Menzler warned that "good-looking women posing on the beach, water fairies bending over reeds, fruit-grasping daughters of Eve, as one sees in so-called beauty-pictures, have nothing to do with healthy and serious body culture" (Schönheit , 41). In this statement she was criticizing not so much a false or romantic attitude toward the body as the idea of nudity as an end in itself. The belief that nudity did not depend on any disciplined activity (sports, dance, gymnastics) for its justification characterized yet another sector of Nacktkultur and perhaps represented the most open acknowledgment within the movement that Nacktkultur was an exploration of eroticism. Major propagandists for this sector included Hamburg photographer Lotte Herrlich and the clusters of writers and photographers associated with two publishing firms: Schönheit in Dresden and Parthenon in Leipzig.
Lotte Herrlich (1883–1956) seems to have inherited the prewar perception of Nacktkultur associated with the north German artist colony of Worpswede and with the neoromantic paintings of communal nudity in nature produced by Worpswede artist Heinrich Vogeler (1872–1942), who subscribed to an unorthodox, mystical vision of communism. Though photography was Herrlich's medium, her pictorialist imagery retained perceptions of nude bodies that Vogeler achieved through painting. Photography, how-
ever, verified what painting only imagined. Herrlich's interest in nude photography emerged after the birth of her son, Rolf, and all of her publications of the 1920s, beginning with the three-volume Edle Nacktheit (1920–1921) and continuing with Neue Aktstudien (1923), In Licht und Sonne (1924), Seliges Nacktsein (2 vols., 1927), Der Kinderakt und Anderes (1928), and Das Weib (1928), presented nudism as a familial activity—she constructed images of nudity permeated by an aesthetic of domesticity. She detached the image of nudity from images of labor, exercise, physical dexterity, athletics, or tests of strength. The nude body did not need sports, gymnastics, or dance to justify its manifestation. Very simple actions performed by nude bodies fascinated her: walking through woods, bending over streams, reading a book, leaning against a doorway, kneeling before a sandpile. She suffused the image of nudity with a gentleness and tranquility that was in tension with the vitality, power, and sublimated erotic excitement that other Nacktkultur propagandists ascribed to the naked body. For Herrlich, nudity was a restful, pleasurable, and—especially in relation to children and youths—playful phenomenon (Figure 12). Moreover, although nature was the scene for most of her pictures, she did include images of nude bodies (mostly women) reposing (rather than posing) comfortably in conventional bourgeois interiors.
Recent commentary tends to see in Herrlich's work a "naive," antimodern impulse because her images lack anticipated signs of modernism (Schmidt-Linsenhoff 49–51; Köhler 342–349). Yet the apparent passivity idealized in her imagery does exert an enduring command over perception. The gentle strategy Herrlich employed did not divide perception between body and movement or establish the value of each through the other—it focused perception entirely on nudity as the source of aesthetic experience. The dominant activity performed by the nude body in Herrlich's imagery was letting others see it as nakedly as possible, something we do not really see when other activities performed by the body (sex, athletics, exercises, dance) command our attention simultaneously. This attitude toward nudity was actually much more modern than we might suppose if we do not see in the image the obvious signs of modernism we expect with the disclosure of activities we consider modern. In her interior shots, Herrlich avoided altogether the secretive atmosphere of the studio, the pose, and the cosmetic artifice, with the result that the naked body appeared as an extension of nature into the timeless bourgeois home. The effect was rather startling: Herrich's photography implied that modern identity did not depend on surrounding oneself with modern objects or locating oneself within a modern scene; it depended on being comfortable (at rest) with one's nakedness before the modern spectator (the camera) and in even the most archaic and traditional settings (nature, the prewar bourgeois interior).
One of Herrlich's most interesting productions was Rolf: Ein Lied vom Werden in 30 Natur-Aufnahmen (1924). In this book, Herrlich selected thirty nude photographs she had taken of her son, Rolf, to document his evolution from boyhood to manhood. The preface, by Magnus Weidemann, claimed that "we nordic souls of light . . . are not just 'becoming,' but are 'Becoming' itself" (16). The idea that identity is more an expression of "becoming" (Werden ) than of being, he asserted, is a Nordic trait (15), and children "become more" not through the acquisition of wealth or social rank but through a "fine and noble humanity" achieved by naked living (17). Herrlich chronicled the "naked becoming" of her son, beginning with photos of Rolf as a small boy playing naked in idyllic natural settings or assuming exaggerated boyish poses in a studio. Plates 10 and 11 showed Rolf and another nude boy playing pipes and flutes. Subsequent images depicted Rolf as an adolescent and young man posing alone with a sword, a skull, a bow, a violin, a wreath, a staff, a shotput, and sometimes without props at all, in pensive or heroic poses. Plates 17 to 20 presented the adolescent Rolf with a nude woman in images that showed him writing, aiming a bow, dancing with her, and playing pipes with her. In the final image of the book, the nude Rolf advanced toward the camera in a heroic pose, with uplifted face. An aura of primeval, Teutonic mystery pervaded this female iconography of male beauty, yet the book was unmistakably modern, not only in its ambiguity and irony but also in its documentation of a woman's seeking to know the limits of her power to look at her own child.
In the 1930s Herrlich focused on photos of nude children for calendars, some of which reappeared on calendars of the 1950s. Her son became a gifted photographer himself in the late 1920s, and many of his images appeared in nudist journals published by Parthenon. But unlike his mother, Rolf displayed little enthusiasm for nude bodies in woods, meadows, and beaches. He liked the studio, creating complex, dramatic scenes with eerie and glamorous chiaroscura lighting designs. His nude models were always female. Photography was for him an art of capturing, dramatically, an abstract or emotional state. Many of his images bore allegorical titles: "Joy," "Devotion," "Melancholy," "Sleep," "Pain," "Dance," "Fear," "Vice," "Vision," "Shadow Love," "Pride" (Asa , No. 2, 1931; Das Paradies des Körpers , 1929); Sonnige Welt: Asa Sammelband No.4 , 1928). In "Ecstasy" (1931), he presented a blurred image of a nude woman on her knees arching backwards with her eyes closed. He used a very similar pose to represent "Despair" in 1928, yet the two images were not the same. The difference between ecstasy and despair lay not in the pose or body of the model but in the blurring of the image of "Ecstasy" by technical-chemical processes. In other words, the allegorized emotion lay in the act of seeing rather than in the thing seen. Other images were more blatantly theatrical or illustrative: "In the Harem," "The Cigarette," "Venetian Woman," "Dancing Bird," "Living Bronze," "Resting
Venus," and the stunning "Kimono" (Ibid.; Asa, No. 3, 1931). "Lucretia" (1931) plunged a dagger into her breast; in "Footlight" (1931), the model, kneeling, aimed a bow and arrow before an ominous, luxurious curtain. In "The Saint' (1931), she wore a black nun's gown but exposed her breasts. Apparently, then, for Rolf Herrlich the nude body provoked a wider and more contrasting range of emotions than for his mother, and the revelation of these emotions depended on images that did not neutralize the body within illusions of nature or naturalness.
