Germany produced more systems of dance and bodily expressivity during the Weimar era than I am prepared to describe. Little information is available about many schools, but most seem to have subscribed to one or another or a combination of the systems already explained. To survive, schools had to find a place in society for their graduates, which generally meant creating more schools and raising body consciousness on a national scale, making it part of the education of all modern citizens. Finding a place
for students who wished to become artists was considerably more difficult, especially when the demand to see dance did not expand nearly as dramatically as the desire to dance. But many dancers, especially before 1925, had little or no desire to teach. Such dancers depended on performances to establish and sustain their careers. Very few, however, had the resources to create dances that impressed audiences by their scale or their power to supersede ballet in terms of production values. No one in Germany—or anywhere, for that matter, except France and Russia—could assemble the resources that Sergey Diaghilev was able to muster to support the Ballet Russes, and he was successful in part because no one else was able to set up a competitive company on a comparable scale, although Rolf de Mare and the Swedish Ballet (1920–1924) certainly tried. Many small ensembles emerged, especially out of the schools, but the great majority of these formed around a strong dance personality whose power to lead had been established through solo performances.
An amazing number of dancers gave solo concerts between 1910 and 1935. Today it is almost impossible to find anyone giving a solo dance concert, not because audiences are less indulgent and more demanding of dancers but because so few dancers have the intensity of message, the need to say something on their own, that possessed the solo dancers of the Weimar era. The challenge of sustaining the interest of an audience for an entire concert was an extraordinary test of artistic self-confidence and credibility for a dancer. In Berlin and Halle, Leni Riefenstahl (b. 1902) gave a two-hour solo concert that included a dance to Schubert's Eighth Symphony (1825), a feat that smacks of heroic ambition (Schab, in Hallesche Zeitung , 12 May 1923). In a video interview, Hanya Holm conveyed some impatience with contemporary (1980s) dancers who live by the motto, "Don't exhaust yourself": "You have to dare, otherwise you never find your approach" (Hauser). Because no European city contained a dance audience large enough to sustain more than a few performances of the same concert, touring was essential in developing an artistic career. Touring pressured a dancer to cultivate a national and international identity, which opened up a continental rather than merely a local market. Indeed, few solo dancers, unaffiliated with a school, could enjoy enduring careers without an international reputation. Apparently the Austrian dancer Gisa Geert and the German dancer Sonja Markus, representatives of a Wigman-Laban tendency toward "aesthetic brutalism" in modern German dance, were better known in Italy (1932–1933) than at home (Bragaglia). One can even suggest that the authority of German dance depended on its exportability, its power to attract foreign interest, for even the schools, especially the
Laban institutes and Hellerau-Laxenburg, depended heavily on foreign students. Linguistic and cultural borders did not hem in dance as they did theatre, even though dancers and audiences alike expected dance to expose cultural differences.
Semiotics of Solo Dance
The credibility of German dance ideology depended heavily on solo dance performances, whereas the credibility of ballet and revue dancing rested on techniques and production values associated with ensemble performance. Of course, Ausdruckstanz was by no means indifferent to ensemble performance, and most expressionist dance concerts, especially after 1925, integrated solo dances into a program featuring ensemble dances as well. Yet the power of bodily movement to signify a unique, commanding personality seemed most convincingly affirmed when a single dancer demonstrated skills that could sustain the interest of an audience for an entire concert. But Germans were hardly responsible for the authority of the solo concert. Isadora Duncan established an unsurpassed threshold of glory as a solo dancer, inspiring the world of the arts on a scale that still seems amazing and that explains why so many young people wished to emulate her. In 1908 she collaborated with the eighty-member New York Symphony Orchestra in dancing to the whole of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony as well as five pieces by Chopin (the orchestra also played three other pieces). She repeated the feat, to great acclaim, in Paris as late as 1920, although by that time twenty-year-old dancer Elsie Altmann was scarcely impressed, nor was Mary Wigman (Duncan 199–201; Van Vechten 307–309; Altmann-Loos 155–156; Mueller, "Lebenslauf," 23). But other dancers of international stature soon followed in Isadora's wake to reinforce the prestige of the solo concert format.
Probably no dancer was more beloved around the world than Anna Pavlova (1881–1931). An astonishingly photogenic woman, she more than anyone else conveyed the impression of a beautiful creature who literally could not live without dancing. Although not much of an innovator in relation to bodily movement and not even a great virtuoso of ballet technique, Pavlova always seemed to bring great pathos and poignancy to every gesture. It was as if every time she danced she tried to recreate that ever-receding, enchanting moment when, as a child of six, she had first seen the magical splendor of ballet at the Marinsky Theatre with her mother (Pavlova 1–2). Her major achievement was in bringing dance and its image to an immense global audience, in showing that dance could move them with intensities of emotion to which ballet did not even aspire. Pavlova's pathos derived in large part from the haunting aura she projected of fragile beauty moving alone throughout the world.
Exotic dancers fascinated European audiences in a way that, after 1918, made European dancers who attempted to imitate them appear increasingly inauthentic. This trend pressured the Germans to look at bodily movement from genuinely modern perspectives. The Spanish flamenco dancer La Argentina (Antonia Merce [1890–1936]) acquired, from 1908, a huge international audience and, like Pavlova, danced herself to death through excessive touring (Levinson). Other exotic dancers appearing in Germany included the Indian Nyota Inyoka (1896–1971) and the Javanese Rodan Mas Jodjan (1870–1959), who participated in the 1928 Essen Dance Congress. Yet the taste for exotic dance emerged primarily through the prewar work of Westerners such as Mata Hari, Adorée Villany, Cleo de Merode, Maud Allen, Ruth St. Denis, all the Salome dancers, Ida Rubinstein, and, of course, the Ballets Russes. Exotic dance, in its European manifestations, aligned a libidinously uninhibited and somewhat "dangerous" body with decorative affluence, "excessive" materialism. It was hardly a message that died in the war, but its perpetuation required dancers who shaped archetypes around, rather than merely exposed, their personalities. Even American dancers appeared exotic to Germans. Ruth St. Denis (1879–1968), with her repertoire of "Oriental" dances, enjoyed such success in Germany and Austria that her tour of those countries lasted from 1906 to 1908 (Shelton 67–87). In 1925 Paul Swan (1883–1972), "the most beautiful man in the world," appeared in Germany with "Oriental" dances that, if his attempts to "reconstruct" them in Andy Warhol's bizarre 1965 film about him are even vaguely accurate, must have seemed as fantastically campy then as now (Cluzel 1–31). Ted Shawn attracted much attention in 1929 when he presented in Berlin his he-man versions of North and Central American Indian dances; he then worked with Margarethe Wallmann, appearing more like Adonis than Orpheus in her Orfeus Dionysos (1930), although Shawn himself was apparently disdainful of German dance culture (Dreier; Shawn 225).
At any rate, particularly in the years 1919 to 1925, solo dance concerts proliferated abundantly, and a great many of them were performed by people about whom hardly anything is known. The pages of the short-lived (1920–1921) journal Konzert, Tanz und Presse contained reviews of solo
concerts given around Germany by dancers whose names rarely appear elsewhere: Suse Elsler, Lisa Abt, Ruth Schwarzkopf, Annie Lieser, Ilse Freude, Chari Lindis. Paul Nikolaus, in Tänzerinnen (1919), briefly described several dancers whose careers apparently did not progress deeply into the 1920s: Solveig Oderwald, Gusi Viola, Lucie Hertel, Erna Bertini, Macka Nordberg, Hannelore Ziegler. He explained that, although most of these dancers exuded plenty of charm, they lacked sufficiently liberating intensity of feeling because they remained too immersed in ballet technique, too devoted to decorative effects of the variety stage, or too restrained in their exploration of bodily rhythms. Other prominent fashioners of dance culture in the underresearched period of 1917–1923 included Hilde Schewior, Beatrice Mariagraete, Hilde Sinoniew, Hedwig Nottebohm, Vera Waldheim, Edith Bielefeld, Nina Schelemskaja (with Ellen Tels), Olga Samsylova, Hilda Hager, Stella Kramrisch, Maria Ley, and the Bulgarian Radeja Vinarova. The significance of most of these dancers lay in the attractive images of dance they projected in widely published photographs. In Munich and Berlin, beautiful (and apparently blonde) Lisa Kresse darkened her skin to perform whole programs of "Hindu" dances and dances related to "mysteries of the cabala" in the years 1918 to 1921, but information about her work remains difficult to find (Elegante Welt , 8/24, 19 November 1919, 10).
