Mary Wigman (born Marie Wiegmann, 13 November 1886 – 18 September 1973) was a German dancer, choreographer, notable as the pioneer of expressionist dance, dance therapy, and movement training without pointe shoes. She is considered one of the most important figures in the history of European dance. She became one of the most iconic figures of Weimar German culture and her work was hailed for bringing the deepest of existential experiences to the stage.
Karoline Sophie Marie Wiegmann was born in Hanover, Germany.
She came to dance comparatively late after seeing three students of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, who aimed to approach music through movement using three equally-important elements: solfège, improvisation and his own system of movements, eurhythmics. Another key early experience was a solo concert by Grete Wiesenthal.
Wigman’s career was not that of a “virtuoso”. Rather, it was marked by a period of intense study and intellectual awakening in two artists’ colonies of the time. She learned rhythmic gymnastics, and she trained under Laban and became a professional dancer. Wigman successfully completed the program within two years and earned her certificate to become a teacher of Dalcroze’s method of rhythmic gymnastics, but she was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the limited nature of dance in the context of an institution where dance was considered to be a medium for music education.
In 1913, she was introduced to Rudolf von Laban and following his lead, she worked upon a technique based in contrasts of movement; expansion and contraction, pulling and pushing. During the First World War she worked as Laban's assistant in Leipzig.
In 1918, she had a nervous breakdown.
In 1920, Wigman was offered the post of ballet mistress at the Dresden Opera House, but conflict cut this short.
In the school year 1920/1921, Wigman instead started her own dance school which became known as "Dresden Central School" or simply "Mary Wigman-Schule", a center of new, expressionist dance. The rivalry and competition between her new and the old schools of dance in Dresden emerged, especially with the Palucca School, Dresden. Mary Wigman, dance studio, West Berlin 1959Her students and collaborators from Europe included Yvonne Georgi, Hanya Holm, Harald Kreutzberg, Gret Palucca, Max Terpis, Irena Linn, Elisabet Wiener, Sonia Revid, Margarethe Wallmann, Inge Weiss, and Meta Vidmar who in 1930 established the first school of modern dance in Slovenia. Opera-dancer Ursula Cain (*1927), who at the age of more than 80 years could still be seen on stage and TV dancing in cross-genre projects like Dancing with Time by Heike Hennig, was another student of the Mary Wigman.
Mary Wigman toured the United States in 1930 with her company of dancers; a school was founded by her disciples in New York City in 1931. Her choreography inspired communist dance troupes in the 1930s in New York City Her work in the United States is credited to her protegee Hanya Holm, and then to Hanya's students Alwin Nikolais and Joanne Woodbury. Another student and protegee of Wigman's, Margret Dietz, taught in America from 1953 until 1972.
"Mary Wigman-Schule" school existed from 1920 until 1942 and continued to operate under Nazi rule in World War II, when she obeyed the rule of government and fired all her Jewish dancers from her schools in Germany.