Music and Dance By Steichen, James

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM1670-1
Published: 01/10/2017
Retrieved: 18 March 2018, from



The histories of modernist music and dance are vast and inextricably related, so much so that it is as daunting to consider them in tandem as it is challenging to study each in isolation. In lieu of a strict chronological survey, this entry discusses different ways in which music and dance mutually influenced each other over the course of the modernist movement. Like Modernism in general, music and dance gave rise to a variety of modes of new expression, with innovations in each field spurring changes in the other. Music and dance created new idioms of sound and movement and would also re-imagine and appropriate older musical repertoires and movement vocabularies to new expressive ends. Modernist composers and choreographers borrowed freely from so-called ‘primitive’ cultures and vernacular themes and trends, but also pursued the highest levels of abstraction. All told, modernist music and dance engaged in a complex and fruitful exchange that challenged the underlying assumptions of each individual art as well as the terms that had previously governed their collaboration.

The histories of modernist music and dance are vast and inextricably related, so much so that it is as daunting to consider them in tandem as it is challenging to study each in isolation. In lieu of a strict chronological survey, this entry discusses different ways in which music and dance mutually influenced each other over the course of the modernist movement. Like Modernism in general, music and dance gave rise to a variety of modes of new expression, with innovations in each field spurring changes in the other. Music and dance created new idioms of sound and movement and would also re-imagine and appropriate older musical repertoires and movement vocabularies to new expressive ends. Modernist composers and choreographers borrowed freely from so-called ‘primitive’ cultures and vernacular themes and trends, but also pursued the highest levels of abstraction. All told, modernist music and dance engaged in a complex and fruitful exchange that challenged the underlying assumptions of each individual art as well as the terms that had previously governed their collaboration.

The problem of ‘specialist’ dance music

Dance was amongst the most generous patrons of newly commissioned music in the modernist era. This drive for new compositions was premised upon the widely held belief that the state of existing dance music was substandard, the domain of a handful of ‘specialist’ composers subservient to the whims of choreographers and dancers. Exemplary of this specialist tradition were the composers Adolphe Adam (Giselle, 1841 and Le Corsaire, 1856) and Ludwig Minkus (Don Quixote, 1869 and La Bayadère, 1877), whose ballet scores remain in repertoire to this day. In this practice virtually all aspects of the music were made-to-order and premised upon the needs of the choreography, whether in terms of structure, duration, mood or orchestration. Since individual parts of such ballets were somewhat interchangeable, music was frequently rearranged to meet the demands of individual performance occasions and interpellations were common. If this specialist tradition rendered music subordinate to dance, it did not necessarily encourage choreographic creativity. Conventional musical structures supported equally predictable choreographic patterns, with respect to the ballet as a whole and also the placement and composition of individual dances such as the pas de deux (duet), the content of ‘variations’ (solo dances) and a stereotyped use of classical, character, social and pantomimic forms of movement.

Immediately prior to the modernist era this specialist practice had already undergone significant revision at the hands of Léo Delibes and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Delibes’s ballet scores, most notably Coppélia (1870) and Sylvia (1876), showed a marked improvement in compositional quality over previous specialist scores, although they still operated within the general structure and aesthetics of the tradition. Tchaikovsky’s scores for Swan Lake (1877), The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and The Nutcracker (1892) similarly retained many of the external conventions of the specialist score while bringing a more sophisticated musical profile and dramatic integrity to the form. With the dawn of the twentieth century, however, the specialist tradition began to face more significant challenges and radical calls for reform.

The Diaghilevian model

No person took up the challenge of reforming the ‘specialist’ tradition more eagerly than the impresario Serge Diaghilev. Setting aside the company’s contributions to choreography, the visual arts and fashion, the Ballets Russes redefined the relation of music and dance in the modernist era, adapting the fusionist model of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk (‘total art work’). Each element of the work – libretto, music, dance, visual design – was created individually, then brought together under the curatorial auspices of Diaghilev, whose genius lay in the artful synthesis of collaborators. Music and dance thus enjoyed a greater degree of aesthetic independence, and as a result many of the scores commissioned by Diaghilev subsequently found a natural home in the larger symphonic repertory as autonomous musical entities. As the very name of the company suggests, however, dance was the constitutive element of its artistic model, and over its twenty-year history the Ballets Russes provided an unrivalled platform for modernist choreographers, dancers and composers.

