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Kerstin Kussmaul Eligible Member // Teacher
IDOCs » Meeting Shona Dunlop MacTavish
Shona Dunlop MacTavish is a NZ dancer and choreographer who learned and danced with Gertrud Bodenwieser in the 1930ies in Vienna, and then worldwide, when the company fled Nazi-Austria. By way of Colombia the Bodenwieser Company settled in Sydney. Shona moved on and spent many years in China and Africa with her missionary husband, and returned to Dunedin, NZ after his death. She founded the Dunedin Dance Theatre and continued dancing until well into her 80ies.

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November 24, 2018 Dunedin, NZ, 1:45pm

I have been hoping to meet Shona Dunlop MacTavish for several years since I moved to New Zealand, but somehow it did not work out until now. Choreographer Carol Brown, my PhD supervisor, was Shona's dance student in Dunedin in her teens. Carol speaks highly of Shona, and made a wonderful film juxtaposing original footage with contemporary interpretations. Having read also some biographic materials about Shona, I was very much looking forward to this encounter with dance history in person.

It is chilly and windy, as seems always to be the case when I visit Dunedin. Terry, Shona's daughter, arrives at the same time at Shona's house as Carol and we do, meeting each other as we get out of our cars. This is clearly not what Terry had planned, and Terry asks to linger around and look at old dance photos and posters, which I happily do, asking Carol for comments and names. Terry looks exactly like I imagined her I realize, a woman in her 60ies with a rasperry top, a purple shawl, matching eyeshadows and the embodiment of a performer- artist. I have read about her in the biographies. She danced with Shona in her youth, in the Dunedin Dance Theater. Her career then focused on drama teaching, and she just retired.

When Terry asks us into the living room, we find Shona sitting in an arm chair, tucked in behind the door. I slightly wonder about the chair’s position behind the door, as it does not seem the obvious choice for someone who spends quite some time sitting. But one does have a good view from there of various dance posters and photos on the walls and the mantel. The living room, and the house is a typical New Zealand house. Except all the references to dance, art and history, and the many books lying about. They tell of a long and rich life.

Clearly Shona and Carol have a longstanding relationship, and I take in Shona, as the two catch up. Shona, now 98 years old, enjoys the social situation. Dressed in similar colors like her daughter, her blue eyes are radiant, and her physical presence strong, despite her years. Carol has announced me as a dancer from Vienna, and Shona seems genuinely excited to meet me. Although generations apart, I feel an instant rapport through Viennese culture and history. Vienna seems to have left an imprint on both of us. Shona and me start to speak in German, thus excluding Carol and Terry, Shona’s German accent and vocabulary remaining quite impressive. Hearing her accent dipping into the tonality of Viennese German of the 20ies and 30ies unfolds images of old movies in my mind, such as „The Third Man“, or movies with Hans Moser.

My own dance training started in Vienna, learning Chladek-Technique at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst. In 1940, Rosalia Chladek took over the dance department after Bodenwieser had left, and I studied with Chladek’s long-time assistant, Maud Paulissen-Kaspar. Bodenwieser left due to her Jewish background. Her husband was murdered in Auschwitz. Chladek has found some sort of arrangement with the National Socialists and thus it is her lineage that survived in Vienna to this day. Bodenwieser’s heritage is not practiced anymore in Vienna.

The thought crosses my mind that I do have a similar appreciation for Maud Paulissen than Carol has for Shona Dunlop. Both Shona and Maud have been important companions for the two major figures in Viennese Expressive Dance in the first half of the 20th century, althougn Shona worked with Bodenwieser in the 30ies and Maud with Chladek in the 70ies, a generation apart.  Through my conversations with Carol about Bodenwieser and with Maud about Chladek I have come to suspect that the Bodenwieser and Chladek were very different in their approaches. I think I never continued with Chladek-Technique after my studies in Vienna because I missed a sensuousness,  I found it somewhat dry despite all the articulate cultivation of an intelligent body. Chladek refused to use touch as means for learning movement, something that since has become essential for my work.

Well, Shona is anything else, but dry or un-sensuous... Maybe a Bodenwieser treat passed on? Shona sometimes loses track of recent conversation threads, as to be expected at the age. But her sense of aliveness, mischief and ability to relate are much stronger than that. She tells me about where she lived in Vienna (Pötzleinsdorf), and also how important that short period in Paris, where she ventured from Vienna for some months, was for her art. She asks me to bring my husband next time, who is a born Viennese. For a moment, we consider the qualities of Viennese men.

While we talk, Terry has been rummaging about and starts to bring out original costumes from the Bodenwieser, and some remakes from the 70ies. My attention is drawn immediately towards these fabulous costumes. They are intricately and carefully designed, flattering to the female body, created with a moving body in mind. It has been some time since I saw costumes done with such artistry down to the last detail. They are incredibly contemporary. Some also quite tight and short. It is quite a moment seeing Shona doing impressive jumps on a poster advertising the Russian dance, while I fondle the red boots that I see in the picture with my fingers. I imagine seeing these costumes on a clothes rack in a second hand store  - and all my dance collegues devouring them, even not knowing what they are or where they come from.

The hour has passed, and Shona is getting tired. We do a series of photos to keep some of the spirit of the afternoon. I certainly have fallen in love with Shona. When we cuddle up for a selfie, she says into my ear: „I feel naughty now“.

Shona Dunlop McTavish: Leap of Faith. My Dance Through Life

Carol Brown:  Migration and Memory: The Dances of Gertrud Bodenwieser

Carol Brown's film Relasing the Archive will be presented at the Vienna Theatermuseum in 2019:

Kerstin, Shona, Carol smallpic
Demon Machine Costume
Dunedin Dance Theatre
Kerstin, Shona, Carol, Terry
russian dance

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Claudia Kappenberg // Teacher
Hi Kerstin, very nice to read your blog post. I can just picture the scene, and it reminds me of the times spent with Hilde Holger in London, again the old photos on the wall, Hilde's Viennese German accent, the costumes, and Hilde's bright blue eyes and unfailing vivacity. They are/ were strong women with so much spirit, and continue to inspire. All best wishes. Claudia

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