by Elizabeth Ward
The idea for the Anti Fascist Ballet School was born late at night while reading an article about the possibility of Trump winning the presidency in the United States. This was December of 2015 and I had recently moved to Vienna from New York City. That autumn I had overheard many conversations of people’s disbelieve and concern around the resurgence of the far right FPÖ party in Austria. Within this context I was overwhelmed by a general feeling of horror around the number of articles pertaining to the rise of rightwing politics around the world. In previous years I had been busy working and thinking of ballet as an archeological site looking towards the ballet class as a place where multiple layers of instruction, spoken and unspoken, were taking place. In trying to reconcile a love of ballet with anti-authoritarian, queer anarchistic leanings, I wished to question how to become conscious about what we are reproducing while committing to dancing as a practice of joy. On that night, while horrified at the potential rise of Neo-fascism, a decision was made to work with the name Anti Fascist Ballet School, invite others to think it through together, and see what it could become.
It was school in the making, in the doing.
Working collaboratively with Magdalena Chowaniec and Liv Schellander, for WIENWOCHE 2016, we developed 3 days of classes that took place in the center of the Lugner City shopping mall. Each day was a continuation of the next and based on a libretto we collectively wrote to dance a ballet in real time through the performing of the school.
Originally we had hoped to use a temporarily unused space in the mall to hold our pop-up ballet school. The shopping center instead offered us the center of the mall in the area where they held fairs and performances. This offer, while unexpected, shaped the way the school developed. The aim was not to give a traditional class but rather stay close to the form while experimenting with how knowledge could be transmitted. The school assumed everyone into the role of a dancer in this ballet of the future. While we were very committed to each class being a class, because of its placement in the center of Lugner City, it was also highly performative.
The classes drew a rather un-homogeneous group composed of those that came specifically to take class and those that joined spontaneously. Children were the ones most likely to join while artists and women over the age of 60 were those most likely to show up for class. It was a controlled chaos of children, aging women, and hipster artists practicing port de bras together as a way to connect with and open up the space of the shopping mall.
At its core the Anti Fascist Ballet School was an invitation to move together, to think together, to practice politics together, to stay close to form but to let go of the fear of not being good enough that is often associated with ballet. Over the centuries the aesthetics of ballet have changed drastically and yet, very simply, it is a system of bending, stretching, and strengthening to build towards turning and jumping. We practiced ballet for the joy in it and the sense of expansion and radiance the form was built on. We used somatic exercises and partner work to find this feeling from the inside out rather than applying an external shape on our bodies. It was rooted in a love of dancing together.