Multiculturalism Dominates the Dance World Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Multiculturalism in dance flourished when the cultural exchange between continents brought an influx of new ideas, performances, and teaching techniques.

Summary of Event

During the latter part of the 1980’s, the term “multiculturalism,” which denotes the coexistence of diverse groups that share different cultural and ideological backgrounds, began to be frequently used in the dance world. As a result of such coexistence, exchanges of dance ideas, methodologies, and performances took place. Dance;multiculturalism Choreography [kw]Multiculturalism Dominates the Dance World (1980’s-early 1990’s) [kw]Dance World, Multiculturalism Dominates the (1980’s-early 1990’s) Dance;multiculturalism Choreography [g]World;1980’s-early 1990’s: Multiculturalism Dominates the Dance World[03900] [c]Dance;1980’s-early 1990’s: Multiculturalism Dominates the Dance World[03900] Baryshnikov, Mikhail Morris, Mark Nureyev, Rudolf Makarova, Natalia

As a result of a cultural exchange agreement with the Soviet Union, Russian dance companies have performed in the United States since 1985. These include companies such as the Kirov and Bolshoi ballets, the Moiseyev Folk Dance Company, and Virsky’s Ukrainian State Dance Company. In the dance world, the perestroika Perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost Glasnost (openness) policies of former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev Gorbachev, Mikhail took the form of 1988 performances by Bolshoi Ballet dancers Nina Ananiashvili and Andris Liepa with the New York City Ballet; New York City Ballet two dancers from the Kirov also danced with American Ballet Theatre that same year.

Although the Dance Theatre of Harlem was the first American dance company invited to perform in the Soviet Union under glasnost, the New York City Ballet had enjoyed enormous success decades earlier when it toured the Soviet Union in 1962 and 1972. Not until 1984, however, did a Soviet ballet company produce a work by George Balanchine; Balanchine, George the former director of the New York City Ballet had been excluded from his country’s ballet history until the mid-1980’s. Under Gorbachev’s more liberal leadership, however, the Soviet Union recognized the artistic achievements of the Russian-born Balanchine.

Cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union continued in 1987 when the Bolshoi Ballet performed in four cities across the United States. The prestigious company completed another American tour in the summer of 1990. October, 1988, saw the U.S. debut of the Moscow Classical Ballet. In addition, in 1986 the Kirov Ballet performed in Canada and the United States for the first time since 1964. This Leningrad ballet troupe also danced in New York City during the summer of 1989 for the first time in twenty-five years.

The first full-scale collaboration between an American and a Soviet ballet company took place in Boston on May 3, 1990, when the Boston Ballet staged Swan Lake. Within the production, Soviet danseurs partnered American ballerinas, and American danseurs partnered Soviet ballerinas. Even the sets, designed by an American artist, were constructed in the Soviet Union.

In 1989, ballerina Natalia Makarova returned to Leningrad for the first time since her defection to the United States in 1970. The former soloist with American Ballet Theatre was invited to perform at the Kirov in two duets from John Cranko’s Onegin. For nearly two decades, Makarova’s name had been stricken from Soviet literature; however, in the liberal atmosphere of perestroika and glasnost, Makarova was allowed to return to her homeland. Although the names and achievements of Makarova and fellow expatriates Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov were returned to Soviet ballet encyclopedias in 1988, none of the three had ever returned to the Soviet Union to dance. Makarova’s performance represented a new liberation for both Soviet and American ballet dancers.

In 1987, two Chinese festivals showcased Chinese dance companies as well as international groups. The Shanghai Festival and the China Arts Festival in Beijing attracted a large number of participants. In 1988, the Singapore Festival of the Arts and the Hong Kong Arts Festival were examples of the cultural exchange of ideas occurring throughout Asia and the Pacific.

A pre-Olympics Korean Dance Festival took place in Seoul, South Korea, during the summer of 1988. The roster of guests included nine Korean dance companies, two modern dance groups from France, two Butoh groups from Japan, and one American modern dance troupe. Audiences in 1988 also witnessed a three-week tour of the United States by the Finnish National Ballet. Other examples of multiculturalism in the late 1980’s included an influx of teachers to South Africa. Modern and jazz dancers, choreographers, and teachers who had trained in the United States and Europe brought their experience to South Africa in order to expose students to contemporary dance styles.

