Dance and political conflict: three comparative case studies


Kolb, A. 2006. Dance and political conflict: three comparative case studies. The International Journal of the Arts in Society. 1 (2), pp. 17-21.
TitleDance and political conflict: three comparative case studies
AuthorsKolb, A.

Can dance, as a non-verbal artform, effectively express political opinions? This paper examines three choreographic ways of dealing with controversial political issues, incorporating the works of artists in Germany, the US and UK. The pieces have been chosen to represent three of the main trouble spots of the 20th century: World War I, the bombings in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960s, and Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. Kurt Jooss’s epoch-making "The Green Table", first performed in 1932, sets the tone. Based on the experiences of the First World War, it is a stark reminder of the cruelties of war and an almost uncanny foreshadow of the events of World War II. Jooss’s outspoken political stance forced him to leave Hitler's Germany for England as soon as 1933. American postmodernism is generally known for its rebellious and anti-establishment nature. The conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia led to choreographies of protest in the 1960s and early 1970s. For instance, Steve Paxton, in his piece "Collaboration with Wintersoldier" (1971), collaborated with anti-war Vietnam veterans. Finally, the British choreographer Christopher Bruce tackled the issue of the military government in Chile. "Ghost Dances" (1981) uses an impressive image repertory and Latin-American folk tunes to deliver dramatic visual effects and a powerful political message. The paper investigates how the three choreographers deal with the challenge of translating politics into dance; and how specific national or political ideologies feed into their works. It analyses the ways dance artists depict political conflicts and how they manage to advocate their views to influence their audience. By comparing the different approaches, one might trace the development of politically-orientated Western stage dance through the 20th Century, considering the extent to which later choreographers built on or modified earlier forms of expression.

PublisherCommon Ground Pty Limited
JournalThe International Journal of the Arts in Society
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Deposited14 Mar 2012
Output statusPublished
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