Solo dance concerts were definitely economical opportunities to establish precedents. In 1920 a local newspaper reported on a "stormily applauded" concert in Kiel given by an eight-year-old girl, Maryla Gremo, "which offered all manner of character dances with a gracefulness never before seen," although "such dances as the nigger dance, even when presented in all possible decency, are not suited for any child" (KTP 4, 121). During these years many "modern" dancers seem to have derived their sense of aesthetic movement from folk dances, from harlequinade/fairy-tale pantomime, or from romanticized forms of dance, such as the waltz or habanera. Suse Elsler received both praise and condemnation for performing old peasant dances rather erotically in a skimpy costume, portraying "a psychosis, the girlishly floral fantasies of a confused generation." Ruth Schwarzkopf received both praise and condemnation for getting "too deep" into the peasant dances, revealing in them something no one had seen before. Hedwig Nottebohm apparently inspired doubt and curiosity with her gymnastic, "masculine" mode of movement, as in her dance following the theme of a marathon runner.
In 1907 the Danish dancer Gertrud Barrison, formerly of the five Barrison Sisters of the music hall world, began performing folk dances and waltzes at cabarets and at recitals in Vienna before moving on to somewhat more complex pieces in which she obscured the genre of the piece by introducing more and more decorative and narrative (pantomimic) details. She was perhaps the first European to establish (in 1920) a school that
offered courses in dance for film performance (Weissenböck 74). Another Viennese dancer, Grete Wiesenthal (1885–1972), was, from 1907 to about 1920, the great incarnation of the waltz spirit so closely identified with the city. Wiesenthal's training was in ballet, but she freed the waltz from the remote formality into which ballet had imprisoned it. The waltz provoked in her an unprecedented lyricism in bodily movement; Aurel von Milloss explained that she did not merely excavate or reconstruct some lost, original form of the waltz but "breathed the spirit of the waltz and danced her waltz-like feelings" (Endler 188). Whether in a swirling skirt or a loose tunic, she seemed driven by the 3/4 beat into a state of ecstatic abandonment. And she made very expressive use of her hair, as Rudolf Huber-Wiesenthal remarked: "Grete's delicate body bent over the ground, covered by her flowing mass of gold-brown hair. And then, slowly, timidly at first, she raised her closed hand into a bouquet, opened them, and with this release of the hands, her body rose also, her hair sinking back. Gradually the flow of tones strengthened the slender body until eventually she became entirely overpowered by frenzy, hurling herself, nearly flying, with her arms outspread, the gold rush of hair always a part of the movement, a part of the dance" (189). She also seems to have danced often with her eyes closed and her mouth parted in a smile; the beauty of her face was exquisitely haunting, and she conveyed that elegiac quality that, as Endler observes, is so often missing from choreographed waltzes (200).
Early in her career, Grete danced with her sisters, Else and Bertha. According to Brandenburg, Else's talent was too pantomimic and Bertha's too undeveloped to compete with Grete's, so Grete moved away on her own. Else and Bertha formed a duo (then a trio with Marta, another sister), but it did not last long, as Else moved in a manner that appeared "half puppet, half schoolgirl" (HB 44–47). In 1908, in Vienna, Rudolf Jobst (1872–1952) took a famous series of photographs of Grete, all outdoors and all showing her in motion. These showed dramatically how she had linked the waltz to an expansive, unbridled experience of space. Wiesenthal commanded deep respect from the Viennese cultural-literary elite, especially the circle around Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who collaborated with her on pantomine dramas, as did Max Reinhardt. Her extremely photogenic beauty brought her into motion pictures, with Die Stumme von Portici (1913) becoming an enormous success (Fiedler). By 1919, however, Nikolaus complained (with echoes from Suhr and Fischer) that her dancing lacked expressive power and "in no way triumphed over any limits" imposed by the genre (20).
Around 1915 another Viennese, Lucy Kieselhausen (1897–1927), began specializing in performing waltzes. She, too, had evolved out of ballet culture, but her embodiment of the waltz was virtually opposite that of Wiesenthal. She favored luxuriously decorative hothouse costumes and the utmost refinement of movement. For her the waltz was not a lyrical expansion of
space into the freedom of nature but an almost perfumed distillation of the stirrings within an opulent boudoir, with its scenography of exquisite privileges and voluptuous secrets. An adroit sense of irony shaded her movements with abruptly "bizarre and jerky" rhythms; "her joyfully flashing temperament did not hover on a smooth surface but over a shadowy abyss from which issued her fool's dance with its slumbering, half-animal rapture" (HFT 47–48). Her curious appropriation of the waltz ended suddenly when she died in a benzine explosion.
Laura Oesterreich, a Hamburg native. began her career specializing in the performance of the polka, a genre of quite limited movement potential to which she brought a strange ambiguity. Brandenburg felt her polkas incarnated a slithery, darting spirit, "motherly," from the depths of the North Sea, "full of the little fear that one's foot, so capable of hovering, will stumble on a stone and glide away at each step, a small, lowering fear, which merely conceals the greater fear, not to have grown beyond a humble objective" (210). She was at her best, as in Mazurka melancolique (1917), combining this "little fear" in her steps with a face of ecstatic intoxication, eyes closed and lips parted, so that the dance seemed to reveal a puzzling internal tension. The tension intensified when she tried to appropriate the waltz, but in this endeavor she apparently failed because her body was "painfully" incapable of breathing the rhythms and tonality of this "southern" genre of music (209). Oesterreich had studied with Laban at Ascona in 1914, and in 1920 she worked, always as a soloist, with the Falke sisters on projects for the Münchener Tanzgruppe. In 1925 she gave a concert in Hamburg featuring six dances with nonmusical accompaniments—gongs, bells, horse clopping, hammer blows, buzzers, rattles—but it was not a success. It is not known what happened to her after this time (Stöckemann, "Pionierie," 40–41).
Oesterreich obviously sensed the severe limitations on the capacity of a dance genre to deepen the identity of either the dance or the dancer. Although dancers continued to explore the expressive potential of inherited genres—waltz, polka, sarabande, gavotte, minuet, czardas, tango, pavanne, fox trot, and so forth—after 1920 it was clear that the evolution of modernity in dance depended on freeing the dancer from too close an identification with generically structured responses; these subordinated dance to music, in the now passé manner of Duncan, and prevented dance from constructing personalities stronger than the genres and, indeed, stronger than music itself. Thus, in Hamburg, Gertrud Zimmermann received praise for her "nearly tragic" dance to a prelude by Rachmaninov because in this piece she seemed to get beyond the conventional, affable "sweet femininity" imposed upon her by the genre dances that made up the rest of her program (KTP 13, 1921, 214).
Even within the realm of genre dancing, dancers strove to differentiate themselves, to compete with other dancers for the attention of audiences,
by imposing a personal attitude onto the genre. As a result, the aesthetics of the solo concert grew more complex. Programs began to include dances with unusual musical sounds for accompaniment—zithers and harmoniums, bass drum and woodblocks, harps and gongs. They contained mixtures of genre dances—a mazurka followed by a tango, a waltz before a polonnaise. But musical genres did not determine the identity of all the dances. Some dances carried programmatic titles that subordinated the composer's intention to that of the dancer: Sea Clouds, The Pied Piper, The Amazon, Heart Flame, The Captured Bird, Astarte . Others signified "genres" established entirely by dancers: sword dance, barbaric dance, marionette dance, demon dance, machine dance, wolf dance, temple dance, celestial dance, death dance. Variety of costume further displayed the complexity of the dancer's personality. A simple, elegant tunic exposed the beauty of the dancer's legs and arms, but romantic moods went best with long skirts, capes, mantels, hoods, or period garments (quite often from 1830–1845); a dance or two might feature an exotic look, appropriated perhaps from the Orient, ancient Egypt, or imperial Rome. And it could not hurt to perform a dance in sleek, decorative pants, although few dancers performed in leotards unless they sought to convey a harlequinesque effect. Performers perfected the expressive authority of their dances with accessories: strange hats, gloves, scarves, sashes, gilded belts, bizarre necklaces and bracelets, ribbons, garlands, veils, masks, fans, stockings, helmets, and feathers. Ausdruckstanz was not synonymous with barefoot dancing, and the use of sandals or high-heeled shoes was not at all rare, with Kreutzberg going so far as to employ knee-length boots in a couple of dances. But a dance concert should never turn into a fashion show; Nikolaus, Thiess, and Suhr warned that costumes could distract from perception of movement, although only Nikolaus supposed that nudity did not help to create an expressionist dance (70). Finally, dance concerts offered a range of moods: a solemn, heroic dance, then a melancholy dance, then a grotesque dance, then an exuberant dance, then a "Korean" or "Javanese" dance, then a romantic dance in bluish tones.
