Comparative Guts

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Dancer Shona Dunlop performing the role of Cain in Cain and Abel, Sydney, Australia, 1940.

Choreographer: Gertrud Bodenwieser. Composer: Marcel Lorber. Medium: gelatin silver photograph. Photographer: Margaret Michaelis. Collection: Hocken Library Collection at University of Auckland.

Shona Dunlop was born in Ōtepoti, Aotearoa (Dunedin, New Zealand), and studied with choreographer and dancer Gertrud Bodenwieser in Vienna, Austria. She became a member of her all-woman dance troupe, Tanzgruppe Bodenwieser, which toured Europe, Japan and Columbia – before Bodenwieser immigrated to Australia in 1939 and founded the Bodenwieser Ballet in Warrane (Sydney) with Dunlop as principal dancer.
The dynamic expressive movements of Bodenwieser’s dance style exemplify her desire to identify modalities that could strengthen and liberate women’s bodies. Her choreographic work placed an emphasis on the dancers’ spiralling engagement with space. This dance practice requires a freeing up of the pelvis and spine and calls for the dancer to reach beyond their centre. To a large extent, these manoeuvres are supported by the efficient activation of the psoas muscles and diaphragm which in turn induce the sympathetic movement of the internal organs. Fig. 2, the woodcut from Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (1555) illustrates both the psoas muscle and diaphragm. These interconnected structures are also somatically experienced by dancers as receptacles of feeling and emotion in the body.
Experimentation and self-discovery were important components of Bodenwieser’s methodology, as too the ethical imperative to engage with the contemporary socio-political issues of the era which she frequently explored through allegory—as seen here in the documentation photograph of Dunlop in her performance of Cain and Abel.