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New German Dance Studies
University of Illinois Press Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
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Introduction New Dance Studies/ New German Cultural Studies
SUSAN MANNING AND LUCIA RUPRECHT
New German Dance Studies offers fresh histories and theoretical inquiries that will resonate not only for scholars working in the field of dance, but also for scholars working on literature, film, visual culture, theater, and performance. The volume brings together essays by scholars working inside and outside Germany, by established leaders in the field as well as new voices. Topics range from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century theater dance to popular social dances in global circulation, although emphasis falls on twentieth- and twenty-first–century modern and contemporary dance. Three research clusters emerge: Weimar culture and its afterlife, a focus that is still particularly strong in German studies outside Germany; the GDR (German Democratic Republic), where our contributions work toward filling a persistent gap in East German cultural history; and conceptual trends in recent theater dance that are only slowly finding an audience outside continental Europe.
This introductory chapter sketches the intellectual and artistic trends over the last thirty years that have shaped the scholarship featured in New German Dance Studies. This overview follows the broadly chronological organization of the volume as a whole: opening essays on theater dance before 1900; then research clusters on Weimar dance, dance in the GDR, and conceptual dance; and a closing reflection on the circulation of dance in an era of globalization. Throughout we emphasize the complex interplay between dance-making and dance writing, as well as interrelations between dance practice and research and artistic and intellectual trends in German culture at large. Although we cannot detail all these interconnections, we remain aware that the essays collected in New German Dance Studies participate in broader cultural transformations even while documenting and narrating how these transformations have impacted dance research.
From Germanistik to Kulturwissenschaft
Over the past decades, the emergence of a new type of German cultural studies (Kulturwissenschaft) has replaced more traditional separations between disciplines. Kulturwissenschaft has opened the academic field of German literature (Germanistik) to transdisciplinary inquiries on a broad range of research topics, demonstrating a new awareness of historical contexts and theoretical questions without necessarily abolishing a strong philological grounding. Mindful of the analytical demands posed by social and political structures, practitioners of German cultural studies acknowledge their British and American predecessors while maintaining strong interests in specific areas such as historical discourse analysis, the formation of knowledge, and theories of performance—all interests represented in this volume. Kulturwissenschaft does not constitute yet another trend within the methodological and theoretical debates of the late twentieth century but shows how current research operates both informed by and "after" theory.
Cultures of the body have contributed to this new kind of research, both as textlike objects for study and as alternative models to the textual paradigm. Dance studies can have a prime impact here, and it is this volume's aim to encourage and further the inclusion of dance scholarship in the broadened spectrum of research enabled by the turn of Germanistik toward Kulturwissenschaft. As Gabriele Brandstetter suggests: "It is one of dance studies' tasks to provide historical research and theoretical positions for choreographers and dancers, but also for cultural studies at large." Christina Thurner's essay, "Affect, Discourse, and Dance before 1900," demonstrates what can be gained from a transdisciplinary approach. Her analysis of aesthetic treatises historicizes claims that see dance as an art of expression that projects emotions in an immediate fashion. As she notes, such a mythical understanding often prevails up to today. Thurner emphasizes that important aspects of a major event in the history of dance—ballet reform in the eighteenth century—were actually prescribed in aesthetic discourse before their implementation on stage. Her essay also provides crucial historical background to the renewed interest in expression in dance after 1900.
Claudia Jeschke's essay, "Lola Montez and Spanish Dance in the 19th Century," narrates the career of a performer who trafficked in staging the Spanish dancer as a figure of otherness on the stages of nineteenth-century Europe. Jeschke addresses both performative qualities and written discourse, in particular Montez's own writings, as strategies for self-fashioning. Here, discourse itself gains a performative potential, pronouncing into being a successful persona that relied on a variety of marketing tactics. Jeschke casts new light on dance history by exploring how a dilettante female performer used constructions of gender and alterity to forge a star identity for herself.
In their engagement with relatively unknown autobiographical writings and dance treatises not usually considered by anyone but specialists, both Jeschke's and Thurner's contributions exemplify the debt of Kulturwissenschaft to New Historicism. Both also point up the relevance today of historical stagings and discussions of alterity and affect. Above all, their essays demonstrate pre–twentieth-century dance's inextricable embeddedness within cultural discourse and practice.
