May 20, 2024

Styles Of Dance

Dance Styles Unite in Harmony

The Dance Legends Who Inspired Suspiria’s Bewitching Movement

2 min read

Though it’s set at a ballet school, Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria has very little to do with dance. We see that film’s star, Jessica Harper, stumble through a few steps before feeling ill and collapsing; meanwhile, her fellow ballet students move just outside the frame. The film is not overly concerned with how that movement looks.

But Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 adaptation of Argento’s classic adds a political subplot, drastically changes the story’s color scheme, and, perhaps most notably, centers dance as an essential part of Susie’s (Dakota Johnson) story. With the help of the movie’s choreographer, Damien Jalet, Guadagnino taps into the otherworldly choreography of an austere era, unlocking a physical expression that is entirely absent from the original.

Like the first film, the remake is set in 1970s Germany, around 100 years after Isadora Duncan’s star began to rise and the early modern-dance movement began—a rebellion against the confinement of classical ballet. Those dancers kicked off their tight pointe shoes to go barefoot onstage, and freed their bodies from ballet’s rigid first-second-third-fourth-fifth positions. Some dancers pursued styles that favored a kind of naturalism, like walking across the stage without a pointed foot. Others shaped their bodies with movement too sharp or linear to fit within ballet’s supple motion. Duncan wore billowy costumes instead of ballet tights and tulle skirts. Her contemporary Katherine Dunham incorporated steps from Caribbean and black folk dances, at a time when ballet companies weren’t hiring black dancers for leading parts.

Perhaps no name in modern dance is quite as recognizable as Martha Graham. Her namesake technique inspired countless others, and there are numerous nods to her work in Suspiria—even the floor-length dress Tilda Swinton’s character, Madame Blanc, favors in the movie. Her approach largely focused on contracting and releasing one’s muscles, and the tension-filled movement between those motions. They could be sharp kicks or subtle moves that worked off the rhythm of one’s breathing. There was an element of control and poise in her steps.

But the film’s choreography is a touch more contemporary than Graham’s pioneering work; it takes place in 1977, decades after Graham’s early-20th-century heyday. By that time, modern dance’s offspring, contemporary dance, was taking hold in companies across the United States and Germany. At the new movie’s screening at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, last month, screenwriter David Kajganich told his audience that he drew ideas for the film’s dance from the works of German choreographers Mary Wigman and Pina Bausch, as well as Sasha Waltz, whom he shadowed while researching the script.


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