As you assemble your gratitude list for this Thanksgiving, stop and consider some of the works that paved the way for the diverse dance world we enjoy today. Whether they introduced a radical new style of movement, controversial subject matter or a particularly poignant message, these five works broke choreographic barriers and have withstood the test of time.
The Rite of Spring (performed by the Joffrey Ballet)
Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1913) Audience members rioted at the Paris premiere of this work about a virgin sacrifice. Nijinsky’s stark, geometric choreography complemented Igor Stravinsky’s highly rhythmic score.
Lamentation (performed by PeiJu Chien-Pott)
Martha Graham’s Lamentation (1930) Using only a tubular piece of purple fabric and a bench, Graham created one of the most recognizable images of modern dance. Her solo about grieving contains anguished movement set to sparse piano accompaniment.
The Green Table (performed by American Ballet Theatre)
Kurt Jooss‘ The Green Table (1932) This politically charged work turned heads with its strong antiwar statement. Bald men in black coattails gather around a green conference table to declare war. Soldiers, women and profiteers all perish as the character Death marches on behind them.
Revelations (performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)
Alvin Ailey‘s Revelations (1960) Ailey’s tribute to the African-American spirit, set to gospel music, takes audience members through the gamut of human emotion––from the soulful duet Fix Me, Jesus to the joyous finale, Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.
Rainer was a leading figure in the postmodern dance movement.
Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A (1966) This postmodern solo, now a staple in college dance history courses, includes basic pedestrian movement and passive gestures. Like her Judson Church–era cohort, Rainer was interested in function over form.
Photos from top: by Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of the Joffrey Ballet; by Hibbard Nash, courtesy of Martha Graham Dance Company; by Marty Sohl, courtesy of American Ballet Theatre; by Gert Krautbauer, courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; courtesy of Dance Magazine archives