In its early years, the Ballets Russes pursued a more nationalist aesthetic and became a showcase for music by the ‘Mighty Five’ Russian composers and the innovative ‘new ballet’ of Michel Fokine. Ballets such as Cléopâtre (1909) and Schéhérazade (1910) showcased compositions by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Mikhail Glinka and Modest Mussorgsky and helped to codify the one-act ballet (in contrast to the evening-length work) as the preferred format for dance, and thus dance music. After making an initial splash with Russian exotica and Orientalism, Diaghilev gradually adopted a more cosmopolitan aesthetic, mainly attuned to the tastes of his Paris audience. Claude Debussy’s music was first presented by the company with L’Après-midi d’un Faune (1912), choreographed and danced by Vaslav Nijinsky, and the composer was subsequently recruited to write a new ballet score for the company, which resulted in Jeux (1913), also choreographed by Nijinsky. During this same time Diaghilev commissioned from Maurice Ravel the music for Daphnis and Chloe (1912), with choreography by Fokine. Scores by Richard Strauss also found a place on the Ballets Russes stage, first with the commission of La Légende de Joseph (1914), with choreography by Fokine, and a ballet based on the tone-poem Till Eulenspiegel (1916), notable as the last work choreographed by and starring Nijinsky.

In his patronage of the young and largely unknown Igor Stravinsky, whom he called his ‘first son’, Diaghilev made his most lasting contribution to the canon of modernist music. Indeed, it was thanks to three early works composed for the Ballets Russes – Firebird (1910), Petrouchka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) – that Stravinsky first achieved international renown, and it is with these works that he is most readily identified to this day. Stravinsky was responsible for many other notable scores performed by the company, including Pulcinella (1920), Les Noces (1923) and Apollon Musagète (1928). He enjoyed a longer affiliation with the Diaghilev enterprise than any other artist and in the process collaborated with all the company’s celebrated choreographers – Fokine, Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska and George Balanchine. Diaghilev was also an ardent supporter of Sergei Prokofiev, his ‘second son’, who would write three original scores for the company: Chout (1921), Le Pas d’Acier (1927) and Prodigal Son (1929, choreographed by Balanchine and still in repertoire).

Erik Satie’s score for Parade (1917) marked a period of increased French influence on the company, and in subsequent years the composers of ‘Les Six’ would be tapped by Diaghilev for new scores, including Darius Milhaud’s Le Train Bleu (1924), Francis Poulenc’s Les Biches (1924) and Georges Auric’s Les Maletots (1925). This more avant-garde turn in the 1920s was spurred in part by the arrival on the Parisian scene of the Ballets Suédois or ‘Swedish Ballet’, a significant albeit short-lived rival to the Ballets Russes. Founded and bankrolled by the Swedish arts patron Rolf de Maré, the company was modelled on the Ballets Russes not just in name but in its overall aesthetic approach. More attuned to Parisian taste than the Diaghilev troupe, the Suédois commissioned numerous scores from the French musical avant-garde, including Milhaud’s L’Homme et son désir (1921), Arthur Honegger’s Skating Rink (1922) and Satie’s Relâche (1924). The company remained active for only five seasons, however, and owing to the untimely death in 1930 of the company’s star and sole choreographer Jean Börlin, none of its dances were preserved in repertoire, although several scores commissioned by the Suédois were later used by other choreographers.

