Dance: Hilde / Amici Riverside Studios, London

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The Independent Culture
More than 70 years ago in Vienna, a young Austrian expressionist dancer called Hilde Holger gave her first solo concert. By 1938, she had departed for India and a decade later emigrated to England. Now 90, and one of the last survivors of a lost school of central European modern dance, Holger is still practising her art.

Her most committed disciples include a number of professional dancers who have found, in Holger's almost eccentric approach to movement, a sane and stimulating alternative to the inveterately competitive nature of the wider dance scene. Yet Holger's work as a teacher and choreographer during the past 45 years has been largely ignored. Soon after arriving in London (as a Jew, Holger would probably have met her death had she remained in Vienna - indeed, her entire family perished at Auschwitz), she encountered the resistance and hostility of people to whom she appeared dangerously progressive. Holger's artistic isolation in this country reflected the fact that the British public hadn't really been exposed to modern dance.

The story of Holger's life is documented in Hilde, Wolfgang Stange's latest production for his integrated performance company, Amici. Stange, like Lindsay Kemp, studied with Holger in the Sixties and cites her as the greatest influence in his career.

In Hilde, he has created a piece of dance drama in which he pays loving tribute to his subject. He arranges his cast in vivid sequences that chart Holger's life from childhood. The role of Hilde is passed between four performers who overlap in some of the work's flashback episodes. We see the child Hilde dancing to a Yiddish song with her sister and cousin; the young woman at the peak of her career as a solo dancer/ choreographer in Vienna, and in the dancer in late middle age sitting in her studio and recollecting key events in her life. All the while her inner voice is heard through Monika Koch whose bursts of text also function as narrative markers.

Stange's opening scene, an abbreviated version of Holger's St Francis's Sermon to the Birds, recalls the controversy she sparked in the Sixties when her dance group performed in a church in Battersea.

Throughout the evening, four of Holger's dancers engage in what seem to be structured improvisations. They perform a handful of Holger's eloquently succinct choreographies, Bauhaus and Embrace (from the early Seventies); the newly revised Hoops (first created in 1956), and Apsaras (1983), in which we see a group of symmetrically flexing and arching Indian temple courtesans.

As the young woman Hilde, Maggie Landells is utterly convincing - extraordinary not only in her physical resemblance to Holger, but also in the entirely unforced style of her renditions of early solos such as Die Forelle (The Trout). At the end, Stange rightly hands the show over to Holger herself. From her wheelchair she sets her quartet of dancers the disconcerting task of showing us the movements of snakes, spiders, deer in the mating season and whales. The rapport between teacher, student and onlooker is as instant as the revelation of Holger's undimmed humour and iron will.

At the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon on 30 March. Booking: 01793 524481

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