Hilde Holger

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Hilde Holger, dancer, choreographer and dance therapist: born Vienna 18 October 1905; married 1940, 1989 Dr Adi Boman-Behram (died 2000; one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1963); died London 22 September 2001.

Hilde Holger lived her life for dance and its teaching. At the age of 95 she was still holding classes in her basement studio in Camden Town, north London, where for 50 years she had taught modern dance in the Central European Expressionist tradition.

Holger made her début as solo performer in 1923 at the Secession building in Vienna, performing her own choreographed pieces to Schubert's The Trout and Debussy's Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien. Her beauty as a dancer attracted attention and she was feted by many photographers. Outstanding even by today's photographic standards are the portraits by Antios (Anton Josef Trcka, 1893-1940), who also captured her contemporary and acquaintance Egon Schiele.

Born in 1905 in Vienna, Holger began dancing as a small child. She joined the Gertrude Bodenwieser School at the Vienna State Academy for Music and Performing Arts in 1919. After her first year Bodenwieser called her mother to ask that her single-minded daughter be removed from the school. But Holger's perseverance and determination ensured that by the following year she had become assistant to Bodenwieser and played an essential role in building the Bodenwieser dance group.

Bodenwieser's distinct choreographic style, tutelage and frequent touring performances influenced much of Holger's later works. Le Journal des Théâtres observed in 1927:

With Holger, more than with any other artist, dance is really a prayer. It is also an escape from the ordinary world of the

intellect. With her, there can be no compromise with opportunism – such is the profound significance of her activity as a creative artist and teacher.

Holger left the Bodenwieser group in 1926 to form her own school of dance in Vienna. She was attracted not so much by the bright lights but by the opportunity to teach. It was teaching that would become her life's work.

In 1938 Holger was forced by the Nazis to close her school and as a child of Jewish parents was forbidden to perform or work. In 1939, she was able to emigrate to Bombay, where she lived for nine years. She worked first as a masseuse (having trained at the Jewish Vienna Rothschild Hospital), later as solo dancer and, after 1945, as the director of a dance studio. In 1946 her daughter, Primavera, was born.

Two years later, finding the religious war between the Muslims and Hindus intolerable, she fled her home once again with her Parsee husband Dr Adi Boman-Behram. After a gruelling journey to the UK, her son, Darius, was born with a severe mental handicap. The family lived first in Hampstead, north London, before moving to Camden, where Holger established the Hilde Holger School of Contemporary Dance.

Her London breakthrough came in 1951 with Under the Sea, to music by Saint-Saëns, which premiered at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Holger's production incorporated the altar steps into the stage area and provoked public discussion about the use of the church as theatre space.

In later years Darius's "rehabilitation" became the focus of both her dance work and teaching methods. With a strong belief that mind and body work together, Holger developed a dance therapy for children with learning difficulties. Her groundbreaking work Towards the Light was performed at Sadler's Wells in 1969.

Holger's pioneering approach to disability and dance has been carried forward and developed to this day by her former pupil Wolfgang Stange and his Amici Dance Theatre Company, which integrates able-bodied and disabled performers. Stange paid tribute to his teacher for her 90th birthday with a dance drama documenting her life from childhood. Combining dance, music, text and Holger's own choreography, Hilde was performed by Amici at the Riverside Studios, London, in 1996, and two years later in Vienna, with Holger herself performing in a wheelchair.

"I do not want you to function as a machine", she would tell her dancers:

I expect from you heart, brain, imagination and expression in your movements. And humanity – human feelings as expressed in the art of Van Gogh, Picasso and Goya . . .

Albert Thimann