Palucca, Gret (1902–1993)
Palucca, Gret (1902–1993)
German dancer and dance teacher who was ranked among the most influential figures in Germany's world of modern dance. Born in Munich, Germany, on January 8, 1902; died in Dresden on March 22, 1993.
Managed her own school of dance in Dresden (1925–39 and 1945–93).
Gret Palucca was for almost seven decades one of Germany's most famous and influential modern dancers and dance teachers. Born in Munich in 1902, she studied from 1920 to 1925 with the innovative dancer Mary Wigman . The encounter with Wigman was crucial for the artistic evolution of Palucca, who until then had been frustrated by what she felt to be the artistic rigidity of ballet technique. Once under Wigman's tutelage, she dedicated herself to creating forms of dance expression that reflected her own inner spirit. Described by Wigman as "a narrow-hipped, boyish-looking girl with a pert face framed by reddish-blond hair," Palucca was in many ways an unlikely student. But, as Wigman soon discovered, she possessed both the psychological elements needed to succeed as a dancer and physical abilities that appeared only rarely in an artist, particularly the capacity for powerful leaps. Palucca's approach to dance was different than that of Wigman whose style might be characterized as one of melancholy, complexity, and solemnity. Emphasizing the bonds between dance and music, Palucca's style was invariably more carefree and optimistic. Jack Anderson has noted that her choreographic approach was one that concerned itself with "movement qualities, rather than emotional states."
In 1925, Palucca founded her own school in Dresden, the Privatschule des Neuen Künstlerischen Tanzes (Private School for the New Artistic Dance). By the late 1920s, in her repertory was the highly popular Technical Improvisations (1927), which was compared by some writers on dance to a Chopin étude. Her choreography, inspired by music and linked to German expressionist culture, was rooted in improvisation, and improvisation became a key element in her pedagogy. The visual arts too provided inspiration for the dances of " die Palucca" (early in her performing career she omitted her given name on programs). Among those who greatly influenced her (and vice versa) were Wassily Kandinsky, who admired "the unusually precise structure" of her dances, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who praised her as "the most lucid of today's dancers." Said Moholy-Nagy: "She is for us the newly found law of motion." Visual artists of the Weimar period often detected in her style an almost architectural quality. Palucca appears to have been inspired by a Mondrian work which was hung on the wall above her studio piano. Other artists who responded to her dance recitals included Lyonel Feininger, Walter Gropius, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Paul Klee.
Highly successful with German audiences as a leading exponent of contemporary Ausdruckstanz (expressionist dancing), by the late 1920s she was giving as many as 100 performances in a season. Her audiences were delighted by the ongoing explorations of her dancing, which even included a dance based on her morning warmup exercises. Rudolf Arnheim, a lifelong admirer of her work, has written of the abstract purity and objectivity of Palucca's art, which he likened to "a systematic exploration of the anatomy." Even contemporary skeptics of Palucca's work—like the American dance critic John Martin, who detected mannerisms as well as compositions that were to him "utterly unimaginative"—also had to concede that Palucca was doubtless an artist of substance. Palucca offered a perceptive insight into her
style with the remark: "Ich will nicht hübsch und niedlich tanzen" (I do not wish to dance in a manner that is either pretty or dainty).
Palucca's life was her dancing, and she paid little attention to political developments in the artistically brilliant but crisis-plagued Weimar Republic. While many dancers fled Germany in 1933 after the creation of Adolf Hitler's dictatorship because they were Jewish or politically radical, Palucca remained in Dresden where she continued to train students and enjoy a reputation as one of Germany's most talented dancers. Although the National Socialists were violently opposed to most modern trends in the arts, their attitude toward modern dance was ambivalent. Indeed, during the first years of the Third Reich, modern dance was held in high esteem, a circumstance which provided the regime with effective propaganda about the continuing quality of the arts in Hitler's New Germany. With their emphasis on assuring the physical supremacy of the German Volk, the Nazis looked to support an area of artistic creativity that cultivated bodily strength, physical beauty, and vitality. The Nazi state was proud and even boastful of the disciplined and perfectly trained bodies, and the established international reputations, of those expressionist dancers like Palucca who had chosen to remain in Germany.
Palucca's dances, which carried no direct political message, were not necessarily linked to the National Socialist Weltanschauung, but neither did they offer any unequivocal rejection of its values. For Palucca, the ability to perform held the highest priority in her life. Thus, she performed at the Berlin Dance Festival in 1934 and played a role in the pageantry that accompanied the staging of the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. Largely ignoring politics, she continued to teach, emphasizing that her students find their own individual styles. "Ich will gewiss keine Nachahmer erziehen" (I definitely have no desire to create imitations of myself), she said.
I do not wish to dance in a manner that is either pretty or dainty.
After several years of increasing uncertainty, in 1939 Nazi officialdom declared Palucca's Dresden dance school to be artfremd (alien and foreign), and shut it down. She spent the war years informally instructing a few private pupils and maintaining her own dancing skills. Palucca survived the Dresden firestorm that destroyed virtually all of the city in February 1945.