Magnus Weidemann (1880–1967), the author of the preface to Rolf, developed an aesthetic similar to Lotte Herrlich's. Weidemann, a former pastor in a suburb of Hamburg, abandoned his religious vocation in 1919 for Nacktkultur, art, and participation in the youth movement. He worked with Herrlich, Hagemann, and Menzler; some of his images, appearing in Kunstgabe 4 (1921), Wege zur Freude (1926), and Deutsches Baden (1927), therefore stressed the vitality of the naked body to a greater extent than Lotte Herrlich's, although none of his images ever achieved the almost hypnotic serenity of hers. In 1925 he published probably his most interesting work, Körper und Tanz, which contained photographs of nude dancers. With these images he sought to free nude dancing from a "bourgeois atmosphere" of perfume, cigarettes, wine, money, and intoxication (11). The true nude dance, however, was "not a matter for just anyone. Anyone can learn social dances. But the rhythmic personal dance must come from an inner drive and therefore only from those who experience life. That is frequent in children. With them, the desire for life pulses in leaping and spinning, bending and stretching, and play becomes rhythm, then dance" (25). Many of Weidemann's images depicted solo female dancers, whose hair was always braided in a traditional volkisch style; he also presented pairs of nude female dancers in images with allegorical or impressionistic titles such as "Surrender" or "Seabreeze." He included no pictures of nude male dancers because man is "active in contrast to the passive-intuitive character of women. His entire bodily education points and strives toward 'das Werk'; the object is more with him than the subject" (25). Although this attitude could explain why it was so difficult to find nude male dancers in the Weimar Nacktkultur iconography, it left unexplained why dance was less of an expression of das Werk than popular imagery of nude men hurling javelins or playing tug-of-war.
Nudism, Dance, and Eroticism
Lotte Herrlich's work occupied an ambiguous zone between an activist strand of Nacktkultur, which strove to free the body from unhealthy constraints imposed upon it by industrialized civilization, and a contemplative strand, which saw the nude body as the manifestation of a cosmopolitan,
aesthetically advanced civilization. The contemplative strand valued nudity as an end in itself, but nudity was an end in itself only to the extent that the desire to be nude consciously modeled the desire to see nudity. This strand, defined by the conscious exchange of desire through nudity, bestowed a more overt erotic aura on Nacktkultur than did the activist strands. Erotic signification is always theatrical, a matter of scenes, enactments, pretenses, masks, dramatic pressures on perception. Though the contemplative strand found pleasure in the performance of the nude body in nature, it did not shun the bodily beauty created by the urban studio, the carefully staged pose, the narrativized "mood," the decorative detail, or the cosmetic supplement. But, of course, a consequence of this eclectic attitude was that it conveyed the impression that nudity in "nature" was just as much a pose or theatrical gesture as everything contrived in the secret, exclusive realm of an artist's studio in the big city. The contemplative strand aligned itself more with theatre, film, dance, and art photography than with sports, gymnastics, or communal hygiene. Nude dancing, however, made it difficult to maintain a neat division between activist and contemplative strands of Nacktkultur .
In Der nackte Tanz (1927), Werner Suhr declared that "dance in itself is erotic. Dancing is eroticism. And not just since the illusion-destroying claims of Sigmund Freud" (11). He contended that nude dancing "works most strongly in open nature" (30) and that in its strongest form nude dancing signified an intense critique of the modern mechanization of human identity: "The machine has certainly made hundreds into heroes, but millions into neurasthenics. The machine means nothing to artistic dance" (31). Yet Suhr did not believe that modern nude dancing benefited much from absorbing nude dance rituals of "primitive" peoples (Naturvölker ), especially African or African-American dance: "The Negro plays the role of the oppressed excellently, but in reality it is merely a question of [displaying] physical potency" (37). An unknown writer for the Darmstadt nudist journal Orplid (4/5, 1925) acknowledged that "erotic nude dances" among some Naturvölker led to violent ecstasies and "wild orgies," compared to which all forms of modern and social dancing seemed tame; but the author also observed that constant nudity and even nude dancing among "many" other Naturvölker did not lead to uninhibited eroticism nor to an absence of moral controls (63). He therefore concluded that responses to the naked body, including nude dancing, were not innate but rather conditioned by attitudes toward the body, a "feeling of shame" (Schamgefühl ) introduced by religious doctrines to preserve the authority of marriage as an economic, rather than aesthetic-erotic, institution: "The weaker the feeling of shame, the more marriage becomes the expression of free love, not the pressure of economic considerations and cares" (61). "A person does not acquire the feeling of shame from God or nature" (63). Another anonymous writer in
the same issue of Orplid decided that "true Nacktkultur is not only a healthy pursuit but an intensifying necessity born of a deeply religious feeling. . . . The faith in light is pure German religion" ("Lichtglaube," 54). This author proposed that movements of the nude body in nature signified the recovery of a primeval, pre-Christian, and supremely redemptive mode of Nordic "sun worship," the opposite of the death-darkened anxiety about the body inherent in Christian ideology.
But Christian sentiment and nude dancing were not entirely antithetical during these years. In 1925 Suhr commented uncertainly on Charlotte Bara's nude performance at a concert (not at a school or camp) of her Hymnis ("Der entfesselte Tanz," 243). By no means a pagan, Bara suffused this dance, like many others in her repertoire, with a romantic, Gothic-Christian piety—without, however, depriving her image of erotic glamor. In the Hamburg Nacktkultur journal Die Freude (5/6, 1928), Suhr stressed again the necessity of performing nude dances in the open air, where they would emerge "organically" from a specific environment (256). He insisted that the open-air dancer resist the use of any makeup or theatrical devices, and he denied the relevance to open-air performance of dancers such as Anita Berber, Grit Hegesa, and Jenny Hasselquist, whose styles of movement were too worldly and nocturnal to survive exposure to the sunlight. These dancers were "exotic hot-house flowers," "artistic products, whose art only seldom ignites interest outside of themselves and never glows in real sunlight" (257). The open-air dancer, he observed, is anonymous, has no need to affix names to the naked body. Heavy intellectuality, such as pervaded the work of Mary Wigman, was also alien to Suhr's concept of nude dancing: "[O]ne follows only 'the call' that comes out of the heart of nature and the human body." He felt only Edith von Schrenck possessed the "double nature" to dance in the open air and on the stage, because her eyes and style of movement revealed a strange connection to the earth and to a subterranean feel for theatre.
But in an earlier issue of Die Freude (5/4, 1928), Lotte Neelsen, who in 1924 had published a small book containing twelve photographs of a nude female dancer in an austere studio, complained that open-air nude dancing was a kind of artless folk dance that associated freedom with only one emotion: joy. Artistic dance, however, was not always the creation or expression of joy; art dominated space to produce concentration in a critical spectator ("Tanzkunst," 184). The real problem with nude dancing, she contended, was that dance lacked its own unique architecture. "It is not in the open air, with its incessant weavings and rushes, but in silent halls and ceremonial temples that the elements of the neo-classical dance will unfold as a great, sacred flame" (185). Her vision of nude dance was much more Hellenic than Nordic and more severe than exuberant. In a 1924 article for the Essen Jugendkultur journal Hellweg, Neelsen asserted that dance was most naked
(and "cold") when stripped of music. She had tried dances in which she moved to the accompaniment of her own speech instead of music, but these experiments failed; she therefore sought a way in which dance, through nudity, could become musical without depending on music ("Wohin," 399). But once nude dancing became more than or other than an expression of primordial joy, the motive for it, even when it manifested artistic ambition, remained shadowy. An unsigned editorial in Licht Luft Leben (23/6, 1925), a Dresden Nacktkultur journal, announced that nude dancing "must be a service to God, as in India and other ethnic cultures." Moreover, "the nude dancer must be above all an artist," for "as long as the danger exists that she can be confused with the demimondaine," the (female) nude dancer must continue to hide behind some final veil. This danger existed because "it comes naturally to the nude dancer," who is "an international type" from Rumania or Sweden as much as from France or Germany, that she charms a man with her presence and beauty. "But what use is a beautiful body if its owner is unable to show beautiful movement?" ("Die Nackttänzerin," 88). In other words, one could take nude dancing seriously only when it offered a mode of performance (movement) that was too complex and educated to serve as a nightclub "enticement of the mass audience."
