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During her research, Misler uncovered numerous photographs, drawings, prints and documents and several film clips. Because much of the material is fragile and many of the photographs are small in format, Experimental Jetset and Johannes Schwartz chose to exhibit reproductions of the original material.

‘For me, this choice raised questions about the relationship between originals and reproductions’, says Schwartz. ‘I wondered how it would look if we asked dancers to perform these historical dance poses.’ The result is a film in which a group of contemporary dancers respond to the historical images. ‘In the first part, the dancers mimic the poses. In the second part, they take the poses as the starting point for an improvisation that makes visible the passage of time and the unity of movements that is dance. I’m very pleased with the film. It makes it possible to experience something of the impact that the dance must originally have had. That was an important consideration in the development of the exhibition: how can we make the complete freedom of that radical moment tangible again?'

That was an important consideration in the development of the exhibition: how can we make the complete freedom of that radical moment tangible again?' (Schwartz).

The film is screened in the central part of the exhibition Space Embodied alongside original photos and film clips, projected as enlargements on three-dimensional objects. These objects are inspired by the geometric forms that were used by the practitioners of free dance. ‘Dance is about space and direction’, Misler explains. ‘In classical ballet, the way the dancer moves through space is fixed. In free dance, there was room for improvisation. The dancers experimented with three-dimensional objects, some of them from the circus. These forms were functional. They were intended for doing exercises and to enable specific movements and poses in space. The dancers all had a classical training and were therefore extremely skilled,’ she emphasises. ‘The liberation of the body had another connotation to the one we might ascribe to it. It was about mystical, Dionysian liberation.’

In the rest of the exhibition, the story of the development of free dance is told through archival materials. Free dance enjoyed a brief heyday in Russia during which it went through several rapid phases of development before it was banned and forced underground. Despite the ban, elements of free dance are clearly recognisable in the mass parades of the Stalinist period. The healthy, natural body fitted perfectly with the idea of the new man propagated by Stalinism, which celebrated the disciplining rather than the liberation of the body.  

Interview by Lotte Haagsma

Nicoletta Misler
Anastasia Lesnikova
Johannes Schwartz
Experimental Jetset
Experimental Jetset
Linde Dorenbosch
State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO
Mondriaan Fonds, Wilhelmina E. Jansen Fonds

This project is part of the programme track Annual themes and the folder Olympic Games.