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  • Blurring the Boundaries of Genre, Gender, and Geopolitics:Ruth Page and Harald Kreutzberg's Transatlantic Collaboration in the 1930s

Introduction

In 1933, the year Hitler was named chancellor of Germany, Ruth Page and Harald Kreutzberg launched a "new and rather surprising partnership" with a joint recital in Chicago.1 Page and Kreutzberg were, on the surface, unlikely artistic collaborators: she, an American ballerina and he, an exponent of the German new dance. Nevertheless, their partnership lasted four years—from 1932 through 1936—a fairly long term considering the usual obstacles to collaboration magnified by physical distance. With Chicago as the focal point they toured the Midwest and other regions of the United States, Japan, and Canada. The collaboration offered the two artists a number of advantages. Page had certain difficulties to surmount in achieving her goal of becoming a choreographic entrepreneur in the post Diaghilev international ballet world: besides being a woman—a decided disadvantage when it came to being taken seriously as a choreographer, artistic director, and impresario in the ballet world—she lived in Chicago, outside the dance mecca of New York. She could parlay her collaboration with Kreutzberg into a cosmopolitan, modernist identity, thus preempting the threat of consignment to Midwestern obscurity.2 Kreutzberg, for his part, was in need of a continuous and widening stream of performance venues in which to develop his unique gifts as a solo performer; moreover, he had to contend with the rising fascism and homophobic militancy of the Third Reich as a gay man whose identity was antithetical to the nation-state of which he was ultimately to become a pawn. [End Page 52]

This article contributes to a growing literature in dance that explores transnational practices and subjectivities that operated long before today's theories of globalization. Theodore Bale (2008), for example, uses globalization theory to unpack productions of Le Sacre du Printemps as far back as the 1913 premiere. And Susan Manning challenges scholars to explore new historical paradigms that go beyond the nation-state as a dominant category of analysis, taking into account "global circulation, rather than national development" (2006, xxiv). The particularities of the Page-Kreutzberg collaboration, in addition, suggest that the boundaries between ballet and modern dance in the early 1930s were far less clear-cut and rigid than we might assume from today's perspective.3 Finally, the narrative I construct intimates that this transnational collaboration, anchored as it was in an enduring friendship, afforded these two artists something beyond career advancement: gender role flexibility, human agency in a cataclysmic world, and compassion, not to mention the opportunity to hedge one's bets (allegiances and affiliations) in times of political uncertainty.

Understanding the trajectory and dynamics of the Page-Kreutzberg collaboration requires the historian to uncover the facts and sequences of events in all their particularity, even while situating them within larger cultural contexts and global vortexes. I begin by painting portraits of the two artists before their collaboration commenced, proceed by describing how they worked together and what duets and solos they created and performed, and conclude by exploring why the partnership dissolved. Because description and critical-cultural analysis of Page's choreographies in particular are virtually absent from the scholarly literature, there is much basic groundwork to be laid (Martin 1977; Wentink 1980).

Yet a larger question also frames this study: What might the transnational collaboration of Page and Kreutzberg teach us about such partnerships? Do border crossings of one kind (across geographical-political boundaries) facilitate crossing, or at least blurring, of borders of other kinds (of genres and genders)? What emerges is that the act of collaboration in these circumstances seems to have facilitated a porosity or fluidity in the very identities at play: genres, genders, and geopolitics were understood as flexible, transformable categories, adaptable to circumstances, rather than fixed quotients or immutable values.

Neither Page nor Kreutzberg were truly nomadic subjects; however, international touring of concerts does require artists to create new cultural meanings in the process of performing their identities in dialogue with new communities. Contemporary anthropological perspectives studying "transnational cultural flows," "new cosmopolitanisms," and the construction of "imagined lives" within "deterritorialized" contexts may be of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-509X
Print ISSN
0149-7677
Pages
pp. 52-75
Launched on MUSE
2009-12-10
Open Access
No
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