The two opening essays continue a body of work situated within one of the most prolific fields of interaction between dance studies and German cultural studies to date, which can be broadly subsumed under the heading of discourse analysis. This approach highlights the discursive framing of dance, and investigations span the seventeenth to the twenty-first century. Authors writing in this area often have a background in literary studies. They explore the ways in which aesthetic, literary, and journalistic writings speak about dance and how this discourse illuminates dance history as well as the history of literature and aesthetics. Studies on dance and discourse explore the descriptive and prescriptive potential of language that relates to the physical art, but also the ways in which language may define a type of movement as dance in the first place, whether in an aesthetic, social, or political framework.
One of the most potent topoi in the history of dance writing is the assumption of the body's pre-discursive status. This assumption is implied in dance's association with the unspeakable in the sense of that which must not be expressed—the socially or politically censored—and that which cannot be expressed—the ineffable. Mobilizing literary studies to explicate dance studies, Brandstetter has identified key moments for these two types of unspeakability in the history of German literature: Goethe's Werther, which establishes the dancing body in the eighteenth century as a prime figure for new forms of sensitive subjectivity, but also for gendered identity and the code of intimacy that results from social censorship; and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's turn-of-the-century writings that celebrate dance together with the other silent arts as alternative sign systems at a time of fundamental revisions in the order of representation. Here and elsewhere, Brandstetter's investigations demonstrate how dance and writing reinforce, but also challenge, the assumption of the body before or beyond language.
Whatever the stated topic, many of this volume's contributions necessarily deal with dance and discourse. Dance studies demands a certain amount of dance writing, the description of what happens on stage or, in the case of Jens Richard Giersdorf 's article, while walking on the street. Description thus retrospectively reanimates bodily movement while also enacting interpretive approaches to the physical event. Because of dance's unstable ontological status as a corporeal art of movement, much literary writing has revealed a melancholic awareness of the impermanence of the dancing body. More recently, the renewed interest in phenomenological approaches has superseded this stance and its underlying dualism of body and mind, stage and page. Scholars now engage with the modes in which movement is thought and experienced by performers and viewers and how this kinesthetic imaginary affects our language. Ideas of the thinking body that have arisen from such engagements often retain as much of a mythical aura as those of the unthinking body. Yet they also open up distinctive modes of research and practice where authors and artists do not dwell on the referential gap but analyze, deconstruct, or shift its implications, treating it as a fact that enables instead of disables insight. New scholarship inquires into the ideological contexts that insist on dance as fleeting, indescribable movement or, in Thurner's account, as immediate emotional expressiveness. This approach characterizes not only current directions in dance studies but also conceptual dance as a mode of creative research and critical theory. In other words, topical questions in dance research cannot be separated from the emergence of conceptual dance, and conceptual dance in turn cannot be separated from the accompanying shift from broadly sociohistorical to broadly philosophical approaches to dance history.
Similarly, the broadly sociohistorical histories of Weimar dance, dance in exile, and dance in the GDR cannot be separated from the emergence of Tanztheater in both East and West Germany, as artists and intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s took critical stances to the founding ideologies of both German states. Nor can the turn from Tanztheater to conceptual dance be disentangled from the reconfiguration of German artistic and intellectual life after the fall of the Berlin Wall and national reunification.
From Ausdruckstanz to Weimar Dance
In the late 1970s and 1980s, German critics and historians engaged by the rise of Tanztheater began to investigate German modern dance between the two world wars, or Ausdruckstanz (dance of expression) as the practice was known. As Johann Kresnik, Pina Bausch, Susanne Linke, Gerhard Bohner, and others created socially critical and vividly theatrical alternatives to the postwar ballet boom in West Germany, Tom Schilling, Arila Siegert, and others sought to reform and revitalize the East German dance stage. Although dance training in both German states during the postwar years emphasized ballet, many of the artists who created Tanztheater also had studied with survivors of Ausdruckstanz. While Schilling had studied with Mary Wigman and Dore Hoyer, Siegert had studied with Gret Palucca in Dresden. Linke and Bohner also had studied with Wigman, while Bausch had studied with Kurt Jooss in Essen. As critics and scholars often noted, these artists' early exposure to Ausdruckstanz informed their later rejection of the ballet boom in its varied forms in East and West Germany.
