2010 – Early [modern] dance and the genesis of [Early] Modern dance

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‘Going back to go forwards’ was one process for stimulating creativity and iconoclasm in American Modern dance, drawing in principle on the example of Primitivism in art and in particular on German dance in the early twentieth century. The paper will draw on my research in both sixteenth to eighteenth century dance and the development of modern dance in Europe and the USA to demonstrate the significance of links between the two. The title of the paper plays on the problems of nomenclature within dance that bedevils communication in this post-modern age.

The central figure in American modern dance was Louis Horst, musician and counsellor to such leading choreographers as Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey. Through his courses on music composition and dance structure, he was in effect the first choreography tutor of the mid-twentieth century, and had an extensive influence on the development of several generations of teachers, dancers and dance-makers. His approach to structure was finally abandoned in the nihilism of the post-modern dance movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but his text books remain on the shelves of all dance institutions. The core of my discussion will be a review of Pre-Classic Dance Forms by Horst, first published in 1937. It will examine his understanding of dances such as pavan, galliard and minuet and their place in his pedagogy for dance artists. The book will also be set in the context of his role in the lively and expanding American modern dance movement and use reminiscences from his collaborators and pupils.

The paper will offer examples of typical dance-works based on pre-classic forms, possibly with one or two film clips. I also hope to present some account of this movement of ‘going back to go forwards’ from artists of the generation before Graham and Humphrey, such as Isadora Duncan (in collaboration with Arnold Dolmetsch), Ruth St.Denis and Loie Fuller. Within dance studies, these artists, who paved the way for Graham and Humphrey, are now labelled ‘Early Modern’ choreographers to distinguish them from the ‘Moderns’.

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Anne Daye