Dancing Art and Politics beyond the Iron Curtain: Martha Graham’s 1962 Tour to Yugoslavia and Poland

  • Abstract:
    Admired widely for her impressive artistic career, the modern dancer’s Martha Graham political performance as an American cultural diplomat during the Cold War was not much known or discussed by dance lovers and scholars alike. Having “the State Department’s blessing,” the dancer rehearsed this new role on the occasion of her tours to Europe, in 1950 and 1954, and started it officially in 1955, during the Asian tour, considered a tremendous success for the dancer and her country’s cultural diplomacy abroad. While her tours to Western Europe and the complicated relationship with its audience were at least mentioned in her biographies, the ones to Eastern Europe’s countries were not paid attention to, or were wrongly placed in space and time. My paper brings them to the scholars’ attention, by presenting Graham and her Company’s 1962 tour beyond the Iron Curtain, in former Yugoslavia and Poland. It also corrects an inaccurate assumption, wrongly stated in Graham’s biographies, namely that the company travelled to Romania. My work also demonstrates that Graham’s artistic and political performance beyond the Iron Curtain was a bold enterprise which deserves full attention and analysis, and not only because it redefined and enlarged the dancer’s career and the boundaries of American cultural diplomacy in Europe. The tour was a significant moment which, while proving the versatile power of dance in making the political and ideological curtain less opaque, gave contour and substance to the presence of American culture, politics and modernism in Eastern Europe. Not less significantly, it also made Eastern Europe for the rest of the world, European or not, a more immediate space and reality, which, as history showed, was waiting to be (re)discovered and (re)invented.