Willi Warstat somewhat echoed this attitude in his excellent treatise on nude photography, Der schöne Akt (1929). He wrote that "educated" dancers of both sexes were "very valuable models" as long as they understood that they appeared before a camera, not on stage, and therefore avoided always putting forth their "best" poses, avoided putting powder or cosmetics on their bodies (43–44). To avoid "kitsch" effects in nude dance photography and reveal the essence of bodily movement, Warstat recommended, dance poses should occur in an uncontextualized "ideal space [i.e., a studio] without any motivating or situation-determined connection to a recognizable environment," as exemplified by the nude dance images of Danzig photographer W. Kernspecht (53). Nude dancing appeared far more frequently in photography than in theatrical performance. Claire Bauroff's wide reputation as a nude dancer seems to have derived entirely from the exquisite nude photographs of her taken in Vienna (1925) by Trude Fleischmann (Schreiber 117–119) (Figure 13); in theatrical performance, she was, if anything, innovative in her use of mysterious, androgynous costumes. Perhaps her motive in making nude images of herself was not much different from that of the famous "waltz queen" of 1910 Vienna, Grete Wiesenthal, whose then husband, Erwin Lang (1886–1962), published a book of his woodcuts glorifying her. Several showed her performing in the nude dances that she never performed nude on a stage: she wanted an idealized, symbolic image of dance, not a document of her dances (Figure 14). (Indeed, no one during the Weimar era used photography to look at dances them-
selves as innovatively as Adorée Villany had back in 1908–1911.) In any case, although Warstat disapproved of theatrical effects in nude models, his preoccupation with lighting problems, control over the camera apparatus, and manipulation of chemical processes defining the image indicated that nude photography was not far removed from theatre in being the sign of a "nature-estranged, preeminently intellectual culture, which has transplanted us into the stoney deserts of the big city and left us to perceive our bodies through fashion" (13).
A more skeptical position appeared in a 1927 comment on "Tanz und Nacktheit" in Die Tat, a cultural-political journal published in Jena. Adam Kuckhoff argued that pornographic images of nude dance were misleading, in spite of their pervasiveness, for the nude dances in nightclub revues were actually antierotic, schematic, mechanized tableaux vivants . However, he did not think nude Ausdruckstanz (expressive dance) would change the situation, because Ausdruckstanz glorified individualism through the "strongest possible physical individualization" of bodily movement itself. But "to European humanity, nudity outside of the individual erotic sphere is simply unbearable." Thus, nudity in performance did not intensify expression—it merely superimposed an expression that movement itself should already have made naked. But because Ausdruckstanz was too "sentimental" to accommodate adequately the relation between nudity and the "individual erotic sphere," revue dance nudity remained closer to the reality of the future (644). This view, however, could hardly have seemed modern to anyone who saw, even if only in the dance photographs, how "new" the body looked when it performed Ausdruckstanz movements in the nude.
Even though nude Ausdruckstanz was not much of a reality in a theatrical context, it was definitely alive in schools and clubs where the physical expression of "inner," individualizing drives depended on blurring distinctions between gymnastics and dance, between the active and contemplative strands of Nacktkultur . Some of these schools included those of Gertrud Volkenesen (Hamburg), Trude Hammer (Berlin), Ellinor Tordis (Vienna), Hertha Feist (Berlin), Helmi Nurk (Bremen), Lucy Heyer (Munich), Ida Herion (Stuttgart), Jenny Gerz (Halle), Elisabet Estas (Cologne), and the Loheland school (Fulda). But much of the evidence for nudity at these schools comes from photographs intended to document neither the dances nor the pedagogical methods associated with the schools. The nude photographs give a strong idea of the ultimate, idealized image of dance to which students should aspire, but they do little to clarify relations between nudity and movement or between nudity and circumstances of instruction. In Der moderne Tanz (1928), Rudolf Lämmel published several beautiful photographs of a nude dancer at the Elisabet Estas School of Movement in Cologne; these pictures made imaginative use of backlighting in an uncon-
textualized space to heighten the abstraction of bodily pliancy and suppleness of movement (Figure 15).
In a fascinating section of the text, Lämmel unfavorably compared the teaching methods of the Berthe Trümpy school in Berlin with those of the Estas school. Estas's background was actually in ballet, but in Vienna she became a disciple of Ausdruckstanz . As a member of an examining board, Lämmel described the day-to-day process of instruction at the school. He found impressive the very efficient use of classroom time, as well as the superior seriousness of the students, all female. Instructors required students to verbalize responses to the body and to movements; to physicalize ideas with their own bodies; to watch the teacher physicalize ideas with her body; to articulate movement choices in relation to general functions and specific expressive significance; to respond briefly to questions in writing; to explain rhythmic and musical ideas on the piano or with drums; to lead group movement studies; to critique their own movements orally and demonstrate corrections; to present improvised and prepared dances or exercises with different pieces of music, different combinations of bodies, and different aesthetic-gymnastic goals; and to display current progress in the mastery of lecture material and exercise categories of bodily movement (188–200). Like Mensendieck, Estas favored an analytical attitude toward the body, with different exercises designed to strengthen the physical and expressive power of individual body parts. Lämmel found her students much more confident, imaginative, and accomplished than those in the relaxed atmosphere of the Trümpy school, even though students in the Estas school did fewer exercises (but in greater depth) and covered far fewer themes and historical-philosophical topics. But he did not indicate where, if at all, in the Estas curriculum nudity took place. Yet even if nudity was merely a publicity image for Estas (which seems unlikely, given the all-female environment of the school and Lämmel's status as an examining male "outsider"), it was evident that one could associate nudity in dance as much with analytical rigor and refined self-consciousness as with a mystical, intuitive "call from the heart of nature."
Publications of the Verlag der Schönheit (Dresden), perhaps the largest of all Nacktkultur publishing houses, concentrated on linking nudism with a modern aestheticism, with an art of bodily display and expression. In Revolution und Nacktkultur (1919), Hugo Peters announced that in postwar Germany the nudist movement must move beyond the ambitions of the Wilhelmine era and pursue goals having more concrete national ramifications than did the goals guiding the pioneers of Nacktkultur . He conceded the difficulty of achieving the ultimate goal: a nation in which any well-behaved cit-
izen could appear naked anywhere, without reproach, a nation where it was possible for a man and a woman to stroll nude in the zoological gardens on a Sunday afternoon. In the short run, however, some goals seemed quite feasible. These included the expansion of public space available for nudist activity, an improvement in the quality of public space for nudism, the abolition of male and female sectors for unmarried nudists, the transformation of all nudist zones on public lands into "family zones," the formation of an effective network of influential individuals for the acquisition of private lands, and the promotion of Nacktkultur through performance media, especially nude dancing, for "painting, sculpture, and literature alone cannot quell the hunger for a beauty that belongs only to real, living human bodies" (9–39). Peters's largest goal, however, was to unite all nudist societies into a single, powerful force with the influence of a major political party, for "in a democratic time such as the present, the individual personality . . . in its uniqueness appears less frequent than earlier," and "only people in their collectivity" could achieve goals that would bring individual lives to a higher plane (10).