Nearly every dance was only as long as the corresponding musical composition; very rarely did a single dance involve the stitching together of several pieces of music. The vast majority of music came from composers who were already long dead or who had written their music without the dancer in mind. Only when the accompaniment included drums and gongs did the dance determine the length of the music. Most dances lasted about four minutes, but one or two in a given concert usually exceeded ten minutes in length; the entire program typically contained about twelve pieces, with various musical interludes to allow for costume changes. Solo dance concerts were never devoted to the performance of a single, ambitious work, such as a sonata, that explored a theme in depth, although Wigman seemed to move
toward this goal with her concept of dance cycles. The dance concert followed the model of the musical recital rather than the epic poetry recital, the dramatic lecture, or the Ciceronian political oration. A successful concert should include at least one experimental dance that violated performance conventions: a "silent" dance, a dance with mirror floors and walls, a dance performed entirely while sitting in an armchair, a dance created by shadow projections, a dance with two masks, a dance involving march movement against waltz music, a dance with sword and shield, a dance performed behind a curtain, a dance depicting murder or sexual rapture (bacchanale ), a dance in which the body moved faster and faster or slower and slower, a dance allegorizing revolution or the body of the marionette/machine or the Idol of Death. The Danish film melodrama Afgrunden (1910), probably the most profitable motion picture released in Europe that year, contained a fascinating scene in a music hall in which the great actress Asta Nielsen (1881–1971) performed a kind of polka-mazurka while smoking a cigarette and wearing a Wild West costume (Seydel 41). By using different combinations of all these aesthetic variables, dancers could pursue a montage mode of performance that allowed for considerable flexibility as long as the dancer maintained an expanding repertoire of pieces. Yet by 1920 Mary Wigman had presented concerts that challenged the semiotic conventions described here. She dared to present concerts almost entirely governed by a somber mood and indifferent to variety of decorative effect or charm. As always, she displayed a deep awareness of the dramatic potential of bodily movement—every step, every gesture, every glance laden with tension, conflict between the body and space, the body and time, the body and death, the body and itself.
The solo dance concert revealed above all a unique, compelling personality, not the values associated with a complex of conventions. One did not attend a solo dance concert to see this or that dance but to observe, across a repertoire, the terms under which the movement of a body expressed an utterly unique personality. This ambition was reserved for all but a few dancers and in any case became less imperative after 1925, when dance had become sufficiently institutionalized to allow dancers to shape their identities through teaching or even through a dance company rather than through solo performance.
Edith Von Schrenck
Edith von Schrenck (ca. 1894–?) projected a cool, aristocratic persona. She consistently garnered much praise for the seriousness of her dances, and critics often compared her with Mary Wigman. Of all dancers in the early 1920s, Edith von Schrenck probably came the closest to rivaling Wigman in cultivating seriousness of expression as manifested in complexity of
response. She was never as wild or as innovative as Wigman, but she conveyed a disturbing sense of passion, a dark power to stir deep feelings in audiences. This power depended on an intensity of boldness and vulnerability achieved by hardly anyone else (other than Wigman).
Schrenck was unusual in that she started as a teacher, then became a performer. Once she took to the stage, she showed great reluctance to perpetuate her identity through disciples. She was born in Riga of a Russian mother and a German-Latvian father who was a distinguished gynecologist in St. Petersburg, where she took lessons in piano and singing. But after attending a lecture by Dalcroze she decided to study rhythmic gymnastics at Hellerau. She spent two years there (1912–1914), received a diploma, then returned to St. Petersburg to teach at the Dalcroze institute run by Count Volkonsky. Through teaching she met an actress who had left Konstantin Stanisklavsky's company to develop a purely physical approach to dramatic performance. From Claudia Issachenko, Schrenck learned Delsartian semiotics and the Stebbins-Kallmeyer theory of "artistic gymnastics," but it is not clear if she danced with Issachenko's ballet company. She did, however, study ballet during the war years, without any intention of pursuing a career in dance (Buning, "Gesprek," 49). She also became friends with Estonian dancer Ella Ilbak, who described Schrenck's studiousness in her memoirs (Ilbak 71–72, 79–80). Then the revolution struck, pushing her out of Russia and, in 1918, out of Latvia.
Landing in Munich in difficult financial circumstances, Schrenck decided to establish herself professionally as a dancer. She was slow to do so, perhaps because the Dalcroze method as taught to her did not orient students toward professional performance. At any rate, she was always cautious about deciding anything, and her dances made extensive use of slow, "weighted" rhythms. The success of her solo debut concert in Munich led to a tour of German cities (Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf), then to performances in Holland, Riga, Vienna. She worked briefly (1921) with the Hamburg-based Münchener Tanzgruppe and with Valeria Kratina, but group dances did not allow her talent to blossom, and from then on she performed only in the solo concert format (HB 229). Around 1925 Schrenck married Waldemar Bonsels (1881–1952), an enormously successful writer of children's stories and folk tales who had published praise of her since 1921. According to Ilbak, he opposed her collaboration with "strangers," even though he traveled widely and achieved distinction for his vagabond literary identity (Ilbak 172–174). She opened a school in Berlin (1929) and continued dancing until about 1930, but by this time she had completely detached herself from the mainstream of modern dance in Germany (as well as from Bonsels); she did not attend the dance congresses of 1927, 1928, or 1930, nor did she maintain contact with significant dance person-
alities of the time, and her school does not seem to have flourished beyond 1932 (Freund 49–52). Perhaps by then she had nothing more to say through dance.
Edith von Schrenck was extremely beautiful, but it is very difficult to find an image in which one sees her full face. She consistently and self-consciously withheld a part of herself from the spectator, always projecting a dark aura of aloofness and loneliness—which, indeed, became the subject of her dances. Brandenburg (203) observed that she tended to avoid the corners and sides of the performance space, conveying a sense of "dense closure" to the totality of her presence. This characteristic was represented perhaps most dramatically in Gefesselt (1919). In this piece, with music by Chopin, she danced the condition of being fettered, not moving from an initial position within the performance space. In only a tunic, she lunged and lurched with a violent swinging of her arms and turning away of her head; then, in profile, she curved her body into a bowing stance and crossed her arms over head as if her own body were the source of her bondage; she twisted with her back to the audience, pivoted and leaped high with outstretched arm, as if suddenly suspended by a chain, then immediately sank into the scrunched profile position before lunging out again toward the spectator with clasped, swinging hands, as if preparing to hurl a heavy, destructive weight (Schrenck 16–20). She gave an impression of great strength trapped in a body, not knowing where to go.
Delsartian semiotics allowed her to build a "dance architecture" out of dramatic tensions and ironic details. In Kriegertanz , later called Amazone (1919–1921), using music by Rachmaninov, she appeared in a pleated miniskirt with helmet, shield, and dagger. She constantly moved on tiptoes, first in a high march step with head tilted straight up, shield held level before her, and dagger clenched with straight arm down her side; then, in profile, she thrust shield and dagger behind her and pushed her belly forward, her head level; suddenly she swung around, shield at her belly, dagger raised high, her whole body a sinewy, muscled curve; she stabbed the space not before her but directly at her feet, then arched back ecstatically, dagger and shield raised over her uplifted head. Wounded, she sank to the ground, danced, pulsated on her knees, on her elbows; finally, some strength returned, and she began moving stealthily on her knees, face behind the shield, then surged up on tiptoes again and made a final, fatal plunge with the dagger before sinking to death (Schrenck 1–8). Brandenburg marveled at her skill in combining movements of "attack and flight, triumph and defeat, pounce and rest, kneeling, sinking, reclining, stretching" to produce a dance that was "no imitation of a sculpture" but the "primeval image" (Urbild ) of the warrior. Buning saw in her a pagan, heroic spirit, and her Schmerz (1922) reminded him of a verse by Hölderlin: "[B]ut where
danger is the salvational wakes, too." In this piece, Schrenck employed slow, hunched, rocking movements that became increasingly more delicate, slower, and smaller, continuing after the music had stopped (WBT 153).
