Mary Wigman

Tamara Warta
moderndance

Mary Wigman, the German dancer who revolutionized the dance world, is considered one of the founders of modern dance.

The Early Years of Mary Wigman

Born in November of 1886, Mary Wigman was born Marie Wiegmann, hailing from Hanover, Germany. She went to secondary school abroad in England and Switzerland, as well as in her homeland. During some time spent in Amsterdam, she went to a dance recital put on by Emile Jacques-Dalcroze's students. She instantly fell in love with dance and the way it could be used as a means of life expression.

Going against her parents' wishes, she went on to enroll in his school in the year 1911. As Jacques-Dalcroze is known to be the founder of eurythmics, she learned rhythmical gymnastics first. She did not enjoy this as she felt she was ensnared by the music - unable to dance freely, and so she went on to Switzerland to study at the Laban school. She remained there until 1919, working as a choreographer's assistant.

Evolution of Genius

Following her studies at Laban, Mary Wigman went to live alone in the Swiss mountains. She choreographed and created dance, movement and personal expression. She named New German Dance, noting the existence of both classic dance derivatives and a unique "breaking away" from the cultural norm of rigid ballet.

Mary Wigman presented her first solo performance in Berlin in 1919, followed by a couple others. They were all reviewed poorly, and yet she won over audiences gradually as she continued to stick by her new style of dancing and open up the eyes and hearts of the critics. By the 1920s, Wigman was the leader of modern dance in Germany.

She went on to found a dance troupe and made a United States debut in 1930. Critics reviewed her work as somber and serious, and yet with a touch of hope and love of life beneath the surface of almost every dance. Sometimes, to remain ever more innovative, Wigman often abandoned music altogether in her early performances, or used simple, primitive accompaniment such as drums or cymbals.

Mary Wigman's school expanded to include multiple locations all over Germany, as well as the United States. She was also able to see her dance style integrated into the public school system, which went on to earn many accolades. Persecuted by the Nazis during World War II, she was required to take her work to Leipzig, and there she appeared in her final soloist role. The year was 1942.

Toward the end of her life, she fled to West Berlin and opened yet another school, and continued to choreograph and make brief appearances during the 1950s. She died in September of 1973.

Mary Wigman's dances were exceptional because of the basis of human emotions in every dance. Every movement told a story, and even though she was criticized and misunderstood until her dying day, her contributions to modern dance are considered to be monumental. Wigman also enjoyed using international flairs in her dances, including instrumental accompaniment from musical instruments found in India, China and Africa.

Mary Wigman's choreography is immortalized today in Internet video feeds, some of which are found on YouTube. Eerie, aged film reels of Mary dancing in either silence or percussion are interspersed with clips of modern day dancers paying homage to Wigman with their own school dance projects and recitals. This is a testament to how she continues to be a strong influence today, even though it's been decades since her passing.

Mary Wigman