Wiesenthal, Grete (1885–1970) By Kolb, Alexandra
The Austrian dancer and choreographer Grete Wiesenthal was a transitional figure at the crossroads of ballet and modern dance. Initially trained and employed as a ballet dancer at the court opera in Vienna, she soon became disillusioned with the aesthetic traditionalism of ballet and in 1907 embarked on an independent career. Performing with two of her sisters and later as a soloist, she devised a new dance style and technique that emphasized bodily expressivity with motivational impulses provided by music. In the context of Viennese modernism, Wiesenthal’s work offered a novel interpretation of the Viennese waltz as a theatre dance form, oscillating between art nouveau and symbolism. She was groundbreaking in the Austro-German dance scene, exploring female creativity and individualism while contravening balletic principles. Although her career began in Vienna, she toured extensively across much of Europe and overseas, notably in New York, and hence extended her influence internationally. Wiesenthal shared with female contemporaries Anna Pavlova and Isadora Duncan a natural grace, expressive artistry, and flexibility of hands and arms. However, unlike Pavlova, Wiesenthal transgressed the confines and repertory of ballet – for instance, eschewing pointe work. Like Duncan, her body image was liberated, but she was less daring in her choice of costumes – for instance, dancing in sandals rather than barefoot – and drew inspiration from local cultural traditions and not from Greek antiquity.