Liebe Hanya, Mary Wigman’s Letters to Hanya Holm

by Claudia Gitelman

The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003

A Review

Liebe Hanya

Never would I have thought that in reading a bunch of letters from a “near-gone” time would I experience the same pleasure and avidity as I have in reading Le Carré. But I have. Wigman’s Letters to Hanya reveal so much of the personalities of the two women, their drive for artistic stature, their business acumen, their tenderness and toughness, their faithful, caring friendship.

The letters span a time in which the world saw the growing foment of World War II, the devastation of Germany, the post-war schism of ideologies, the gradual healing. It is a time when Modern Dance as we define it came into the artistic forefront. The entire kaleidoscope of the times is cloaked in personal actions, aspirations, struggles, and successes. That this time had also been my time allowed the Letters to resound for me. I truly hope that other readers will find the simple glory they portray.

I am often guilty of skipping footnotes. Are you? Well, if you are, don’t do it here. Claudia’s impeccable scholarship has brought to this volume such a wealth of fascinating concomitant information that I sometimes found myself reading the footnotes prior to reading the text.

The letters are Wigman’s, so the portrait of her is strong. (What we see of Hanya in them is through Wigman’s eyes.) We see Wigman striving endlessly to create works, to rebuild a school, to keep health and dignity under desperate conditions. We see her pride in the success of her students and herself. We feel her revel in small comforts and rejoice at natural beauty.

We see Wigman bright and clear. We see Hanya as steadfast. We see Claudia’s careful scholarship. Three women revealed! All of them are worth knowing.

— Ruth E. Grauert, May 2004

See also “Letters from Mary Wigman” written to Joan Woodbury from 1957 to 1970.

See report on a panel discussion featuring Claudia Gitelman (by Liz Higgins).