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[1970-2018] Neoclassical developments: They spread worldwide, as well as having multiple repertoires and dialogues with contemporary dance.


La troisième symphonie de Gustav Mahler

Neumeier, John (France)


Wild Thing

Armitage, Karole (United States)


No more play

Kylián, Jiří (Netherlands)


Romeo and Juliet

Maillot, Jean-Christophe (Monaco)


Why can't we get along

Millepied, Benjamin (United States)

[1970-2018] Neoclassical developments: They spread worldwide, as well as having multiple repertoires and dialogues with contemporary dance.


In the 1970s, neoclassicism was not only the “new”, the “present” or the “classical”, but it was also a past that needed to be protected, a repertoire to be kept alive and passed on. These repertoires travel and move around the world, while integrating the programme of different national companies.

In the 1980s, neoclassical dance continued to mainly show a heroic and virtuoso body, celebrating an ideal beauty that was at times out of touch with the political and cultural events happening around it: The fall of the Berlin wall, the AIDS epidemic, conflicts throughout the world, the Chernobyl disaster and social movements... However, some artists explore unconventional movements and the body itself is pushed to its spatial, temporal and gravitational limits. Instead of being vertical, they are horizontal. 


Troisième symphonie de Gustav Mahler - John Neumeier

In 1975, John Neumeier met the new troop he had just started to direct through this creation: the Hamburg Ballet. Dedicated to its European mentor John Cranko, this ballet depicts six initiatory steps by Man who is seeking life’s challenges. In this excerpt entitled “Hier”, man is prey to the myths of masculinity, to the disciplinary and military body.

By working the torsion and new body and balance supports, Neumeier composed, using strong geometrical figures on an empty stage. Neither place nor historical time exist for this existential hymn.

Karl Paquette took on the main role of this work, which entered the repertoire of the Ballet of the Opéra de Paris. From the prince to the man and from the narration to the theme, the interpretation had a pluralistic nature, was more psychological and intimate.

Wild thing - Karole Armitage

Music: Jimi Hendrix. Costumes: David Salle. Setting: Jeff Koons. 

A sign that times were changing...During the 80s, those who were conservative witnessed a quasi unnatural syncretism! Karole Armitage performed both Balanchine’s and Cunningham’s repertoire. In her own work, she replaced ballet shoes with heavy shoes, the bun with a short peroxide cut, and white and pastel tones with black.

Nicknamed, the “punk ballerina”, her style and stage presence electrified classical dance, by playing with speed, line fractures, asymmetrical oppositions and impacts. She made ostentatious movements with her hip and her head from right to left and also from front to back. ‘Skilful’ art and ‘punk rock’ postures and attitude merged into one in her performance!

No More play - Jiří Kylián

Anton Webern’s atonal music and a small sculpture by Alberto Giacometti inspired this ballet, choreographed by the Czech Jiří Kylián for the Nederlands Dans Theater: a simple black stage where spaces of light are apparent like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that require assembly.

In the chosen excerpt, the pas de deux in the foreground varies between fluidity and freeze frames, accents and continuity using a vocabulary with unique supports in the interactions and lifts. This highlights the plurality of the lines in space and extreme graphic precision.

The temporality of the movement plays with accelerations, suspensions and silences. The dance partners respond to each other through counterweight, lifts and balance as if they are inventing a language system for the moving body, in dialogue with the music: it is a renewed poetic form.


Ballet mécanique - Thierry Malandain

The body language was bold and fixed. The lines of the arms and legs were taut. The bodies were toned and muscular. On stage, a battle space was marked off by dance bars, a space where tensions between nature and culture, standardisation and personal expression and alienation and freedom were played out. Mechanical ballet, music that was composed in the 1920s, was originally supposed to be the soundtrack for an experimental Dadaist film by Malandain, which for example made reference to the inventions, machines and tailored bodies from the beginning of the last century. 

The language made no distinction between the sexes for bodies in their underwear. Thierry Malandain played with the main composition parameters: unison, question/response, mirror, opposition, cannon are the methods used in this punctuated and percussive writing, far from lyrical nature and often associated with classical dance.

Romeo and Juliet - Jean-Christophe Maillot 

Jean-Christophe Maillot became the director and choreographer of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in 1993. The company’s repertoire already incorporated works from the Russian Ballets, by George Balanchine and guest choreographers. In 1996, he choreographed his own interpretation of Romeo and Juliet: a timeless play in three acts, made as a film script.

In this excerpt, Bernice Coppieters and Chris Roelandt play Romeo and Juliet. The performers, who had participated in the creation of the play, completely transcended the challenge of this interpretation, the embodiment of amorous body language. 

With its game of seduction, zeal and bashfulness, passions and anxieties, neoclassical dance lays bear the range of adolescent emotions, from the discovery of the self to the discovery of others... 

One flat thing reproduced - William Forsythe

William Forsythe’s always showed interest in his art through questioning the hidden mechanics and testing its complexity. He quickly became known as “the most European of American choreographers” and he worked on themes and counterpoints, the use of the accumulation of elements and their variants, isometry, the coordination of visible movements in space, individual rhythm and synchronicity. 

This dance video produced by Thierry de Mey helps us to see the visual density and graphic precision that emerge from this script. What is most obvious in the physique of the dancers is this other relationship with the present weight. This new gravitational relationship, far from neoclassical tradition, engages the body and the flow of movement in a different way.

Why can’t we get along - Benjamin Millepied 

The cast of this short film is a heterogeneous group of actors, such as Kate Mara and Ansel Elgortn, the you tuber from the hip-hop scene Kandi Reign, the Hiplet Ballerinas, members of Bulletrun Parkour and dancers form the American Ballet Theatre. Known by the general public for his role in Black Swan, Benjamin Millepied belongs to the generation born at the end of the 20th century, a time when the question of neoclassic affiliation or loss of identity was no longer important. Skilful and popular dances, cultural classical dance and hip-hop share the same filmic space.

The space environment, the choice of music, the cinematic drama, the physical co-habitation and the modes of perception of the movement brings about a shift in the essence of neoclassical ballet towards other horizons. Some people will say that neoclassical dance no longer exists, while others will see it as a renewed form due to its exposure to diversity.


Excerpts selection
Céline Roux

Text and bibliography selection
Céline Roux

Maison de la Danse

This Course was launched thanks the support of General Secretariat of Ministries  and Coordination of Cultural Policies for Innovation.

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