Freedom Fighters: Martha Graham and Ronald Reagan Celebrate Berlin’s 750th Birthday, 1987

Wednesday, March 2, 2016
12:15 pm
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room (1219 IAB, 420 West 118th St.)

Please join the Harriman Institute and the European Institute, as part of the Program on U.S.-Russia Relations, for a talk by Victoria PhillipsLecturer in History at the European Institute and Associate Faculty at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan travelled to Berlin for the East-German led celebration of the 750th anniversary of the city. With East Germany charging that the United States was preventing peace and a united city, the West responded. From the euradite works of modern dancer Martha Graham, Holiday on Ice, and rock bands, cultural exports abounded. During the “Rock ‘im Roll” concert the day before President Ronald Reagan’s speech, with West Berlin leaders turning speakers towards the East, the youth chanted, “Tear down this wall.” Inspired by his own views and perhaps the events of the previous day, Reagan demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” In newspaper promotional shots, the First Lady wore a cowboy hat and blew out candles on a tiered cake to celebrate events. With Nancy Reagan and Martha Graham supporting one another with galas and events and personal letters in the United States, six months later Graham and her company crossed through Checkpoint Charlie and her soloist performed Graham’s famous work Frontier, the story of a pioneer woman in the American West.

Victoria Phillips is a Lecturer in History at the European Institute and Associate Faculty at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, where she received her Ph.D. She specializes in cold war history, cultural diplomacy, and international relations. She is completing her book for Oxford University Press, The Dance of American Diplomacy, which explores modern dancer Martha Graham’s State Department tours between 1955 and 1987. Her articles have appeared in publications including the New York TimesAmerican Communist History, Dance ChronicleBallet News, and Dance Research Journal. In 2006 she curated “Dance is a Weapon” in Paris and it toured France for two years. At the Library of Congress she co-curated “Politics and the Dancing Body” as well as an exhibit commemorating the 75th anniversary of American Ballet Theatre. Phillips has lectured  at Barnard College, Dartmouth College, and Emory University, and presented her work on cultural diplomacy for the Department of State, West Point Military Academy, the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations, the Society of Dance History Scholars, Tänzfonds and Haus der Kulturn der Welt in Germany, and Centre National de la Danse in France. Her primary research and oral histories are held at the Library of Congress as the Victoria Phillips Collection.