3 Legends Who Danced Like No One Was Watching
March 23, 2017

Dance history is inundated with risk-takers, but these three legends took it to a whole other level, pushing the boundaries of what was possible. For today’s #ThrowbackThursday, take a moment to remember these three iconic figures.

Vaslav Nijinsky: 1890–1950

Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky helped usher in a new era of ballet. He redefined the male presence in classical ballet, bringing athleticism and range to what had previously been a supporting role. His controversial choreographic works, like The Rite of Spring and Afternoon of a Faun, are now considered some of the first contemporary ballets.

Did you know that, during the first rehearsals of The Rite of Spring, the dancers became so frustrated counting Stravinsky’s score that they threatened to quit?

Kazuo Ohno: 1906–2010

Butoh, or the “dance of utter darkness,” was created in the 1950s by Japanese artists Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. Marked by distorted body shapes and taboo subject matter, butoh combines elements of theater, German expressionism and modern dance with facets of traditional Japanese dance forms. Ohno adopted an androgynous persona onstage, dressing in both male and female costumes, to highlight transformation and mask his own identity.

Kazuo Ohno in Admiring La Argentina. Photo by Naoya Ikegami, courtesy of Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio

In La Argentina Sho (Admiring La Argentina), an hour-long solo, Ohno transformed into many different characters, from female to male and back again, in homage to Antonia Mercé, a Spanish dancer.

Yvonne Rainer: b. 1934

Yvonne Rainer is a NYC–based choreographer who was a leading member of Judson Dance Theater, the 1960s avant-garde dance collective. In 1965 Rainer wrote her famous “No Manifesto,” a public dismissal of the qualities that exemplified then-current concert dance styles: spectacle, glamour, virtuosity. Her resulting choreographic work, Trio A (1966), epitomized the minimalist aesthetic of postmodern dance.

Rainer in Trio A. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

Rainer and her Judson Dance Theater cohort believed that any movement could be considered dance. They sought to eliminate hierarchy, shift the focus from product to process and view the body purely as an instrument to perform movement.

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