The Diaghilevian model was also embraced by the dancer, actress and impresario Ida Rubinstein, who originated star roles in the early years of the Ballets Russes. Despite her ambitions as a dancer and actress, Rubinstein ultimately made her most enduring contributions to modernist expression as a producer and patron. Among her earliest productions were Le Martyre de Saint-Sébastien (1911), a spectacle-play by d’Annunzio with incidental music by Debussy and choreography by Fokine, as well as two productions of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, featuring music by Aleksandr Glazunov for the infamous ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ (danced by Rubinstein herself). In 1928, Rubinstein founded a more official organization, whose debut season included the commissioning of Stravinsky’s Le Baiser de la Fée and Ravel’s Boléro, both staged by Nijinska, who was the company’s primary choreographer. The company’s 1934 season saw the notable commissions of Amphion (music by Honegger and choreography by Massine) and Perséphone (music by Stravinsky and choreography by Kurt Jooss).

Old and new music for dance

Distinct from the Franco-Russian tradition cultivated and consolidated by Diaghilev and his followers, the emergence of ‘modern dance’ in the early twentieth century initiated new ways of combining movement and music. In its earliest years, modern dance drew largely on genteel parlour music favoured by the middle-class audiences that patronized the venues in which they performed. Isadora Duncan’s early salon and studio performances featured piano accompaniment by her mother (using waltzes by Strauss and songs by Mendelssohn) or for one 1898 program the composer Ethelbert Nevin, for whose piano pieces Narcissus, Ophelia and Water Nymph she created dance visualizations. In time, however, these choreographers and their followers looked to new sources of musical inspiration.

Many argued for more radical interventions than those undertaken by Diaghilev. These included the complete liberation of dance from music or the elimination of dance from certain musical contexts. Eurhythmics founder Émile Jaques-Dalcroze called for a new kind of music that was not based on common-practice tonality and conventional metrical structures, but rather grounded in pure rhythm and sound and obeying its own idiomatic rules. This newly created music would allow dance to achieve self-sufficiency, which had previously been the domain only of music, after which music and dance could once again be fruitfully combined, having achieved expressive parity. The practice of Ausdruckstanz, which gained prominence during the Weimar era in Germany, built upon Dalcroze’s call to redefine the relation between music and dance by stripping down the texture of musical accompaniment or by eliminating music altogether. This strategy was pursued most spectacularly by the dancer and choreographer Mary Wigman, a student of Dalcroze also deeply influenced by the teachings of Rudolf Laban. Building upon Laban’s call for purer expressivity, Wigman’s works employed spare, mainly percussive accompaniment added after the movement was choreographed (Witch Dance I and II, 1914 and 1926) or were even danced in silence (Monotony Whirl, 1926). In Wigman’s ‘absolute dance’, choreography ceased to rely upon or be subordinate to music in any respect.

Less extreme than the methods of Dalcroze and Wigman, but by no means less contentious or iconoclastic, was the use of existing classical music by both modern and ballet choreographers in the early twentieth century. Although numerous classical forms have their origins in courtly and social dance, the addition of movement to what musicologists call ‘absolute’ music was considered novel at best and transgressive at worst. Duncan is credited as the first to employ the so-called ‘concert’ repertoire for dance, to much controversy, using music by Bach, Gluck, Beethoven and Chopin. She earned special fame for her performances of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which she was invited to perform on tour with Walter Damrosch and the New York Philharmonic. American modern dancers and choreographers would, in turn, take up classical scores with great enthusiasm. Ruth St. Denis conceived of musical visualizations, which she termed ‘Synchronic Orchestras’, with a dancer representing each instrument (first carried out to Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony), while Doris Humphrey created several dances to the music of Bach. Classical music was also taken up by ballet choreographers as an alternative solution to the problem of ‘specialist’ ballet music. Michel Fokine’s innovative one-act ballet Les Sylphides (known in Russia as Chopiniana) employed orchestrated versions of the piano music of Chopin – including several pieces previously used by Duncan – and quickly became one of the most exemplary and popular works of his ‘new ballet’. By the 1920s and 1930s virtually all major ballet choreographers had taken up this practice: Bronislava Nijinska (Etude, to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and La Bien-Aimée, to Schubert and Liszt, orchestrated by Milhaud); Léonide Massine (Les Présages, to Tchaikovksy’s Fifth Symphony; Choreartium, Brahms’s Fourth Symphony; Seventh Symphony, Beethoven; and Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz); Frederick Ashton (Apparitions, to Liszt; The Wanderer, Schubert, and Symphonic Variations, Franck); Balanchine (Serenade, to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings; Symphony in C, to Bizet; and Concerto Barocco, to Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor); and Antony Tudor (Jardin aux Lilas, to Chausson’s Poème; Dark Elegies, to Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder; and Pillar of Fire, to Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht).