To Buning it always seemed as if she danced with an invisible partner, and this curious sense of presence and absence of body made all her movements dramatic (WBD 36). Commentators consistently spoke of the "strictness" of her movements, as if she constantly sought to keep in check a great power or pressure within her, even in pieces such as Wellen (1922), in which she blended the motion of combing with the movement of sea waves. In Polichinelle (1919), with music by Rachmaninov, she began to dance joyfully, with extravagant lunges, leg stretches, leaps, and sways on one leg until, suddenly conscious of a dark, invisible energy surrounding her, she turned her dance into a melancholy image of pathetic loneliness. her early dances sometimes displayed a serious sense of humor or irony, as when she did a temple dance dressed as a "piquant Jacobin" or presented her goblin dance with Grieg's music (KTP 13, 212–214). But in the ensuing years she completely favored dances of a tragic, melancholy, or elegiac character: Polonaise, Page, Gothisches Lied, Last, Besiegt, Einsamkeit, Abseits, Marsch, Chaconne, Ziguenerin, Kampf. Even in Kindheit (1923), she made the joy of being a child seem tinged with consciousness of a diminishing innocence. Her summer dance, from a 1924 cycle of the four seasons, began radiantly and luxuriously but suddenly turned somber; she performed again all the movements that had begun the dance but now slowly, heavily, as if under a withering heat.
Schrenck liked music in a minor mode (Bach, Rachmaninov, Scriabin). In 1929 she presented a concert in which all the music was serious: five pieces by Scriabin, two by Mussorgsky, one each by Brahms, Bach, and Handel. She was fond of dancing before and on tapestries, and she chose decorative costumes that displayed the great beauty of her arms and legs. Suhr thought she was perhaps too decorative in her approach: she held back some violence, something deep and great in her that she intimated but never really released (WS 46). Very few dancers could make such expressive use of the arms, yet she never seems to have danced fully erect—she loved displaying her capacity to bend, to twist, to hunch, to fold herself up, and remain beautiful all the same. This ability is quite evident in the twenty stark, expressionistic lithographs Ottheinrich Strohmeyer made in 1919 of three of Schrenck's dances: Kriegertanz, Polichinelle, Gefesselt (Schrenck) (Figures 39–41). Hans Fischer saw in her art a "visionary enclosure" of power (KTP 13, 1921, 213); Schikowski had "the feeling that through unprecedented exertions of strength [Schrenck] subjugates the depths of a boiling volcano. And one expects at any moment a sundering of the cool surface . . . "(Geschichte , 152). But one may also see in this aesthetic a woman's tragic awareness of music as a great force pressing in upon the body—a
sense conflicting sternly with the doctrine of her decisive teacher, Dalcroze, who insisted that, for anyone as sensitive to music as she obviously was, music could only bring the body to a state of supreme liberation.
Grit Hegesa (ca. 1896–?) remains a mystery. She came from Cologne, but her debut concert occurred in Berlin in 1917, at which time she apparently associated with expressionist artists affiliated with the Secession ("Exp. im Tanz"). In 1917–1919 she was active in Holland, giving concerts in Amsterdam and in Rotterdam, where she associated with a circle of modern artists, mostly expressionists, calling itself De Branding (Brinkman 107–109). At this time she worked with the Dutch composer Jaap Kool (1890–1959), but it is not clear if this collaboration brought her to Holland or began after she had arrived. Hegesa was unique in exclusively using music composed by a modern composer for her dances. Educated in Paris, Kool contended that dance could not seriously develop a modern identity as long as one danced to old pieces of classical music, even those written for dance. Music for dance, he argued, emphasized rhythm at the expense of harmony, which Western classical music did not but which jazz, some forms of popular music, and exotic music from the Orient did (Kool, Tänzszene , 1–4). Old classical music lacked a modern sense of rhythm, by which Kool meant not only a complex, dominating sense of pulse but also strange sounds . He therefore employed in his music for Hegesa drums, bells, and gongs from his collection of Javanese gamelan instruments and different kinds of glass-timbred instruments. But Kool had eclectic tastes that allowed him to travel comfortably in the realm of commercial popular music. In addition to his labor Symphony (1924) and concert piece for twenty-eight drums, he composed arrangements for the Erik Charrell Revues in Berlin, operettas such as Miss Fu (1924), film music, jazz pieces, and dance tunes. Perhaps his most widely known works were composed for the eccentric ballets Die Elixir des Teufels (1925), staged by Ellen Petz in Dresden, and Der Leierkasten (1925), choreographed by Max Terpis in Berlin, then by Claire Eckstein in Würzburg (1927) and Anne Grünert in Duisburg (1927).
In 1919, Kool wrote an article about Hegesa for the Dutch art journal Wendingen (2/3, 15–21) in which he described her art as "visible music" and "pathbreaking in expressive possibilities" of the body, especially the arms, because of her excavation of archaic, erotic modes of bodily movement. He quoted Hegesa as saying that when she choreographed herself she kept in mind the image of ancient Greek movement choirs such as appear on vases, not the ladylike Grecian dances of Duncan but those "which in our highly developed culture come into conflict with the censor; I think moreover of the splendid nude dances of the youths and girls of the gymnasium. I think
of the stylized erotic dances from the island of Lesbos and the satyr plays and faun dances of the Phrygian Dionysian festivals." However, the Hegesa Tango (1922), which Kool also scored for full symphony orchestra, was a dark (E minor), lilting, haunting piece, never loud for a single measure, with a melodic theme built out of the letters of her last name. In 1919, while collaborating with Hegesa in Berlin, Kool also worked with Anita Berber, composing for her the music for her Pritzel Doll dance and the piano arabesque Profane (1920), which Hegesa actually danced. In other words, collaboration with Kool implied pursuit of an aesthetic that blurred distinctions between high cultural seriousness, exoticism, and the mondaine salon.
But Hegesa had her own ideas about blurring the distinctions. She delighted in cultivating a complex, unstable image of dance, which she reinforced through her affiliations with visual artists. She may have been the first modern dancer to wear the Bubikopf , or pageboy haircut, adopting it as early as 1917. In Rotterdam the artist Herman Bieling (1887–1964) did a series of etchings of her dancing, one of which now resides at the Nederlands Theater Instituut (Figure 42). This image from 1917 depicts Hegesa performing her Groteske and suggests a sort of manic extravagance in her movements, as if the dance had twisted her body into a fantastic, muscled plant with weird blossoms and sprouts, her foot almost violently rooted into the ground. The picture also contains six tiny human figures—homunculi images of different movements of the same dance. The following year Bieling painted a large portrait of the dancer (also deposited at the Instituut), an astonishingly beautiful piece of expressionism, full of powerful colors (Figure 43). However, it shows her on pointe (in ballet slippers), holding a pose, with eyes closed and head turned away, crowned by a large wig. She wears an enormous skirt decorated with a hieroglyphic expressionist design. Deep in the background, which is traversed by abstract geometric shapes and intersecting layers of planes, stand three women in bathing suits, two with their backs turned, the third gazing not at the dancer before her but at something concealed from both the dancer and the spectator. It is a most fascinating portrait because it dramatizes the perception of dance as a highly artificial construction of identity that moves both the body and space toward abstraction: the dancing body transforms space into a kaleidoscopic skewering of geometric order.
But Hegesa did not confine her image to these visions. For photographer Nicola Perscheid she appeared in luxuriously decorative and sometimes exotic-Oriental costumes; for Berlin photographer Ani Riess she posed in a low-cut, expressionist minidress with an extravagant collar, often before backdrops of swirling expressionist arabesques (Elegante Welt , 8/11, 1919; Kool, Tänzszene , frontispiece). Then she posed for the fashion page: in lush kimono, with legs exposed, reclining voluptuously on a divan before a luminous Oriental screen; modeling a suave afternoon cloak and dress (Elegante
Welt, 9/14, 1921, 20). Despite her considerable beauty and her peculiarly large, captivating eyes, one hardly recognizes Hegesa as the subject of these images, so preoccupied was she in disclosing new aspects of her identity. Suhr reproached her (as well as Kieselhausen and Berber) for her eagerness to produce such worldly, hedonistic images of herself, but he did not think they concealed a weak dance aesthetic (WS 37).
In 1920, Hegesa began starring in movies, including at least two tragic melodramas directed by E. A. Dupont, Der weisse Pfau (1920) and the two-part Kinder der Finsternis (1921), in which she played an American heiress in Italy. She received strong praise for the sophistication of her acting (Paul Leni, 266–267, 279–281). Der weisse Pfau, an adaptation of a play by Dupont and Paul Leni, described the doomed effort of an English aristocrat to transform a child gypsy cabaret dancer, Maryla, into a lady. Class prejudices prevent the romance from succeeding, so the dancer goes her own way as Marylova and becomes famous, especially for her dying white peacock dance (modeled, obviously, on Pavlova's dying swan). Years later, the aristocrat cannot forget her, but it is too late: she performs the dying peacock dance, then dies herself when the theatre catches fire.