On this point, however, Peters's power of prophecy failed him. The idea of a great, unified nudist movement proved as much of an illusion as the idea of a great national consensus in mainstream Weimar politics. On the contrary, during the 1920s Nacktkultur became increasingly diverse, fragmenting into a vast subculture capable of absorbing ever stranger and more virulent forms of individuality. Josef Seitz's Die Nacktkulturbewegung (1923) therefore characterized nudism as an evolutionary (rather than revolutionary) movement toward a modern aesthetic identity, and he explained how different political parties, religious ideologies, and racial groups had responded to it and myths about it since the beginning of the century. With its many illustrations, this was perhaps the most popular book published by Die Schönheit. Die Schönheit also produced such compilation picture books as Ideale Nacktheit (9 vols., 1920–1928), Ideale Körper Schönheiten (1923), and Körper Schönheit im Lichtbild (1924), as well as Otto Goldmann's entertaining book on law and nudity in the arts, Nacktheit, Sitte und Gesetz (1924). But perhaps its most significant publication was the journal Die Schönheit , founded in 1903 by Karl Vanselow (1876–1959), the husband of Olga Desmond. From its beginning, Die Schönheit presented nudism as an extension of modernism in the visual and performing arts. In prewar issues of the journal, which Vanselow edited until 1914, symbolist and Jugendstil paintings of nude bodies, particularly the immensely popular illustrations of mythic primeval Nordic nudity by Fidus, appeared almost as models for dramatic poses assumed by nude bodies of both sexes in photographs. The journal pioneered in the publication of photographs that depicted men and women nude together, often enacting a scene that previously was merely imaginable through painting, such as The Judgment of Paris .
After the war, however, Die Schönheit 's editors placed much more confidence in photography's ability to establish its own themes. Images from film, theatre, and especially dance filled many of the journal's pages, along with photographs devised by artists quite conscious of modernist currents in that medium. Die Schönheit published photographs by Lotte Herrlich and Magnus Weidemann, but it consistently perceived the power of nude modern dance to intensify the aesthetic significance of nudism and the artistic exposure of the body. An entire issue (1926) was devoted to the group movement studies of Rudolf Laban, the only major dance theorist or dance writer of the 1920s to take any serious interest in nude male dance. Other issues celebrated the solo nude dances of Claire Bauroff or of the female members of the Loheland, Menzler, or Hagemann schools; however, these images, deprived of analytical commentary, revealed very little about what movements, music, or narrative contexts were appropriate for nude dancing and much about what constituted a "beautiful" image of woman. In the late 1920s, the journal introduced complex photocollages of nude bodies interacting with images from diverse times and places, but these hardly repudiated the impulse on which the journal was founded. From its beginning, Die Schönheit saw dance not as the object of nudism but as a metaphor for a movement of history, a motion of consciousness caused by a desire to see the body more nakedly, from a modern perspective. The body was ultimately naked when the desire to see it, a completely aesthetic phenomenon, was also naked. By the late 1920s, this intersection between the desire to be naked and the desire to see nudity entailed, for Die Schönheit , a collage mode of signification that superseded the power of any single image or narratively sequenced movement to represent the historically evolved power of nudity to make us see many things "at once," besides the nude body that is the kinetic source of collage perception.
The activities of Die Schönheit expanded significantly in the 1920s. It published numerous books on marriage, sexuality, eroticism, physical education, nudism, and art, including a huge series devoted entirely to the works of Fidus; it packaged slide-show lectures on Nacktkultur; it marketed its own lines of stationery and art supplies; it operated a large bookstore, printing plant, and mail-order business in Dresden controlled by Richard Giesecke; it maintained branch offices in Vienna, Berlin, Munich, and Leipzig; and in 1925, partly because of the great success of the film Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit (and partly because this film did not give an entirely satisfactory view of modern body culture), Die Schönheit began to finance motion picture productions with the Emelka Studio in Munich. In 1925, under the direction of Dr. Friedrich Möhl and with the advice of Dr. Paul Lissmann, leader of a Munich Nacktkultur society, Emelka released three films—Licht, Luft, Leben; Die Grazien—Blüten der Körperkultur und Frauenschönheit; and Insel der Seligen , an adaptation of Wilhelm Heinse's 1787 novel, Ardinghello , about
a Mediterranean beauty utopia—and then launched a series of "Körperkultur im Film" books.
However, Die Schönheit did not rely entirely on imagery to transmit the emancipatory message of Nacktkultur . The monthly journal Licht Luft Leben (1904–1932), edited by Otto Goldmann, contained few pictures and many, many words, in Gothic print, densely crammed into double-column pages. The journal featured essays on nudist theory, ethnography, anthropology, sexuality, race hygiene, birth control, bathing, gymnastics, sports, and cosmetology; reports on nudist activities throughout Germany and in other countries; reports (often satiric) of legal and moral challenges to nudism throughout the world; reviews of books, films, lectures, gymnastic demonstrations, dance concerts, and art exhibits; summaries of reports from other journals; advertisements for books, photography supplies and services, vitamins, hiking shoes, rare-edition erotica, spas, cosmetics, chocolates, art objects, dance and gymnastic schools, the Breitkopf und Härtel complete edition of Richard Wagner's works, and the nude dance photography of Germaine Krull; and heaps of personal advertisements: "Christmas Wish. Music-loving worshipper of beauty (female), 32, seeks exchange of thoughts with ideal-inclined friend of beauty (male). Write 'Beethoven,' 4189 Verlag der Schönheit." Licht Luft Leben still makes fascinating reading, not least because of its bibliographic data and commentary on the avalanche of German books on body culture produced in this period but also because of its highly compressed presentation of information, indicating the huge dimensions of the Nacktkultur movement, and its appropriative range of historical, philosophical, cultural, commercial, and aesthetic interests. The political identity of German modernism generally, not just nude dance, evolved out of the value constellation and cultural perspectives articulated by Die Schönheit and publishers similar to it rather than out of the party-driven utopianism defining more overtly political media, which tended to detach human identity from any serious focus on bodies.
The ideology of Die Schönheit obviously acknowledged Nacktkultur as an expression of eroticism, but it presented eroticism in terms of an idealized code of beauty that filtered out "dark," highly enigmatic, or melancholy relations between desire and nudity. The Parthenon publishing house in Leipzig was perhaps the most daring and erotically conscious promoter of Nacktkultur until 1933. The controlling personality at Parthenon was Ernst Schertel (1884–1956), one of the really fascinating figures of Weimar cultural history. Nacktkultur interested the Parthenon cult insofar as nudism was an aspect of its central obsession, the exposure of erotic desire and pleasure. Schertel gathered photo images of the nude body from a wide array of
sources: the nature worshippers, the dance world, the sport and gymnastic cults, sexual medicine, the Mensendieck movement, the film industry, and the theatrical milieu of the art photography studios. The complicated book series issued by the publishing house thematized the imagery in relation to various social, historical, religious, aesthetic, and, above all, psychological issues raised by nudity. But, unlike other Nacktkultur propagandists, the Parthenon cult seemed to accept that nudity could never transcend its association with "unnatural" desires, perverse pleasures, and secret activities. Thus, a number of books in the various series purported to show relations between particular images of the nude body and distinctly "demonic" desires and "strange" drives.
