Perhaps this has been discussed often here before, but I couldn't find it on a search. Would love for someone to point me in the right direction here! Tonight I wrote up a few thoughts on my blog (cgaisercasey.tumblr.com), which I will reproduce below. But my real question is, can anyone point me to a helpful, substantive discussion of what we mean when we say "contemporary ballet"?
Does anyone have an answer to this one? I see (and use) this term a lot, but I don’t think anyone really knows what it means. OR, it means a lot of things to a lot of different people. I am going to use this format to think out loud in list format about two meanings of “contemporary ballet” that I have come across or that are in my head. (Looking forward to the Society of Dance History Scholars mini-issue on this topic…maybe that will help me out.)
Contemporary ballet is:
1. Ballet choreography being created currently that, like Balanchine, uses a classical base but adds “twists” from other genres, in other words, an expansion on neo-classical ballet - e.g., Wheeldon, Ratmansky, Scarlett. [This definition seems overly broad to me. Ballet choreography throughout its history has drawn from other sources to enrich itself. The other problem with this definition is that it is Balanchine-centric, which could cloud out the importance of other influences.]
2. choreography drawing from a classical ballet base, but using composition techniques and performance practices drawn from the 1960s avant-garde (Cunningham, for example). Here I am thinking of Wayne MacGregor’s experiments with consciousness, neuroscience, and the body, and William Forsythe’s use of improvisation and aleatory procedures. I see reference to how movement conveys the “intention” of the dancer frequently in the essays of my students who work with Alonzo King, for instance. In these works, the dancers appear hyper-focused, almost meditative, not portraying any specific emotion, but concentrating rather on the mind-body interaction as they perform. [Hmm. Could be a helpful definition, although it leaves out, potentially, a lot of choreographers…needs more thought]
Like so many “genre” questions in dance, you bump up immediately against its multi-media nature. On what basis do you make the definition? Is it dance vocabulary, steps? Is it artistic lineage? Is it decor? Is it narrative vs. abstract? Is it a common choreographic intention or preoccupation?