Now in its third edition the Routledge, Fifty Contemporary Choreographers, confirms its position as an essential on the shelf of every dance writer and dance studies library. Edited by Jo Butterworth and Lorna Sanders, this edition introduces a number of new names and, in line with current trends, includes more names from outside traditional centres.
The extensive information is well structured. An informed list of contributors give easily digestible essays on the choreographers and the comprehensive biographies and list of works are invaluable in saving hours of research time. The list of ‘further reading’ is more sketchy as it often depends on the material generated in the country where the artists operate. While dance has proliferated over recent decades (the current year excepted), print journalism on dance has not and the future, as theatres get back into production, is still uncertain.
Choosing fifty from the mass of current choreographic talent is no task for the faint-hearted. I would imagine all readers will find favourites are missing and be happy to remove others. Dancers move fluidly between companies but writers struggle to get a handle on the international scene. Strangely, Covid and the proliferation of onscreen performances, has broadened dance perspectives, but an omniscient view is simply not possible.
Deborah Jowitt, a pre-eminent voice on contemporary dance, gives an updated introduction. It has an American slant, unsurprising as the centre of the art world switched decisively to New York post-war producing a heady contemporary dance boom. Jowitt charts the passing fashions: narrative or abstract, pedestrian or technical, emotional or meaning through form, and it gets no less complicated as we shift to the present age of greater inclusion.
The established greats are there: Mark Morris, William Forsythe, Wayne McGregor and Russell Maliphant but also artists working in the traditional genres notably classical dance from the Indian subcontinent, Flamenco and religious ritual, merging ancient forms with creative contemporary practice and taking dance along innovative pathways. Akram Khan, Rocio Molina and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui are probably best known but a slew of highly talented dancemakers like Jose Agudo and Jorge Crecis have also looked to the past to recreate the future. Popular dance forms, hip hop and tap dance are also included and it is fascinating to read how many come to the profession from unorthodox and varied backgrounds.
Africa, a continent that has dance in its cultural DNA, gets greater prominence with the inclusion of Senegalese choreographer, Germain Acogny, the ‘Mother of Contemporary African Dance’ and South African, Dada Masilo. Those of African heritage but born outside, take the banner forward often in overtly politicised form and include Kyle Abraham, Camille A. Brown and Mourad Merzouki.
New names include prolific choreographers working outside the dominant centre who finally get recognition. It is humbling to read of artists, like Frances Rings, who have devoted their lives to dance but remain little recognised because of their ethnicity or geographical situation. The Far East, bursting with talent seems underrepresented but South America notably Brazilian, Deborah Colker, features. There are dozens of well-known names and a mass of useful information on them and their careers. This is definitely a book that will be well-thumbed.
Fifty Contemporary Choreographers
Edited by Jo Butterworth, Lorna Sanders
Published by Routledge; December 23, 2020
Paperback; 328 Pages
Cover price £24.99 but widely available more cheaply