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Mary Wigman didn't begin to study dance until she was almost 24 years old. Nevertheless, she was one of the leading proponents of German modern dance, which was known as Ausdruckstanz.
After she graduated from Émile Jaques-Dalcroze's school, Wigman began to work with dance theorist Rudolf von Laban. She trained, performed and assisted him in developing his dance notation system. In 1914, she presented her first solo concert. Six years later, she opened a school in Dresden. There, Wigman taught her technique, which was built on the use of structured improvisations. Several of her students became important modern dancers, including Gret Palucca and Harald Kreuzberg.
Wigman excelled at solo choreography. Her Witch Dance (1926) and Monotony Whirl (1926) are considered to be classics. She also choreographed group works such as Totenmal (1930). During the 1930s, Wigman toured North America three times to critical acclaim. The American impresario Sol Hurok arranged for a satellite Wigman school to be opened in New York. It was run by Wigman's protégée, Hanya Holm.
Wigman remained in Germany after the Nazis came to power in 1933. In 1936, she was one of the choreographers commissioned to stage Olympic Youth. The massive pageant celebrating German history was created for the opening of the infamous 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Eventually, Wigman fell out of favour with the fascist regime.
In 1942, she staged her last concert and then moved to Leipzig. A few years after the end of World World II, she relocated to West Berlin and reopened her school. Wigman's work was rediscovered during the 1970s with the rise of Tanztheater, a style closely associated with Pina Bausch.
Gitelman, Claudia. Liebe Hanya: Mary Wigman’s Letters to Hanya Holm. Studies in Dance History. 20 Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. Sorell, Walter, ed. and trans. The Mary Wigman Book: Her Writings. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1975.