Five months before the Olympic Games began, an article in the New York Times noted that Martha Graham, one of the country’s leading dancers, refused an invitation from Germany to represent the United States in Berlin at the Olympic Games. Details of the invitation were as follows: “Miss Graham received her invitation from the dance division of the German Ministry ofCulture and it was signed by Rudolf von Laban, president of the Deutsche Tanzbuehne,’ by the president of the organization committee of the Eleventh Olympic Games, and by the Reichminister of Volks-aufklarung, und Propaganda.’”
Graham’s reply was clear and to the point:
“I would find it impossible to dance in Germany at the present time. So many artists whom I respect and admire have been persecuted, have been deprived of the right to work for ridiculous and unsatisfactory reasons, that I should consider it impossible to identify myself, by accepting the invitation, with the regime that has made such things possible. In addition, some of my concert group would not be welcomed in Germany.”
The organizers tried to convince Graham that, if she would consent to coming to Berlin, her Jewish dancers would “…receive complete immunity.” Graham, however, was not dissuaded. No American dance group went to Berlin in 1936.13 It is interesting to note that Graham was deemed so essential to the international competitions, as the leading protagonist of American modern dance, that she had received an invitation from Goebbels himself by short-wave transmitter, even before the official invitation arrived at the close of 1935.
England, France, Sweden, and Russia also declined to send performers to Berlin. One nation, however, that answered the call enthusiastically was Canada. Russian-born ballet dancer and teacher, Boris Volkoff, had defected from the Moscow State Ballet while performing in China in 1924, and was enjoying success with his student productions in the city of Toronto. According to an article in The Beaver, “He simply saw Berlin as a wonderful opportunity to promote Canadian dance. He knew that the best way to capture Canadian attention was to win international recognition.” Volkoff’s program for Berlin included an interesting variety: a group ballet choreographed to classical music, a polka solo to the music of Strauss, and a North American Indian-inspired ballet, among others. When the Volkoff company arrived in Berlin, “They were told to stay close to the theatres, restaurants and their accommodation and not to wander.”18 Few signs of trouble were evident, since Goebbels had ensured that Berlin was cleansed of anti-Semitic signs and flagrant Nazi literature. The city was in order and Berliners were polite. The taped, broken windows of Jewish stores were the only indication of underlying trouble.
Source: Elizabeth Hanley: The Role of Dance in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games
In 2009, choreographer Rosie Whitney-Fish reconstructed a lost Olympic ceremony in the grounds of Orleans House Gallery. The movement was pieced together from existing documentation, memories and imagination.
“Dance, however, played a significant part both before, and during, the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. Nazi organizers sought to draw international attention to the achievements of their leader, Adolf Hitler, and one way to succeed was through the popular medium of dance. Noted German choreographers and dancers of the day were enlisted to play a part in the Olympic program: Rudolf von Laban, Mary Wigman, and Harald Kreutzberg. In her book, Modern Dance in Germany and the United States: Crosscurrents and Influences, Isa Partsch-Bergsohn details Laban’s extensive involvement with Olympic preparations as follows: “Laban, a master at arranging mass scenes in choral dancing, was commissioned to direct the triumphal celebration of German Dance at the Dietrich Eckart Freilichtbühne (Outdoor Theater) and to organize a Great International Dance Competition in July 1936.” The dance celebration to inaugurate the Dietrich Eckart stage at the Olympic grounds took place on the opening night of the Games.