American Ballet Theatre American Ballet Theatre performed in Japan in 1989; the New York City Ballet also toured works in Japan during the late 1980’s. On another continent, after a respite of fourteen years, the Australian Ballet performed in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Costa Mesa, California, during July and August, 1990. Two years earlier, the company had toured the Soviet Union, England, and Greece.

Another example of multiculturalism in dance was a festival of Indonesian dance that toured the United States for sixteen months during 1990 and 1991. Also in 1991, Delhi, India, sponsored the India International Dance Festival. Twenty-three countries were represented at the event during an eighteen-day period.

The worlds of modern dance and ballet were combined in 1987 when Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov performed in Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring at the opening of the Graham company’s season. During the same year, Baryshnikov also performed in Graham’s El Penitente. Two years later, Baryshnikov danced in a reconstruction of Graham’s American Document, first created in 1938. The 1990 season of American Ballet Theatre included Graham’s 1948 group piece Diversion of Angels.

American modern dance also flourished in Europe. Between 1988 and 1991, American modern dance choreographer Mark Morris directed a company at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, replacing Maurice Bejart’s Ballet of the Twentieth Century. The French government declared the year 1988 the “year of dance” in the country. In order to fund sixty-six companies and nineteen choreographic centers, the French Ministry of Culture’s dance budget increased by 35 percent. Especially in the field of modern dance, collaborations among artists, dancers, and designers emerged in galleries and performing spaces throughout the country. One year after France’s declaration of a “year of dance,” eight French dance companies performed in the United States as part of the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution. In the fall of 1990, the Lyon Biennale de la Danse presented “An American Story: A Century of Dance in the United States.” Held two years after the French government’s proclamation, this French festival presented a comprehensive collection of American dance.


As an art form, dance has broadened to embrace cultural diversity and an expansive spectrum of ideas. A growing trend that emerged in the 1980’s was the internationalization of concert dance forms. The United States, for example, had long been the hub of modern dance activity; during the late 1980’s, however, an increasing number of foreign dance companies toured the United States. Dance companies from Europe, Asia, and Africa have toured the North American continent. The International Choreographers Workshop, International Choreographers Workshop based at the American Dance Festival American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina, is one institution that has enabled dancers and choreographers from England, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Japan to visit and work in the United States; the workshop began in 1984 under the auspices of the U.S. Information Agency.

In addition, many American dancers and choreographers work in European countries. The 1980’s witnessed an international exchange of ideas among dancers from all nations. For example, in 1988 the first New York International Festival of the Arts hosted dancers and companies from Germany, Japan, and the United States. Eleven premieres were staged that included performances by companies such as the Frankfurt Ballet, Pina Bausch Tanztheater, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the New York City Ballet. Works by Merce Cunningham, Jean-Pierre Perreault, and Kazuo Ohno were also performed. In 1990, Mark Morris began to choreograph for the White Oak Dance Project, a touring ensemble established by Mikhail Baryshnikov.

In ballet as well as modern dance, multiculturalism has influenced the repertory, style, and standards of many companies. Ballet superstars such as Baryshnikov, Makarova, and Nureyev have appeared as guest artists with companies around the globe. The parameters of different dance forms and styles expand when contributions from outside influences occur.

In part because of the contributions of dancers and choreographers such as Baryshnikov and Morris, the chasm that once existed between ballet and modern dance has been bridged. Modern dance choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, Laura Dean, Paul Taylor, and Molissa Fenley, among others, have accepted commissions to create works for major ballet companies. The United States dominated the genre of modern dance for nearly seventy-five years, yet several companies in Germany, France, and Japan emerged as burgeoning forces in the art form. For example, the French continued to create their own modern dance aesthetic rather than depending solely on American influences. As a result of the 1988 “year of dance” in France, the French Ministry of Education decided to introduce dance at primary schools. That same year, forty French companies toured the globe to promote contemporary dance.

Because of dance company exchanges with the Soviet Union, higher standards of dance education emerged in the United States. The support system for the arts that operated in the former Soviet Union also served as a model for dance enthusiasts hoping for a more financially secure future for the art form.

