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GE15: Modern German Cultures of Performance

This paper is available for the academic year 2020-21.

(Paper subject to revisions with effect from Michaelmas Term 2022. More details to follow.)

This paper draws on the key role that the German-speaking world has played in the development of cultures of performance over the last century. It explores theories and practices of performance in different media - theatre, film, television, dance, sport, visual and performance art - investigating their specific character and the relationships between them. The paper will be particularly concerned with how modes of performance mediate, and mediate between, aesthetic and ideological questions, across a dramatic period of political and cultural history. Students will be encouraged to address topics like the performance of history or gender on stage and screen. The legacy of Brecht, as the most significant pioneer of twentieth-century performance on the stage but also a key influence on performance on screen, will form a major focus for the paper. Other leading figures to be discussed will include: film directors of international stature from Fritz Lang, G. W. Pabst, and Leni Riefenstahl, to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Margarethe von Trotta, Wim Wenders, and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; pioneers of dance and physical theatre from its Weimar heyday to the doyenne of contemporary Tanztheater Pina Bausch; theatre directors Claus Peymann, Christoph Schlingensief, or Peter Zadek; and Edgar Reitz, director of the multipart series for television, Heimat.


Introduction to Theories and Practices of Performance

Weimar Dance and Physical Theatre: Expression, Entertainment and Politics

Bodies in Performance under National Socialism

Society on Stage: Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater

Screening the Real: Documentary Cinema in the Twenty-first Century

Preparatory reading: 

See Moodle site, link below.

Teaching and learning: 

The paper will draw from a pool of twelve standard modules. Four of these will be active for teaching and examining in a given year, along with Theories and Practices of Performance. Each of the modules will be taught through two hours of lectures and one seminar during the Michaelmas and Lent terms. There will also be a series of lectures devoted to theories and practices of performance, both in general and in particular relation to the media of theatre, dance, film, and television. There will be a single session to coordinate revision in the Easter term.

Students taking the paper will be expected to attend all of the lectures and seminars. Two supervisions will be offered for each topic. Supervision can also be provided for optional dissertations on relevant topics.

For general guidance on the paper, module descriptions and the reading list, please see the GE15 Moodle site here


The examination will include two questions for each of the four active modules and for theories and practices of performance. Students will be required to answer three questions in total, covering three modules, or two modules and Theories and Practices of Performance.

NB. Arrangements for 2020-21 to be confirmed.

Course Contacts: 
Prof Andrew Webber