Grete Wiesenthal
From the time of my first dance, from her autobiography, Der Aufstieg (1919)
Born(1885-12-09)9 December 1885
Died22 June 1970(1970-06-22) (aged 84)
Vienna, Austria
Alma materVienna State Opera
Known forEcstatic modern dance[1]
Notable workChoreography for The Blue Danube
Spouse(s)Erwin Lang 1910, div. 1923
Nils Silfverskjöld 1923, div. 1927
RelativesElsa (sister, danced with her)

Grete Wiesenthal (9 December 1885 – 22 June 1970) was an Austrian dancer, actor, choreographer, and dance teacher. She transformed the Viennese Waltz from a staple of the ballroom into a wildly ecstatic dance. She was trained at the Vienna Court Opera, but left to develop her own more expressive approach, creating ballets to music by Franz Schreker, Clemens von Franckenstein, and Franz Salmhofer, as well as dancing in her own style to the waltzes of Johann Strauss II. She is considered a leading figure in modern dance in Austria.

Early life

Grete Wiesenthal was born in Vienna on 9 December 1885, daughter of the painter Franz Wiesenthal and his wife Rosa (née Ratkovsky). She had five sisters and a brother.[2] At the age of ten she joined the ballet school of the Court Opera in Vienna, as did her sister Elsa, and from 1901 to 1907 she worked as a dancer there. In 1907, the conductor and composer Gustav Mahler gave her the leading role of Fenella in La Muette de Portici, overriding the ballet master, Joseph Hassreiter; the resulting scandal led Mahler to resign.[3][2]


Wiesenthal felt there was no artistry in the Court Opera, and developed her own approach to the Viennese Waltz of Strauss and the waltzes of Chopin,[4][5][6] linked to the Vienna Secession group of artists and innovators.[2] Her dramatic and ecstatic[1] choreography made her a leading figure in Austrian dance.[4][2][7] Meryl Cates of The New York Times characterised her approach as "swirling, euphoric movement and suspended arches of the body".[4] The Mahler Foundation described the effect of her choreography as "unbound hair and swinging dresses".[2] She called her approach "spherical dance", involving turning and extending the torso, arms, and legs on a horizontal axis, unlike the more vertical rotations of her contemporaries Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis, who were also admired at that time in Vienna. Spinning was a core element in her dance.[4] The cultural historian Alys X. George said that this transformation of the Viennese waltz from ballroom standard to an outdoor avant-garde art form electrified the city.[4]

In 1908, Wiesenthal led her sisters Berta and Elsa at Vienna's Cabaret Fledermaus [de], the highlight being her "Danube waltzes" (Donauwalzer) solo performed to Johann Strauss II's "On the Beautiful Blue Danube".[4] They moved to Berlin, working there until 1910 at the Deutsches Theater.[2][5]

They toured both in Germany and internationally, taking their dance to Munich (Artist's Theatre, 1909)[2] London (Hippodrome 1909),[4] Paris (Théâtre du Vaudeville),[2] and New York (1912, Winter Theater) where they were warmly received.[4] She choreographed and appeared in the title role of the 1910 pantomime play Sumurun at the Berlin Kammerspiel theatre, directed by Max Reinhardt with script by Friedrich Freksa [de]; a more elaborate production travelled to London in 1911 and New York in 1912.[8] Critics repeatedly commented on her delicacy of movement, charm, and femininity. However the leading ballerina Jolantha Seyfried [de], who danced Wiesenthal's works in the late 20th century, noted that the tiny movements were less well-suited to the large stage of the Vienna State Opera.[4]

In 1912–1914, she was the leading dancer in the three "Grete Wiesenthal Series" films, Kadra Sâfa, Erlkönigs Tochter, and Die goldne Fliege.[2] After a pause in her career during the First World War, she opened her own school of dance in 1919.[2]

In 1927, she took the leading role in her own ballet Der Taugenichts in Wien ("The Ne'er-Do-Well in Vienna") at the Vienna State Opera. She continued to give dance performances in Vienna and on tour. Her performances on her return to New York in 1933 however appeared dated to critics.[2][4] In 1934, she became a professor at the Academy for Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna, and in 1945 she became director of artistic dance there.[2]

