Dance theater

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Modern dance theater in Germany describes an art form of dance that emerged in the second half of the 20th century. In contrast to classical ballet with its highly stylized, traditional language of movement, dance theater works with experimental movement elements and looks for new cross-genre forms for dance performance. The theatrical aspect is strongly emphasized.

It was mainly through Pina Bausch at the Wuppertaler Bühnen that the dance theater was founded and brought to bloom. Other pioneers and choreographers of dance theater are Johann Kresnik , Gerhard Bohner , Reinhild Hoffmann at the Bremen Theater since the late 1970s and later at the Schauspielhaus Bochum , and Susanne Linke as the director of the Folkwang dance studio in Essen, Tom Schilling , William Forsythe , Saburo Teshigawara and to name Sasha Waltz and others. Numerous dance branches at German theaters are now filled by dance theater ensembles.

In the 1980s, new venues were created which, in addition to the city theaters, present dance theater and performance under the collective term contemporary dance . The German Dance Platform is the forum for current trends in contemporary dance in Germany.

Concept and history


The dance theater distinguishes itself on the one hand from ballroom dancing and on the other hand from the conventions of ballet.

When the narrative ballet emancipated itself from the opera around the middle of the 19th century and achieved a level of professionalism that was difficult to achieve thanks to the top dance , this was perceived as progress on the one hand and as paralysis on the other. The pedagogue François Delsarte gave impulses for a renewed merging of the stage arts in their forms of movement and expression. From this, pre-forms of expressive dance developed . They opposed the highly conventionalized but extremely successful and enduring repertoire ballets such as Giselle (1841) or Schwanensee (1877), who propagated the overcoming of gravity and everyday life with fairy tales. The dependence on a given music was also perceived as a problem. These reform efforts are the origin of modern dance theater. Around 1900 Isadora Duncan proclaimed "free dance", free of all artistic or moral rules.

Dance theater before World War II

Kurt Jooss , a student of Rudolf von Laban , probably coined the term. A historical derivation from a common source is not possible either for the term or the genre of dance theater. Various currents, which had disappeared from the mainstream for a while after the Second World War , later prevailed again in the course of social development and jointly influenced new forms in stage dance.

Specifically German and with the declared aim of displacing the aloof aesthetics of classical ballet and its timeless fairytale-like fables, the expressive dance was strongly tied to the personality of the respective dancer, such as Mary Wigman and Jean Weidt in Berlin in the 1920s , as well Gret Palucca practiced or taught in Dresden .

A parallel movement was the development of modern dance in the USA, which also sought the representation of the individual, the psyche, everyday life - at that time in an unbroken relationship to the community - with other means of movement.

At first, expressive dance in its "German character" was welcomed and appropriated by the National Socialists, but this assessment changed when - after Rudolf von Laban had choreographed the show part of the Olympic Games in 1936 - it was no longer of any use for propaganda purposes. As "foreign" and "un-German" the expressive dance officially lost all meaning.

After the Second World War, the dancers and choreographers who performed it found a home in the Berliner Volksbühne with Jean Weidt from 1947 and at the Folkwang School in Essen from 1955 . The recognition by the public was cautious in West Germany because it led back as an art form to a time and aesthetic from which one wanted to distance oneself. This development did not take place in East Germany, later in the GDR, because the art form of expressive dance was felt and promoted as a signal of departure and as an anti-fascist symbol.

Enforcement of neoclassicism

Instead, neoclassicism gained ground, as established by John Cranko from 1961 with the excellent Stuttgart ballet ensemble that Nikolas Beriozoff took over .

In West Germany, American styles and “ancient” German ballet served as the main models. In East Germany, the classic Russian ballet model was style-defining until the mid-1950s, but was quickly broken by Jean Weidt in Schwerin and Gret Palucca in Dresden with daring productions. From 1966 Tom Schilling's modern dance theater (at the Komische Oper Berlin) was the style-defining feature in the GDR.

The countermovement of the 1960s

In the 1960s, when the discrepancy between social reality and the unrealistic ballet performances on stage, valued by the educated bourgeois audience, grew, resistance arose from young choreographers. They were looking for new topics and forms of expression. According to his own statements, Johann Kresnik's question to Balanchine , in whose ensemble he was allowed to dance, was: "What do I do as a twenty-eight-year-old on the stage in a white leotard while I drag a dancer from one diagonal to the other?" (J. Schmidt, Tanztheater )

The spoken theater had in the early GDR already Bertolt Brecht ( Berliner Ensemble ) and Thomas Langhoff (Deutsches Theater and Volksbühne Berlin filed) the traditional guidelines. In West Germany this process took place much later. Young directors like Peter Brook or Peter Zadek had committed themselves to experiment, performance and anti-aesthetics. The Netherlands Dans Theater in The Hague , whose choreographers Hans van Manen and Glen Tetley were both committed to modern dance and influenced by the expressive dance aesthetics of Mary Wigman and her US student Hanya Holm , already showed new, much-noticed paths in dance.

