Postmodern dance was an American dance movement during the 1960s and 1970s. Like other cultural phenomenon of the time, it was a rebellion against traditional ideas and assumptions. Postmodernists questioned the established parameters of dance and pushed dance and art to new levels. The movement was short-lived, but it planted the seeds for new genres in dance and performance art.
The postmodern dance movement grew out of the modern dance movement, which began in the early 20th century in America. By the 1950s, dancers began to move past the rigid formality and traditions of genres like ballet and modernism and develop new styles. The most famous of these pioneers was probably Anna Halprin, who based her choreography on real experiences, not classical works. Her group, the Dancers Workshop, usually avoided traditional technique and often performed outdoors instead of on a conventional stage. Another modern dance pioneer, Robert Dunn, believed that the process of art was more significant than the end product. Merce Cunningham experimented with the relationship between dance and music and created choreography that was unrelated to the music it was accompanied by.
The Judson Dance Theater
Several dancers who studied under these three choreographers revolutionised dance by creating their own movement, postmodern dance. In 1962, these dancers formed a collective to perform dance experiments that rebelled against modern dance traditions. They practised and performed at New York's Old Judson Church, and took the name Judson Dance Theater. This group became the founders of the postmodern dance movement, which adopted the ideas that dance can be anything, even everyday movement, can be performed anywhere, not just a stage, and that anyone can be a dancer, no formal training required, only the desire to dance. Postmodernists believed that all the body's movements could constitute a dance if placed in the right context. More thinkers than dancers, these choreographers focused more on the intellectual process of creating the dance than the end result. The Judson dancers also favoured combining dance with other artistic mediums, including film, photography, painting, speaking and, of course, music.
The Judson Dancers
The principal Judson Dance Theater choreographers were truly pioneers, not just in dance, but in art itself. Trisha Brown was the first to defy gravity with her choreography by using harnesses to make dancers "fly" and walk down walls (see references below). She also favoured using alternative spaces for performances, including rooftops. Her choreography featured unusual and startling contexts for the human body and fluid, unpredictable movements.
Yvonne Rainer favoured including artists of other disciplines in her choreography, and went on to become a successful filmmaker (see references below). She favoured using the "everyday body" as opposed to the performing body, meaning that her dancers performed choreographed movements with a mundane attitude, thereby challenging traditional ideas of performance by minimising the dramatic side of dance.
Simone Forti experimented with animal movements in her choreography and collaborated with musicians and filmmakers in her work. She also featured dancers who spoke aloud while performing.
Steve Paxton created the Contact Improvisation method, where two or more people move together in almost constant spontaneous contact (see references below). He often used everyday movements, such as walking or running, because be believed that dance should be possible for all able-bodied people, not just a select few who participated in years of technical study, such as ballet.
The original Judson Dance Theater disbanded in 1964, but a second group including Twyla Tharp, Rudy Perez and Meredith Monk continued the founder's ideas there in the 1970s. Another postmodern dance collective, the Grand Union, consisted of nine choreographers and dancers who performed together from 1970 to 1976. This group, started by Rainer, featured group improvisations, and included spontaneous as well as choreographed movement. They used gesture, dance and voice in performances and a loosely constructed soundtrack of songs, music and even silence. Since Grand Union used so much improvisation, each performance was unpredictable and unique. Unlike traditional companies, each member of Grand Union took turns as the leader.
What Followed Postmodernism?
Postmodern dance was a relatively short-lived movement, but it was a stepping stone to other artistic endeavours. Performance art, a movement featuring theatrical events realised through loosely structured combinations of events, grew out of the collaboration between dance and other art forms. Dancers like Twyla Tharp put their own stamp on postmodern theory and began a return to more structured choreography, making way for the contemporary dance genre of today.