Lux Tenebris

What is Contemporary Dance?

A Collaborator’s Guide to Contemporary Dance.

The first thing to understand when asking ‘what is contemporary dance?’ is that you will decide. In the mid 20th century, modern dance pioneers deviated from established dance styles, to create work where “an element itself is expressive; what it communicates is in large part determined by the observer themselves” (Merce Cunningham). There is no passive contemporary dance audience. You are, as Sydney Dance Company’s Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela insists, “our most important collaborator.” This means that there is no correct response to a performance, or required learning to get the most out of it. You are only required to be present and to allow yourself to be moved.

The second thing to know is that contemporary dance is young. Ballet emerged some 600 years ago and the history of classical music is measured in centuries, but contemporary dance is just 50 years old – so as a collaborator you are involved in the formation of an art form, and party to performances at the bleeding edge. Anything could happen. It is not mainstream nor the stuff of fairy tales; you should be prepared to feel something. You will witness artistic risks being taken across a multitude of forms from technology to film, visual arts to design and fashion; contemporary dance brings together the work of influential artists in different fields. It is ever evolving.

Finally, ignore everything written here, because contemporary dance isn’t something that can be adequately described in words. It is contemporary in the sense that it exists only in the present physical moment. It is a unique act, and no two performances are the same. What is true of contemporary dance at the time of writing may not be true of it when the lights go down at the next performance. We hope you will be there.