Since 1968

The politically motivated '68 movement provided significant impetus . In 1968 Johann Kresnik showed Paradies? At the choreography competition of the Cologne Summer Dance Academy. , a political portrayal in which a person on crutches is beaten with a stick by police officers, accompanied by a tenor singing “O Paradise”. In January 1970 Pina Bausch's piece Nachnull came on stage, which also abandoned the traditional aesthetic of movement and implemented an end-of-time mood in dance.

In 1972, Gerhard Bohner moved from the traditionally oriented Berlin Opera to Darmstadt and brought together outstanding soloists to form an ensemble called dance theater . The old ensemble hierarchy was abandoned and attempts were made to work according to the principle of participation in the group, which did not work in the long term.

In 1966, Walter Felsenstein commissioned the young choreographer Tom Schilling at the Komische Oper Berlin to set up a modern dance theater. He was particularly successful with the full-length ballet works (based on models by Bernd Köllinger ) and shaped dance theater in the GDR.

Kresnik went to Bremen and did choreographic theater there, Bausch established himself in Wuppertal in 1973 and began her initially arduous path from there. The Folkwang School under the direction of Kurt Jooss and the Folkwang Dance Studio became a new training and performance facility for solid modern dance technique, which combined classic and modern to create a versatile tool. Reinhild Hoffmann and Susanne Linke emerged from this school .

Further development

The German dance theater has gained worldwide prestige and influence on choreographic work. The pioneers from the very beginning have found many successors who interpret dance theater in their own way and who have now broken away from their great role models. A uniform definition can therefore be assumed even less today than in its heyday. Pina Bausch herself had meanwhile found a stronger emphasis on dance, as did Susanne Linke, who had never relied so heavily on other means. Reinhild Hoffmann now also stages operas. Arila Siegert from Berlin is a brilliant dancer, choreographer and opera director. The work The Seven Deadly Sins (1987) with Peter Konwitschny to the music of Kurt Weill set new accents in German dance theater. Choreographer Tom Schilling retired in 1992 after constant quarrels with the Berlin Senate .

Other choreographers like William Forsythe are constantly moving in the border area between ballet, modern dance and dance theater. The same applies to Gaetano Posterino , who, in addition to his own choreographies, developed and established the International Dance Theater I – XI series as artistic director at the Reutlingen Theater from 2004 to 2011 . Joachim Schlömer , who studied at the Folkwang University, took over the Ulm dance theater in 1991 and is now promoting the cooperation between the independent scene and the institutional theater business, no longer wants to use the label “dance theater” because, in his opinion, the category is now one represents a constricting drawer. The Leipzig choreographer Heike Hennig has explored the boundaries of contemporary dance with her dance theater of the generations and opened up new dimensions for music theater with her dance opera Rituals .

Aesthetic principles

The commonalities of the dance theater choreographies are first of all the rejection of the usual ballet aesthetics . What is shown doesn't have to be beautiful. A continuous story is rather rare, scenes are often shown in a montage-like sequence, which are put together on a special topic. The music - or some other acoustic accompaniment such as noises - does not have to be “all of a piece”, but depends on what is represented. It is usually not played by an orchestra, but comes off the tape as a compilation.

Dance is not the only means of expression; language, singing and pantomime can be used. The degree of stylization of the movements is different, everyday gestures are often used. With the body language used, all forms of dance and movement can be used.

The stories told are mostly new. They illuminate people in time and society. The individual in his exchange with others, everyday life, feelings, situations are important. Set pieces from well-known stories, archetypes and myths are often incorporated into the new course of action and reinterpreted. Humor and satire can play an important role.

The dancers are personalities who are on stage with their characters and idiosyncrasies and do not have to be physically perfect. Expression and intensity are crucial. The old ballet hierarchy is also given up: The division into soloists and ensemble no longer exists. Instead, character representations are created that place all equally next to each other.

Institutions and ensembles

The following companies or businesses are called dance theaters:


  • Frieder Reininghaus, Katja Schneider (Ed.): Experimental music and dance theater . Handbook of Music in the 20th Century 7, Laaber-Verlag 2002, ISBN 978-3-89007-427-6
  • Jochen Schmidt: Tanztheater in Deutschland , Propylaen, 1992, ISBN 3-549-05206-5
  • Rika Schulze-Reuber: The dance theater Pina Bausch: Spiegel der Gesellschaft , RG Fischer Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-8301-0807-9

Web links

Portal: Dance  - Overview of Wikipedia content on dance