Wigman, Mary (1886–1973) By Müller, Hedwig
Mary Wigman was among the most important dancers and choreographers in Germany during the first half of the 20th century. As a modernist, she sought out new artistic directions and radically rejected dance conventions and traditions, particularly classical ballet. Together with her teacher Rudolf Laban, she pioneered German Ausdruckstanz. She initially developed her style as a solo dancer, then as a basis for group choreography and as a pedagogical method. Wigman believed that a dance should be derived from subjective feeling and that a dancer must seek an individual form for his or her dance expression. Between 1920 and 1942, she ran a Dresden-based dance school that was the focal point for modern dance in Europe. From there, her artistic influence spread to many countries across Europe and the Americas, even reaching as far as Japan. Her choreographic career peaked between 1920 and the onset of the Nazi dictatorship in 1933. During the Nazi years, she continued to choreograph and perform, ending her career as a dancer in 1942, when she closed her school in Dresden. She then focused on teaching, first in Leipzig until 1948 and then in West Berlin until 1967. She still did choreograph on occasion, although it was her pedagogy that impacted later generations, in particular students who later became leading figures within Tanztheater (“dance theatre”), a German movement that, in turn, became globally influential.