In class today, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison from the emergence of the grotesque as a genre to the development of modern dance as a style, both of which being a deviation from the tradition. For those of you who don’t know the history of modern dance, the simplified version is that basically it was created as a rebellion or rejection of the strict regiment of ballet. What made me think of modern dance as a parallel to the grotesque is the point that Ken made that the Old Testament is about purity and protecting people from the unclean, and then out came the grotesque genre and it was all that the Old Testament was trying to repress or ignore. Also, another point that Ken made which was that the content of the grotesque is lacking in classical aesthetic of beauty, it introduces a different kind of aesthetic, and that it is a deviation from the norm. This is the same for modern dance; it strays from the classical world of ballet. It was created intentionally to rebel against that classical tradition.
Dancers like Martha Graham, a must-know for all contemporary or modern dancers, were pioneers in the creation of modern dance. Graham even made created her own technique which is commonly used still today (I draw from it when I teach modern, myself, and so did my modern teachers). My assumption is that observers of the evolution of modern dance and those who witnessed the emergence of the grotesque as an art genre would have reacted in the same way: confused, shocked, and possibly uncomfortable. As a species, we are not necessarily immediately accepting of new things that deviate from the classical traditions we are accustomed to. A dancer or choreographer who studied classical ballet for decades probably looked at a modern dancer’s flexed foot and contorted angles and completely disapproved of it because it wasn’t en pointe and there were no arabesques or other lines that are attributed to classical ballet. And the same situation must have occurred for those observing the grotesque for the first time; the distortion and presence of “inside things” on the outside would have repulsed viewers upon immediate sight.
I have included two clips, one of classical ballet and one of Martha Graham’s modern dance technique to show just how much of a deviation occurred from the traditional classic of a ballet such as Swan Lake to what will be the always-progressing style of dance that is classified as modern. Enjoy!