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  • Writer's pictureThe Debutante

Tracing Reality and Fantasy in the Choreography of Suspiria, Hexentanz, and Blaubart

What is reality and what is fantasy? 

The Surrealist Manifesto (1924) outlines surrealism as a union of ‘conscious and unconscious realms of experience joined in an absolute reality with the rational world.’ In Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 adaptation of Suspiria, Damian Jalet’s commanding, and at times ghastly choreography performed exclusively by women blurs the line between reality and fantasy, posing questions on societal expectations of the female body. Taking inspiration from Mary Wigman’s Hexentanz and Pina Bausch’s Blaubart, Jalet invokes elements of the occult and surrealism resulting in an investigation of the fracturing of identity, and the construction and deconstruction of the female body.

The latter, when viewed through the lens of surrealism, is evident within the repetitive movements in Wigman’s Hexentanz that challenge how bodies should look and move. The sharp, jutting motion of Wigman’s arms, hands, and legs summon a sensation of monstrosity. Alternating her hand placement on both legs and gradually moving closer to the viewer, Wigman is challenging them to look away. Raising the question: what would viewers want to ignore? 

The thud of Wigman’s feet echo that of the sounds of the bodies moving, the swaying of fabric, and most significantly, the verbal moans made by the dancers in Suspiria as they execute each move, suggesting the deconstruction of the female body. This is best depicted when Susie dances the principal part in Volk as Olga is leaving the company. Her forceful entrance into the studio signals her deconstruction, her every move a grotesque mirroring of Susie’s that breaks her body. The scene is firmly rooted in the concept of surrealism. The fractured mirrors reflect Olga’s instability and volatility, bestowed upon her by the matrons, as she questions what is and isn’t real.

Photograph of Mary Wigman by Hugo Erfurth in Der Kunstlerische Tanz Unserer Zeit by Hermann Aubel and Marianne Aubel. Leipzig: K. R. Langewiesche, 1928. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED.

The alternating shots of Olga and Susie also bridge a connection to Blaubart, as the repetition echoes violence against women. The persistent maltreatment of the female dancer as she repeatedly breaks free from the grasps of a man only to be seized again and aggressively cast off reproduces the sexual assault enacted against women. Similarly, in Jalet’s choreography dancers execute dance moves seemingly fighting back, in essence constructing the female body. 

By citing Wigman and Bausch’s work, Jalet’s choreography confronts societal expectations of the female body. Though visually disquieting and at times uncomfortable to watch, they force viewers to challenge society’s reluctance to acknowledge violence against women. The movements that distort and deform the body exceptionally portray how through this violence, the female body is deconstructed. Yet, like the female surrealist artists of the early 20th century, the dancers construct themselves into active subjects, taking back control.

Karla Mendez is an arts and culture writer. She is a lead columnist for Black Women Radicals’ Black Feminist Histories and Movement and is a contributing writer for Elephant Magazine. She has also contributed writing to the Boston Art Review, Burnaway, Polyester Zine, Teen Vogue, and elsewhere. She writes about the histories of Black and Latin American women and their representation in visual art, performance, and poetry. She holds a master’s in American Studies from Brown University and a BA with honors in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida.


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