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In the shadow of the Reich: modern dance in Hitler's Germany.

Liebe Hanya: Mary Wigman's letters to Hanya Holm Compiled and edited by Claudia Gitelman. Introduction by Hedwig Muller. Translated by Marianne Forster and Catherine T. Klingler. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. 200 pages, paper, illus. $29.95.

Liebe Hanya ("Dear Hanya") chronicles the relationship between the radical German dance pioneer Mary Wigman (1886-1973) and her disciple Hanya Holm (1893-1992) over a fifty-year period. The two women wine mentor and protegee, colleagues, and, at one time, romantic rivals. They were essential to each other's existence artistically, emotionally, and financially. Holm, once a teaching assistant at Wigman's school in Dresden, became the harbinger of German expressionism in New York by directing the Wigman outpost there.

In this book one gleans how popular Wigman's intense and dramatic new form of dance was, with overflowing classes and performance dates all over Europe. At the height of her career, in 1936, she staged the Pageant of Youth for the Nazi-sponsored Berlin Olympics. That same year Holm responded to American antipathy toward Germany by deleting Wigman's name from the New York school.

During the 1930s the Nazis demanded that choreographers dismiss their Jewish dancers. While some, like Kurt Jooss, refused and left the country, Wigman complied and stayed. But we learn from Claudia Gitelman's excellent footnotes that Wigman helped two Jewish students escape. She was later harassed by the Nazis, who learned that some of the contributors to her school were Jewish. Her career languished, and the development of Ausdruckstanz (Expressionist dance) in Europe was halted.

In her letters to Holm, not one word is uttered about the destruction of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. When, after World War II, Wigman bemoans the "fate of a people," she means the German people in their post-war poverty and destitution. And you wonder how she could be so insensitive when, in 1951, having trouble getting a visa to enter the U.S., she complains to Pola Nirenska (the addenda contain letters to Nirenska and Louise Kloepper), a Jewish dancer who fled Germany, "it is truly a heavy load to be a German."

As Holm's star rose--she became a major modern dance choreographer and teacher as well as the choreographer of blockbuster musicals My Fair Lady' and Kiss Me, Kate--Wigman's fell. Over the years the older woman's tone shifted from demanding (wanting hard facts on the school's finances) to grateful (appreciative of any morsel of news of the American dance scene). Throughout these five decades (1920 to 1971), she closed each letter with a profusion of affectionate wishes.

Through this collection we learn many things about Wigman: that she criticized Martha Graham for the "rigid aristocracy" of her classes, that she had trouble with ballet dancers ("they don't improvise"), that her servant called her "my lion," and that she treasured creativity above all else.

It is often said that modern dance is a uniquely American art form. But in its early days, it received, at the very least, a shot of adrenaline from German expressionism. Liebe Hanya, with the informative contributions of Gitelman and Hedwig Muller, puts a personal stamp on this chapter of history.--WENDY PERRON

The Makers of Modern Dance in Germany: Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss By Isa Partsch-Bergsohn and Harold Bergsohn. Hightstown, NJ: Princeton Book Co. 2003. Book, 128 pages, paper, illus. $19.95. 2 videos, 60 minutes each. $39.95 each.

Dancegoers just beginning to think about the past will appreciate this book, and those already hooked on history will appreciate the accompanying videos. The book covers twentieth century modern dance in Central Europe concisely, describes its leading personalities, and sums up their stance in society. Without oversimplifying, the authors cut through the entanglements Is of Germanic dance theory in order to extract the core ideas. However, there's no denying that the Bergsohns--Isa Partsch-Bergsohn was trained in Germany at that time--are partisan. They claim that Rudolf van Laban (1879-1958) was the key initiator of modern dance in Europe, and that the two other originators, Mary Wigman and Kurt Jooss, worked as his disciples. It would be more accurate to say that Laban's role was that of catalyst, providing a unifying vision for dancers who preceded him as well as his contemporaries.

The cataclysmic rise of the Nazi regime interrupted the free development of modern dance in continental Europe. The Bergsohns discuss the changing relations of Laban, Wigman, and Jooss to the Nazi party, and give a brief glimpse into their post-war careers and legacies.

The videos go over much the same ground, but in more detail and from several perspectives. Why, though, is there so little movement? A few exercises make it onto the screen, but there's just a bit of Jooss' masterpiece, The Green Table, and nothing of Wigman's. For the general dancegoer there may be too much of talking heads, yet learning about these dance-makers and their personal as well as political struggles is valuable.--GEORGE JACKSON

Hitler's Dancers: German Modern Dance and the Third Reich By Lilian Karina and Marion Kant, translated by Jonathan Steinberg. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. 2003. 400 pages, clothbound, illus. $75.00.

It's disheartening when someone seizes our idols flora the pedestals we've place them on and dashes them to the floor. Hitler's Dancers, co-authored by Lilian Karina and Marion Kant, does just that. When the book first came out in Europe it instigated a wave of over seventy reviews, the majority of them scorning it as the vengeful ranting of narrow-minded outsiders. Dancers and critics fought against the authors' findings in an effort to restore the tarnished reputations of dance idols such as Mary Wigman and Rudolf yon Laban.

The book includes Lillian Karina's memoir of her experiences as a dancer during the rise of fascism, a critique of the politicization of German modern dance under the Nazi regime, and a case study of the Nazis' suppression of jazz and swing. Perhaps the most valuable section is a collection of documents that, peppered with "Heil Hitler," give evidence of the extent to which Laban and Wigman complied with Nazi directives (for example, to dismiss their Jewish dancers), in the early 1930s.

In a culture that emphasized the superiority, of its people's physique and artistry, the blossoming of dance as an art form was all too easily exploited for Nazi purposes. Although the book's original title, Dancing Under the Swastika (Tanz unterm Hakenkreuz), more accurately represents its contents, it makes an invaluable contribution to the reexamination of dance in Hitler's Germany.--MEGAN WACHA
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Title Annotation:Dance Magazine Recommends; Liebe Hanya: Mary Wigman's letters to Hanya Holm
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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