Journal 6: Postmodern Discussion

In a continued discussion of the postmodern choreographers, today we highlighted Sarah Rudner, Trisha Brown, and Kenneth King.


Sara Rudner spoke of the matter of technical training overpowering the spirit. She, along with other postmoderns, sought to avoid putting expression on “what is not there.” Sara described it as someone saying, “Do an arabesque- now smile!” This is to overlay an emotion or expression on top of a technical form, that, in her opinion, has no inherent relation to real-life emotion or human existence. In a more general sense, the whole Judson church movement was to work with movement that came naturally to the body. Her own dance experience began in her later teenage years and, due to her lack of technical training, she was relieved whens he began her work with Twyla Tharp and Tharp asked her to simply walk. She liked it because walking was a “regular” activity she could do without having had any formal dance training yet she was still able to enjoy participating in a dance experience. I find it somewhat ironic that the postmodern movement was largely centered on making dance more related to the life of an average person. Did this actually increase the accessibility of dance, though? It did for Sara Rudner. But for the audience at large, with its lack of narrative or “entertainment,” as Trisha Brown remarked, it actually gained a sort of elitism that alienated the audience in many cases.

This “elitism” factor, associated perhaps more with the unapproachable demeanor of choreographers such as Lucinda Childs, also arose from the intellectualism inherent in the postmodern work. Perhaps the best example of infusing dance with intellectual stimulation is Trisha Brown.


Trisha asked her dancers to do very complicated tasks. They were simplistic in the actual movements being performed; a swinging arm, a step, a hop, and so on. However, in her iconic piece in which a dancer in the audience gave the dancers vocal cues (“retrograde,” etc.) she created a new brand of dancer. These dancers knew so much material in order to perform work like this and what the audience saw was only a “peek” into the vast amount of work put into the piece. In dance before this time, dancers were primarily responsible for/expected to have a high kinetic intelligence and split-second response onstage was hardly (if ever) required. Now, the mental intelligence: kinetic intelligence ratio had shifted and a new kind of dancer was born. I think that we have held on to some of this, and that today, both mental and kinetic intelligence is highly demanded.


I didn’t know much about Kenneth King, but I enjoyed his ideas and his demeanor in the film. He had a great interest in using voice with dance. I also must mention his “economic” sensibilities:

“Studios cost $7 to rent but here [in the park] you can rehearse for free.”

He was also interested in improvisation and remarked that he was appalled that it and “enigma” that improvisation is not taught in schools/universities. He felt that improvisation could be liberating for dancers, because they were not contained by whatever was in a choreographer’s brain. He also very rightly (in my opinion) observed that even formal dances could be composed using improvisation.

Another observation- he seemed to be observing rather than asserting, in his interviews- was that postmodern dance focused largely on the spine and finding freedom in the lower spine. Finding length and space in the last  two vertebrae would free the lower half of the body to achieve an ease and “naturalness” of movement which the postmoderns were trying to recapture. His observations and ideas about dance were, out of all of the segments of “Making Dances”, the easiest for me to understand and connect with. The fact that he spoke of concrete observations (use of voice, use of improvisation, focus on spine- an actual physical, anatomical description) made more sense to me than anything Sara Rudner or Trisha Brown said.

In searching for commonalities between postmodern choreographers, these points have emerged:

  • Thread of using ordinary movement in dance exploration
  • Blurring of boundaries between life and art (also happening in Pop Art/Dadaists/Street Art/musical artists of the time)
  • Simplicity in movements
  • Verticality but with “natural” weight, momentum, shift of direction
  • Questioning who can be considered a dancer; are non-dancers dancers when put in a dance experience?
  • Aim to recover “natural” sense of weight that is “trained out” of trained dancers

Looking at this list, along with the chart, I feel that I am gaining a greater understanding of what exactly the postmodern choreographers were aiming for. The question that still exists for me: why? I think this is a matter of opinion, and that we could discuss for ages, but I feel that exploring new ideas is fine but to so vehemently reject what had come before is a waste of energy. I don’t agree with much of it, but understanding it more and seeing “patterns” emerging and identifying commonalities between the choreographers has made them seem less like irrevrent rule breakers and more like individuals with new ideas finally getting an opportunity to express these ideas.


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