Interwar dance

Physical exercise was an important part of the body culture. Especially for the inhabitants of the larger cities, who had little or no exercise, this was revolutionary. Athletes and sportsmen became the new heroes.

There are many analogies with the present day situation: the focus on a healthy body, the (re)discovery of the countryside, recreative sports…  Today the focus is on the individual.  During the interwar period, however, the focus was on the masses and the community and the individual was of minor importance. The willingness of the people to participate in the mass spectacles inspired many political parties. Mass spectacles were (mis)used for political purposes. One of the major examples here are the Olympics of Berlin inn 1936. In the Forties Gerhard Riebicke photographed a similar mass spectacle in Berlin. In his photographical report we can clearly identify the relationship between gymnastics and dance.

Dance lived indeed a new élan. The new scientific and philosophical insights had led to a modern body language. Especially Rudolf von Laban (1879 – 1958), founding father of the study of motion (Eukinetik), was the main innovator. The line between dance and gymnastics became more vague. The further liberation of the body and nude dancing were logical consequences. In the exhibition this phenomenon is documented by a rare series of photographs made by a student at the Labanschüle in Hamburg in 1927. Von Laban also contributed to the choreography of the Olympic Games in Berlin. One year later he fled to the United Kingdom.

Under the influence of the photography of sports and gymnastics, dance photography evolved from portraits of the dancers to images of the dance as such. Movements and choreography became more and more important. All attention was drawn to the expression of the body. Light, cadrage and extreme angles contributed to an expressive form. Proportionally the dancer became smaller in the image providing more space to the environment. Montage and collage became the obvious next steps. Examples of this evolution are the pictures of Edith Dewilde, by Jozef Desiré Massot.

Obviously also artistic and intellectual circles shared the enthusiasm for the mania for physical movement. Dance became a new source of inspiration for painters, sculptors and photographers. The sports photos by the Russian photographer Igor Kotelnikov (Russia, 1903) used by Vladimir Lebedev as sources of inspiration for his paintings and book illustrations are good examples of the interaction between the different arts.  Film and photography fully used this new body language and founded a new movement photography.


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