If early modern dance had inaugurated this reclaiming of classical repertoires, in later years modern choreographers would again assert a more determinative role for dance, taking up the concept of ‘absolute dance’ introduced by the Ausdruckstanz movement. Later in her career, Doris Humphrey turned away from pre-existing scores and instead commissioned music designed to fit her choreography. By the mid-1930s, much of Martha Graham’s music was newly commissioned, and often tailored to choreography prepared in advance of the music’s composition. Graham’s interest in new music was greatly influenced by her relationship with the composer and accompanist Louis Horst, who had first gained prominence as the music director for the Denishawn company. A demanding pedagogue who provided instruction to a whole generation of composers and choreographers, Horst provided scores for a number of Graham’s notable early works, including Primitive Mysteries (1931), Frontier (1935) and El Penitente (1940). At his instigation, Graham also looked outside of the Franco-Russian canon for musical material, including on her programs works by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Béla Bartók and Wallingford Riegger. After parting ways with Horst, Graham would collaborate with a range of composers including Hunter Johnson for Letter to the World (1940) and Deaths and Entrances (1943), Carlos Chavez for Dark Meadow (1946) and William Schuman for Night Journey (1947).

From Primitivism to Minimalism

The industrialization of life in the early twentieth century led many to worry that humanity was increasingly out of touch with the natural world, and an increased interest on the part of modernist artists and audiences in so-called ‘primitive’ cultures and folk traditions can be understood on one level as a means of redressing this perceived separation. However, such interest and fascination was not always premised on a nuanced or genuine engagement with other cultures; rather, artists used such material as the occasion for their own imaginative fantasy, what Edward Said has identified as the ‘orientalist’ disposition of Western European culture. Whatever its impetus or consequences, engagement with folk and vernacular traditions was as critical to modernist collaborations of music and dance as it was to Modernism more generally.

Exoticism was central to the early success of the Ballets Russes, whether in the troupe’s presentation of Slavic folk material (The Polovtsian Dances, Firebird, The Rite of Spring) or more conventional Orientalist spectacle (Schéhérazade, Cléopâtre). The modernist interest in folk themes would be pursued even more earnestly by the Ballets Suédois, thanks to Rolf de Maré’s interest in non-Western cultures and the primitivist tendencies of the painters from whom he commissioned sets and costumes. The most notable production in the history of the company was La Création du Monde (1923) with music by Milhaud and sets by Fernand Léger, a retelling of the creation of the world using the idioms of African folk art and jazz. Popular music and jazz, unwelcome on Diaghilev’s stages, also found a place in the Suédois repertory with the 1923 Cole Porter and Gerald Murphy collaboration Within the Quota. True to their name, the Suédois also explored native Swedish themes in several of their ballets, most notably Les Vierges Folles (The Foolish Virgins), which was set to a medley of Swedish folk and popular tunes.

In the United States, music from non-classical and non-Western sources would prove enormously influential for the development of modern dance and the so-called ‘negro dance’ movement, which developed in close association with one another. African-American spirituals emerged as an especially important musical resource for both white and African-American choreographers and performers. From the late 1920s to the early 1940s, Helen Tamiris and Ted Shawn featured dance works inspired by spirituals such as Go Down Moses and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and African-American choreographers Edna Guy, Hemsley Winfield and Charles Williams presented dances set to the same repertoire, albeit to less critical acclaim than their white counterparts. In 1934 Asadata Dafora’s ‘native African opera’ Kykunkor was a success on Broadway, featuring spoken dialogue and singing in several African languages as well as the accompaniment of offstage drums. During the same period, Martha Graham’s American Document (1938), with piano and percussion accompaniment by Ray Green based on American and African-American folk songs, adapted the conventions of the minstrel show to present important themes from American history.