As Tanztheater became an emergent and then dominant form in the 1980s and 1990s, research into the lives and careers of individual dancers in the 1920s and 1930s revealed the breadth and depth of dance reform and experimental dance in Germany and in German-speaking Europe between the two world wars. This research inevitably engaged the question of how practitioners of Ausdruckstanz had negotiated the radical break of 1933, when the Weimar Republic gave way to the National Socialist state. Biographers of individual artists handled this question in varying ways. Some studies, such as Hedwig Müller's biography of Mary Wigman, sought to understand the choreographer's involvement with the Nazi state from the artist's own perspective during the Third Reich, emphasizing her commitment to German culture as expressed through her letters and diaries of the time. Other studies, such as Valerie Preston-Dunlop's biography of Rudolf Laban, sought to portray the artist's involvement with the Nazi state from the perspective of his 1938 exile, acknowledging his earlier employment by the Nazi cultural bureaucracy but emphasizing the hardships he endured after his employment contract had been terminated. It was not until studies were published that examined the broader role of Ausdruckstanz under National Socialism that questions of individual culpability could be seen in relation to larger institutional and ideological dynamics. In 1993 a major exhibition staged at the Academy of Arts in Berlin traced the history of Ausdruckstanz from 1900—when the movement emerged as part of the life reform movement—through the years of the Weimar Republic—when a broad range of expressive dance practices became an integral component of the era's artistic experimentation—and into the Nazi years—when the National Socialists embraced Deutscher Tanz ("German Dance," as Ausdruckstanz was now called) as part of a Volksgemeinschaft (literally "folk community") that divided "true Germans" from Communists, Jews, homosexuals, and other "outsiders." Titled after Laban's statement that "everyone is a dancer," the catalog accompanying the show printed primary documents from the three Dancers' Congresses in 1927, 1928, and 1930 organized by proponents of Ausdruckstanz and from the German Dance Festivals in 1934 and 1935 and the 1936 Olympic Festival organized by the National Socialists, as if to underscore how the Ausdruckstanz ideal of a Tanzgemeinschaft ("dance community") had given way to the Volksgemeinschaft. Over the next decade, other scholars also published their primary research into the broader question of the alliance of Ausdruckstanz and National Socialism, and varied perspectives on the troubling alliance became subject to debate. Further research also made clear that the methods associated with Mary Wigman, Rudolf Laban, and their disciples—the social and artistic formation known as Ausdruckstanz—comprised only part of the flourishing dance scene of the interwar years. Valeska Gert and other cabaret dancers, the Tiller Girls and other groups of precision dancers on the revue stage, Oskar Schlemmer at the Bauhaus, the craze for jazz dance documented in silent films of the era—all these movement forms were equally significant, as were the varied systems of "aesthetic gymnastics" (Tanzgymnastik) that were central to physical culture of the Weimar years. In a review of the literature published in 2007, Susanne Franco suggested that dance historians follow the lead of film scholars and adopt the term Weimar Dance to encompass the broader range of dance and movement forms. Younger scholars immediately saw the need to do so.
Once the major contours of Weimar dance became visible, scholars could look more closely at interrelations between Weimar dance and other artistic and social practices of the time. While some scholars have considered the overlap and interplay between Weimar dance and physical culture, others have examined the overlap and interplay between Weimar dance, theater, film, and visual culture. At its best, such cross-disciplinary research challenges standard disciplinary narratives. In this volume, Susan Funkenstein's essay, "Picturing Palucca at the Bauhaus," examines the visual images of Palucca created by students and teachers at the Bauhaus. In so doing, Funkenstein challenges the standard literature that associates Bauhaus dance exclusively with Oskar Schlemmer. Susanne Franco's essay, "Rudolf Laban's Dance Film Projects," considers how film offered Laban yet another arena within which to promote his distinctive vision of dance. Yet Franco also wonders aloud whether Laban's apparent turn away from film in the mid-1930s reflected his engagement with the National Socialist cultural bureaucracy and the opportunities it offered for his vision of mass dance.
A generation ago, the most explosive scholarship on Weimar dance focused on its entanglement with the Nazi state. More recently, scholars have examined the interplay of dance and cultural politics in Weimar dance in exile and in dance in the GDR. Such inquiries contribute to what Jürgen Habermas famously discussed as Germany's preoccupation with a "double past," the demand to "work off the past" of the Nazi state and the GDR without equating their status and impact. (Continues...)
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