dance & death dance & death
dance & death
© Corinna Rosteck


25. May 2013 – 8. September 2013

Historical and contemporary choreographies on the inevitable         

No matter whether people dance out of pure spontaneity, follow rehearsed dance choreographies, dance in a therapeutic setting or express themselves at a public rave: dance is impossible without the use of the body. Dance is an expression of vitality. But what does dance have in common with death? Representations of the Dances of Death have been known in art since the 14th century:

The process of dying is considered the last dance with death. But the relations between dance and death are much more diverse and reach beyond the classical genre. Until today the subject’s fascination seems to be unbroken among artists and the public alike. Based on graphics depicting the Dance of Death from the Museum for Sepulchral Culture’s own collection, the exhibition tanz&tod spans an arc from the performing and visual arts to the phenomena of everyday culture. The result is a collage of documentary film material, photographs, artist videos, art installations, dance sequences and video clips.

Originally, dances were pure acts of cult and thus a fundamental element of religious activity. In a world in which celebrations and rituals structured life, transitions and changes were accompanied by dances: Birth, initiation, marriage - but also death. As examples from Ghana, Mexico, Tibet and Taiwan show, dance plays an important role in the mourning ceremonies of many cultures. Once a year, the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated extensively by Mexicans with music, dance and food.

Motifs of the Mexican Day of the Dead then reappeared in a show by Austrian fashion designer Lena Hoschek in 2012. The models on the catwalk amazed the audience with a bizarre skull and crossbones make-up that reminded of the iconic skeleton lady and symbolic figure La Catrina. A modern Dance of Death?

Within the field of performing arts, including classical ballet, expressive dance and dance theater, the theme of death is omnipresent. Again and again, subjects from mythology and art history have been redefined in choreographies. The exhibition traces the lines of development since 1900 in a striking way and presents impressive examples by Anna Pavlova, Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss, Pina Bausch, Christian Spuck and Johannes Wieland. In an associative juxtaposition, the performative works are mainly visualized through dance photographs, film sequences and stage sets.

An entire room is dedicated to Butoh, a dance between cultures that found its inspiration in German expressive dance. Sanzu no Kawa is the river that people following the Buddhist tradition in Japan must cross after their death, says the Butoh-dancer Tadashi Endo. In his dance the 64-year-old, who became famous in Germany through Doris Dörrie's film Cherry Blossoms, tells about death and encounters with people on the other side of the river.

The Austrian artist Anja Manfredi understands the human body and its movement as a system that exists within a web of social norms and expresses this in her photographic work Re-Enacting (2007-2009). In her installation Bewegte weiße Kleider (Moving White Clothing), the artist Marlen Seubert brings objects of expressive elegance into a rhythmic movement. Works such as Gummitod I-III by Alfred Hrdlicka, on the other hand, offer points of contact with the sculptural. This bronze casting of a carved-out marble sculpture impacted the design of his deceased wife’s grave. The motif of the Dance of Death reappears in Harry Kramer's film Die Schleuse in which mechanical, automobile wire sculptures perform a grotesque Dance of Death.

In Ugo Dorsi's video projections Danse Macabre, it is the graphic faces of death in form of pictograms that are found again in his tomb for the Künstler-Nekropole. Based on designs by the artist and the architect Werner Ruhnau the circle around the ritual Dance of Death and the work Schreittanz is finally closed at this necropolis.

Displayed works by:

Robert Budzinski, Ugo Dossi, Hosoe Eiko, Tadashi Endo, Valeska Gert, Alfred Hrdlicka, Tatsumi Hijikata, Angela Hiß, Lena Hoschek, Horst Janssen, Kurt Jooss, Harry Kramer, Anja Manfredi, Kazuo Ohno, Ulrike Rosenbach, Corinna Rosteck/Dance Theater Kassel, Thomas Rowlandson, Werner Ruhnau, Marlen Seubert, Christian Spuck/Stuttgart Ballet State Theater Stuttgart, Bettina Stöß/Dance Theater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Mary Wigman, Michael Wolgemut


Bali Kinos & Filmladen Kassel | documenta Archiv, Kassel

Galerie Melchior, Kassel | Staatstheater Kassel, Internationales Tanzfestival Kassel, Achim Rache

MAMU Butoh-Centrum, Göttingen | Akademie der Künste,

Berlin | Deutsches Tanzarchiv Köln SK-Stiftung Kultur


Das Projekt tanz&tod wurde gefördert durch den Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien und durch Hessisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst Stadt Kassel | EKD Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland.


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Arbeitsgemeinschaft Friedhof und Denkmal e.V.

Zentralinstitut für Sepulkralkultur

Museum für Sepulkralkultur

Weinbergstraße 25–27
D-34117 Kassel | Germany
Tel. +49 (0)561 918 93-0

Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien
Hessisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst
Kassel Documenta Stadt
Deutsche Bischofskonferenz