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Do you know of any dances created in disaster?

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Does anyone know of any dances that were created in oppression, disaster, or other dire circumstances (prison, concentration camps, house arrest, hospitals, etc.)? Any kind of dance - ballet, modern or other?

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Many years ago I remember seeing a programme called "Bolshoi Behind the Scenes", in which I remember Leonid Lavrovsky described how his Romeo and Juliet was created as a response to the tragedy of the Second World War. BTW, I am dying to find those programmes again - I remember at least 2, with all the soviet 'stars' - Liepa, Semenyaka, Bessmertnova, Mukhamedov, etc. - interviewed and dancing.

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Does anyone know of any dances that were created in oppression, disaster, or other dire circumstances (prison, concentration camps, house arrest, hospitals, etc.)? Any kind of dance - ballet, modern or other?

A very interesting question! Offhand, I thought of "The Clowns" by Arpino of the Joffrey Ballet, which, first performed in 1968, deals with nuclear war. I also remember reading about a short and somber dance by Nijinsky to protest the first world war.

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But then these are dances about disaster, misfortune, etc., and not arising from or created within it.

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But then these are dances about disaster, misfortune, etc., and not arising from or created within it.

I see your point, but the difference does not seem so clear cut. Certainly there is a difference between a work of art created in a institution (hospital, prison, etc) , and one created about an institution, but this is because institutions, almost by definition, depend for their operation on drawing distinctions between those who have been institutionalized, those who work for the institution, and those on the outside. But in the case of a world war, or the threat of nuclear annihilation, how can one differentiate between those who are "within the event" and those "outside it"? Especially given that now, in this age of media saturation, we are constantly witnessing disasters that happen far away and do not affect us directly.

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No, but plenty that have ended in it (SOMEone had to say it!). OK, back to serious discussion now.

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There is a problem here in precision of language, especially the word "oppression." E.g., it seems reasonable to say that a state of "oppression" would include living in a country occupied by the Nazis during WWII (Europe, Russia) or under siege from the Nazis (Britain). That oppression included the physical horrors of war and also the known censorship by Hitler of artistic freedom. Does "oppression" also include those in a state of war with the Nazis (which would include the U.S., Canada, Australia, etc.), as those countries suffered economic and personal hardship? But that seems far too broad, for many artistic activities continued in all those countries, despite the war.

Including works "about" states of oppression broadens the consideration considerably, probably too much. An enormous amount of work in all art forms comments on war and other oppression - The Green Table, e.g. Stravinsky's Symphony in 3 Movements is typically characterized as his response to WWII and Balanchine's choreography is sometimes characterized that way, too (regardless of the standard denials of dramatic content by both of them).

It seems the goal of this question is identifying work created while people are institutionalized and by the people institutionalized -- concentration camps, mental hospitals, etc. -- a much narrower group of works. We have heard of orchestras playing for their survival in Nazi concentration camps. Did any original work get created by those musicians? We know that the residents of the Japanese internment camps in the west during WWII did their best to maintain some semblance of civilization, education, etc. Did any of those residents create new artworks while interred? It's also possible works of art were created, but never preserved for us to know about later, either because the creators were murdered in the camps or chose to forget what happened in the camps.

Fascinating question, and I'm curious if others can think of examples of the narrower sense here.

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There is a problem here in precision of language, especially the word "oppression." E.g., it seems reasonable to say that a state of "oppression" would include living in a country occupied by the Nazis during WWII (Europe, Russia) or under siege from the Nazis (Britain). That oppression included the physical horrors of war and also the known censorship by Hitler of artistic freedom. Does "oppression" also include those in a state of war with the Nazis (which would include the U.S., Canada, Australia, etc.), as those countries suffered economic and personal hardship? But that seems far too broad, for many artistic activities continued in all those countries, despite the war.

Including works "about" states of oppression broadens the consideration considerably, probably too much. An enormous amount of work in all art forms comments on war and other oppression - The Green Table, e.g. Stravinsky's Symphony in 3 Movements is typically characterized as his response to WWII and Balanchine's choreography is sometimes characterized that way, too (regardless of the standard denials of dramatic content by both of them).

It seems the goal of this question is identifying work created while people are institutionalized and by the people institutionalized -- concentration camps, mental hospitals, etc. -- a much narrower group of works. We have heard of orchestras playing for their survival in Nazi concentration camps. Did any original work get created by those musicians? We know that the residents of the Japanese internment camps in the west during WWII did their best to maintain some semblance of civilization, education, etc. Did any of those residents create new artworks while interred? It's also possible works of art were created, but never preserved for us to know about later, either because the creators were murdered in the camps or chose to forget what happened in the camps.

Fascinating question, and I'm curious if others can think of examples of the narrower sense here.

I agree completely. I was somewhat misled by the question. "Disaster" and "institutional confinement" seem to be fundamentally opposed concepts, since institutions are often created in order to contain a perceived disaster or threat (drugs, epidemic diseases, crime, "wrong" political beliefs, sexual deviance, racial contamination, mental illness...) by isolating it from the general population. Disasters, in this sense, exist when there is not yet an institution to manage them, or where the existing institutions have failed.

There certainly are examples of large-scale musical compositions created in Nazi concentration camps, most notably Theresienstadt. Perhaps the best example is Der Kaiser von Atlantis by Viktor Ullmann. Hans Krása composed the children's opera Brundibár before his internment, but it was first performed in a reconstructed version at Theresienstadt. I've never heard of ballets, though, created in concentration camps.

Another very famous example of art created in institutions are the theatrical performances, staged by inmates, at Charenton Asylum in France in the early nineteenth century. (This is treated in Peter Weiss's play Marat/Sade) This might be a place to look...

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It seems to me that in order to create and perform dance on a serious level, one needs several conditions which may not be as important for the creation and performance of music or plays. Dances needs open spaces in which to move. Dancers need rest, exercise, and -- generally speaking -- good physical health . Such conditions may not be possible under the dire and constrained conditions that brbt has in mind.

What about the Home Front in wartime, as opposed to the trenches or prison camps? Diaghilev pretty much ignored World War One, premiering Massine's Parade, which amounts to an escape from war, a denial of the trenches. Sadler's Wells distracted British audiences during the Second World War with numerous performances of Sylphides, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Princess, Coppelia, and other catastrophe-denying works. The same with Ballets Russes in the U.S. Tudor focused on sexual frustration in Pillar of Fire and romantic passion in Romeo and Juliet. Robbins choreographed the light-hearted Fancy Free. All of this suggests a degree of distraction or even escapism in dance performance.

On the other hand, Ashton's Dante Sonata -- with its conflict between Children of Darkness and Children of Light and its images of crucifixion -- was an attempt to depict the Hitler War directly, if in symbolic rather than realistic terms. War-time ballets like this seem the exception rather than the rule. Julie Kavanaugh writes: "The ballet had a therapeutic effect on audiences, although much of the power evaporated after the war."

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One of the problems in creating art in the midst of cataclysm is the lack of studio time and space. In the World Wars, there was a rear echelon where these things could be had, but in the light of modern warfare, including epidemic disease as a weapon, there is no longer a rear echelon. All the world is a potential front. There are modern works which speak to the oppression of poverty, as Donald McKayle's "Rainbow 'Round my Shoulder", but ballet has a harder time framing works like this.

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