was a kind of folky step that had a rhythm to it & I worked...to get the syncopation out of it.”
  • Contemporary Dance Trust formed.

    Robin Howard formed the Contemporary Dance Trust, with Lord Harewood, Sir John Gielgud, Henry Moore, Ninette de Valois, Marie Rambert and Martha Graham as patrons. The dancer, choreographer and teacher Robert Cohan was persuaded to join from the Graham Company to head up the venture, and the school opened its doors at a studio in Berners Place, London. Among the first students were Richard Alston, Robert North and Siobhan Davies.
  • Steve Paxton's Satisfying Lover.

    A large number of people walk across the stage. Each performance is an improvisation, a form of which Paxton was by then a master. His choreography questioned the established parameters of dance & used movements like walking & running, not usually considered part of dance vocabulary. This lexicon of movements is danceable by most able-bodied people unlike more exclusionary forms of dance, inc. ballet, that require proficiency in technical feats only an elite few are capable of executing.
  • London Contemporary Dance Theatre established.

    London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT) was set up as the Trust’s professional touring company. The company was made up of dancers from the school, though other students were supported as they pursued different paths. LCDT made its debut at Sadler’s Wells in 1973.
  • Ailey school launched.

    Mr. Ailey launches his school, Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (AAADC), with 125 students in Brooklyn.
  • The Place.

    Contemporary Dance Trust moved into 17 Duke’s Road, London, which was christened “The Place”. Patricia Hutchinson Mackenzie was appointed the first Principal of London Contemporary Dance School, and joining the faculty were two more distinguished former colleagues of Martha Graham: Jane Dudley, who would serve as Head of Graham Studies, and Nina Fonaroff, Head of Choreography.
  • Trisha Brown's Man Walking Down the Side of a Building.

    Man Walking Down the Side of a Building was one of Brown’s series of ‘Equipment Pieces’, which had initially used mountaineering equipment to construct hoists, pulleys and restraints to enable movement in unusual spaces, or in ways, which put the performers’ bodies at odds with gravity. In keeping with the relative simplicity of the equipment used, Brown also had the performer of this piece wear casual clothing and to perform to the ambient sounds surrounding the building.
  • Alvin Ailey choreographs Cry.

    A birthday gift for Ailey's mum. "Exactly where the woman is going through the...sections was never explained to me by Alvin. In my interpretation, she represented those women before her who came from the hardships of slavery, through the pain of losing loved ones, through overcoming extraordinary depressions and tribulations. Coming out of a world of pain and trouble, she has found her way and triumphed." Jamison. The role shows the archetypal Ailey woman, passed on to all women in the company.
  • Steve Paxton starts developing Contact Improvisation.

    The improvised dance form is based on the communication between 2 moving bodies that are in physical contact & their combined relationship to the physical laws that govern their motion—gravity, momentum, inertia. The body learns to release excess muscular tension & abandon a certain quality of wilfulness to experience the natural flow of movement. Practice includes rolling, falling, being upside down, following a physical point of contact, supporting and giving weight to a partner.
  • Pina Bausch takes over Wuppertal Ballet.

    Appointed head of Wuppertal Ballet - she soon renamed it Tanztheater Wuppertal. Tanztheater, or dance theatre, originally used by Rudolf von Laban in the 1920s, is a statement of intent; it stands for an emancipation from mere balletic routines and the complete freedom to choose one's means of expression and Pina Bausch now developed several new genres in quick succession. With the two Gluck operas Iphigenia in Tauris (1974) and Orpheus and Eurydice (1975) she created the first dance operas.
  • Pina Bausch changes working methods.

    Bochum theatre asked her to make a version of Macbeth. Most of her ensemble wouldn't work with her as she used little conventional dancing. With 4 dancers, 5 actors & a singer she was unable to use choreographic steps. She asked associative questions around themes in the play. Audiences were unimpressed. She found her work's form dream-like, poetic images & bodily language. In using essential emotions as a starting point her work was understood globally, sparking global choreographic revolution.
  • Trisha Brown's Accumulation with Talking Plus Watermotor.

    In, Watermotor, Brown tapped memory by choreographing moments from her personal history, placing them amidst fluid, multidirectional moves. In Accumulation with Talking Plus Watermotor, she developed this approach by splicing gestures from Watermotor into a standing Accumulation, and layering this with extemporaneous speaking. She cut between two stories and two dances at once, pushing order-making capacity to the limit, overcoming possible disintegration or memory loss.
  • Pearl Primus "Dance Language Institute" in New Rochelle, New York.

    Primus & her husband Percival Borde, who she met during her research in Trinidad, founded the Pearl Primus "Dance Language Institute" in New Rochelle, New York, where they offered classes that blended African-American, Caribbean, and African dance forms with modern dance and ballet techniques. They also established a performance group was called "Earth Theatre.”
  • Trisha Brown's Set and Reset.

    The fluid quality of the movement in this work, juxtaposed with the unpredictable geometric style has become the hallmark of Brown’s choreography. Performed to a driving score by Laurie Anderson, the exploration of visibility and invisibility is reflected in the translucent costumes and set by Robert Rauschenberg.
  • Nadine Senior founds NSCD.

  • NSCD moves to 98 Chapeltown Road.

    NSCD moved into its current premises, a red-brick former synagogue on Chapeltown Road built 1929–1932.
  • Alvin Ailey dies.

    When Mr. Ailey died on December 1, 1989, The New York Times said of him, “you didn’t need to have known [him] personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm, and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”
  • Pearl Primus dies.

  • Pina Bausch dies.

    Worldwide development of dance theatre led to international co-productions: Viktor, Palermo Palermo & O Dido in Italy, Tanzabend II in Madrid, Ein Trauerspiel in Vienna, Nur Du in Los Angeles, Der Fensterputzer in Hong Kong, Masurca Fogo in Lisbon, Wiesenland in Budapest, in Brazil, Istanbul, Tokyo, Rough Cut in Seoul, Bamboo Blues in India & Chile. The work, once controversial, developed into a world theatre, incorporating all cultural colourations treating every person with the same respect.