By Josef Brown
Lyrical Contemporary - a brief introduction
The history of Lyrical Contemporary or more simply Lyrical, how it developed and came to be defined is a fascinating one; as convoluted and messy as any about our human adventure.
In it’s simplest form Lyrical is yet another extended offshoot and expression of our need to continue evolving ways to physically explore and capture the zeitgeist of the latest musical and cultural fashions and ideas. As a simultaneous process this happens via the rebellious rejection of old models and modes of understanding and via syncretism, through the blending and fusing of existing ideas to form the new.
As Modern Dance was a rebellion against the perceived lack of movement freedom in the classical vocabulary and of the perceived limiting structures of classical training and thought, and yet was also an extension of what was possible with the classical ballet technique, so too was Contemporary both a rebellion and an extension of Modern Dance fused with Jazz elements.
In turn Lyrical Contemporary has built upon the techniques and ideas of it’s heritage: Classical, Modern, Contemporary, Jazz and yet more specifically has grown out of, and as an expression of our pop music culture. In contrast to Hip Hop which favours articulating the stronger rhythmic elements, Lyrical more clearly gives precedence to exploring movement that reflects the lyrics, the stories and moods found in this music.
Arguably, Lyrical places less emphasis on rigid technique and more on the emotive qualities of the dancer/performer; that first and foremost the dancer must be able to emotively express the journey. This has of course opened up the movement to many more dancers that while perhaps less technically accomplished, are able to capture a strong resonance and sympathy with the yearnings of the music.
For these reasons Lyrical Contemporary has found a natural home and passionate audience base in the short choreographic works displayed in hugely popular mainstream TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and X-Factor etc. and in some of the biggest pop concert tours and music videos, which in turn have made choreographers such a U.S based Mia Michaels a huge star in her own right.
While some classical technique is necessary for most Lyrical dancers, as the choreography utilises pointed feet, stretched knees, line and variations of hip rotation, it’s also often seen as adapting elements of the Physical Theatre tradition which stresses a more pedestrian-like movement i.e bodies that aren’t perceived as over-trained and more ‘normal’. This fascinating blend is likely part of what makes Lyrical both more accessible and highly engaging for a mainstream audience.
Lyrical engages torso movements that like Contemporary have developed out of the Modern heritage focusing on a strong understanding of the central core that flexes for contraction and extension, and a strong back that can allow the arms greater freedom and fluidity. Release technique, a clear understanding of the work of gravity on the body and how to use counter-balance are also important elements in Lyrical.
Yet in the end, all these technical details simply allow Lyrical Contemporary to more freely articulate and take advantage of the often powerful emotive forces at work in pop music, as the movement vocabulary tells of love desired, love enjoyed and love lost and all the myriad variations of human drama we express through these themes.