Sonia Gaskell  11 September 2009 until 31 January 2010

Pioneer of dance

Sonia Gaskell, 1950 Photo: Paul Huf/MAI The Jewish Historical Museum and the Theater Instituut Nederland are presenting an exhibition on the life and work of the dancer and choreographer Sonia Gaskell. The importance of Gaskell's work to classical dance in the Netherlands cannot be overstated. Using photographs, costumes, and video clips, the exhibition gives a picture of this remarkable woman and tells the story of dance in the Netherlands up to the year 1969. The director Jellie Dekker made a documentary about Gaskell, entitled Mevrouw ('Madam'). The film is produced by IDTV Docs as a co-production with the NPS.

Sonia Gaskell (1904-1974) was born to Russian Jewish parents in Lithuania and grew up in Ukraine. She travelled to Palestine and Paris, where she developed her great passion for classical dance, before settling in Amsterdam in 1939. The Netherlands did not yet have any academic tradition of dance at that time, such as existed in Russia and France. There were no subsidised dance companies or official training courses for dancers, and there were no professional prospects whatsoever for dancers or choreographers. Gaskell opened a ballet studio on Zomerdijkstraat in Amsterdam, where she continue to teach covertly during the years of German occupation. In 1945 she founded her first dance company.

Sonia Gaskell was an expressive woman with a strong character, who soon established herself as the driving force behind the emancipation of dance. She successfully trained dancers who could work with both the modern and the classical romantic repertoires. She also provided opportunities for young choreographers. In 1954 she was appointed artistic director of the first subsidised national ballet company, the Nederlands Ballet, which was subsumed into Het Nationale Ballet (the Dutch National Ballet) in 1961. Together with dancers such as Olga de Haas and choreographers like Rudi van Dantzig, she succeeded in making this company world-renowned. Gaskell retired from Het Nationale Ballet in 1969.

Sonia Gaskell: Pioneer of dance is the second in a series of exhibitions mounted by the Theater Instituut Nederland in collaboration with various museums, highlighting major developments in the Dutch performing arts over the past few decades.

The exhibition was made possible by the support of the Dioraphte Foundation, and the documentary was sponsored by the VandenEnde Foundation as well as the VSB, SNS REAAL and CoBO Funds.

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