Hegesa later incorporated a white peacock dance into her concert programs, with music by Kool, and this dance, using a feather costume, contrasted significantly with the film version. The concert dance began with the peacock strutting proudly and narcissistically, then confronting a motionless demonic idol. At first the bird expressed belligerence and fury at the idol for its lack of response, then displayed intense fear of a monstrous doom. Seeking to avoid this fate, the bird bestowed affection and worship upon the idol, but when these failed to produce any response the peacock resumed its proud, haughty strut (Kool, Tanzszene, 5). The dance appeared on a program Hegesa and Kool brought with them to Holland in 1921, but this time they performed in a theatre entirely associated with cabaret. One reviewer felt her art was too serious for such a context; her dancing, which made the theatre "as silent as a temple," required too much concentration and lacked the casual informality the cabaret patron expected ("Grit Hegesa"). In 1924 or 1925, Hegesa married the painter Emil van Hauth (1899–?), from Cologne but resident in Berlin. In him, she inspired a fascinating, mysterious portrait of "a type of female youth unknown until lately" (The Studio, 92/401, 14 August 1926, 134) (Figure 44). But after this point, one loses trace of her.
The final piece of evidence for the dance aesthetic of Grit Hegesa comes from a program for a concert of her expressionist dances sponsored by De Branding in Rotterdam on 1 February 1919. Kool preceded the dances themselves by giving "ideas on modern dance art," and the program itself announced that dance, which did "not provoke sexual stimulation," could offer "the most beautiful expression of all human feelings" and that the
dances of Grit Hegesa would "evoke the dark spheres of the tragic." Florrie Rodrigo assisted Hegesa in two of the dances. In all but the last two pieces, Hegesa wore pants of one sort or another. She began with a waltz, then performed a coolie dance in baggy silk pants, silk shirt, and conical hat, employing symmetrical movements in accordance with the symmetrical rhythms Kool associated with Oriental music. Next came the grotesque dance already discussed and the Leisure Hour of a Page, an example, apparently, of what Suhr identified as "psychic perversities" in her aesthetic (WS 35). Then, with Rodrigo, she performed a pantomimic Pierrot and Pierette dance: Pierette (Rodrigo), having returned from a ball, danced a tired, happy, "harmless" waltz until she sank into sleep. Pierrot (Hegesa) then entered, pirouetting exuberantly, but abruptly became delicate upon noticing the smiling slumber of Pierette. He took the flower that had dropped from her hand and danced with it tenderly, joyfully, reverently, then sank down to kiss Pierette on the neck. In her sleep, Pierette extended her arms to embrace the lover of her dream, but when Pierrot awoke her to her feet, her disappointment and fear drove her immediately from the scene, leaving Pierrot to sink back into the pillows. After the intermission, Hegesa performed a "melodrama," Der Held, based on a story by Rabindrath Tagore. She followed this with a "Japanese scene," assisted by Rodrigo: a servant (Rodrigo) entered, lighting lamps and arranging flowers and pillows. Then an elegant Japanese woman (Hegesa) appeared, wearing a "splendid headdress" and the red obie of mourning. She sank to the pillows, and immediately an ominous mood pervaded the scene; the face of her dead lover glowed briefly in the lamplight, calling to her. The image filled her with great longing. She called for the poisoned flower petals, which she kissed; then, in silence, she sank to her death on the pillows (Kool, Tanzszene, 5). A samurai dance followed the Japanese scene, and it, like the grotesque dance, had "nothing to do with feminine beauty or charming gracefulness"; then a scherzo, in which she wore the strange, expressionist minidress, and a Slavic dance, about which I know nothing other than that it was in a melancholy vein.
A reviewer expressed dissatisfaction with the Pierrot and Tagore pieces because Hegesa play-acted too much at impersonating a male and therefore looked liked a "childish young woman," in sharp contrast to the "powerful expressiveness" of the other pieces. The reviewer also noted that Hegesa moved often on tiptoes, which suggests that she had ballet training ("Grit Hegesa"). Nikolaus thought she was too intellectual to embody expressionist dance: her will to dance, her intensity of concentration, was stronger than the feeling she constructed (46). And Suhr felt she danced elegantly, especially with her arms and hands, but "without the trace of a soul" (WS 35). However, these writers were consistently skeptical of dancers who relied on pantomimic-decorative effects, an aura of luxurious and even per-
verse refinement; they did not deny that Hegesa presented a strong, serious personality and a smooth technique. The perversity of her aesthetic was perhaps most evident in a dance not performed at the Rotterdam concert. She impersonated a Javanese prince, who sat in the lotus position on pillows and decorated himself with jewels and paint in preparation for his wedding. He rose only in anticipation of meeting his bride, and when she did not appear, he returned to the lotus position and sat, motionless, waiting for her, having become, so to speak, the idol that had appeared in the peacock dance. What made Hegesa unique was the extent to which dance mutated her personality. She seems to have relied on the symmetrical technique of movement, whereby one part of the body mirrors another, for almost all her dances. She displayed a distinct style of movement and a distinct taste in costume, yet she delighted in not being "recognizable," of being someone else every time she appeared, a stranger to her own image.
Charlotte Bara (b. 1901) was perhaps an even stronger inspiration for artists than Hegesa, but the image and the aesthetic she projected were also far more stable. She was born in Brussels of German parents and began dance studies there under a woman who had been a student of Isadora Duncan. She took lessons from Alexander Sacharoff in Lausanne in 1915 and gave her first concert in Brussels in 1917, at which time she presented her Egyptian mummy dance, the prototype for her entire dance aesthetic. The war finally compelled her family to leave Belgium for Holland, where Bara studied Javanese religious dance and became fascinated by the mystical dances of Rodan Mas Jodjan. Soon thereafter she and her mother resided briefly at the utopian art colony of Worpswede, near Bremen, where the maverick communist artist Heinrich Vogeler painted two famous portraits of her, "Die Frau im Krieg" (1918) and "Die Tänzerin Charlotte Bara" (1918). As Vogeler himself put it, she projected a memorable expression of the "trust, imploration, and despair" defining the female victim of war—or, more precisely, the sanctification of the feminine by war (Küster 112) (Figure 45). In 1919 she moved to Ascona, where her father had purchased a huge estate with the plan of creating a large park for the performing arts. During the renovation of the estate, however, the family resided for several years in Berlin, where Bara became a celebrated symbol of salvational mystery within the arts community. She appeared (1919) at Max Reinhardt's Kammerspiel; Moissy Kogan produced woodcut images of her; and Christian Rolfs painted her dancing (Meyer). Georg Kolbe published a set of drawings depicting her Egyptian dances, and Ani Riess photographed her (1920) using an expressionist backdrop (as she had with Hegesa) as Bara presented her Gothic dance Hymnis, in which she wore nothing but a dark
veil. This quite erotic religious image did not appear in the journal Roland (23/33) until 1925.
Soon Rochus Gliese filmed Die gotischen Tänze der Charlotte Bara (1923), which apparently has not survived, and the artist Hugo Windisch began designing medieval and Renaissance costumes for her dances. She cultivated a friendly association with the new Wigman-oriented school opened in Berlin by Berthe Trümpy and Vera Skoronel in 1924. In 1925 she produced her first group work, Totentanz, which provoked much acclaim, although it was actually a revision of a death dance she had performed solo since 1920. Afterward she performed in Paris, where Fernand Divoire spoke warmly of her art (94–95), and in Florence, where she attracted the enthusiasm of Gabriele d'Annunzio and Anton Bragaglia, whose book, Scultura vivente (1928), explicated the principles of her dance aesthetic. With Bragaglia, she staged (1925) dances in ancient Roman ruins. But Bara was also busy with productions in Locarno and Ascona for various festive occasions in parks and plazas as well as the Kursaal Theater. In 1925 the great villa Castello San Materno finally became the family home, and there she and her husband, the psychiatrist Carl Rutters, operated a school for dance, theatre, and singing (1927), with a special curriculum in therapeutic dance. Her father built for her a most unusual theatre, seating 180, that could accommodate different modes of performance: dance, cabaret, theatre, lectures, and experimental or classroom activity. The design, by Bremen architect Carl Weidemeyer, allowed structural units to be moved in relation to the objectives of a particular performance; moreover, large glass windows provided spectacular views of the Swiss landscape, and it was even possible to give open-air performances on the rooftop amphitheatre (Wels). From the late 1920s until around 1940, Bara produced most of her many works in this theatre, which also attracted many distinguished guest artists, such as Rosalia Chladek, Valeska Gert, Lisa Czobel, Rodan Mas Jodjan, and Trudy Schoop, as well as numerous cabaret acts, including Erika Mann's Pfeffermühle, Dela Lipinskaya, and Rudolf Nelson. However, financial difficulties plagued the Teatro San Materno in the 1940s, and it was not until 1952 that Bara resumed her dance productions for it. Her final dance concert was in 1958, after which it became increasingly used as a site for experimental or chamber theatre productions (Stadler, "Theater," 130–132).
