Born 4 December 1951 in Bristol, United Kingdom, Vivienne Newport initially studied dance in London then continued at the Folkwang School in Essen, Germany, founded by Kurt Jooss. One of the most significant pioneers of the first German dance revolution in the 1920s and 1930s, at the Folkwang Jooss didn’t only impart the fundamentals of a modern understanding of dance; with the Folkwang Ballet, he also established a platform which served to preserve his own works as well as providing a test ground for younger choreographers. In 1968 Pina Bausch took over direction of this ensemble, which functioned as a masterclass, and soon noticed Vivienne Newport. In 1973, when the artistic director of Wuppertal’s theatres Arno Wüstenhöfer, made Pina Bausch head of dance there, she took Vivienne Newport with her to join her newly-selected ensemble. Together with Malou Airaudo, Jan Minařík, Dominique Mercy, Gabriel Sala and the others she was a pioneer of the Tanztheater Wuppertal. This was a new generation of dancers, who wanted to do more than ‘just tiptoe daintily around’, as Newport put it. Like her choreographer, she wanted to talk about human beings, their fears and desires, directly, straightforwardly and honestly. With her smoky voice Vivienne Newport was a compelling actor as well as dancer, precise and sharply delineated. From the first piece in Wuppertal, Fritz 1973 up to Bandoneon, in 1981, she gave the new dance theatre company a distinctive face and voice.
In 1981 she went her own way and launched the Company Vivienne Newport at Frankfurt’s Theater am Turm, soon making a name for herself with a distinct style, inspired by the Tanztheater Wuppertal but with themes and a style clearly her own. In the rapid succession of pieces she produced, she continually interrogated the certainties and uncertainties of identity, and the sustainability of everyday behavioural norms, always maintaining a delicate balance between dream and reality. She deliberately blurred boundaries and disrupted habitual ways of seeing. Between 1982 and 1985 she produced nine pieces just for the Theater am Turm. After that she created independent productions, mainly for the Gallus Theater in Frankfurt.
In 2004 the city cut her company's funding and she continued to work as a freelance choreographer and director. Throughout these years she retained links to the Tanztheater Wuppertal, actively involved with new productions of pieces from the repertoire, most recently in 2013/14 for the reconstruction of the Stravinsky triple bill Frühlingsopfer (Rite of Spring) to mark the fortieth anniversary of the company.
On 27 April 2015 Vivienne Newport died at the age of 63 in Berlin following a long illness.
Text by Norbert Servos
Translated by Steph Morris