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Natasha Peatross Caroline Prohosky and Graham Brown Dance 461 March 18, 2014 Judson Dance Theatre and

the Grand Union Modernism began in the mid 19th and early 20th centuries. It was an exciting period of time marked by many unexpected breaks in the traditional ways of viewing and interacting with the world. Experimentation and finding the individual voice became the dominant virtues in society. Change was set in motion by many modern pioneers through a series of cultural shocks. Within this individual group of modernists existed dancers Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Mary Wigman, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and José Limón; all key figures who pioneered the genre of modern dance. For years leading up to the modern era traditional ballet had dominated the social scene. These artists rebelled and continuously worked to redefine dance and bring about a whole new genre: modern dance. These modern dancers changed the way many people perceive truth and reality concerning dance. Ballet has morphed and many other genres have emerged since and along side these innovators of dance. These changes in the art form were indeed profound, and cannot easily be replaced, but rather expounded upon as they serve as a foundation for continuing dancers and choreographers. Toward the mid 20th century (post WWII), the economy and technology in the United States boomed. Once again creativity soared to new heights as art and


dance began transitioning into the post-modern era. Taking a closer look at this period in time for dance we find that the members of Judson Dance Theatre, a small contemporary dance company that lasted for the duration of two short years, proved to be a vital force for the post-modern world of contemporary dance. “A church that’s a little bit different and committed to making a big difference”(Judson Memorial Church). This is the motto of the Judson Memorial Church located in New York, and making a difference is exactly what they have helped achieve, especially concerning the post-modern dance era. In 1890 the church was founded as a religious institution that would serve the growing population of immigrants in Lower Manhattan. The hope was that Judson Church would be a place where people could gather to learn together through education, health, recreational programs “as well as vibrant worship and religious instruction”(Judson Memorial Church). In the 1960’s, new and innovative ministries were placed in control and began to attract a new and growing kind of crowd. Among this crowd were dancers Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Dunn, Fred Herko, David Gordon, Elaine Summers, Ruth Emerson, William Davis, Trisha Brown, Deborah Hay, and others; all members of the group of performers that called themselves the Judson Dance Theater after Judson Memorial Church where most of their work was welcomed and presented. From 1962-1964, this group of dancers emerged from “downtown” New York. Together they collaborated at the Judson Memorial Church to move dance forward. It began in the summer of 1959 when a few individuals met while taking composition classes from Robert Dunn in New York City. They found a common


interest in movement exploration and decided to meet again that following summer. They reunited for a three-week workshop that focused on structured improvisation. These artists were experimentalists who together refused the restrictions of modern dance practice and theory. They sought to challenge and change the views of what dance was and potentially could be. From 1960-1961, they continued working with one another. In 1962, this group of dancers decided to make their company official and with the addition of a few other members, Judson Dance Theater was born. By this time they had discovered their creative rhythm. Their works were some of the first to be formed via group collaboration. They had no director, no choreographer, no one-man running the show. Each member of Judson Dance Theater had a voice throughout the creative process. Members of this investigative company always had specific intentions as to what they were exploring. They took time to collaboratively design their improvisations, which eventually brought about new works. Practicing daily in the Church they would design improvisations, create movement, present to one another, grant criticism, reconstruct, and repeat the cycle until they were satisfied. The public was then welcome to come to the church and see their new works in an evening length performance free of charge. Something unique to this group is that they were among the first to integrate dance with non-dancers, film, and other mediums of art that took dance in a new direction. They gave birth to the premise of any movement is dance and anyone can dance whether they are trained or not. Initially these ideas were not very well


received. Over the next two years the company created nearly 200 works. What they believed in and dared to explore laid the foundation for what would happen in modern dance for years to come. Judson Dance Theater was one of the main catalysts responsible for moving dance forward into the post-modern era; the era of all movement is dance and anyone can do it. Although the company only lasted for two years, many of its members have gone on to keep working with the ideas cultivated. “The work produced during this time had a profound effect on the way both audiences and artists conceived of the role of performance and the body in contemporary culture”(Kettle). Fifty years later, artists continue to expound upon the process and ideas brought about by Judson Dance Theater. Judson Church continues to promote dance and allow artists to come and present their works in free concert. Works shown are typically in progress and allow for the audience to give feedback to the artists after the show. “Through a series of discussions, presentations, and town hall meetings, Movement Research (the existing Judson Church support) reconsiders the legacy, mythology, and permutations of influence that continue to echo from the occasion of Judson Dance Theater (1962–64)”(Kettle).


Work Cited "Judson Memorial Church.". Judson Memorial Church. Web. 18 Mar 2014. <>. Kettle. "Movement Research in Residence (Rethinking the Imprint of Judson Dance Theater Fifty Years Later)." New Residence Museum. Dec 2012: n. page. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. <>. Brown, Pei-San. "The History of Modern Dance." Ballet Austin. (2007): 1-13. Print. < eStudentHandout.pdf>.