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Dresden Dances

The Tradition of Ballet and Dance in Dresden

Dresden's tradition as a centre of music goes back more than 700 years. With the establishment of the court orchestra in 1548, Dresden began its ascent as a major centre of music in Europe. This orchestra not only performed during church services and at state receptions, but it also played dance music during festivities.

Ballet also played an important role in the early days of the opera. In 1627 the director of the Dresden court orchestra, Heinrich Schütz, wrote "Daphne", the first German opera. During the reign of the elector Augustus the Strong (1694-1733), ballet performances grew in importance, becoming an integral part of the great court festivals which were celebrated from 1719 onwards.

During carnival in 1695 and in September of 1719, Augustus the Strong himself performed as a protagonist in a ballet production. Accompanied by the music of the director of the court orchestra, Heinichen, Augustus danced his way into the heaven of the gods in an allegorical manner. Since the 19th century, the ballet dancers of the former court orchestra, the forerunner of today's Saxon State Opera, were performing the great works of their time at full-length. Famous protagonists included Madeleine Guimard (1743-1816), the ballet dancer who reportedly "remained twenty for thirty years", then later the ballet dancer Pavlova (1881-1931) whose image adorns the New Masters art collection, as well as Isodora Duncan.

In the twenties and thirties Ellen Cleve-Petz and Vera Kratina were both co-directors of the Semper Opera House ballet company. Their choreography received wide public attention. The destruction of Dresden in 1945 was also a turning point in the history of ballet in the city. However, a new ballet company performing full-length works soon established itself. From 1978 onward, the ballet company of the Dresden State Opera under its head choreographer Harald Wandtke once again became the focus of public attention. In 1985 the Dresden ballet company began its appearances in the reopened Semper Opera House. Vladimir Derevianko, who has engaged such renowned choreographers as John Neumeier, Uwe Scholz, Tom Schilling and Ben Stevenson, was appointed director of the ballet company in 1994. Today the ballet company consists of approximately 60 ballet dancers from more than 20 countries. Its repertory ranges from classical ballet to modern dance.

The ballet of the Saxon State Theatres also offers performances ranging from classical ballet to modern choreographs. This new field has been developing in this theatre in the suburbs of Dresden since 1958, where a ballet company with 12 dancers headed by Reiner Feistel has established itself. Great dance revues are the focal point of the ballet of the Dresden State Operetta with its 20 ballet dancers. Established in 1947, the Dresden State Operetta is the only repertory theatre in Germany which has exclusively dedicated itself to this type of art.

In the 19th century Dresden became one of the wealthiest cities in Germany. Among the cultural and leisure-time attractions which the middle classes had created for itself were the more than 50 dance halls and ballrooms. Some of them have since reopened again. In 1899 Johann Strauss dedicated his last waltz "On the Elbe" to the enthusiastic people of Dresden.

In 1912 the Swiss Emile Jacques Dalcroze established a school of modern expressive dance at the Hellerau Festival Theatre. Here he also became acquainted with Mary Wigman who later became a dance instructor at the "Kleine Szene" in the Bautzner Strasse, an intimate theatre performing opera and ballet productions.

One of her students, Gret Palucca (1902-1993), quickly became a celebrity in her own right. In 1923 a critic wrote: "If Wigman is sheer determination, then Palucca is full action. If Wigmann is a devised and hard-won idea, then Palucca is its fortunate and successful realisation." In 1925 Gret Palucca founded her own school. After the war she continued teaching ballet. In 1993 the Palucca School Dresden, which has been residing at its current address since 1955, was granted the status of a college where both classical ballet and modern dance are taught.

 

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