Modern Dance : Alvin Ailey And Katherine Dunham Essay

Modern Dance : Alvin Ailey And Katherine Dunham Essay

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Throughout this analytical essay I will discuss, analyse and conclude the work of two contemporary modern dance pioneers, Alvin Ailey and Katherine Dunham. I will pay particular attention to the era 1935-1980 and focus on socio elements of this time period, using relevant literature to support my findings.
The twentieth century dramatically changed the way people viewed and perceived dance and gave us contemporary modern dance as we know it. Modern dance allowed movement that was representative of expressive emotion and lifted the restriction identified in dance styles such as: classical ballet. Modern dance was seen as a radical change in the twentieth century, as it made room for interpretive movement, complex narrative and what we know as total theatre. Modern dance broke all the rules.
Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) was a black African American dance pioneer born in Texas in the year of The Wall Street Crash, which gave him immediate exposure to hardship. The Wall Street Crash lead to The Great Depression which in turn caused widespread poverty. During this time period, there was also a widespread negative attitude towards black people. Ailey was inspired by gospel, spirituals and the blues.
In 1942, Ailey moved to the West Coast, where he discovered The Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) Company – Elite Theatre: “Their moves, their jumps, their agility, the sensuality of what that they did just blew me away” was what impressed Ailey. Ailey’s diverse choreographic style played with emotion and reflected his early life experiences. He used themes within his works such as: racism, oppression, religion, community and solidarity. Such themes are most prominent in his most famous work – Revelations (1960) which is a celebratory study of reli...


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...was used as a source for much of Ailey’s choreography.



Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was born in 1909 in Chicago and like Ailey, was an African American woman. Following her parents wishes, she took an academic pathway and gained bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees in anthropology at the university of Chicago. Following her graduation, Dunham founded The Negro Dance Group and from then on devoted herself to dance and the study of dance. (kdcah.org)
“Katherine Dunham revolutionised American dance in the 1930’s by going to the roots of black dance and rituals transforming them into significant artistic choreography that speaks to all” (kdcah.org). Dunham founded the Katherine Dunham Company where she had researched authentic African and Caribbean forms of dance and fused them with ballet and jazz to create a style that celebrated the African American heritage.

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