But despite her exposure to so many diverse artistic currents, Bara's dance aesthetic remained stable throughout her life and almost unchanged from the time of her first concert, Tanz der Mumie (1917), presented in Brussels. She produced a huge number of dances, yet such prolific creativity depended on a certainty of purpose and, indeed, upon a facile treatment of bodily expressivity that never encountered any dramatic measure of doubt. Perhaps her dance aesthetic was even less complex than that of the Bode, but it was definitely more grandiose and much more expressive of a unique
personality. Bara suffused all her dances with an aura of religious mystery. At first the image of religious idolatry came to her from archaic Oriental or Egyptian iconography, but in Worpswede and Berlin she started adopting Gothic and then Renaissance models of holiness and beatification. Dance commentators consistently referred to her "Gothic dances"; however, after making her film with Gliese (1923) she called them "sacral dances." These were numerous and completely detached from any church or proselytizing objective: Trauermarsch (1919), Aegyptisches Mysterium (1919), Madonna (1920), Die Büsserin (1920), Die Aegypterin (1921), Antike Grabschrift (1921), Aegyptischen Tanz (1922), Muzierende Engel (1924), Kreuzzitter (1924), Anbetung der Engel (1926), Göttertanz (1927), Die Visionen der Jeanne d'Arc (1932), Das verlorene Paradies (1934), Die Versuchung in der Wüste (1934), Bilder aus der Passion (1935), Mittelälterliche Legende und Visionen aus dem Orient (1939), Danza dei Beati (1952), Indische Gottheit (1953), Judith (1955), and Flucht nach Aegypten (1955).
This hardly complete list suggests that Bara regarded dance as the way to reconcile a basic, lifelong tension in her between archaic Eastern and medieval Christian images of mystery. She identified mystery with an atmosphere of salvational transfiguration, not with a moral doctrine nor with meditations on the existential structures of good and evil. That is to say, her dances derived from images of religious feeling, not from gospel, even when, during the 1930s, she began structuring her dances according to narratives in the Bible. Egyptian and Oriental dances always remained a part of her repertoire, for in spite of its Near Eastern origin, Christianity could never synthesize Western and Eastern modes of mystery—only dance could do that. Seldom did she even use religious music to accompany her dances, preferring instead secular romantic and modern music by composers such as Scarlatti, Franck, Debussy, Grieg, Bartok, and Malipiero. In the 1950s she started dancing to Renaissance music played on authentic Renaissance instruments, whereas in 1920 she performed several dances in holy silence, without any accompaniment at all.
Her dance aesthetic changed little in the intervening three decades. For Bara, dance was ecstatic to the extent that it was peaceful, an expression of luminous serenity, exalted tranquility, shadowy resignation. The ecstatic body in her mind transcended violence and struggle; dance was a release from destructive impulses and perhaps even from awareness of danger. Her dances were not naive or harmless, however—they were mysterious; they signified a cosmic remoteness from the modern world and identified innocence with a gentle, graceful movement into an eternal, idealized, crepuscular past. Visual artists admired her because she modeled her dances after paintings and sculptures; spectators saw the body rather than the movement. She never moved with urgency, nor did she move, as Schrenck did, with a plodding sense of burden. When she swung her arms, she conveyed
the lilting, pendulumlike motion of a priestess dispensing incense. She moved through a sequence of obviously "pious" categories of bodily signification—prayer, invocation, supplication, meditation, imploration, annunciation, baptism, annointment, sacrificial offering, reverie, lamentation, adoration, resignation, and ascension. Such were the bodily dynamics designating mystery, all performed with the same eternal rhythm signifying transcendence of temporal discontinuity. Humility pervaded every movement; she neither smiled nor frowned but projected a visionary gaze of serene concentration fixed upon the image of God. Fear rarely entered into the aesthetic, neither fear of God nor fear of Satan—most peculiar in work of a religious nature, which usually depicts harrowing sacrifice as a prerequisite to redemption. Even in her grotesque religious dances, she avoided the iconography of devils or demons and focused on strange incarnations of idolic femininity: art deco Isis. Yet seldom did she employ recognizably religious costumes such as cowls, monastic habits, or ecclesiastical robes. Instead she danced in long, flowing smocks, diaphanous veils, and elegant nightgowns, often appearing less like an austere holy woman, or sibyl, than a good princess prepared for a good night's rest. On only one occasion (1932) did she ever employ masks. Many images from the 1920s show her in headbands and long silky hair, looking startlingly like a hippie flower child of the late 1960s.
In 1921 Blass noted that her sense of movement seemed dominated by the image of procession (38), and the dance critic for the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Fritz Böhme, complained in 1922 (7/2) and again in 1923 (10/2) that Bara displayed a painterly style, derived from images by Grunewald and Breughel, but no dance technique; in her Madonna she danced the image of a "world without sin, a world without the burdens of human weakness or stumbling into misery or torture over earthly things." Schikowski, in 1926, was more benign: "The Gothic style she pursues has little of the elementary, ecstatic weight of the old Gothic—it is a mild, gentle, bourgeois, modernized Gothic and stands nearer to the English Pre-Raphaelites than to the spirit of the Middle Ages. And yet it has its moments which reach deep into the soul to produce a stirring sense of beholding. A convulsive, whirling leap, a powerful uprightness of her figure, a sinking of the head with a folding of all lines, an unresisting, surrendering plunge create images of entirely new and unusually strong expressive power" (151). But he observed that this "abstract style" was not an "expression of bodily form but of the pure language of line and shape. A first lifts high and spreads the fingers; yet one no longer sees the arm and the hand—one sees a shooting white line and something balled up unravels and transmits an ignited radiance." Ultimately, however, such an aesthetic of the body and movement did "not penetrate the heart": "[T]he eye enjoys the strict linear rhythms of
well-patterned attitudes and movements, but our feeling for the body does not resonate with it" (152).
The exception to these judgments, according to Blass, was her solo Totentanz (1920), in which she expressed the strength of desire rather than the bliss of contentment: "Here [dance] hunts, drums, rides, hacks, struggles, sprouts, sprouts so powerfully, so irresistibly that the future of Charlotte Bara seems to lie in the expression of unrest, movement, and questioning of the soul" (40). But Bara returned to the death dance theme only twice. The Totentanz of 1924 was her first group work and derived its imagery from the famous woodcut series of Hans Holbein. The 1943 Totentanz , done at San Marteno, was also a group work and again followed the medieval model of Holbein: with the original sin of Eve, Death, in processional fashion, takes everyone—king and queen, knight and fool, farmer and courtesan, young girl and money lender, physician, beggar, monk, innocent child. Bara herself danced the role of Death, in the stiff manner of a woodcut, moving in a circle around a medieval bell clock (Stadler, "Theater," 131). But the death dances were clearly not typical of her aesthetic. The compulsion to transcend death was the reason for the absence of fear or desire in her other works and for the need to create a religious body dynamic that was too mysterious for Christian morality alone to explain: the image of the mummy loomed over her entire aesthetic, the frozen, eternalized image of the human body. Thus, in almost direct contradiction to Wigman, Bara treated movement as a sign of rest rather than restlessness and thus, too, as an antidote to the convulsive destruction inflicted by the shadow of death upon a body too eager to submit to the rhythms of its desires.
Bara obviously constructed a unique significance for Egyptian dances within her sacral dance aesthetic as a whole, even though audiences persisted in associating her with Gothic dances. Such confusion of identity did not apply in the case of Sent M'ahesa (Elsa von Carlberg [1893–1970]), whom audiences persisted in identifying with Egyptian dances (though her dance aesthetic included images from other ancient or exotic cultures). She performed all her dances solo. Born in Latvia, she went to Berlin in 1907 with her sister to study Egyptology but became so enchanted with ancient Egyptian art and artifacts that she decided to pursue her interest through dance rather than scholarship. It is not clear whether she saw Ruth St. Denis perform her Egyptian dances in Berlin in 1908. At any rate, under the name of Sent M'ahesa she presented a program of Egyptian dances in Munich in December 1909 (Ettlinger). From then until the mid-1920s, she achieved fame for her exceptionally dramatic dances dominated by motifs
from ancient Egyptian iconography. She was apparently an aristocrat who felt no need to establish a school in which to perpetuate her aesthetic. In the mid-1930s she moved to Sweden, settling in Stockholm in 1938 and becoming a Swedish citizen in 1946. There she did some journalism and worked at the Stockholm dance museum. It is not clear that Sent M'ahesa ever visited the cultures she appropriated; many of her ideas likely came from images she encountered in Germany.
