Mary Wigman

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Mary Wigman
Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-P047336, Berlin, Mary Wigman-Studio.jpg
Mary Wigman (left)
Born Karoline Sophie Marie Wiegmann
(1886-11-13)13 November 1886
Hanover, German Empire
Died 18 September 1973(1973-09-18) (aged 86)
West Berlin, West Germany
Nationality German
Known for modern dance and dance therapy
Movement Expressionist dance

Mary Wigman (born Karoline Sophie Marie Wiegmann; 13 November 1886 – 18 September 1973) was a German dancer, choreographer, notable as the pioneer of expressionist dance, dance therapy, and movement training without pointe shoes. She is considered one of the most important figures in the history of modern dance.[1] She became one of the most iconic figures of Weimar German culture and her work was hailed for bringing the deepest of existential experiences to the stage.


Portrait of Mary Wigman dancing by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Karoline Sophie Marie Wiegmann was born in Hanover, Germany. She came to dance comparatively late after seeing three students of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, who aimed to approach music through movement using three equally-important elements: solfège, improvisation and his own system of movements, eurhythmics.[2] Another key early experience was a solo concert by Grete Wiesenthal.[3]

In 1913, she was introduced to Rudolf von Laban and following his lead, she worked upon a technique based in contrasts of movement; expansion and contraction, pulling and pushing. During the First World War she worked as Laban's assistant in Leipzig.[3]

In 1918, she suffered a nervous breakdown.[4] Two years later, in 1920, she was offered the post of ballet mistress at the Dresden State Opera, but, after taking up residence in a hotel in Dresden and beginning to teach dance classes while awaiting her appointment, she learned that the position had been awarded to someone else.[5]

In 1920-21,[6] Wigman started her own dance school, which became known as "Dresden Central School" or simply "Mary Wigman-Schule", a centre of new, expressionist dance. The rivalry and competition between her new school and the old schools of dance in Dresden emerged, especially with the Palucca School of Dance.[6]

Mary Wigman, dance studio, West Berlin 1959

Her students and collaborators from Europe included Yvonne Georgi, Hanya Holm, Harald Kreutzberg, Gret Palucca, Margarethe Wallmann, Inge Weiss, and Meta Vidmar who, in 1930, established the first school of modern dance in Slovenia.[citation needed]

Mary Wigman toured the United States in 1930 with her company of dancers; a school was founded by her disciples in New York City in 1931. Her choreography inspired communist dance troupes in the 1930s in New York City[7] Her work in the United States is credited to her protegee Hanya Holm, and then to Hanya's students Alwin Nikolais and Joanne Woodbury. Another student and protegee of Wigman's, Margret Dietz, taught in America from 1953-72.

The "Mary Wigman-Schule" existed from 1920 until 1942 and continued to operate under Nazi rule in World War II, when she obeyed the rule of government and fired all the Jewish dancers from her schools in Germany.

What had been the Mary Wigman-Schule was started again after the war by Dore Hoyer. Hoyer and the school created a Dances for Käthe Kollwitz which they performed in Dresden in 1946.[8]

Wigman taught again in Leipzig in 1948. From 1950 until her death in 1973, she taught at a studio in West Berlin, where Susanne Linke was among her students.[citation needed]


Wigman died on 18 September 1973 in Berlin, aged 86.

Postage stamp marks 100th year of Wigman's birth


Mary Wigman studio, West Berlin
West Berlin 1959

Wigman gave her first public performance in Munich in February 1914, performing two of her own dances, including one called Lento and the first version of Hexentanz (Witch Dance),[9] which later became one of her most important works.[10]

While recovering from her nervous breakdown, in 1918, Wigman wrote the choreography for her first group composition, Die sieben Tänze des Lebens (The Seven Dances of Life), which premiered several year later, in 1921.[11] After that her career and influence began in earnest.

In 1925 the Italian financier Riccardo Gualino invited Wigman to Turin to perform in his private theater and in his newly opened Teatro di Torino.[12] She had several years' success on the concert stage.

Wigman's dances were often accompanied by world music and non-Western instrumentation, such as fifes and primarily percussion, bells, including the gongs and drums from India, Thailand, Africa, and China, contrasted with silence.

She would often employ masks in her pieces, influenced again by non-western/tribal dance.

