Lili, the Danish Girl
Lili, the Danish Girl
© Anna-Maria Löffelberger

Lili, the Danish Girl

Reginaldo Oliveira

World premiere 12. March 2022 / Salzburg State Theatre


Lili Elbe was born in Denmark in 1882 – as Einar Wegener, who became a renowned landscape painter. Einar married illustrator Gerda Gottlieb and soon began to secretly pose for Gerda’s female portraits – as Lili. In the 1920s, the couple moved to Paris, because Lili hoped that she would be able to express her female side more freely there. It took several sex reassignment surgeries in Berlin and Dresden, however, until she felt she was living in the right body. Lili must have been among the first people to undergo these surgeries. A short period of societal open-mindedness that was brutally terminated in the 1930s sets the scene for this extraordinary life story.

Starting from the example of Lili Elbe, Reginaldo Oliveira explores what it means if the external appearance of one’s body is irreconcilable with the way one feels inside and of what diversity we deprive ourselves with our rigid assignments of masculinity and femininity. What kind of society might breed an inner freedom that would make it possible to break free from the corset of conventional sex assignments and allow for all our inherent possibilities to develop? Oliveira’s choreography, which repeatedly pushes the limits of conventional ballet to arrive at new forms of expression, suggests using dance itself as a means to explore the body – and, in the process, to honour a woman who has a lot to tell us.


Lili Elbe (1882–1931) wrote a book about her life story, which was published in 1932 and translated into several languages. An archive in Dresden is dedicated to preserving her memory. In 2000, David Ebershoff wrote a novel based on her story. “The Danish Girl” became an international bestseller and was filmed by Tom Hooper in 2015.

Reginaldo Oliveira, head of the ballet division, has interpreted classics of world literature including “Romeo and Juliet” and “Anna Karenina”. Together with his long-standing team of stage designer Sebastian Hannak and costume designer Judith Adam, he now employs the example of a historical character to shine a light on a virulent social issue.