Sent M'ahesa took ballet lessons in Berlin, but she was a barefoot dancer whose debt to ballet rested primarily on her cultivation of an elegant bodily aura. She applied a very scholarly sensibility to her dances, yet she was no pedant and did not subordinate aesthetic power to academic authenticity. Moreover, in constructing her Egyptian dances, she extended her sense of detail almost exclusively to ancient Egyptian images. She did not reconstruct ancient Egyptian dances, unlike Irene Lexova in Prague, whose father was a famous Egyptologist and whose versions of Egyptian dances, in the late 1920s, deliberately contrasted with the common perception of formal stiffness associated with the Egyptian image of the body (EST 100–103; Lexova). But, as Brandenburg observed, Sent M'ahesa did "not want to show Egyptian art, but rather the relation of a modern, European person to this art." In this respect she was significant, not because of her scholarly objectivity but because of her complex subjectivity, her "entirely personal interpretations of [archaic] creations" (56). This point seemed reinforced by her determination not to create an elaborate "illusion" of Egyptian culture, for she performed most of her dances, not all of which were Egyptian, before a tapestry (HB 57). In other words, she consciously strove to present an image of the body that was out of context.
Her dances always functioned in relation to intricate, highly decorative costumes of her own design, so that it appeared as if she chose movements for their effect upon her costume. In her moon goddess (or Isis) dance, she attached large, diaphanous cloth wings to her black-sleeved arms. Around 1915 she wore a large, Pharaonic helmet when she danced this piece, but around 1920, with the choreography unchanged, she wore a short white skirt and a small, tight, cloth tiara, large earrings, and heavily bejeweled top. The 1915 costume produced greater ambiguity of sexual identity, but the 1920 image produced a greater impression of purely feminine power (HB plate 26; Ettlinger 33). Sent M'ahesa often exposed her flesh below the navel, but I have yet to find a picture of her in which she exposed her hair, so keen was she on the use of wigs, helmets, caps, scarves, kerchiefs, tiaras, masks, and crowns. In her peacock dance, she attached a large fan of white feather plumes to her spine. In other dances, she draped herself with tassels, decorative aprons, double sashes, layers of jeweled necklaces, and arm, wrist, and ankle bracelets. Only in her Indian dances did she wear anything resembling pants. In one, her legs simply appeared to move within two
large, voluptuous veils; in another, she wore what look like highly ornamental pantyhose complemented by shoulder-length gloves (Nikolaus 37; HB plate 21). Her costume for Salambo (1919) was especially complicated: she covered her left arm and left leg in matching decorative sleeves, leaving the right arm and leg exposed. An ornamental chain was attached to each ankle—she danced in shackles. She further emphasized the sense of her body's being reined in by applying a jeweled neckband, a tightly bound kerchief, and layers of swirling sashes around her waist. Yet she did not convey an impression of being oppressed; on the contrary, she appeared to surge with ecstatic energy, as if her body gave her great pleasure in spite of her own desire to restrain it. Photographs indicate she may have "bronzed" her skin to exoticize her body even further.
In 1924 Fritz Giese, though quite enthusiastic about her dances, said that Sent M'ahesa was "neither beautiful nor young" and that her dance aesthetic was "antierotic" (FGK 174). Such a statement might explain her focus on decorative costume effects. But I find Giese's comment obscure: her body was wonderfully svelte, and her face displayed a cool, chiseled beauty. I think, rather, that she sought to decontextualize female beauty and erotic feeling from archetypal images of them originating in cultures other than her own or her audience's; she sought to dramatize a tension between a modern female body and old images of female desire and desireability. Ettlinger, in 1910, was perhaps more accurate when he remarked that
Sent M'ahesa's dance has nothing to do with what one commonly understands as dance. She does not produce "beautiful," "sensually titillating" effects. She does not represent feelings, "fear," "horror," "lust," "despair," as "lovely." Her art requires its own style. Her movements are angular, geometrically uncircular, just as we find them in old Egyptian paintings and reliefs. Neither softness of line nor playful grace are the weapons with which she puts us under her spell. On the contrary: her body constructs hard, quite unnaturally broken lines. Arms and legs take on nearly doll-like attitudes. But precisely this deliberate limiting of gestures gives her the possibility of until now unknown, utterly minute intensities, the most exquisite refinements of bodily expression. With a sinking of the arm of only a few millimeters, she calls forth effects which all the tricks of the ballet school cannot teach (33–34).
What is especially peculiar about Ettlinger's description is the perception that Sent M'ahesa put the representation of feelings in quotation marks, so to speak, by using a style of movement that was incongruous with expected significations. Brandenburg felt she subordinated movement to a pictorial effect and therefore unnecessarily reduced the powerful expressiveness of her body (57–58; WS 48). She moved primarily in two dimensions and displayed little inclination to develop a sense of depth within the performance space. Her body consistently moved in profile and often within a very narrow zone close to the tapestry backdrop (Figure 46). Within this restricted
space, her body stirred with tension-laden movements. She carefully coordinated the sinking or lifting of her head, for example, with the precise raising of one arm above her head and the other arm above her waist; the fingers of each hand, pressed tightly together, trembled delicately and somehow caused a leg to rise and bend at the knee, the foot dangling elegantly in a pendulum motion. Sometimes she performed such complicated movements very rapidly, giving rise to the perception that she had a "very well-trained body" (KTP 4, 1920, 119–120). Yet she never gave an impression of fragility. In her Isis dance, she knelt down with her great wings outspread, head back, eyes shut, and conveyed a most provocative effect of femininity opening up to a yearned-for power that it will soon enclose; on her feet, she marched, erectly, then in a lunge, with the wings wrapped around her like a mysterious armor, her eyes still closed, as if the wings, driven by a force deep inside her, propelled rather than uplifted her.
Ettlinger mentioned that Georg Capellen composed all the (piano) music for Sent M'ahesa's 1910 concert, and from then on she apparently used only music written specifically for her dances, although it is not clear how long her collaboration with Capellen lasted. In 1920 a reviewer of a Hamburg concert complained that Walter Zaun was not an appropriate accompanist for her, but a year later he praised the sensitivity of a "Director Frisch" at a concert in Nordhausen. In Berlin in 1922 she appeared as the first, "tragic" half of a program on "the tragic and the gay dance" with Ronny Johansson and Ernst Blass, who gave an introductory lecture. Margrit Goetz accompanied both dancers, but although the program (deposited at the Cologne Tanzarchiv) listed composers for all the pieces danced by Johansson, it did not identify the music for any of Sent M'ahesa's five dances or a costume intermezzo. It is possible, then, that she used music so severely modified through various collaborations and adjustments to her bodily movements that its authorship was no longer clear. The music became convoluted because the bodily movement, to achieve dramatic effect in such a confined space, became convoluted, tending toward ever more precise refinements.
Sent M'ahesa was similar to Schrenck in one respect, even though Schrenck never performed exotic dances: both projected an intensely erotic aura while moving within a very confined space. They showed persuasively that convincing signification of erotic desire or pleasure did not depend on a feeling of freedom in space, as exemplified in the conventions of ballet and modern dance, with their cliched use of runs, leaps, pirouettes, and aerial acrobatics. These dancers revealed that erotic aura intensifies in relation to an acute sense of bodily confinement, of the body imploding, turning in on itself, riddled with tensions and contradictory pressures. They adopted movements to portray the body being squeezed and twisted, drifting into a repertoire of squirms, spasms, angular thrusts, muscular sus-
pensions. Contortionist dancing is perhaps the most extreme expression of this aesthetic. But Sent M'ahesa complicated the matter by doing exotic dances—that is, she confined her body within a remote cultural-historical context, as if to suggest that the ecstatic body imploded metaphorical as well as physical space. Perhaps this point appeared most evident in her coral tree dance, given at the 1922 Berlin concert, which contained only Asian dances. She signified the slow, gorgeous blossoming of a coral tree without moving from an initial position in the performance space, employing considerable inventiveness in the ornamentation of her movements. This aesthetic, even when she appropriated Indian, Bedouin, Siamese, or Javanese cultures, derived from her love of Egyptian art, which was the complete distillation of it. But, unlike Bara, Sent M'ahesa did not associate Egyptian art with a sublime aesthetic of death; rather, she saw in it the revelation that images that strongly confined or "froze" the body were ultimately the source of the ecstatic desire to make the body move. The body did not need more space beyond the image for movement: it needed to become itself the space containing movement.
