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Mary Wigman ( 1886 - 1973 )  Category ( Dancers ) [suggest a correction]

Though Mary Wigman is not as well known today as other modern dance pioneers, her contributions to the genre are significant, and she is regarded as the founder of modern dance movement. Born in Germany in 1886, she came of age during World War I and was a member of the wide-ranging group of artists, dancers, writers, and musicians who expressed angst over what they interpreted as a rapidly changing and violent world, known as The Lost Generation. She moved in the avant-garde circles that included innovators such as Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Marcel DuChamp, and others. Wigman came to the study of dance late, at age twenty-seven, and studied under Rudolf Laban, an innovative choreographer and creator of the Laban Notation System, which is still used to notate dance today.

Wigman opened a dance school in Dresden in 1920. It quickly became known as a center for modern artistic innovation. She attracted a number of disciples, and toured the United States with her troupe during the 1930s. While there she had the opportunity to meet Albert Einstein, who remarked that Wigman’s work was interesting and admirable, but that he could not understand it. Her approach was certainly new and unique at the time. Wigman turned to distant cultures for sources with which to interpret her choreography. She often used exotic tribal masks, and non-Western musical instruments such as gongs, drums, and bells. Her favored accompaniment was percussion, which she often contrasted with periods of silence. Many of her dances include choreography reminiscent of the spinning of the Whirling Dervish. Wigman’s work served as inspiration to other modern dance pioneers including Martha Graham and Ruth St. Denis. One of Wigman’s disciples, Hanya Holm, opened a Mary Wigman School of Dance in New York City during the 1930s.

Back in Germany during that same period, Wigman tried to cooperate with the Nazi regime and organize productions that would be perceived as favorable. By 1941, though, she was labeled as a representative of "degenerative art," lost her dance school and her work was repressed. Though she endured a good deal of repression and suffered from illnesses and poverty during her long life, her tenacity and determination allowed her to carry on. She once wrote about life, "We must learn to bear everything. This has nothing to do with humility. Even our shortcomings are lovable. And we should always remain true to ourselves, because this – I almost might have said only this – enriches our efforts and endeavors to accomplish real deeds. Moments of rapture and curses have their places, but I know, so have gratitude and disease and trivia. Out of problems emerge achievements. That’s it."

Mary Wigman died in Berlin, in 1973.

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