Politics and the Dancing Body: Haitian voodoo ritual and 'a guitar that kills Fascists'
Through the medium of dance, 20th-century American choreographers created dances that reflected the diverse spectrum of cultural expression. In addition to works made by choreographers Ted Shawn, Lester Horton, Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey that celebrated America’s traditional music, folk and immigrant practices and Native American rituals, choreographers were not afraid to craft political dances that protested injustices or advocated reform.
A Library of Congress exhibition, "Politics and the Dancing Body," explores how American choreographers from World War I through the Cold War realized this vision — using dance to celebrate American culture, to voice social protest and to raise social consciousness.
The exhibition is on view through July 28.
Many choreographers — including Isadora Duncan, Jane Dudley and Sophie Maslow — produced dances that commemorated the ideas of the communist "experiment" established by the newly created Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution of 1917. During the 1930s and 1940s, choreographers Charles Weidman, Erick Hawkins, Daniel Nagrin and members of the New Dance Group, to name a few, asserted their voices against the rise of fascism, the exploitation of workers, homelessness, widespread hunger, unemployment and racism.
In reaction to intensified fears about the spread of communism in the post-World War II era, the United States government sent numerous dance companies throughout the world as vehicles for cultural diplomacy and to counter anti-American sentiment. These tours, which included the American Ballet Theatre, the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the José Limón Company, continued until the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1987 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
This exhibition spotlights the rich dance, music, theater and design collections of the Music Division of the Library of Congress, including the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation Collection, the Daniel Nagrin Collection, the Erick Hawkins Collection, the Federal Theatre Project Collection, the Martha Graham Collection and Martha Graham Legacy Archive and the New Dance Group Collection, to name a few.
Featured items include the original invitation from Germany's Third Reich to Martha Graham, asking her to participate in the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics (which she refused); a page from dancer-choreographer Jane Dudley's FBI file; costume designs for Helen Tamiris' choreography, "How Long Brethren?" from the Federal Theatre Project's 1937 production; photographs from American Ballet Theatre's 1960 trip to the Soviet Union (photographed by official Soviet photographers); set designs by Oliver Smith for "Rodeo" (1942); and rare photographs from the 1930s, including images of Ted Shawn, Lester Horton, Martha Graham and Katherine Dunham.
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