As a result of perestroika, Soviet dancers and choreographers were able to study at the American Dance Festival in 1989. During the summer of 1992, another exchange took place. Two modern dance companies, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the Pilobolus Dance Company, traveled to Russia to perform; it was the first time either company had performed in Russia. Even more important, master teachers such as Betty Jones, Jeanne Ruddy, Stuart Hodes, and Martha Myers taught modern dance technique and dance composition to the Russian students. Charles and Stephanie Reinhart of the American Dance Festival organized the event. For the first time, the spirit and content of the American Dance Festival was presented in Moscow. One year earlier, the Reinharts had organized classes in dance technique, improvisation, and dance composition that were offered to more than one hundred young dancers from across the Indian subcontinent as part of the India International Dance Festival.

A Soviet-American exchange program also occurred between Leningrad and Boston in 1988. Natalia Dudinskaya, a noted teacher from the Vaganova Institute in Leningrad, coached the Boston Ballet in its production of Giselle. Bruce Marks, artistic director of the Boston Ballet, planned the event in order to instigate classes in the Vaganova method, a teaching system developed by Soviet pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova, at the Boston Ballet School.

From March 16 to April 3, 1988, the Opera Company of Boston sponsored the appearance of Bolshoi ballerina Maya Plisetskaya in Boston. Plisetskaya and more than one hundred Soviet performers danced. Baryshnikov appeared at the 1988 gala concert with Plisetskaya, marking the first time the Soviet government had allowed a ballet defector to participate actively within the Soviet cultural arena. A year earlier, Baryshnikov had received an invitation to dance in a Moscow gala, although he was unable to accept. In 1989, the second part of the Soviet-American exchange took place when Boston performers traveled to Moscow.

During the summer of 1992, Bolshoi Ballet dancers Nina Ananiashvili and Andris Liepa appeared in the United States in the Kirov Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Four years earlier, the two had been the first Bolshoi dancers to perform George Balanchine’s works with the New York City Ballet. Ananiashvili and Liepa were allowed by the Soviet government to travel to the United States without the remainder of the Bolshoi company.

The dance world has continued to witness multicultural exchanges of ideas and choreography. Given that all dance stems from some kind of ethnic base, dance scholars consider an anthropological perspective on the art form to be appropriate. Dance performances, festivals, and teaching methodologies became part of the cultural exchange between countries in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Dance;multiculturalism Choreography

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Acocella, Joan. Baryshnikov in Black and White. New York: Bloomsbury, 2002. Represents the dancer’s evolution in 175 captioned photographs. Includes shots of his performances with American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and the White Oak Dance Project.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cohen, Selma Jeanne, ed. Dance As a Theatre Art: Source Readings in Dance History from 1581 to the Present. 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Book Company, 1992. Presents source readings in dance history from 1581 to the 1990’s; has been updated to include contemporary modern dance. Interviews with George Balanchine, Meredith Monk, and Twyla Tharp are insightful. Essays on Mikhail Baryshnikov, Pina Bausch, and Mark Morris are highlights of the book. Excellent bibliography included. Photographs; no index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Highwater, Jamake. Dance: Rituals of Experience. 3d ed. Pennington, N.J.: Princeton Book Company, 1992. A fascinating book that presents stages of dance history within a multicultural perspective. Aspects of Native American, Asian, and African American cultures are examined by the author. Excellent photographs supplement the text. Indexed, although the author provides only a limited bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kraus, Richard, Sarah Hilsendager, and Brenda Dixon. History of the Dance in Art and Education. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1991. A definitive work on dance history and the cultural implications of selected events. Sections on international trends in concert dance are most informative. Chapters on black dance and dance education provide information not easily found in other sources. Excellent endnotes augment each chapter. Bibliography and appendix listing dance periodicals and organizations. Index; photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Royce, Anya Peterson. The Anthropology of Dance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977. Royce presents ways in which to view dance through an anthropological perspective; multicultural examples are abundant throughout. The author draws relationships between dance and society and presents ways in which to infer meaning from dances of different cultures. Excellent bibliography, endnotes, and index. Illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Willis, Margaret. “Kiroviana: The Glasnost Difference.” Dance Magazine 63 (July, 1989): 36-41. One of several in a series of articles published by this mainstream publication on the Soviet-American cultural exchanges that occurred under glasnost. Addresses the Soviet-American dance exchanges that began in the late 1980’s and discusses performances by Soviet companies in the United States.

Tharp Stages Deuce Coupe for the Joffrey Ballet

Baryshnikov Becomes Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre

New Dance U.S.A. Festival

Festivals Mark a Peak in the Dance Created by Black Artists

Debut of Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project

Categories: History