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Mary Wigman

Arguably, when on thinks of modern expressive dance, one thinks of Mary Wigman.  Although Mary did not start out as a performer—she only taught dance at her sister, Elisabeth Wigman’s, school of dance in Germany—she eventually became known for some of the most innovative aspects of modern dance.  Although many performers and historians often glean over her contributions, Mary Wigman, is in many respects, one of the most influential modern dance artists of the twentieth century.  Not only has Mary Wigman introduced new techniques to the field of dance, but she has also redefined what the genre means.  In short the efforts of Mary Wigman have shaped the course of modern dance.

Mary Wigman

One of Wigman’s most notable contributions to modern dance practice was her breathing exercises.  Mary believed that an artists’ expression could be built up, brought to a pinnacle and that this process could be reflected in the practice of breathing.  Once she devised a method to teach this technique to her students, she enlarged the scope of this process (build-up, climax, release) into other aspects of her choreography: “To take the idea of dynamics further—or more deeply, perhaps—one of Mary's basic ideas was inhaling and exhaling; inhaling, building up tension, bringing it to a climax, and then exhaling, releasing tension, to again bring it to a different climax.  Mary transferred that idea to other movements and enlarged it”.

In addition to her revolutionary breathing techniques, Wigman also developed her own form of dance.  One author notes that in the beginning of her career, Wigman utilized random movements through her choreography; however as her career progressed, Wigman began utilizing repetitive movements and “she subsequently formulated her own theories of movement, often dancing without music or to percussion only” (“Mary Wigman”).  When Wigman made her performance debut in 1914, her first two dance solos, Which Dance I and Lento, were performed without any music at all.  “This achievement involves a double breakthrough: first, freeing dance from its dependence on the accompaniment and second, freeing from its reliance on the referent costume.  Wigman’s philosophy, when it came to modern dance, was to allow the observer to concentrate one, what Wigman called “the essence of the dance.”  By utilizing percussion or no type of formal music, Wigman was forcing the observer to focus on the dance rather than being distracted by music.


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