More critically engaged with non-Western music and culture were the African-American choreographers Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus, who would give black music and dance renewed prominence in the 1930s and 1940s. Dunham studied anthropology at the University of Chicago and conducted fieldwork in the Caribbean to learn about music, social dancing and ritual practices, which she would adapt and incorporate into works such as L’Ag’Ya (1938) and Rites de Passage (1943) and numerous films, stage revues and musicals. Primus engaged with both African and African-American music and culture, and her sensational 1943 debut drew on a range of musical sources, from African Ceremonial, inspired by material from the former Belgian Congo, to Rock Daniel and Hard Time Blues, set to contemporary jazz and black popular music.

During this same time period, renewed interest in nationalist and vernacular themes manifested in music and dance collaborations drawing upon folk tales or other explicitly American topics. Aaron Copland was a key figure in this trend, with his music providing the basis for three significant western-themed ballets that have achieved a lasting place in both dance and symphonic repertories: Eugene Loring’s Billy the Kid (1938, commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan); Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo (1942, created for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo); and Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring (1944). Other notable works treating American themes were Adolph Bolm and John Alden Carpenter’s Krazy Kat (1922), inspired by a comic strip of the same name; Doris Humphrey’s The Shakers (1930), set to hymn tunes; Massine and Nicholas Nabokov’s railroad-themed Union Pacific (1934, for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo); Kay Swift and George Balanchine’s Ivy League satire Alma Mater (1934, for the American Ballet); Catherine Littlefield’s Barn Dance (1937, for the Philadelphia Ballet), which featured arrangements of American folk tunes; Jerome Moross, Ruth Page, and Bentley Stone’s Frankie and Johnny (1938, for the Ruth Page Ballets), about the notorious star-crossed couple; and Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins’s Fancy Free (1944, for American Ballet Theatre), about three sailors on shore leave in New York City.

In the United States and Europe, composers and choreographers also created works that thematized the increased mechanization of life and labour. For Diaghilev, Prokofiev and Massine created the machine-age ballet Le Pas d’Acier, or The Steel Step (1927), Adolph Bolm choreographed Alexander Mosolov’s Zavod or The Spirit of the Factory for performances at the Hollywood Bowl (1931), and Carlos Chavez composed H.P. (i.e. Horse Power), performed in 1932 in Philadelphia under Leopold Stokowski. John Alden Carpenter’s Skyscrapers (1926, originally a Diaghilev commission) featured dance by Broadway choreographer Sammy Lee, and the Gershwin film musical Shall We Dance? included Fred Astaire dancing with the African-American crew of a cruise ship engine room in the number ‘Slap That Bass’. The most provocative proponent of this idiom of composition was George Antheil, whose piano works on ‘mechanical’ themes – Airplane Sonata and Mechanisms – caused uproar at the opening of the Ballet Suédois season of 1923. Antheil’s masterpiece Ballet Mécanique, although likely originally conceived of as a ballet score as indicated by its title, was ultimately premiered to the accompaniment of an experimental film.

Towards the middle of the twentieth century, the logical extremes of the collaboration of modernist music and dance would be dramatically tested in a different direction by the decades-long collaboration of composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham. Cunningham and Cage not only turned away from narrative to embrace abstraction but also implicitly if not explicitly repudiated the fusionist models of Wagner and Diaghilev. Instead, in the tradition of Bertolt Brecht’s call for a ‘separation of the elements’ of theatre, there was no effort to integrate the different aspects of performance. Dance, music, décor and costumes were all created in isolation with no effort at conscious or deliberate synthesis, and often the various elements would be brought together only immediately prior to the first performances. The one controlling element for both music and dance was duration, which Cunningham and Cage regarded as the fundamental dimension that united the two forms. In addition to Cage, composers Earle Brown, Christian Wolff and David Tudor were key collaborators for Cunningham, whose style represented a unique synthesis of ballet and modern dance.

