Contemporary ballet emerged in the United States in the late 1800s in direct response to Classical Ballet. Some similarities remained: the same dance vocabulary was utilized, there was a strong relationship between the dance and the music and it required dancers to be at a high level of technical and artist ability.
One major shift from Classical Ballet to Contemporary Ballet was the subject matter. While Classical Ballet was about fairy tales, Contemporary Ballet was more human and dealt with controversial subjects. Contemporary Ballet doesn’t necessarily tell a story, it’s much more abstract than Classical Ballet.
Contemporary Ballet has dancers that are sometimes dancing en pointe and sometimes they would wear soft ballet slippers. This greatly differed from the Classical Ballets that were characterized by ballerinas being en pointe. Contemporary Ballet also has a lot more freedom of movement in the upper body of the dancers, than Classical Ballet, which adhered to an erect upper body with the shoulders and hips always aligned.
One notable contributor to Contemporary Ballet was George Balanchine, who is considered to be the father of American ballet. He was Russian by birth and even graduated from the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was later invited to the United States by Lincoln Kirstein, a wealthy patron of the arts, to work as a choreographer and teacher. Balanchine went on to found the School of American Ballet in 1913. Today, this school offers the foremost training for ballet in the United States.
Balanchine revolutionized the dance world by founding the New York City Ballet and by changing the face of ballet through costuming, choreography and dance philosophy. He often eliminated sets and costuming, such as those used in Classical Ballet, because they took away from the focus on the dancer. During his career, Balanchine created over 400 ballets and is considered to be the greatest contemporary choreographer of his time.