6 Neoclassical Ballet, Modern Dance

George Balanchine, until 1929 the last principle choreographer for the Ballets Russes, designed neoclassical ballet as a spatial plastic staging without plot in analogy to the structure of music for the first time in Serenade (1934; music: Tchaikovsky). In Concerto Barocco (1941), he perfected his understanding of dance as an optical counterpoint to the composition and again triggered controversy about the danceability of pure music.[32] Balanchine regarded music as the temporal dimension and very foundation of dance. Although he did not use either of the art forms as narrative, neither did he view them as abstract forms. Even if dance and music do not depict mimetic realities, they have their own plane of reality: a realistic part of life does not always need to have a plot.[33] Contemporaneously with Balanchine, Martha Graham founded modern dance in the United States: Dance is absolute. In that sense it is like music. It is independent of service to an idea.[34] Collaborating with visual artists was more important to Graham than collaboration with composers, although many pieces, such as Primitive Mysteries (1931; music: Louis Horst), were musical premieres.[35] Music had a dramatizing function for Graham, and retreated behind the body rhythm.[36] On the basis of Graham’s work, the critic John Martin defined the reflection of dance as a modernist art form, which in its essence is the relinquishment of music and plot. Nothing is represented in dance; it is pure movement.[37]

Alwin Nikolais, pioneer of multimedia dance theater, designed all of the elements of his sound and vision pieces himself. Nikolais systematically strengthened all non-mimetic means of design in comparison with the expressive dramatics of modern dance. He worked with manipulated tape recordings and techniques of musique concrète (Prism, 1956).[38] In the work of the Swedish choreographer Birgit Cullberg, influences from Kurt Jooss and Martha Graham converge with classical techniques into psychological action ballets (Fräulein Julie, 1957). Cullberg called music the possibility of an acoustic bridge from the stage into the salon, which helps to perceive the resonance of the movements in one’s own body.[39]

For Merce Cunningham, the collaboration with John Cage beginning in 1942 determined the relationship of sound and dance as a non-hierarchical encounter in space and time. On the basis of a rough organizational structure, the respective media are developed independently from one another and frequently without any harmonizing of the contents. Cunningham called their relationship a pure co-existence, a non-relationship.[40].

He took over a compositional principle from Cage in the use of random processes.[41].

Timelines:1930 – 1970
Workdescriptions from this text