What do we mean by 'contemporary' technique?
What is contemporary dance technique? It’s a seemingly benign question, but for many dancers, attempting to explain modern and contemporary ways of moving through the loaded term “technique” is frustrating, limiting and altogether too rigid. Contemporary dance constitutes a diverse and rapidly evolving field, and the constant need to adapt to the changing demands and trends of the field make contemporary technique a tricky concept to pin down.
Surely, one of clearest ways to understand “contemporary technique” is to demarcate what it is not – it’s not classical ballet. And yet, when assessing the repertory demands of ballet companies around the world it becomes apparent that this division may not be sufficient in making things clearer. The Australian Ballet is performing Lightfoot and Leon, the Berlin Staatsoper is dancing Sharon Eyal, and Vienna Staatsoper is dancing Ohad Naharin – it seems that the world of contemporary choreography and movement is increasingly bleeding into the world of ballet. For aspiring professional ballerinas, a strong contemporary movement vocabulary is no longer just optional – but a vital pre-requisite to life as a company dancer.
But where to begin on your journey with contemporary dance? It’s no secret that since the early days of modern dance pioneers such as Martha Graham, Lester Horton and José Limón, the range of contemporary dance techniques and styles available to students and professionals has expanded profusely, spanning everything from the rigorous Cunningham Technique to recent codifications like Countertechnique and the Rambert Grades syllabus. This can make it tricky for contemporary dance novices to know where to begin – what sets these styles apart?
In the current print issue of Dance Australia (July/August/September), Belle Beasley examines some landmark techniques in contemporary dance: Graham. Cunningham; Horton, Limon, Countertechnique, Forsythe, Gaga, Rambert, Crystal Pite and Damien Jalet.