Indeed, Laban planned a huge event, training a thousand dancers who were then divided into 22 groups for his production, Vom Tauwind und der Neuen Freude (Spring Wind and the New Joy). What might have been heralded as innovative and captivating was suddenly banned after the final dress rehearsal on 20 June before 20,000 invited guests at the Dietrich-Eckart outdoor theater. Dr. Josef Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, was in attendance and promptly dismissed Laban’s work as a poorly- choreographed piece, one that was intellectual, and had nothing whatever to do with Germans. Of course, the worst possible scenario at the time of Nazi ideology was to create anything intellectual. Goebbels was outraged that Laban was attempting to use the Nazis for his own goals and immediately prohibited the performance of Laban’s work. Obviously, Laban’s dance philosophy was not in keeping with the view of the National Socialists. In short, Goebbels favored traditional German dance; he was not appreciative of the avant-garde modern dance which often attempted to deliver a message, or tell a story, on an intellectual level. The opening night of the Olympic Games did include Kreutzberg’s choreography as well as Wigman’s choreography (in which she also danced), but Laban was out of the Olympic picture for good. “
Source: Elizabeth Hanley: The Role of Dance in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games
It’s only by measuring that we can cross the river of myth
a voice in this hall would echo seven or more times would have prevented communications over a wide area
“the Echo Hall [top], once stood in the ancient city of Olympia. A long structure measuring some 100 meters by 10 meters (350 feet by 35 feet), it had three enclosed sides and one open side with 44 Doric columns. The renowned traveling geographer Pausanias described how a voice in this hall would echo seven or more times. These strong echoes would have prevented communications over a wide area, creating multiple small acoustic arenas, whose aural privacy would have been ideal for any number of small groups wishing to discuss politics and commerce without fear of being overheard…”
The openair amphitheater would remain the only means of combining a large audience with oratorical clarity until the advent of electronic broadcasting
“Greek theater could tolerate neither the excessive reverberation time of large enclosed spaces nor, with the political need to accommodate large audiences drawn from a democratic society, the limited audience size of smaller enclosures. The openair amphitheater [bottom] would remain the only means of combining a large audience with oratorical clarity until the advent of electronic broadcasting in the twentieth century, with its widely distributed audiences.
The Greek amphitheater was also the result of geographic and climatic accident.
The Greek amphitheater was also the result of geographic and climatic accident. Many major Greek cities were located on rolling hills, which provided ideal acoustic settings for open-air theaters. (In contrast, flat plains, wide valleys, or steep mountains would not have provided good acoustics.) And Greece’s mild climate made unsheltered public spaces feasible. Indeed, we might speculate that geography and climate contributed to the success not only of the amphitheaters but also of Greek democracy, which might not have flourished without the frequent, publicly shared experiences these theaters made possible…
The size of these open-air theaters was immense, even by present-day standards of sporting events.
“The size of these open-air theaters was immense, even by present-day standards of sporting events. The distance from the performers to the farthermost spectator in the fifty-second row was some 80 meters (260 feet). In comparison, a modern opera house, such as the Prinz Regententheater in Munich, has a distance from the curtain line to the farthest seat of less than 30 meters (100 feet). More important, open-air theaters do not add sonic energy from reflecting surfaces the way that enclosed spaces do. Without special design efforts, a large percentage of the audience would not have been able to hear the performance. Regardless of their location, spectators expected intelligibility throughout the seating area.”
the first major problem in spatial acoustics: amplification without electronics
“Over the years, many scholars and researchers have tested [traditional rules for improving theater acoustics] as well as theories about Greek theater to determine which artistic styles and architectural solutions would have solved the first major problem in spatial acoustics: amplification without electronics. Several ideas have emerged from these studies. First, the large front wall of the skene, positioned behind the performers, would have reflected sound to the audience in much the same way that the front wall of the stagehouse in many sixteenth-century theaters did (and does in some modern theaters as well). Second, increasing the angle of rise in the seating area would have placed the audience closer to the performers. (Amphitheaters with sharper angles of rise do indeed have better acoustics.) Third, the mouth openings of theatrical masks may have functioned as miniature megaphones. Fourth, through special training, performers learned to project their voices for maximum intelligibility. Finally, by singing, performers could project their voices still farther than by simply speaking— much farther, perhaps reaching the most distant seats.’
playwrights used ‘‘a whole armoury of visual signs and devices to amplify and often to take over from the spoken word
There is no doubt that Greek performers invented creative ways to compensate for the acoustics of their open-air theaters. J. Michael Walton (1984) argued that their playwrights used ‘‘a whole armoury of visual signs and devices to amplify and often to take over from the spoken word.’’ Dance and exaggerated movements do not depend on sound. Even in a society where political influence depended on skilled rhetoric and fixed speech patterns, with appropriately dramatic gestures, the consequence of weak acoustics would not have been severe. This view is consistent with the notion that acoustic limitations forced the performing arts to be multisensory, thereby compensating for reduced sound quality. Greek theater provides the first concrete example of the way in which space controls performers, as well as the art form, and space itself is determined by social, political, and technical forces in the society.”
Blesser, Barry; Salter, Linda-Ruth. Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? : Experiencing Aural Architecture. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2006. p 94-97.
Ear Training: Cathedral and Spacelessness