How do we assess a choreographers contribution to the development of the independent contemporary dance scene in Britain?

Dancers at LJMU, 2015.

There are lots of different factors to consider when assessing a named practitioners contribution to the ICDSIB, and the factors you discuss in your essay writing will vary from question to question. It’s important to acknowledge the principles of new dance (which paved the way for British contemporary dance in the 60’s), as well as the characteristics of the contemporary dance scene in Britain today. But you also need to understand the impact this has had on the development of the genre.

New Dance Philosophies:

  1. Dance takes many forms and styles which should be respected and taken seriously equal to ballet disciplines. All styles, irrespective of culture, influences, style and individual techniques, are interesting and relevant to the development of dance.
  1. Dancers and choreographers must be able to produce and perform whatever kind of dance they want, and should be free to work outside of established companies. (Such as Ballet Rambert or the London Contemporary Dance School/The Place)
  1. Dance is not just a highly specialised profession – it is a basic part of living and anyone should be encouraged to do it, no matter what age, shape, colour they are etc. 
  1. Dance should not be divorced from the real world. Dancers should think about the politics and economics of their situation, and choreographers should not be scared of presenting work that makes some sort of statement about society.
  1. Dancers and choreographers should be given equal status and equal funding as artists working in other forms.

Because of these philosophies, many dance styles started emerging all across Britain, America and Europe as people began to feel more comfortable with experimentation. It is from this experimental revolution that dancers began to explore movement and collaboration beyond what had been done before, completely breaking down audiences perceptions of what dance is and what it could be. Over time, some choreographers have become bolder in order to excite and surprise audiences, experimenting with aural accompaniment, movement styles, staging and the subject matter they portray. For the purpose of the A-Level, we can narrow down to 10 key characteristics of the ICDSIB which were born from the experimental revolution (new dance) and can be seen in many contemporary productions today. We can remember them with the acronym EPIC CINEMA:

  1. Eclectism

A fusion of 2 or more dance styles, techniques and varied movement languages in one dance.

  1. Pedestrian gesture

Use of everyday natural human actions and gestures either in a simple form or stylised form.

  1. Idiosyncratic movement

Personal/individual movement style rather than just using a codified language. Often, this means that you should be able to recognise a choreographers style in their bank of works.

  1. Collaboration

Creating a performance by working together with dancers, choreographers, composers and designers, who contribute with ideas and create something new just for that piece.

  1. Challenging Themes

Challenging politics, social issues, sexually explicit, through-provoking and controversial topics.

  1. Improvisation

Either solo by experimenting with movement, or with a partner in contact work.

  1. New forms of staging

Unusual venues, public and outdoor spaces for performances, site specific and dance for camera. It can also include clever sets which move, transform or create levels.

  1. Embracing cultural differences

Using cultural heritage, movement content, fusion of styles, or thematic exploration.

  1. Multidisciplinary Approach

Using multiple disciplines in one piece such as art, dance, theatre, music, acting, media, film, technology, yoga, MMA, Physical Theatre etc…

  1. Approaches to music and unrestricted choice

Use of a range of music styles and/or silence, found sound, natural sound, spoken word. There are also a range of musical relationships to explore: direct correlation, music visualisation, disassociation etc.

So, we can use the 10 characteristics above as the evidence in our essays, to support our point (… how *named practitioner* has developed the ICDSIB). But when it comes to explaining ourselves and justifying how our practitioner has contributed to the development of the ICDSIB because of their challenging themes or multidisciplinary approach, we need to consider the impact. There are many different ways we can “measure” or explain impact. Some common ones include:

  1. It raises awareness of the contemporary dance genre. (For example, when Khan collaborated with the English National Ballet and they performed Dust on Glastonbury stage (new forms of staging). Ballet fans would be drawn in to watch the ENB and find themselves watching a more contemporary style piece, and music fans/everyday people would be watching Glastonbury live or on BBC and stumble across Khan’s performance.)
  2. It increases audience numbers. (Similar to the first point really. but you can use different evidence e.g. Matthew Bourne’s interesting and captivating stage designs alongside reworking traditional stories means audiences can easily understand and relate to the intentions of the work, making it accessible for all the family. Or the collaboration between Akram Khan, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nitin Sawhney and Antony Gormely in Zero Degrees invites dance, music and art fans.)
  3. It raises revenue. (Again, similar to the other two since increasing audiences will increase ticket sales. However, consider how Matthew Bourne now plays his latest works in 3D cinemas and his classic works are available to rent or buy on Sky TV. This way, his company increases revenue by targeting more people, and can raise money whether his company are touring or not.)
  4. It pushes the boundaries of contemporary dance. (It’s new and inspiring. For example how Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui created Sutra based on the Shaolin Monks, who performed the work themselves. By performing with non-trained dancers he is benefiting from the philosophy that dance is not a specialised profession and anyone should be encouraged to take part. He is also exploring culture and physically transforms the set in each section, so there is a lot to say about how this work develops the contemporary dance scene.
  5. It makes a statement. (Many choreographers like to play on current social, political or philosophical concepts to make a statement, inspiring the audience to think. Many of Khan’s works focus on questioning your own identity and belonging in the world, alongside universal human emotions. Matthew Bourne’s works are known for including contemporary themes such as crime, adultery, violence, homosexuality and status.)

Altogether, we can use the new dance philosophies and/or the 10 characteristics of the independent contemporary dance in Britain to form our point and provide evidence for our practitioner, then explain the impact this has made before tying it up by linking it back to the essay question. Why don’t you revise one of your practitioners and find some solid evidence examples to evidence their contribution to the scene?


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