Variations V (1965). Musicians John Cage (left), David Tudor and Gordon Mumma; dancers Carolun Brown, Merce Cuningham and Barbara Dilley.
Variations V (1965). Musicians John Cage (left), David Tudor and Gordon Mumma; dancers Carolun Brown, Merce Cuningham and Barbara Dilley.
Photo by Herve Cloaguen (1966). Image used courtesy of GAMMA-RAPHO and the Merce Cunningham Foundation
Photo by Herve Cloaguen (1966). Image used courtesy of GAMMA-RAPHO and the Merce Cunningham Foundation

Opera and musical theater

Although dance has been integral to operatic performance traditions since the earliest decades of the genre, the two art forms came together in new and distinct ways during the modernist era. In the later nineteenth century, the relation between opera and dance (primarily ballet) had been defined by the polemical views of Richard Wagner (whose concept of the ‘total art work’ held that all element of music drama should be integrated seamlessly) against the grand opera tradition personified by Giacomo Meyerbeer (in which dance ballets were frequently included as an arbitrary divertissement rather than an element of the drama itself). Although Wagner’s ideals would hold greater sway for the better part of the twentieth century, the role of dance in musical theater remained far from a settled matter during the modernist era. After immersing herself in the music-dramas of Richard Wagner as the resident choreographer at Bayreuth, Isadora Duncan came to the realization that dance was in fact wholly incompatible with music and drama. If speaking was the mental dimension of man and music the emotional, dance was the Dionysian excess of humanity, and thus impossible to combine with any other expressive mode. This epiphany prompted her to abandon her position at Bayreuth, much to the dismay of Cosima Wagner. In his youth, Diaghilev had been greatly influenced by Wagner, and opera was central to his aesthetic education and early successes as an impresario. Diaghilev’s very first theatrical production in Paris was of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, in which the world-renowned bass Feodor Chaliapin sang the title role, and in the course of the so-called ‘Russian Seasons’ mounted by the Ballets Russes prior to the First World War, the company presented virtually all of the major works of the Russian operatic canon. For Diaghilev and his circle, opera was regarded as an art of the nineteenth century, however, and it was ballet that would define the new era. Accordingly, Diaghilev’s subsequent opera projects involved significant dramaturgical innovations featuring dance, most notably the 1914 productions of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d’Or (The Golden Cockerel) and Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), in which soloists and chorus were positioned off-stage, on the side of the stage, or in the orchestra pit with dancers portraying the characters. Although the Ballets Russes turned away from opera repertoire more definitively after the First World War, many of the company’s later productions included vocal elements, including Le Tricorne, Les Noces and Les Biches.

Exerting a particularly powerful hold on the modernist imagination was an opera at considerable chronological remove from the era: Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice. Duncan frequently included excerpts from the opera on her programs, in particular the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’. More consequential for the reception of the opera itself, however, were the festival performances in 1912 and 1913 at Dalcroze’s centre at Hellerau, near Dresden. The 1912 summer festival presented the scene of Orpheus’s descent into the underworld, and the following year the opera was mounted in full, albeit with Gluck’s happy ending replaced by a reprise of the opening chorus of mourners. Conceived of in collaboration with theatre reformer Adolphe Appia, Dalcroze’s Orpheus showcased his iconoclastic choreographic techniques and attracted thousands of audience members from around the world. (Among others, Mary Wigman’s early choreography was significantly influenced by her experience portraying one of the Furies in the opera’s underworld scene.) Contemporaneous with the Hellerau productions, Fokine presented Orpheus in collaboration with theater director Vsevelod Meyerhold at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, and in 1936 Balanchine and the American Ballet presented the work at the Metropolitan Opera, in a production designed by Pavel Tchelitchev in which the singers performed from the pit and the dancers were onstage. This experimental choreographic tradition in opera would be revisited in the 1960s and 1970s, in works such as Philip Glass and Lucinda Childs’s Einstein on the Beach (1976) as well as numerous opera productions (including several of Gluck’s Orpheus) by the choreographer Pina Bausch and, later, Mark Morris.

