Dance and Political Conflict: Three Comparative Case Studies

Dr. Alexandra Kolb
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Can dance, as a non-verbal artform, effectively express political opinions? This paper examines three choreographic ways of dealing with controversial political issues, incorporating the works of artists in Germany, the US and Britain. The pieces have been chosen to represent three of the main trouble spots of the 20th century: World War I, the bombings in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960s, and Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile.

Kurt Jooss’s epoch-making The Green Table, first performed in 1932, sets the tone. Based on the experiences of the First World War, it is a stark reminder of the cruelties of war and an almost uncanny foreshadow of the events of World War II. Jooss’s outspoken political stance forced him to leave Hitler's Germany for England as soon as 1933.

American postmodernism is generally known for its rebellious and anti-establishment nature. The conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia led to choreographies of protest in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For instance, Steve Paxton, in his piece Collaboration with Wintersoldier (1971), collaborated with anti-war Vientam veterans.

Finally, the British choreographer Christopher Bruce tackled the issue of the military government in Chile. Ghost Dances (1981) uses an impressive image repertory and Latin-American folk tunes to deliver dramatic visual effects and a powerful political message..

The paper investigates how the three choreographers deal with the challenge of translating politics into dance; and how specific national or political ideologies feed into their works. It analyses the ways dance artists depict political conflicts and how they manage to advocate their views to influence their audience. By comparing the different approaches, one might trace the development of politically-orientated Western stage dance through the 20th Century, considering the extent to which later choreographers built on or modified earlier forms of expression.

Keywords: Dance, Political, Ideology
Stream: Analysing Artforms, Art and Human Rights
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Dance and Political Conflict

Dr. Alexandra Kolb

Lecturer in Dance Studies, School of Physical Education, University of Otago
Dunedin, New Zealand

Alexandra Kolb trained in dance in Duesseldorf and at John Neumeier's Academy of the Hamburg Ballet. She gained an MA in Literature, Art History and Philosophy at Cologne University. She was subsequently awarded scholarships to take Masters and Doctoral degrees at St John's College, Cambridge, where her research concerned the interrelation between dance and literature in early 20th Century Germany. She is currently revising this for publication as a book. Alexandra has teaching experience at both university and college level and has worked in academic publishing; in addition, she was involved in a variety of performance projects at leading German opera houses. She was Co-ordinator of Academic Studies and Lecturer at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in 2004-5, and is currently Lecturer in Dance Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand. She remains active in dance research and has published in the field. Her present research interests include European modern dance, feminist and gender theory, and dance and politics.

Ref: A06P0366