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German dancers, 1930s and 1940s

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I'm posting this to follow up on Sonja's and vagansmom's questions on the Biography thread. It took awhile to track down my colleague, George Jackson, who knows more about German ballet and modern dance history than anyone I know, but he sent this brief email, which I'll post. He's out of town and away from his files, but says he'll give us more info when he returns.

Yes, there is info but more could be used. Hitler's favorite choreographer was a woman who also became a famous dance historian and may have been leading Allied spy in Berlin during WW2 -- Derra de Moroda. She rescued dancers from the concentration camps and slave factories for her Berlin ballet company.

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Wow - sounds like hers would a be a great biography!

I'm grateful to you for following up on this topic, Alexandra. I remember that I., my neighbor, said that one of their frequent guest teachers was a Russian ballerina, Tatiana ______. I'm sorry - I don't recall her last name and there are loads of Tatianas! I'll ask her when I see her again. In fact, I think I'm going to ask if I can formally interview her on tape. But it's painful for her to discuss that period in her life.

I remember one time she told me that there was a German movie producer or director who, at the time of the war, was just becoming known. He pursued her amorously but she didn't care for him. He later married another ballet dancer, a good friend of hers, and went on to movie fame in Germany. I believe he then fell ill with Altzheimer's and his wife has been caring for him.

Several years ago, I. went back to Germany for a 50th. anniversary reunion of the ballet dancers in her company.

It's interesting that the subject of German National ballet dancers is such a difficult and sensitive one while the same isn't true of Russian dancers. I've been trying to understand exactly where the differences lie and I keep coming back to the subsequent guilt felt by Germans who benefited from the Nazi party. Although there were many Russian dancers who also benefited under their Communist system, Hitler's crimes were so heinous in their massive organization alone that it's unsettling to even consider that any group of individuals benefited from that system. My neighbor, while recalling her dancing years, is constantly qualifying her experience in the context of what else was occurring in Germany at the time. She doesn't feel as though she can look back with enjoyment on those years.

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I remember several articles in some French dance magazines (mostly "Les Saisons de la Danse") one or two years ago about a book dealing with German modern dance choreographers during the Third Reich period. It caused some debates because it was very severe with many choreographers, showing that many of them collaborated with the nazis (for example Mary Wigman didn't hesitate at all to fire all the Jewish dancers of her company; some were involved in the Berlin Olympic Games, etc. On the other hand, Kurt Jooss resisted and fled to England.) I'll have to dig through my collection of magazines to find something more precise. But if I remember correctly, it didn't mention ballet dancers or choreographers. It doesn't seem to me that ballet was very developed in Germany then, but perhaps it is just because there are not many documents about it.

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I am interested in this topic...I am currently writing a paper on how dance and politics effect each other. I am focusing my paper on ww2. I would like to read this french magazine article wouldn't you be able to give me some more detail so that I can get hold of the article.

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Welcome to BalletAlert!, desiree. I'm glad you asked for help locating the publications, rather than asking directly for information, since we do not allow this forum to be used as a research source for academic work. Your query is permissible.

As you may have noticed, the posts herre are over a decade old. Neither Estelle nor vagansmom posts here regularly anymore.

It appears that Les Saisons de la Danse has ceased publication -- a shame. I can't offer helpful suggestions, but perhaps some of our readers can.

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A great resource is the New York Public Library-Dance Collection on-line catalog:


I just tried searching "keyword-Nazi-Dance Research Collection" and 48 things came up. If you're in the New York area, you can use them at the library at Lincoln Center, but you might also see books listed which are available at other libraries near where you live. You can also search by names such as Wigman, Jooss and Laban to see what material relate to the topic.

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Vagansmom used to be quite a buddy of mine on here -- I hope she's not completely inactive now.

She posed a very good question -- one with an obvious answer, obvious if you know the diffferent courses that life took afer WW2 in Germany and Russia.

If you lived in Germany, you had to be affected by the de-Nazification process. There's been no such similar de-stalinization or de-communistification process among former Soviets -- but everyone in germany went through it. Some gave it lip-service, some underwent it whole-heartedly. I know sme people who look back on their youth in the Soviet Union and marvel that htey believed in hte Communist propaganda, how enthusiastic they were as pioneers -- and it reminds me, how idealistic I was as a kid and how much I wanted to believe in hte things 50s AMerica professed.....

It may not have been easy for Wigman to let go her Jewish dancers -- but if she was not going to leave the country, like Jooss, there was no other way of working. Exile was not necessarily a good artistic path -- it didn't ruin Jooss, but most people agree that Pola Nerinska lost a great part of her creative energies when she left Poland for AMerica. Yes she taught Jose Limon, yes she did some other things -- but exile took the ginger out of her.

A friend of mine from grad school is the child of emigres from Rumania; er mother was a famous writer in Rumania, whose talent dried up and withered away in Los Angeles.

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