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The Body of the People

East German Dance since 1945

Jens Richard Giersdorf

Publication Year: 2013

The Body of the People is the first comprehensive study of dance and choreography in East Germany. More than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jens Richard Giersdorf investigates a national dance history in the German Democratic Republic, from its founding as a Communist state that supplanted the Soviet zone of occupation in 1949 through the aftermath of its collapse forty years later, examining complex themes of nationhood, ideology, resistance, and diaspora through an innovative mix of archival research, critical theory, personal narrative, and performance analysis.
    Giersdorf looks closely at uniquely East German dance forms—including mass exercise events, national folk dances, Marxist-Leninist visions staged by the dance ensemble of the armed forces, the vast amateur dance culture, East Germany’s version of Tanztheater, and socialist alternatives to rock ‘n’ roll—to demonstrate how dance was used both as a form of corporeal utopia and of embodied socialist propaganda and indoctrination. The Body of the People also explores the artists working in the shadow of official culture who used dance and movement to critique and resist state power, notably Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, Arila Siegert, and Fine Kwiatkowski. Giersdorf considers a myriad of embodied responses to the Communist state even after reunification, analyzing the embodiment of the fall of the Berlin Wall in the works of Jo Fabian and Sasha Waltz, and the diasporic traces of East German culture abroad, exemplified by the Chilean choreographer Patricio Bunster.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Publisher Information, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

The material in this book has been shaped by over fifteen years of research on dance in East Germany, though I have been engaging with the subject of this book for much longer than that. My early desire to dance in our local children’s dance company in Quedlinburg was channeled into the much more respectable male exercise of judo. Nevertheless, in my twenties I became a member...

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Introduction: Spectacles Between Utopia and Ostalgie

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pp. 3-25

The archivist deposited a pile of binders, untouched in decades, on the wobbly table.1 I sat surrounded by official memos and unofficial correspondences relating to the bygone era of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), in particular to the mass dance events that took place from 1954 until the fall of the Berlin Wall. There were very few colorful programs...

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1. Dancing National Identity in Daily Life: A New German Fold (1945-61)

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pp. 26-48

My aim in this chapter is to expose English- speaking readers to a swath of German dance history that has heretofore been neglected. I illustrate how the East German government utilized folk, a term whose definition I complicate, to create a distinct nationality in an international arena. The era of the East German state offers a fruitful case study...

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2. East German Tanztheater: Reconsidering Socialist Realism and Modernism (1960s and 1970s)

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pp. 49-84

Scholars often reduce the East German state to its dictatorship and compare it solely to developed capitalist states, especially West Germany, rather than assessing it in relation to other socialist countries. These unfavorable evaluations tend to compare East Germany with capitalist states on economic and political grounds and use Western concepts...

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3. Resistive Motions in the East: Rechoreographing Opposition (1980s)

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pp. 85-130

There it was—that blank stare, that look, the erasure. I had encountered it many times before; it was, in fact, an all- too familiar experience. We were all sitting around a conference table, international scholars sharing our work and giving comments on each other’s writing. One European scholar mentioned a recent reconstruction of Mary Wigman’s choreographies...

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4. Border Crossings and Intranational Trespasses: The Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989-2009)

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pp. 131-156

The last place I ever expected to watch the Berlin Wall fall was Brooklyn. But there I was, twenty years after the real thing, in the Mark Morris studio space, a sign for the Brooklyn Academy of Music rotating in my peripheral view as if to remind me of the incongruity of my whereabouts. Watching rehearsals for The Berlin Wall Project, a new dance piece...

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5. Toward a Transnational History of East German Dance: The Choreography of Patricio Bunster (1930s to Present)

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pp. 157-177

On August 11, 2006, I was scheduled to fly from London, via New York, to Santiago, Chile, when the UK government uncovered an alleged terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up several US- bound passenger planes flying over the Atlantic Ocean.1 Heathrow airport became complete chaos. Our baggage was checked and rechecked...


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pp. 179-206


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pp. 207-218


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pp. 219-232

Further Reading

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pp. 233-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780299289638
E-ISBN-10: 029928963X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299289645
Print-ISBN-10: 0299289648

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 20 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2013