Psychoanalytic theory made a deep impression on Schertel, and he more than any other Nacktkultur theorist accommodated nudity as an expression of perversion and deviancy. Nakedness for him was neither a natural nor an unnatural condition but a projection of fantasy with a great power to surprise regardless of its context. But this power of surprise depended on the perception that nudity was the revelation of something more than a consciously formed ideal—it was the revelation of unconscious desires that were hidden from the body that felt them. Schertel understood nudity as the exposure of a complex, primal exchange of power between seen and seeing bodies. Nudity was not will formation, as Giese proposed, but a mode of communicating deeply ingrained structures of domination that manifested themselves through comparative pleasure relations between bodies. In the journals Skarabäus, Pelagius, Sonnige Welt , and Soma and in the Asa albums, Schertel published, in addition to erotic drawings by artists such as Rudolf Schlichter, Christian Schad, and Helga Bode, nude photographs by, among others, Frantisek Drtikol, Rolf and Lotte Herrlich, W. Kernspecht, Trude Fleischmann, Kitty Hoffmann, Wolf Haarhaus, Madame D'Ora, Manasse, Hilde Kupfer-Meyer, Edith Barakovic, Richard Giesecke, and Marta
Vietz, whose bizarre imagery of dancers has only recently been rediscovered. The stress on the revelation of unconscious (fantasy) significations meant that nudity blurred distinctions between fictive, or imaginary, signs and verifiable signs; thus, the journal Asa published novels as well as "scientific" works, and Parthenon as a whole appropriated imagery of nudity from an enormous range of sources, including artworks that depicted bodies in ways that photography could not or dared not.
The success of Parthenon was such that the firm pursued a project far larger in scale than anything attempted by its numerous book series or by any of the encyclopedic luxury editions of eroticism introduced by other Weimar-era publishers: Schertel's gigantic, four-volume Der Flagellantismus als literarishes Motiv (1929–1932) and its equally vast supplemental volumes, Der erotische Komplex (1932). Ostensibly an analysis of sadomasochism in literature, these volumes actually constituted a colossal obsession with articulating the history and aesthetics of relations between pleasure and domination originating in infantile "complexes." The volumes contained a vast number of photos and paintings by male and female artists, and many of these still retain considerable power to shock (Figure 16). For Schertel, the sight of nudity penetrated deeply into the psyche and incited a dark urge to transgress a limit on pleasure imposed by some assertion of otherness. Transgression invariably entailed violence, or, more precisely, manifestations and magnitudes of pleasure that always surprised the body that experienced or witnessed them. The sadomasochistic activities performed by nude bodies did not verify any ideal; rather, they were symbolic enactments or models of a power dynamic, an inescapable cognitive reality that unconsciously controlled all difference between bodies and thus constructed identity itself. From this perspective, nude dance was always a sublimation or fetishizing of a repressed power-pleasure relation—which can achieve ever more naked and dominant forms of expression—between seen and seeing bodies. Schertel made this point somewhat more overtly in Tanz, Erotik und Bessessenheit (1928).
In a sense, then, Schertel's project signified a profound disillusionment with Nacktkultur as it was pervasively and diversely represented to the late 1920s. Only immense, relentless, and luxurious documentation of the sadomasochistic basis of pleasure and identity could penetrate the illusion that nudity was a sign in tension with repression rather than a melancholy sign of it and of a largely tragic struggle to see what the mask of nakedness hides: the "complex" of desires (to dominate, to submit) that begins the formation of power and identity. Of course, a society on the verge of embracing Nazi fantasies of utopia would hardly find such an intense, sobering view of the body helpful in recovering a long-absent sense of innocence and certainty about the nature of otherness and difference. But what other society has even produced, let alone tolerated, such a monumentally serious
exploration of why the naked body can never escape provoking a highly ambivalent emotional response?
Schertel's involvement with dance was an element of an astonishingly diverse career, but he had already identified his ambitions before the war. In his 1911 doctoral dissertation on Schellings Metaphysik der Persönlichkeit , paraphrasing Schelling, he articulated a theoretical perspective that detached the concept of personality from rational empiricism:
[T]he causation of the infinite (absolute) self cannot be constructed as morality, wisdom (in the sense of rules to live by), and so forth, but only as absolute power —moral law has meaning and significance only in relation to a higher law of being . . . and the highest law of infinite being is accordingly: be (or rather, become) absolute—identical with your self (no longer separated into ideal and real). . . . Strive to be absolutely free . . . strive through freedom to expand your freedom to its absolute, uncircumscribed power (54–56). . . . The single, punctuated self, which as such indicates no personality in a higher sense, is merely an empirical median point of a finite, empirical world-sphere (77).
For Schertel, however, it was clear that, in relation to a modern personality, concepts such as the absolute and the infinite are above all obsessions, exhaustive accounts of labyrinthine "erotic complexes." After receiving his doctorate from the University of Jena, he apparently traveled on archaeological or ethnographic expeditions in Africa and the Near East. His first book, Tanz und Jugendkultur (1913), is now incredibly difficult to locate. In 1917 he published a "novel of contemporary Egypt," Die Katakomben von Ombas; at that time, he ran a publishing house in Munich, Wende, which also produced his Weltwerdung (1919), a sort of cosmic-expressionist poem; Die Sünde des Ewigen (1918), a horror thriller; and Magie der Leiber (1921), a study of occult properties ascribed by different cultures to the body. In 1922 Wende got into the movie business by producing Schertel's script for Das Blut der Schwester , an "occult sensations film" with a macabre story combining horror, incest, science fiction, and crime-thriller imagery. Meanwhile, he pursued his interest in erotic photography and dance and published his hauntingly erudite book, Magie: Geschichte, Theorie, Praxis (1923). Soon disenchanted with the fortunes of Wende, he moved to Stuttgart, where in 1925 he formed an expressionistic dance company, Traumbühne Schertel, which gave performances, as far as I can determine, in Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremburg, Zurich, Vienna, and Hamburg until 1927, when his work for Parthenon perhaps absorbed all his energies. In Stuttgart, he was apparently a friend of the Ida Herion dance school.
Schertel cultivated a monumentally ecstatic vision of modernity: "The tendency of all living power is expansion, absorption, appropriation across all possible limits . . . borderlessness" (Bedürfnis, 84). But he linked ecstatic experience to an encounter with an occult aura of the body pervaded with erotic sensations. "Ecstasy, the transcendence of profane representations of the world," he claimed, "is the foundation of all magic, for only in ecstasy does one gain contact with one's demons, which signify the source of all magic capabilities" (Magie: Geschichte, 107). By magic, however, Schertel meant that "we must perceive our bodies as seismographs of a cosmic dynamic" and realize that "there is no consciousness without a body" (60–61). But sport and gymnastics were "not equivalent" to occult dancing, for these failed to develop the "deeper regions of the inner body structure" or the "demonic" dimension (93). His 1911 dissertation on Schelling's metaphysics had persuaded Schertel that the development of a powerful, unique personality depended on a presence that dissolved conventional differences between ideal and real forms as incarnated by a blurring of distinction between the physical and metaphysical in human actions. "At the moment of ecstasy, the self and its environment are transformed—the self becomes a cosmic player on a cosmic stage" ("Traumland," 2). Such a presence obviously implied a distinctive perception of the body.
