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Mary Wigman’s Coming Back

Iulia Popovici

Her real name was Marie Wiegmann. She was a dance goddess of the twentieth century. Dance histories of the period consider her the most important expressionist choreographer and put her on the same footstall next to Laban and Isadora Duncan. Mary Wigman is a legend – and, since no still living man witnessed her original performances, they also linger in the realm of legendary.

Nobody really knows what made Mary Wigman’s dance works so striking innovative and emotionally strong. We all trust the books we read, the poor quality black and white videos and, of course, the legend. Or not.

In A Mary Wigman Dance Evening, the young Ecuadorian dancer and choreographer Fabián Barba revisits the artist’s 1930 tour to the United States, re-enacting nine of her solos from three different series, “Celebration”, “Visions”, and “Swinging Landscape”, dated 1926, 1927 and 1929. He worked with every existing source: video recordings, still photographs, reports, reviews, biographical and critical material and Wigman’s own texts. He does it in the context of a dancer never actually interested in her personal posterity (unlike Laban, Wigman didn’t “produce” a technique) – and Barba’s archeological endeavor is more than remarkable. He tries to reproduce everything: from the hand program, the lighting, the intermission music, and the fabric of the costumes, to the actual attitude, movement, dancer’s gaze and muscular tense (including her elegant bows in front of the audience). He turns Mary Wigman’s 2D, black and white recordings into Mary Wigman in colors and 3D.

Or, again, not. Again and again, dance proves to be not about movement in general but about one particular body in movement. Some of Wigman’s solos (as those belonging to the “Visions” series) put into movement what she called the Gestalt, a genderless figure whose costume and dancing pattern make abstraction of the gender/ feminine particularities of the body on stage. It is a choreographic form that allows, inside its own original structure, the 26-year-old man to replace, in re-enacting, the 40-something-year-old woman performing almost a century ago. But in many other moments – the bows included – Fabián Barba’s body can only give a glimpse, or not even that, of what Mary Wigman moving body (more than the dances themselves) could have looked like. More than about postures, technique or cultural inheritance, A Mary Wigman Dance Evening seems to be talking about the uniqueness of the body in movement.

Visiting history has, as always, its ups and downs.

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