Family life and legacy

Wiesenthal married Erwin Lang in June 1910, divorcing in 1923. She married the Swedish doctor Nils Silfverskjöld that same year, divorcing in 1927. She had one son, Martin.[2] In 1938, she helped Jewish friends, including the dancer Lily Calderon-Spitz, travel to Britain to escape the Nazi persecution.[1]

She is buried in the Central Cemetery in Vienna. She is revered in Austria as a pioneer of modern dance, where her choreography saw a late 20th century renaissance.[4][2] In 2020, writing on, Gunhild Oberzaucher-Schüller described her dance as "ever present".[9]

In 1981, a street in Vienna's Favoriten district was named Wiesenthalgasse after her.[10]

Works created


Die Biene, 1917 by Clemens von Franckenstein, music for a 'pantomime' choreographed by Wiesenthal




  1. ^ a b c Amort, Andrea (21 June 2020). "'Die Schäbigen sind unerschüttert': Briefwechsel von Grete Wiesenthal mit Lily Calderon-Spitz" ['The shabby are unshaken': Correspondence between Grete Wiesenthal and Lily Calderon-Spitz] (in German). Vienna Museum Magazine. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Grete Wiesenthal (1885–1970)". Mahler Foundation. 6 January 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  3. ^ de La Grange, Henry-Louis (2007). Gustav Mahler. 3. Vienna: Triumph and Disillusion (1904–1907). Oxford University Press. pp. 620–625. ISBN 978-0193151604. OCLC 916615081.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cates, Meryl (24 December 2020). "Dancing by Herself: When the Waltz Went Solo". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Grete Wiesenthal". Oxford Reference. 2020. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  6. ^ Franke, Verena (4 April 2019). "Frauen in Bewegung: "Alles tanzt" im Theatermuseum arbeitet die Wiener Tanzmoderne auf" [Women on the move: 'Everything dance' in the theater museum revisits Viennese dance modernity]. Wiener Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  7. ^ Oberzaucher-Schüller, Gunhild (6 June 2001). "Wiesenthal, Schwestern" [Wiesenthal Sisters] (in German). Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon online. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  8. ^ Toepfer, Karl (30 June 2019). "German Pantomime: Max Reinhardt: Pantomimic Grandeur". Karl Toepfer. Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  9. ^ Oberzaucher-Schüller, Gunhild (24 June 2020). "'Frei und ungebunden in leidenschaftlichen Rhythmen'" ['Free and unbound in passionate rhythms'] (in German). Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  10. ^ "Kurz notiert" [In brief]. Wiener Zeitung (in German). 18 May 2006. Retrieved 6 January 2022. Eine Wiesenthalgasse hat Wien übrigens schon jetzt, und zwar in Favoriten. Sie ist seit 1981 nach der Tänzerin Grete Wiesenthal (1885-1970) benannt.
  11. ^ Hailey, Christopher (1993). Franz Schreker: A cultural biography. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521392556.
  12. ^ Wiesenthal, Grete; Franckenstein, Clemens von (1919). Die Biene. Eine Pantomime in zehn Bildern von Grete Wiesenthal. Musik von Clemens von Franckenstein. Op. 37 [The Bee. A pantomime in ten senes by Grete Wiesenthal. Music by Clemens von Franckenstein. Op. 37.] (in German). Berlin: Drei Masken Verlag.
  13. ^ "Der Taugenichts in Wien" [The Good-for-Nothing in Vienna] (in German). Operntheater. 7 June 1930. Retrieved 6 January 2022. Ein Wiener Ballett in sechse Biltern von Grete Wiesenthal. Musik von Franz Salmhofer. Inszenierung und Choreographie von Grete Wiesenthal. Der Taugenichts: Fr. Wiesenthal
  14. ^ Wiesenthal, Grete (1919). Der Aufstieg: aus dem Leben einer Tanzerin [The Climb: from the life of a dancer] (in German). Berlin: Ernst Rowohlt Verlag. OCLC 2846278.
  15. ^ a b "Wiesenthal, Grete". Fachinformationsdienst für Darstellende Kunst. Retrieved 6 January 2022.