What Is Postmodern Dance?

Postmodern dance, like other postmodern art forms, tries to fill the perceived void left the modern art movement with everyday culture. The modern dance movement aimed to reduce theatrical dance to its most basic elements. According to some experts, postmodern dance is a distinct dance movement that began with the Judson Dance Theater and only lasted until the 1970s. By a broader definition, many theatrical dance pieces created after the 1970s can be classified as postmodern.

Isadora Duncan created modern dance, which evolved under the influence of Ruth St. Denis, Martha Graham, and Merce Cunningham, to name a few. In the context of modern art theory, modern dance aimed to purify artistic expression focusing on technique and downplaying the influence of society and culture. In the dance world, modern dance theory is still prevalent.

When viewed alongside other postmodern art forms such as the visual arts and literature, postmodern dance becomes more than a 1960s and 1970s art movement. Many dance pieces fall into the category of postmodern dance, which draws inspiration from popular culture and everyday life. Modern dance theory can be thought of as “exclusive,” whereas postmodern dance theory can be thought of as “inclusive.”

The Judson Dance Theater is credited with pioneering postmodern dance. At the Old Judson Church in 1962, a group of dancers defied modern dance theory performing various dance experiments. The Judson Dance Theater was formed, and they proposed that everyday movement could be considered a form of dance. They also believed that anyone with the desire could be a dancer, and that no formal training was required. The Judson Dance Theater disbanded in 1964, but a new company led other experimental dancers, including Twyla Tharp, was formed and performed until the 1970s.

Twyla Tharp, a well-known choreographer, went on to become a more mainstream dancer, but her involvement with popular culture places much of her work squarely within the broader definition of postmodernism. She choreographed dances for films like Hair and Ragtime, and she used popular music in her choreography. Her work drew inspiration from popular culture, modern society, and other art forms.

Postmodernism is still a term used some dancers. Ananya Chatterjea, a self-described postmodern choreographer, for example, performed a piece with other dancers at the University of Minnesota in 2011. The dancers used everyday, random body movements in their piece, drawing on the Judson Dance Theatre’s legacy. Anger, shock, and curiosity were among the reactions to Chatterjea’s choreography. Even if they weren’t dancers, some students wanted to take part in the dance.