In the United States, Broadway theater also responded to the modernist impulse for aesthetic synthesis and in the process raised the standards and status of dance in musical comedy. Starting in the 1930s, dance came to play an increasingly sophisticated role as an engine of plot development in musical comedy, a practice which achieved special prominence with Balanchine’s work for Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s On Your Toes (1936) and Babes in Arms (1937), both of which included extended dance sequences incorporated into the plot. The use of dance as a more ‘integrated’ element of musical theater became more firmly canonized with Agnes de Mille’s ‘dream ballet’ for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (1943), during which the heroine Laurey ‘Makes up Her Mind’ between rival suitors. This more serious role for dance on Broadway would in turn create choreographic opportunities for several modern choreographers, including Hanya Holm for Kiss Me Kate (1948), My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1960) and Helen Tamiris for Annie Get Your Gun (1946) and Touch and Go (1949), for which she won a Tony award. It is the career of Jerome Robbins that most notably redefined the role of dance, in particular male dancing, on Broadway. The success of the one-act ballet Fancy Free (1944), in which Robbins himself originated the role one of the three sailors, led him and Leonard Bernstein to expand the work into a full-length musical, On the Town. Robbins went on to choreograph the ballet ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ for The King and I (1951), and with the dance-intensive West Side Story (1957) firmly established choreography as a constitutive rather than a mere supporting element of Broadway theater.

Video resources

  • Air for the G String (Doris Humphrey, J. S. Bach)

  • Martha Graham: Dance on Film, The Criterion Collection (includes full-length versions of Appalachian Spring and Night Journey)

  • Carnival of Rhythm (Katherine Dunham, traditional music)

  • Les Sylphides, (1953 BBC archive performance starring Svetlana Beriosova), Ica Classics, Catalog #5030

  • The Rite of Spring and Firebird (Maryinsky Orchestra and Ballet; Valery Gergiev, conductor; reconstructions by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer) Bel Air Classiques, Catalog #241

Further reading

  • Albright, D. (2004). Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Albright, D. (2000). Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and the Other Arts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Copeland, R. (2004). Merce Cunningham: The Modernizing of Modern Dance. New York; London: Routledge.

  • Davis, M. E. (2006). Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Garafola, L. (2005). George Antheil and the Dance. In Legacies of Twentieth-Century Dance. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

  • Garafola, L. (2005). Making an American Dance: Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring. In C. Oja, and J. Tick (Eds.), Aaron Copland and His World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Garafola, L., and Van Norman Baer, N. (Eds.). (1999). The Ballets Russes and Its World. New Haven; London: Yale Univeristy Press.

  • Jordan, S. (2000). Moving Music Dialogues with Music in Twentieth-Century Ballet. London: Dance Books.

  • Joseph, C. (2012). Stravinsky’s Ballets. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  • Manning, S. (1993). Ecstasy and the Demon: Feminism and Nationalism in the Dances of Mary Wigman. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press.

  • Manning, S. (2004). Modern Dance, Negro Dance: Race in Motion. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Oja, C. (2000). Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s. Oxford; London: Oxford University Press.

  • Soares, J. M. (1992). Louis Horst: Musician in a Dancer’s World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Teck, K. (2011). Making Music for Modern Dance: Collaboration in the Formative Years of a New American Art. Oxford; London: Oxford University Press.

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Citing this article:

Steichen, James. "Music and Dance." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. : Taylor and Francis, 2016. Date Accessed 18 Mar. 2018 doi:10.4324/9781135000356-REM1670-1

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