Contemporary religious ideologies were no longer capable of disclosing the metaphysical significance of identity because of their devaluation of the body. "All religions are a tyranny of spiritual complexes. Complex-free people have no religion. Religion is a form of great hysteria. . . . Woman and religion flow together in unity" (Das Weib ). From the occult perspective, "the goal is not release from the body, but transfiguration of the body and bodies—it is then that the blue flower of romanticism—the symbol of world mystery—blooms out of the wild garden of bodies" (Irrgarten ), for only "when the realm of the body achieves a new spirituality [Beseelung] and the realm of the soul a new carnality [Körperhaftigkeit] is the ground prepared for a new religion on its old basis" (Nacktkultur ). For Schertel, dance was the optimum medium for the occult expression of bodily presence, but by dance he meant an "Ur-Kunst," or primordial, art that induced and was the result of a deep erotic trance. "All ur-dances are trance dances" ("Tanz Erotik Okkultismus," 7), and such dances occurred to the extent that the body moved according to completely unconscious energies: "What we call the self or personality or the soul is nothing but the conscious disclosure of transactions and displacements of tensions enacted inside our bodies. It is only a limited set—a so-called complex—of these transactions which reach our consciousness in conditions of waking life or achieve perceptible materialization in movement. But the great majority of these transactions abide in the so-called unconscious or subconscious and become manifest only
through conditions of somnambulism or ecstasy" (4). The most powerful forms of ecstatic trance, he proposed, result from the expression of repressed erotic love. Sexual attraction arose from illusions, fantasies, and "what we call love is only a special form of trance or rapture" (8); moreover, "every love is a sucking out of blood, a nurturing from the flesh of the beloved: every love is the devouring of a person" (Sünde, 87).
Art was the supreme manifestation of fantasy or unconscious energy and therefore the most complex form of trance, with dance being the primordial art. A superior unity of dance, eroticism, and occultism produced a grander, unified projection of "art, love, and religion, the highest values humanity can represent" ("Tanz Erotik Okkultismus," 8). "We live in an era which has rediscovered the body," Schertel asserted; in his case, rediscovery was practically synonymous with the initiation of a new religion of the body nakedly and unashamedly suffused with eroticism. That his Dionysian aesthetic creed might become confused with pornographic hedonism did not trouble him much, "for art is from the beginning amoral and even anti-moral, since it represents the breakthrough of the cultured self ["Kultur-Ich"] over the civilized self. At its root, all art is pornography and serves the glorification of 'indecency' and the stimulation of 'desire'. . . . The pornographic moment signifies the origin and axis of all cultural values" ("Pornographie," 69, 71). More specifically:
[O]ur culture is a labor-culture, not a luxury-culture, in spite of all the not insignificant luxuries acquired through labor and produced by it. Our excitation-center has been displaced and we no longer experience a cultic-fantasy but a technical-constructive imagination. . . . Our culture is technical-innovative; old cultures were cultic-imaginative. Even the rococo belongs to the cultic, to the aesthetic-theatrical in the form of an open lasciviousness. It is a luxuriously narcotized culture. . . . The rococo is, like all orgiastic cultures, aristocratically oriented. This results from the nature of orgasm, for the orgiastic person always needs a given material basis to make orgasm live and to create an object out of his rapture (340 mal, 34, 39).
But the objectification of these ideas into a specific dance practice remained shadowy, to put it mildly. In 1904 a woman named Madaleine enchanted audiences in Munich by performing dances under hypnosis while Hans Pfitzner accompanied her on the piano. Although she had no dance training at all, she moved as if "a magical command had released her body from earthly laws and gravitational powers" and created an apparition "without will" yet strangely compelling (WS, 104–109; Schrenck-Nötzing; Brandstetter). At that time, Schertel resided in Munich, so it is possible that he saw Madaleine perform and derived some inspiration from her. But his idea of trance dancing was hardly so genteel. He apparently had no systematic dance training, yet by 1919 he had begun to initiate an eleven-year-old
Finnish girl, Inge Frank, into his method of dance instruction (Soma 5, 1926, 132). It is not clear at all, however, what this method was. In 1926 he remarked vaguely that "in the modern dance, the body speaks its most puzzling and darkest language" and "is an offering of the body under the radiance of a magic sun which orbits beyond daily consciousness and arises out of the dark sea of bodily depths" ("Der neue Tanz," 22). Later the same year, he observed that the dance technique that releases the "irrational depths of the unconscious" is "not identical with traditional gymnastics, which in spite of its commendable value still over- stresses the development of particular muscle groups" ("Tanz und neue Bildung," 106). A few months later, he repeated his claim that dance, "the most primordial and mysterious of all arts," brings dark vibrations of the unconscious into an "ecstatic light" ("Tanz und Ueberschwang," 272). Then, in 1927, he explained that trance dancing involved a total aesthetic environment, mysterious deployments of light and color, a "twilight or darkness through music and exciting noise, through fantastic costume, through the introduction of narcotics" ("Tanz Erotik Okkultismus," 8).
Schertel's failure to articulate with any precision the actual movements, structure, or pedagogy for his dance aesthetic was hardly unusual for the dance discourse of his era. He nevertheless was unique in supposing that the otherwise ineffable mysteries of ecstatic dancing revealed themselves through photography. Between 1919 and 1925, he made many photographs of Inge Frank and other dancers, only a few of which he dared to publish in the quasipornographic journals he edited for Parthenon. Schertel did not believe one could induce the trance state through a revival of archaic, incantory, sarcedotal rituals; rather, he supposed that the elaborate process of photographing dances produced the conditions of trance, which were more difficult to obtain on a stage. Away from the conventions of live-audience approbation but before the critical scrutiny of the camera, dancers were free of the inhibitions operating in the theatre or even in nature. All of his dance photography took place in a studio, where he presided as a kind of Svengali, inspiring his performers to explore the orgiastic dimensions to bodily movement. For Schertel, who otherwise did not employ any techniques of hypnosis, bringing dance into an ecstatic light entailed photographing the bodily expression of desires that become visible only through the peculiar circumstances of having one's picture taken. The image of the dance itself was less significant than the intricate and somewhat clandestine process of making the image. Male and female dancers often displayed much nudity, but Schertel also delighted in the use of bizarre, ornamental costumes, veils, expressionistic decors, and chiaroscura lighting effects. Moreover, he worked with several photographers in constructing his dances and experimented with purely photographic techniques, such as superimpositions, to represent the trance.
Another technique for dissolving inhibitions was to have nude dancers move in relation to each other with their eyes closed.
The Traumbühne Schertel (1925–1927) contained eight dancers: Hermann Gross, Wanda Roder, Billy de Lares, Inge Frank, Helga Baur, Toni Erick, and two unidentified female dancers. So far, the most detailed description of a performance by this group comes from Hanns Heinz Rosmer, who reviewed a Munich performance for Der Blitz (7 September 1925, 4). Rosmer indicated that what he saw was neither a ballet nor a program of discrete little dances but a "ballo furioso" composed of "curious feelings, manic impulses, and excitations," which released "pulsations of the darkest and most incendiary manner." In other words, quite unusual for the time, the company performed a single, large work unified not by a story or characterizations but by an abstract emotional structure. At first, the dancers moved "as if asleep, quite naked," in glaring green spotlights. A strange, unknown music vibrated: "a music like sounds of nature, like wind rustling through the forest, like distant moaning, like sweet curls of color. And suddenly a climax, a thunder, a shaking, a voluptuously tortuous shrieking and clanking. Gongs roar and drums rattle. The bodies hurl themselves into a fantastic intoxication, crawl over each other, actually suck each other, their eyes wide open like dark holes . . . primeval wildness, stormy upheaval, and a violent red glaring on the bodies." A "powerful drumroll" abruptly produced "the deepest silence"; then a "gentle white light" began to "flow over the bodies. The music sounded like an organ and sobbed like a nightingale's song." The female dancers rose and appeared to hover over the stage, their bodies glittering with diamond droplets and silver tassels.