After Germany's defeat, Dresden was in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany. Despite the fact that she had remained in Germany during the Nazi years, Palucca was not regarded as having been tainted by the fascist dictatorship. Consequently, she soon began to benefit from official support of both the new, anti-Nazi municipal administration of Dresden and Soviet cultural officers. In July 1945, with Dresden still in ruins, Palucca presented her first postwar solo dance recital. Soon after, she once again began to instruct students in her own dance school. In 1950, she performed her last Tanzabend (dance evening). In 1952—three years after the Soviet Occupation Zone had metamorphosed into the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1949—her school was nationalized as the Tanzhochschule Dresden (Dresden Academy of Dance). She remained its unchallenged director, enjoying not only immense prestige but also guarantees of generous state subsidies. Starting in 1948, she also taught summer classes on the Baltic island of Hiddensee, where her students used the beach, the lighthouse, and the dunes for performances. In 1950, she was a founding member of the GDR's prestigious German Academy of the Arts; in 1955, she moved her school into a newly restored building on Dresden's venerable Basteiplatz; and in 1962, she was awarded the prestigious title of Professorin.
Although some Western dance critics believed that the GDR's restrictive artistic atmosphere had led to a "freezing in time" of Palucca's pedagogy of dance, others were impressed by her continued vitality as a teacher. Her school was highly regarded not only in the GDR but throughout the eastern bloc as an institution dedicated to the preservation of the traditions of German interpretive and expressionist dance. Advancing age forced Palucca to cut down on her hours of teaching, but she insisted on giving regular children's classes until she was well into her 80s. Her students included such important figures in the arts in Germany as Ruth Berghaus, Hannelore Bey, Arila Siegert , and Hanne Wandtke .
Palucca was the recipient of many honors in the final decades of her long life. These included the GDR National Prize (which she was awarded on several occasions) and the German Dance Prize of the national organization of professional dance instructors. In 1972, she received the city of Dresden's Martin Andersen Nexö Prize and in 1979 was given the key to the city in which she lived virtually all of her artistic life. Some years later, a Dresden street was also named after her.
Gret Palucca lived to see Germany's reunification take place in 1989–1990. In 1992, she was awarded the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz (Large Federal Cross of Achievement) of the German Federal Republic. Soon after, she died in Dresden on March 22, 1993. By her own request, she was buried in the picturesque cemetery on the island of Hiddensee. On October 8, 1998, Palucca was honored by the German postal system when she was depicted on a 440 pfennig stamp which became part of the definitive "Women in German History" series.
Anderson, Jack. Art Without Boundaries: The World of Modern Dance. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1997.
Arnheim, Rudolf. "Visiting Palucca: Portrait of the Dancer," in Dance Scope. Vol. 13, no. 1. Fall 1978, pp. 6–11.
"Gret Palucca zum Fünfundachzigsten," in Sinn und Form. Vol. 39, no. 1. January–February 1987, pp. 55–12.
Jarchow, Peter, and Ralf Stabel. Palucca: Aus Ihrem Leben, über ihre Kunst. Berlin: Henschel Verlag, 1997.
Kant, Marion. "Palucca: 'Ich bin ganz gut durchgekommen': Eine tanzpolitische Chronik des Jahres 1951," in Tanzforschung Jahrbuch. Vol. 5, 1994, pp. 39–52.
Knight, Judson. "Palucca, Gret," in Taryn Benbow-Pfaltzgraf and Glynis Benbow-Niemier, eds., International Dictionary of Modern Dance. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1998, pp. 606–608.
Krull, Edith, and Werner Gommlich. Palucca. 3rd ed. Berlin: Henschelverlag Kunst und Gesellschaft, 1967.
Künstler um Palucca: Ausstellung zu Ehren des 85. Geburtstages, 27. Mai bis 14. August 1987–Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden Kupferstich-Kabinett. Dresden: Staatliche Kunstsammlung, 1987.
Lohberg, Gabriele, ed. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner—der Tanz: Gret Palucca zum Gedenken. Davos: Kirchner Verein, 1993.
Moss, Suzan F. "Spinning Through the Weltanschauung: The Effects of the Nazi Regime on the German Modern Dance," Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1988.
Müller, Hedwig. "Palucca, Gret," in Selma Jeanne Cohen, et al., eds., International Encyclopedia of Dance. 6 vols. NY: Oxford University Press, 1998, Vol. 5, pp. 65–66.
Olivier, Antje, and Sevgi Braun. Anpassung oder Verbot: Künstlerinnen und die 30er Jahre. Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1998.
Rydberg, Olaf. Die Tänzerin Palucca. Dresden: C. Reissner Verlag, 1935.
Schumann, Gerhard, ed. Palucca: Porträt einer Künstlerin. Berlin: Henschelverlag Kunst und Gesellschaft, 1972.
Wagner-Régeny, Rudolf. Zwei Tänze für Palucca. Vienna: Universal Edition, 1951 (composition for piano solo).
John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia