Anthology Dance at Expo 58
In Winter 2005, a collaboration was set up between the historian Staf Vos, the performance studies intern Lieve Dierckx and SARMA to investigate the cathartic role the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair or Expo 58 played in the development of Belgian critisism. As a result a small anthology came about, constituting more than 30 texts, many of which stem from the pen of the critic Marcel Lobet who extensively reported on the Expo 1958. In addition some other contemporaneous key-writings on dance are included as well as a contextualizing essay by Staf Vos. Eric De Kuyper was asked to comment upon the text collection in an essay for Etcetera and a video lecture that was first presented during Blauwe Plekken #058.
With this project Sarma continues its interest in the roots of contemporary critical practice. This rather untold story took already a first start when Sarma anthologized the writings on dance by Eric de Kuyper, who was a critic in the sixties but continued writing on dance until this day. In 2008 Sarma invited Eric de Kuyper to comment upon the anthology Dance at Expo 58 in a video lecture
On the anthology
Expo 1958 was the first World’s Fair since the Second World War. So far, the prominent place dancing occupied within the artistic part of the Expo has gone unnoticed in the extensive literature on the subject. Yet the concentration of performances from around the world provoked an unprecedented interest within local periodicals for theatrical and folkloristic dance and facilitated the training of more or less specialised critics. Their criticism put dance and bodily expression to the fore as modern symbols of a better world to be constructed through culture and technology, yet with respect for humanist values. This humanist modernism mostly presented academic ballet, folkloristic or exotic dance, and some modern ballet with Jerome Robbins and Maurice Béjart as most progressive representatives. Criticised by the next decade’s avant-garde as too conservative, its critical discourse, if not aesthetic language, remained however influential in larger audiences’ reception of dance and performance.
For this anthology, research has been focused on French-language criticism in the politically neutral, Brussels-based daily newspaper Le Soir and Les Beaux-Arts, the weekly magazine of the Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts which also served as the official Expo Festival weekly. In the late 1950s, journalists involved with dance and dance criticism in Brussels were predominantly French-speaking and France-oriented. From the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, an independent ‘Flemish’, Dutch-speaking cultural scene developed, albeit much more slowly in Brussels than e.g. in Antwerp. This movement, however, hardly affected the Brussels dance scene until the 1960s. Today, Belgium is a federal country with a self-governing Flemish, French – both actively present in Brussels – and German community.
In their writings on dance at the Expo, key critics Marcel Lobet and Georges Sion proved to be specialists with a particular view on the demands of dance history, but also with a revealing ambiguity towards modernity, body language and international culture. This ambiguity was not accidental or eccentric, but related to the broader ideological context of France-oriented dance aesthetics on the one hand, and Expo 58 on the other hand.
The starting point for Sarma was a systematic and exhaustive excerption of the 1958 editions of Le Soir and Les Beaux-Arts. Le Soir, a respected Brussels-based newspaper, was founded in 1887. The newspaper’s neutrality was temporarily under siege during the Second World War when a collaborationist editor ‘stole’ its name, and some time later the resistant forces did the same. In 1944, the daily newspaper managed to regain its original neutral position, which it has kept up until this day, under the ownership of the Rossel firm. Les beaux-arts: journal d’information artistique, peinture, sculpture, architecture, arts décoratifs, musique, littérature, théâtre, cinéma appeared with various subtitles from 1930 until 1970. Published by the Société auxiliaire des publications du Palais des Beaux-arts de Bruxelles, it served as a broad-ranging artistic programme guide to the Palais des Beaux-Arts.
Combined, these two publications offer a clear perspective on the developments in dance criticism before, during and after Expo 58. In our anthology, we present a selection of full-text articles on various themes and genres by several authors during one calendar year. The texts are not exclusively on Expo performances. From Le Soir, we selected reports, essays, an interview, previews and short announcements from ‘Courrier Lettres Arts Sciences’ and, as Marcel Lobet was Le Soir’s main dance critic, his writings are at the heart of the anthology. Meanwhile, his colleague, art critic Paul Caso, elucidated the ideology of the Expo’s artistic events for Le Soir readers. Les Beaux Arts on its part published articles with a separate column on the arts’ scene in Paris, while a ‘Carnet du critique’ offered space for essay-like articles and announcements of upcoming events. Its anchor critic was the playwright Georges Sion and his colleagues were André de la Mar, music critic Monique Verken and the French dance critic Françoise Reiss. André Scohy, director of Radio Congo Belge’s African broadcasts, contributed a series on African dance in the Belgian Congo.
The Expo was to be a showcase for the most prestigious companies from Russia, France, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, the United States, Spain and Yugoslavia – either at the World Festival or in the national pavilions. It was there that the American Ballet Theatre, the Ballet USA, the Royal Ballet, the Ballet de l’Opéra and the Nederlands Ballet challenged the Bolshoï Ballet’s monopoly on rigorous bodily discipline, that Igor Moïsseev defended Russia’s socialist ideology in modernist folkloric dance performances and that Jerome Robbins responded with American sailors and jazz. During the International Days of Experimental Music, Maurice Béjart’s ballets to musique concrète caused a sensation. The Expo also showed Changwe-Yetu (a Congolese dance company), the Chinese Opera and folklore companies from Turkey, Finland, Israel and the Philippines. The anthology includes reviews on the highlights of their performances, but also reflections on the dance scene in the Belgian provinces and in Paris. The themes arising out of dance criticism in Brussels around the time of the Expo were of international relevance – that much is clear from the international survey held in 1957 for the Institut International du Théâtre and the Unesco by the anthology’s key critic, Marcel Lobet. He was asked to write an in-depth article on the state and future of dance in a special issue of Le Théâtre dans le monde, entitled ‘Danse et la vie’. His essay – published in both English and French – was based on the responses to eight questions submitted to a number of eminent dancers, choreographers, composers and critics. Béjart, Moïsseev, Frederick Ashton, Janine Charrat, Jean Cocteau, Birgit Cullberg, Anton Dolin, Margot Fonteyn, Françoise et Dominique, Martha Graham, Arnold Haskell, Doris Humphrey, José Limon and Helen Tamiris were amongst those who sent in their reactions. The survey dealt with controversial issues similar to those that re-emerged one year later at Expo 58; that is, the necessity for dance to be socially or even politically involved, the issues of abstract dance, of Americanism and modernity, of dance’s relationship to theatricality, to the music hall, etc.
To conclude, and in order to further contextualize Lobet’s and Sion’s critical writings, text material from monographs or monographic articles that were published by both critics in the latter half of the 1950s were added to the anthology.
Notes The anthology offers a selection from a broader corpus of articles on theatre and dance from the 1958 editions of Le Soir and Les Beaux-Arts. The complete archive with digital photographs and database is available to researchers at the Sarma office. Please send your motivation to firstname.lastname@example.org Sarma has tried to take all authorship rights into consideration. Any persons who should nevertheless feel prejudiced in their rights can contact us. Not all texts concern performances that were shown during the Expo itself, but they are thematically or chronologically related to Expo 58 We wish to thank the heirs of Marcel Lobet - Marc Lobet in particular - and Albert Burnet, Jeanne Brabants and many others for their invaluable help and support.