Grete Wiesenthal (1885-1970) was a prominent figure in the emergence of modern dance (or Ausdruckstanz) at the beginning of the twentieth century. Born into a highly artistic Viennese family, and trained as a member of the Viennese Court Ballet (Hofballett), she left the ballet corps in 1907 (after a public scandal involving Gustav Mahler and Josef Hassreiter) to forge a new identity for dance, one that centred around music and its physical expression through pantomime, gesture and natural spaces. She originally collaborated with her two younger sisters, Elsa and Berta, before pursuing a solo career that saw her develop an intrinsically musical form of dance. Her pre-World War I career did much to define the Austrian manifestation of what would later be known as German Dance (or 'moderner Tanz'), a movement inspired by Isadora Duncan's tours across Europe around 1900.
Wiesenthal's new path led her into several highly visible artistic associations with contemporaries such as Gustav Klimt, Alfred Roller and Max Reinhardt. Most notably among her supporters was the Viennese poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who celebrated her as a kind of embodied answer to the turn-of-the-century Sprachkrise. The poet's friendship prompted the commissioning of several new dramatic works, pantomimes and even films, and on his recommendation she became a regular dancer at Josef Hoffmann's famed Kabarett Fledermaus (in Vienna's first district), a featured performer and choreographer in Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater in Berlin, and even made a cameo appearance as the Küchenjunge in the world premiere of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos in Stuttgart in 1912.
Largely forgotten until recently, Wiesenthal made a deep impression on her contemporaries, especially the young (and then still unknown) Mary Wigman, who became inspired by her performance in Hannover in 1908. By contrast, however, Wiesenthal did not come to embrace the extreme aesthetic views on music ("Absoluter Tanz") that would later become common currency among younger German counterparts during the Weimar Republic (e.g. Wigman and Rudolf von Laban). Rather, her extensive and broad-ranging musical collaborations dating from the years surrounding the First World War - namely those with Rudolf Braun, Carl Lafite, Franz Schreker, Victor Hollaender, Hannes Ruch, Clemens von Franckenstein, Hugo Moesgen, Julius Bittner and later Franz Salmhofer - highlight a unique feature of her dance aesthetic, and strongly suggest, furthermore, that Viennese Modernism between 1907 and 1918 - particularly "Musical Modernism" - encompassed a far more complex and varied spectrum of aesthetic positions and artistic mediums than cultural historians, dance scholars and musicologists have recognised.
This study examines:
'Ein Tanzspiel, Grete Wiesenthal et l'erotisme du rococo dans la Vienne de Schreker', in Franz Schreker et son temps, ed. Mathieu Schneider (Paris: Hermann, forthcoming).
'Grete Wiesenthal’s "latent" Choreographies and Modernism’s Contested Spaces: Modern Dance in Vienna, 1906-8', Choreologica, Vol. 8, No. 1 (2016),