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DANCE 545 B: Contemporary Dance History

Meeting Time: 
MWF 2:30pm - 4:20pm
MGH 228
Joint Sections: 
Alethea Alexander
Alethea Alexander

Syllabus Description:

Simpson_Conversations Bridge Realities.jpg

Carlos Simpson, Conversations Bridge Realities

Instructor: Alethea Alexander --

Office Hours: Thurs 10:30-12:00 & by appointment -- Meany 255


M/W/F 2:30-4:20  -- 5 credits + *Writing credit

Mary Gates Hall 228 (with occasional meetings in Meany 267)

Course Description                                                                                     

This course uses lecture, seminar and some experiential components to invite interdisciplinary critical thinking about major trends in western classical art history as seen in twentieth and twenty-first century western concert dance and in cinema.

What are the choreographic tools available to a dance maker? What are the "choreographic" tools available to a filmmaker? In this class we will look at the ways that creators in these two mediums explore and express major artistic movements and ideologies, including classicism, the baroque, expressionism, modernism, post-modernism and the avant-garde. We will examine these movements as they appear in the works of eight major choreographers in the Western concert dance cannon. Supported by readings, in-class discussions will address how and why each choreographer might have utilized their chosen aesthetics and ideologies, and will situate each creator in their respective political and social context. Discussions will also rely on weekly screenings of popular films—chosen for thematic and choreographic congruencies—to magnify or elucidate each choreographer’s cultural context and aesthetic ideology.

The course will not highlight dance on film or filmed musicals, but instead will examine non-dance specific film genres and techniques and compare them to choreographic practices.


Course Objectives:

By the end of the course, you will have:

  • engaged in conversation and written reflection that explicitly situates contemporary western concert dance choreographers in their political, social, cultural and personal histories
  • practiced revising your critical writing for the purpose of clearly and concisely communicating your research, experiences and opinions
  • practiced drawing connections between dances and cultural movements of the past with contemporary politics, culture and art
  • considered and discussed shared uses of form, function, rhythm, narrative and structure between contemporary modern dance and popular cinema
  • developed a deeper understanding of western concert dance history
  • engaged with aesthetics and ideologies of broad western art movements such as Classicism, Baroque, Expressionism, Modernism and the Avant-Garde 


Course Content and Structure:

Students will do readings, viewings, writing and engage in discussions about the lives, historical contexts and works of eight contemporary dancemakers. These aspects of coursework will help us to engage in critical thinking to find connections between major trends in art history, dance choreography and popular cinema. The class will involve group discussions, selected primary materials regarding reception of dancemakers in their time, reading critical theory, group viewings of contemporary films, formal and informal written reflections and a final project.


Assignments and Grading

Class Preparation & Participation: 10%

Wednesday Film Viewing Reactions: 20%

Selected Reading Response Formal Essays: 30%

Final Project / Paper Presentation: 10%

Final Project / Paper: 30%

**Ongoing Extra Credit opportunities: up to 2% total credit boost


Concerns or complaints:

Where can I go with concerns or complaints about my experience as a student in this or other Department of Dance classes, concerts or community events?

As a student, peer and human being in this department, we hope that you feel safe, respected and that you have a voice. If you see or experience a situation that makes you feel unsafe or disrespected--or if you witness this happening in our community--we hope you'll feel comfortable voicing your experience. The Department of Dance is actively practicing listening and responding to you and your peers. For information about how to voice a concern or complaint, see this link:

 You can also find this link by going to our homepage, “Resources”, “Internal Links” and select “Modes for communicating concerns and complaints”.

Catalog Description: 
Examines the development of social and performance-based dance from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present with particular emphasis on major international stylistic trends, cultural influences, and principal artists and their work.
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:02pm