Selected works

Wigman (1922)
  • Summer Dance
  • Dream Image
  • Witch Dance
  • Totenmal
  • Dance of Lorrow
  • Visions, Cycles, and the Bay
  • Festive Rhythm
  • Dance of Spring

See also

  1. ^ Rainer Metzger (2007), Berlin in the Twenties: Art and Culture 1918-33, London, p. 160.
  2. ^ Mead, V. H. (1996). "More than Mere Movement – Dalcroze Eurhythmics." Music Educators Journal, 82(4), 38–41.
  3. ^ a b Kirstein, Lincoln (1977). "The Contemporary Classical Dance". Dance (Paperback ed.). New York: Dance Horizons. ISBN 0-87127-019-6. 
  4. ^ Newhall, Mary Anne Santos (2009). Mary Wigman. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780203098981. pg. 26.
  5. ^ Newhall (2009), p. 28.
  6. ^ a b Prof. Dr. Karl Toepfer, Prof. Dr. Peter Reichel, Dr. Gabriele Postuwka, Frank-Manuel Peter, Dr. Yvonne Hardt, Dr. Thomas Kupsch, Cathleen Bürgelt, Muriel Favre, Heide Lazarus (2003) Selection of documents about The Wigman School, Dresden, from the period of 1924 to 1937 Archived 2015-04-02 at the Wayback Machine., Deutsches Tanzarchiv, Köln (German Dance Archives, Cologne), SK Stiftung Kultur (SK Culture Foundation)
  7. ^ John Martain, "Workers League in Group Dances", The New York Times, 24 December 1934.
  8. ^ Partsch-Bergsohn, Isa (1994). Modern Dance in Germany and the United States: Crosscurrents and Influences. Chur: Harwood Acad. Publ. p. 122. ISBN 3718655578. 
  9. ^ Newhall (2009), p. 22.
  10. ^ Levin, Gaby (8 March 2016)"The German Choreographer Who Danced Too Close to the Nazis",; retrieved 22 February 2017.
  11. ^ Newhall (2009), pp. 115–116.
  12. ^ Grau, Andree; Jordan, Stephanie (1 June 2002). Europe Dancing: Perspectives on Theatre, Dance, and Cultural Identity. Routledge. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-134-69653-6. Retrieved 26 July 2015. 

Further reading

  • Gilbert, Laure (2000). Danser avec le Troisième Reich, Brussels: Editions Complex, ISBN 2-87027-697-4
  • Karina, Lilian & Kant, Marion (2003). German Modern Dance and the Third Reich, New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books, ISBN 1-57181-688-7
  • Kolb, Alexandra (2009). Performing Femininity. Dance and Literature in German Modernism. Oxford: Peter Lang. ISBN 978-3-03911-351-4
  • Manning, Susan (1993). Ecstasy and the Demon: Feminism and Nationalism in the Dances of Mary Wigman, University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08193-5.
  • Martin, John (1934). "Workers League In Group Dances", The New York Times, 24 December.
  • Newhall, Mary; Santos, Anne (2009). Mary Wigman. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-37527-4
  • Partsch-Bergsohn, Isa; Bergsohn, Harold (2002). The Makers of Modern Dance in Germany: Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss, Princeton Book Company Publishers. ISBN 0-87127-250-4.
  • Song, Ji-yun (2006). "Moving bodies and political movement: Dance in German modernism", dissertation, Stanford University.
  • Song, Ji-yun (2007). "Mary Wigman and German Modern Dance: A Modernist Witch?", Forum for Modern Language Studies, Oxford University Press (1 October 2007), 43(4): 427–437. Special Issue on Stagecraft and Witchcraft.
  • Toepfer, Karl Eric (1997). Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in Germany Body Culture, 1910-1935 (Weimer and Now: German Cultural Criticism, No 13), University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20663-0.
  • Wigman, Mary (1975). The Mary Wigman Book: Her Writings, Olympic Marketing Corp. ISBN 0-8195-4079-X.

External links

  • Mary Wigman Archives
  • catalog raisonné of Mary Wigman
  • curriculum vitae of Mary Wigman
  • Traude Schrattenecker, a student of Wigman's.
  • Photographs of Mary Wigman
  • Mary Wigman-Schule in Dresden
  • Dancing with Time by Heike Hennig
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