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Ninety and still going strong

Still teaching and inspiring students at her Camden studio, Hilde Holger - the only surviving pioneer of Central European Expressionist dance - is 90 years old this year. A rare opportunity to witness her work comes in Hilde Holger: a Celebration To Mark Her 90th Birthday (August 6, Blitz '96: South Bank). Events include a Holger master class, children's class, video-illustrated talk with the Vienna Theatre Museum film Inspirations and reconstructed solos danced by Liz Aggiss, "the Vivienne Westwood of avant-garde dance" ('Golem', 'Mechanical Ballet', 'Trout', 'Saint Sebastian') and by students ('Bauhaus', 'Hoop Dance').

Viennese-born Holger was inspired by dance teacher Gertrud Bodenweiser, who, she says, "had the vision to explore Freud, fashion, and how machines dictated to human beings during the fascinating times before the Nazis destroyed everything. She was a wonderful teacher. She never drilled people but spoke to individuals so they developed their own personal approach."

Aged 21, Holger opened The School of Art, Movement and Expressionism before being forced to flee Austria by the Nazis, who murdered her family. Escaping to Bombay, she performed and taught for 10 years, her choreography influenced by Indian sculpture.

The 1949 HinduMoslem riots forced Holger to return to Europe, where she founded a school of contemporary dance. Ending up in London, she was prompted by her son, who has Down's Syndrome, to produce 'Towards the Light', the first dance to be performed by people with learning difficulties, at Sadler's Wells in 1969.

"If I hadn't been involved with dance," says Holger, "I wouldn't have had the strength to survive the tragedy of losing my mother, father and whole family to the Nazis." She describes her teaching approach as "creative, individual, contemporary. Bodenweiser was my only teacher. Today, people change teachers like they change dresses. But if one is good, why go to another?" Sadly, her biography - The Power of Dance - still awaits an English publisher.

The 11th Blitz '96 features 10 days of (mainly free) dance events aimed particularly at children and their families. Alongside a three-day ballet course, ceilidh and ballroom dancing finale, Dance the Child International runs ballet and play dance sessions plus seminars called Creative Dance in Education and Choreography for Children.

Highlights include storytelling with Deborah Levy and Marianne Wiggins, a tap extravaganza, mock audition for a West End show, Riverdance and Arlene Phillips' Grease workshops. An Indian dance day includes a showcase of 250 young Kathak stars.

'Gigantic Tickles' is a sculptural space journey into the human body for under-12s based on soft sculptor Jan Niedojadlo's giant Eye. In a series of dance and sculpture workshops children will be invited to "Make your own brain, ears, tongue; how does your blood move around? Does your tummy make music? Do your cells dance?"

Blitz '96: July 21-August 18, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, London SE1 (tickets: 0171 960 4242).

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