Although Rosmer was enthusiastic about the piece, Schertel seems not to have cared much about gaining the interest of conventional dance audiences or critics, for most performances of the Traumbühne Schertel occurred in rented theatres before invited audiences. Schertel regarded the company as a completely experimental unit, more useful in developing an audience for Parthenon publications than in building one for modern dance itself. But even if he was simply an aristocratic dilettante cultivating an expensive and perhaps prurient hobby, Schertel's dance cult was significant as an expression of a virulent, redemptive irrationality associated with both dance and modernity. It is difficult to imagine dance in any other era inspiring the magnitude of pure experimentation achieved by Schertel, who attempted large-scale abstract projects with an ensemble of eight dancers (including at least two males) and integrated dance performance into an ambitious cultural enterprise involving photographic "trance," nudism, startling musico-scenographic effects, the dissemination of pornography, and the construction of an ecstatic, paganistic religion of the body. And he pursued all this without a school, a clearly identifiable style of movement, or a conventionally understood audience for dance.
In early Parthenon publications, Schertel made friendly reference to the dance school of Ida Herion in Stuttgart, which had been operating since 1912, but his relation to this institution remains very obscure. Indeed, knowledge of Ida Herion herself seems confined to two books of photographs featuring her students, Adolphi and Kettmann's Tanzkunst und Kunsttanz (1927) and Isenfels's Getanzte Harmonien (1926). Although the books presented the work of quite dissimilar photographers, both displayed some of the most elegant images of dance produced in the Weimar Republic, and the credit for this elegance was due in no small degree to the dance aesthetic itself. But despite her enthusiasm for nudity, Ida Herion cultivated a concept of dance that differed significantly from Schertel's.
Of the sixty-four photos taken by Adolphi and Ohlen, only two were taken outside, and only one depicted a group; the rest showed unidentified solo dancers before an uncontextualized white background. The order of the images appears arbitrary, without obvious narrative significance. Although total nudity occurs fairly often, the most peculiar aspect of the image series is the posing of dancers in costumes of a theatrical nature: diaphanous or veil-like skirts and dresses, satiny tunics, metallic bikinis, flamboyant pajamas, shiny or feathery headbands (Figures 17–19). Only two images show a male dancer, and he wears a strange, side-slit gown, neither a robe nor a dress but a kind of glamorous, sleeveless toga. The pictures indicate how costume shapes the identity of movement, for every movement in every image could just as well accommodate another costume on a different dancer. The costumes project a purely ornamental effect that does not readily signify a particular sociocultural context. Yet neither do the costumes signify the conventional exoticism found in the work of dancers who sought to incorporate decorative elements from other cultures, such as China (Grit Hegesa), Egypt (Sent M'ahesa), Bali (Gertrud Leistikow), Korea (Anita Berber), Persia (Yvonne Georgi), ancient Greece (Lotte Neelsen), and Arabia (Joachim von Seewitz). Nor do the costumes assume the futuristic, robotic abstractionism associated with some "machine" dances by, for example, the Bauhaus, Vera Skoronel, and Gertrud Bodenwieser. Nevertheless, the costumes are uniquely modern in their elegant sleekness and sensuality, their luxurious pliancy, their subordination to the supple contours of the body. The beauty of the bodies is considerable and completely independent of the costumes: both nudity and movement work to produce the perception that it is above all the beauty of the body that justifies the dynamic impulse toward dance.
All 120 photos in the Isenfels book situate dancers within a specific context: namely, a luxurious neoclassical villa and garden. The number of groups shots is quite large, and the number of pictures including male
dancers is much greater than in Tanzkunst . The same sorts of costumes appear, as do the same sorts of undulant movement tropes. But now the image of dance seems cultically aristocratic, partly because of the dramatic organization of group shots; partly because of the effort to contrast radiant bodies against hard, stoney surfaces, tiled floors, or lush foliage; and partly because of the photographer's desire to observe the dancers from unusual angles or distances, thus establishing for the bodies a dynamic, expansive relation to space. Photos show dancers tight against stone walls, on stone stairways, before large stone doorways or arches, along colonnades, in vast ballroom interiors, beside pools, on stone ambuscades, in garden paths or meadows, around pillars, and on hillsides (Figures 20–22). Chiaroscura effects are largely absent, as are any concessions to the grotesque, but ambiguity of sexual identity pervades several images of male dancers, who occasionally wear the strange togas and assume only poses that are not exclusive to them. That the dancers, rather than the photographer, determined this seductive imagery of bodies in space is evident by examining Isenfels's other book, Gymnastik als Lebensfreude (1926), which depicted children and young women at the Zopport school in Osterstrand on the Baltic seacoast. Here the imagery of health and joy is much more generic and submissive to the beachfront authority of nature.
Both the Adolphi and Isenfels books indicate that, unlike Schertel, Herion linked nudism and ecstatic dance not to the recovery of an atavistic, primordial state of freedom but to the achievement of an aristocratic freedom or remoteness from any familiar place, be it wilderness, the bourgeois studio, or the conventional theatre stage. Ecstasy resulted from the elegantly poised beauty of the dancing body, its ability to create its own beautiful world. Hers was an intensely eroticized image of dance. The Isenfels book went through seven editions, so we may assume that this dance eroticism appealed to a much larger audience than the one Schertel reached or, indeed, than that reached by the great majority of dance books.
Problems of Nacktkultur Dance
This account of Nacktkultur is hardly comprehensive, but it does indicate the range of attitudes toward the naked body circulating in early-twentieth-century German culture. Nacktkultur was not a monolithic or unified ideology but a constellation of choices about the meaning a nude body could project within German society. Having a tenuous pedagogical relation to particular strands of Nacktkultur, modern dance easily tended to situate itself within this constellation whenever it employed nudity. In other words, the relations nude modern dance constructed between bodies derived more from the choices embodied by Nacktkultur than from those
embodied by other modes of representing nudity, such as painting, anthropology, or even erotic behavior itself. The choices embodied by Nacktkultur regarding the meaning of nudity controlled the presence of nudity in modern dance in several ways: 1) aesthetic nude modern dance for a critical audience was overwhelmingly solo dancing, with group nude dancing confined to a private milieu of pedagogic exercises that prepared bodies to fulfill an ideal that was more than a condition of nakedness; 2) nude dancing in the private milieu, though documented abundantly and aesthetically by photography, emerged above all as a therapeutic benefit to the dancer rather than to the spectator; 3) the therapeutic value of nude dance depended on denying the serious erotic significance it rather obviously possessed, so that the motive for dancing nude was free of a more complex desire to see nude dancing; 4) in relation to the hygienic and eugenic ambitions of Nacktkultur, nude dancing consistently appeared as a feminine activity, as a choice for (young) women, not men; and 5) nude dancing projected an enigmatic image of the body that was different from that projected by nude gymnastics or athletics because dancing in itself blurred distinctions between "natural" and "theatricalized" ("unnatural") conditions of bodily activity.
Of course, one may find examples outside this range of controls over nude dancing, but they are so unique that they demonstrate the stability of the controls. More significant, such controls perhaps better explain why nude dancing did not occur more frequently than why it emerged at all. In any case, the result was a confused and highly compromised perception of how the relation between nudity and dance created a modern, liberated identity. The high-society arts and literary magazine Der Querschnitt (Berlin), for example, promoted modern culture by publishing, often without any commentary, images of nude women dancers side by side with pictures of sports, theatre, film, and society personalities, modernist paintings of nudes, stills from theatrical and film productions, photos of people from exotic or primitive cultures, scenes of modern urban life, and dancers who were not naked. Readers apparently appreciated the idea that both nudity and dance operated within a constantly recombinable montage of modern images; but, then, both nudity and dance remained subordinate to the authority of the image to define modernity.
