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Damned or deified?

Friderica Derra de Moroda is a figure out of dance history whose past remains a riddle. She is back in the news because of her dance collection, which is a major attraction of the Austrian cultural scene.

Born in 1897 in Bratislava, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Derra de Moroda studied ballet, yet first became known as a modern dancer, making her debut at Vienna's anti-establishment Sezession in 1912. After touring central Europe and Russia with a solo program. she returned to classical ballet as a disciple of Enrico Cecchetti at his London school. Designated a master pupil by the famous pedagogue, she was one of the founders of the Cecchetti Society.

In the early 1940s, Derra de Moroda turned up as a choreographer in Berlin and became director of the Nazi Party's official ballet company, KDF (Kraft durch Freude, or Strength Through Joy). Despite this she received royal honors in Britain after World War II (an Order of the British Empire in 1974). After her dancing and choreographic career, Derra de Moroda became a dance scholar, focusing on the history of notation. Before her death in 1978, she had amassed one of the world's great collections of dance manuscripts and memorabilia, which she willed to Salzburg, where she spent her final years.

As the Derra de Moroda Dance Archive, her collection is now part of the University of Salzburg and is housed as a self-contained facility there. The archive functions as a dance library and research center, much like the New York City Public Library's Dance Collection. Cherished by scholars for its rare early manuscripts on dance notation, this is one of the few institutions in which the Balanchine Foundation has placed copies of its videotapes.

Sibylle Dahms, who administered the collection with distinction, was succeeded in January 2003 by Gunhild Oberzaucher Schuller. She is a well-known dance historian and critic who has been on the staff of the University of Bayreuth's Institute for Lyric Theater and is married to Alfred Oberzaucher, dramaturg of the Vienna State Opera Ballet. She told DANCE MAGAZINE that she plans to intensify the archive's activities in the areas of scholarship, publication, exhibits, and colloquia. A special project will document and present dance performances accompanied by the dance music of composers labeled "degenerate" by the Nazi regime.

It is easier to explain why Derra de Moroda vacillated between ballet and modern dance than to discover how she could have been patronized by both the Nazi Party and Britain's monarchy. In her position at KDF Ballet, she had access to top Nazi officials and, when a manpower shortage developed during the war, those officials gave her authority to recruit into her company any dancer she could find in slave labor factories and concentration camps. Those dancers were grateful to her for rescuing them, but some became convinced she was relaying information from Berlin to the Allies. At least one of them thought she was the top Allied spy in Berlin. That's hard to prove. (And individuals who knew her in London after World War II think she was a convinced Nazi.) On the other hand, it might explain why the Nazi Party's ballet mistress received an OBE.
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Title Annotation:Biography; Dancer Friderica Derra de Moroda
Author:Jackson, George
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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Next Article:Advice for dancers.

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