Mary Wigman and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Ambivalence toward the image of the nude dancer assumed a curious expression in Mary Wigman, the most significant German dancer and choreographer of the 1920s. Though she apparently had some experience of the obscure nude dance experiments conducted by her mentor, Rudolf Laban, at his Ascona colony during World War I, Wigman had no illusions
about the potential of nude dance to produce regressive misperceptions rather than a modern, liberated identity; from 1918, when she achieved her first major success, none of her dances included nudity. For her, nudity did not signify modernity. Governing her aesthetic was a complicated expressionistic metaphysics that implied that movement, not flesh, makes the body naked (and therefore modern)—movement reveals contradictory energies hidden within the body. To call attention to movement, Wigman was fond of veiling bodies through the use of masks, hoods, capes, gownlike costumes, and bold contrasts between light and shadow; then, by favoring entirely percussive sounds, she limited the power of music to weaken visual perception of movement. Yet she does not seem to have minded at all that between 1926 and 1932 the great expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938) did a number of beautiful watercolor sketches of her students rehearsing dances nude or in transparent garments, although Wigman never rehearsed in this manner (Ketterer 100–102). As an expressionist, Kirchner painted more what he felt than what he saw, and he felt that dance made the body naked in such a way as to make his own desire naked, but it was a desire to see dance rather than the bodies of dancers. As Ketterer puts it, Kirchner's numerous dance images from this period constituted "efforts to free himself from the actual model and arrive at a more geometric abstracted" perception of the body (Kirchner 212).
Nude dancers were a subject of Kirchner's art as early as 1911, but perhaps his most ambitious statements on this subject were the numerous sketches he submitted between 1928 and 1937 for a monumental, but never implemented, mural complex in a section of the Folkwang Museum in Essen. In the early phase of the project, Kirchner envisioned a portion of the mural complex containing a large triptych of sport, dance, and bath, with many male and female figures, all nude, in panoramic, alpine, or Rhenish landscapes fermented by the eerie glow of blue, purple, white, and pink suns. He planned to integrate the triptych into a mural that presented large images of, perhaps, labor, revolution, the past, the future, the will. But around 1930 his interest focused more and more, and then exclusively, on a monumental image of dance, with male and female dancers, all nude, in powerfully abstract contexts, moving entirely through sunlight itself or, rather, through vivid spectrum bands of refracted light (Froning). These "Color Dance" sketches amplified ideas the artist had pursued in his images of the Wigman dancers: the colors of the light meshed with the colors of the dancers' bodies so that, for example, blue, purple, or orange bands of light "reflected" the blue, purple, or orange flesh of the dancers, as if their bodies were translucent, dynamic vessels of light. The bodies themselves were mere black outlines, hardly individuated by line or even movement, a point Kirchner further reinforced by depicting dancers in pairs performing iden-
tical, mirrored movements (Figure 23). In a couple of sketches, he set off the colors dramatically with large patches of black or gray wash. He never completed the project because of the museum director's failure to commit to it. It is not clear why, although the director (Gosebruch) did not treat the work of other artists for the museum with such protracted caution. Kirchner regarded dance as an expression of ecstatic nudity. By nudity, however, he meant not just the display of flesh but the display of light within the body and the display of otherwise invisible color hidden within light. The nude body was a kind of prism that refracted light, and dance was the optimum expression of this kinetic interaction of light and flesh. Color, not movement or physiognomy, was what ultimately individuated bodies and differentiated them from each other.
Wigman's enthusiasm for Kirchner's work obviously transcended a major contradiction between her own and the artist's perception of relations between movement, nudity, and light. But this contradiction was perhaps more apparent among her students than one might expect. A Dutch woman, Letty Thom, was a student at the Wigman school in Dresden between 1925 and 1930. Her extensive scrapbook-diary of this period is now in the possession of Wilfried van Poppel of Amsterdam. The diary contains extensive notes on her school work, many clippings and photos, as well as personal reflections on dance and art generally. From Wigman she learned such creeds as "Without ecstasy, no dance! Without form, no dance!" and "Out of the 'too much' comes gradually a simple, clear 'only so'" (1930). She made no mention of nude dancing in the classroom or on the stage, but she did paste in numerous photos of nude women clipped from dance, gymnastic, and art journals, and she included one uncaptioned photograph of herself nude, kneeling in a woodland grove and smiling at the camera. The student was occasionally critical of her "demonic" teacher and other dancers, but the images of nudity constituted a very subtle criticism: movement is not enough to construct or signify an ecstatic identity—nudity is necessary.
Wigman's mentor, Rudolf Laban, perhaps the most significant teacher of bodily movement in this century, cultivated a more obscure attitude toward the relation between nudity and modernity. It is obscure largely because we understand his attitude through the vague documentation done by his disciples. We know that he made efforts to link nudity and eurhythmic "development" of the body at his workshops for men and women at Ascona (1913–1917) and, to an even less adequately documented degree, that these experiments coincided with experiments in erotic experience (Wolfensberger 102–117). After the war, however, Laban became
preoccupied with detaching movement from the bodies that performed it. He realized that an expanded value for dance depended on theorization of human movement, not on theorization of dances or dancers. His great task, then, was to construct an elaborate vocabulary, a movement grammar (Labanotation), that enabled one to identity the signifying potential of the body, the total range of signs the human body was capable of making.
Meanwhile (1925–1930), his disciples in various German cities absorbed the new doctrines of the master without abandoning the Lebensreform impulse of the Ascona period. In Hamburg, Albrecht Knust conducted movement exercises with all-male groups of nude dancers, and in Berlin, Hertha Feist, a Nacktkultur enthusiast, was utterly unique among women dance instructors and choreographers in exploring nude movement with all-male ensembles, although she avoided such nudity in her ambitious dance concerts for the public. In Hamburg, Jenny Gertz supervised nude group, or "choir," exercises involving male and female children aged five to fourteen. Naked, the children improvised or created solo and group dances meant to imitate the movement of flowers, snowflakes, insects, birds, sunbeams, clouds, storms, grotesques, and forest rustlings; the instructor herself was nude, and sometimes nude dancing lasted all day long and into the night. These nude dances always took place outdoors because, "unfortunately," children were not permitted to perform nude in the exercise studio of the public school where Gertz taught (Gertz, "Tanz und Kind"). Gertrud Schnell, Toni Vollmeyer, and Martin Gleisner apparently also introduced nudity at the Laban schools in which they taught. Perhaps some of the Laban disciples were even more radical in their practice of nudity than was Adolf Koch, but the documentation of these adventures is insufficient to produce a serious understanding of them.
Public consumption of these nude performances remained largely confined to photographs, some of which appeared in Die Schönheit . In Gymnastik und Tanz (1926), Laban included numerous photos of nude men and women taken at various Laban schools (and at the Menzler and Hagemann schools), but he did not even mention nudity in this lengthy discussion of method in bodily education. Nevertheless, it seems that Laban and his disciples, in dramatic contrast to Wigman, considered the detachment of movement from the body dependent upon the nakedness of the body that performed the movement. This was a startling observation only because it implied that movement lost its power to signify gender when the gender of the body performing movement was exposed. For Laban, the problem of labeling dance as a feminine activity derived from the perception (or misperception), by both sexes, that female bodies veil a unique mystery that aesthetic movement reveals or expresses. However, the genderless vocabulary of Labanotation suggested that the greatest source of mystery was actually movement itself, which bodies of either sex could appropriate without
compromising sexual difference. Nude performance of dance ostensibly proved this point. But a problem with Laban's system was that, although it provided a comprehensive vocabulary of movement, it did not theorize syntactic relations between movements. Therefore, it was still not clear if sexual difference controlled specific relations between movements or if aesthetic syntactification in itself was a feminine activity.