Ellen Tels and Mila Cirul
Perhaps even more than Sent M'ahesa, Mila Cirul (1901–1977) demonstrated the degree to which German dance ideology could suffuse with ambiguity not only its own cultural identity but also that of the dancer. Like Sent M'ahesa, Cirul was born in Latvia. The example of Isadora Duncan inspired her to become a dancer, but she began with the study of classical ballet technique in Moscow under the famous dancer Mikael Mordkin (1880–1944). At the same time, she studied Delsartian semiotics and the early "biomechanics" of theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1940), whose "intention-realization-reaction" theory of physical action incorporated ideas from gymnastics, acrobatics, fencing, sports, circus acts, and commedia dell'arte (Braun 197–206; Robinson 133). In 1918 she entered the then influential school and company of Ellen Tels (aka Ellen Rabanek [1885–1944]), the daughter of a German baker in Moscow. Tels pursued a kind of pantomimic dance derived from Delsartian principles, although she, too, had studied with Mordkin. Her "dance idylls" attracted audiences in Germany, Austria, and even England between 1911 and 1914, partly because she aligned pantomimic movement with literary scenarios, as in her Chrisis (1912), coordinated with music by Reinhold Glière, which evoked erotic texts by Pierre Louys (Suritz 407).
Tels and Cirul began dancing as a pair, but in 1919 Tels saw no future for her company in Russia and moved to Vienna, taking Cirul and three other women with her. Soon her school-company, which briefly included Ellinor Tordis, was producing dance pantomimes of great refinement and
very subtle, delicate bodily rhythms, free of metricality. In 1921, Brandenburg described one of these dance pantomimes, Mozart's Les petits riens , as being the "nerve" of rococo without being an academic imitation of it: "It is a series of dainty solo dances, tender gavottes, flirtatious war, erotic cunning, snatching and concealing, carnivalistic processions, masquerade interludes and a pantomime in which the jealousy of a masked girl, stuck in a cage of green silk, enacts her suffering acrobatically and everyone executes their actions stiffly, convulsively, like dancing marionettes—yet it all remains a single flow of movement, in which costume and mask are nothing but a play of light and color that only make the waves livelier. That is no ballet in an antiquated sense of dance craftsmanship." (126). Brandenburg did not think much of Tels herself as a solo performer ("too rational") but hailed her as a rare "symphonic creator" of elegantly pliant group movement (although, he complained, the pantomime approach tended to end every dance in a tableaux vivants pose). Tels apparently had a strong gift for what I would call "theatricalized rhythm," a skill of seeing the movement potential of theatrical devices: purple and white-clad dancers bearing baskets set in tension with gold-clad dancers tapping gold cymbals with mallets; an entire ensemble moving while wrapped in a great veil (Rochowanski, Tanzende 37–38). A girl might swirl like the wind while other dancers undulated like flowers, but with Tels this sort of narrative premise always led to dances in which "movement became visible" rather than a mere imitation of nature (HB 127). In Vienna, Tels produced nearly fifty dance pantomimes, many for opera productions, and in 1924 she collaborated, as scenarist, with composer Egon Wellesz on the Persisches Ballett, which Kurt Jooss actually choreographed and presented at Donaueschingen (Amort 394). In 1927, however, for reasons that are obscure, Tels moved to Paris, where Janine Solane (b. 1912), among others, became her student.
Meanwhile, Cirul's star began to rise. In 1926 she and Tels gave a concert in Frankfurt attended by Mary Wigman. Ensuing conversations with Wigman urged Cirul to rethink her dance aesthetic in relation to submission to unconscious forces, and for awhile she worked in complete solitude (AI 21). Then her career suddenly began to blossom: she became a soloist at the operas in Vienna, Hanover, and Berlin, and in 1930 she performed with Margarethe Wallmann's Tanzgruppe 1930 in Berlin and at the big Munich Dance Congress. Unlike Tels, Cirul liked to dance violent, passionate modes of feeling, often with music (Bach, Handel) seldom associated with violence or passion—as in her Barbarischer Tanz (1930), using Bach's music, or Niobe (1931), wherein pride, terror, and sorrow struggled within her, or in Wallmann's Orfeus Dionysos (1930), set to Glück's music, in which she impersonated the Priestess of Death. In Russischer Tanz (1929), "she symbolized the sufferings of revolutionary Russia" through the figure (judging from the heavily buttoned dress she wears in a photo) of an austere middle-class
woman, not a peasant. The photo is quite interesting: one foot (wearing high heels) firmly planted, the trailing foot on tiptoe in peculiarly Wigmanesque fashion, the body arcing backward, head tilted back, eyes closed, arms spread wide and flinging a dark mantel. At first glance it looks like a surge of ecstasy, but the face, with its dark eyes and mouth shut, conveys a beautiful tinge of melancholy, reserve, or uncertainty: it is a dark ecstasy, a great pulsation of movement, learned from Wigman, complicated by attention to the delicate detail—the "exact expression," as Cirul put it—learned from Tels.
In spite of her success in Germany, Cirul was seeking something she could not find there, for in 1932 she, too, migrated to Paris. However, she did not resume collaboration with Tels; instead she worked for several years in partnership with the French critic Fernand Divoire, who was immediately captivated by her smoldering temperament and her ability to enlarge every space with her intensity of feeling. She received great acclaim for her version of Strauss's music for Salome, presented at the Comèdie Champs Elysèes in 1934. Then her sister Elia began dancing with her in complex duets, of which Tentation (1935), with scenario by Divoire, was an example. This piece dramatized the struggle between consciousness, performed by Mila, and the unconscious, performed by Elia—thus, two bodies dramatized aspects of a single persona. Accompanying the dance were two voices, both male, in dialogue not only with each other but with the dancers as well. A stunning photograph suggests the sleek image of the modern psyche she sought to create (Figure 47). But this provocative "association of literature, philosophy, and movement did not make a strong impression on the audience" (AI 21; Divoire 287).
Cirul continued dancing until the early 1940s and taught many significant French dancers until 1962, when she retired to Nice. Though critics tended to consider her an avant-garde dancer, her Wigmanesque submission to bold, "instinctual" movement always remained subordinate to a strong sense of dramatic structure and detail gained from the pantomimic aesthetic of Ellen Tels. Cirul did not embody the unconscious force, as Wigman did; rather, she dramatized, through movement, a struggle within herself between consciousness and the unconscious. Indeed, one might even say that the relation between pantomime and the Wigman aesthetic constituted a major tension between self-consciously and unconsciously driven forms of dance. But the synthesis of the two forms in Cirul produced an identity that was neither German nor French nor Russian but always alluringly foreign, always the restless movements of an exquisite body seeking something more or other than that yielded by the space it occupied. Her image of movement toward death was at once less abstract than Wigman's and more clearly identified with the abstract dramatic structure of the dance, rather than with bodily movements, as in her ironically entitled Le
Chemin de la Vie (1947), a collaboration with Divoire, using music by Liszt. In scene after scene, death arrived at the ball, the war, the revolution, the modern city of lovers, and led all the dead in a final, grand procession of death . . . into darkness, somewhere else. No frozen pose to end the scene.
"She would be a great dancer even if she had been born a cripple": such was the judgment in 1920 of theatre critic and producer Felix Hollaender regarding Niddy Impekoven (L. Impekoven 15). Probably no other dancer of the era more strongly evoked an aura of feminine innocence and geniality than Niddy Impekoven, yet she spent much of her career struggling against efforts to mold her body according to an image that conflicted with her desires. She was born in Berlin in 1904; her father was a prominent actor, and her family contained many members involved in one way or another with the arts. She began dancing at the age of three to phonograph records played by her father: "Papa was always entirely absent when he sat at the phonograph; his upper body throbbed up and down to the rhythm of the music, and his gaze was directed toward the waltz which one saw coursing somewhere beyond the glass window. So I did not feel I inconvenienced him at all by what I wanted to do: to dance, in which I had quite a model in his surrender to the music. I always danced what he played" (N. Impekoven, Geschichte, 22). Throughout her career, music remained for her the chief motive for dance movement. Her charm and precociousness hardly went unnoticed, and, unlike so many other dancers, she did not have to battle family prejudices to establish her identity as a dancer. On the contrary, she had to battle pressures to meet the demanding expectations imposed upon an artistic prodigy.
She was constantly an object of inspection. At the age of six she posed nude for a sculptor's photographs, a circumstance that struck her as excruciatingly boring because she could not move for long periods of time (Geschichte, 23). In 1910 she began ballet lessons with the first soloist of the Berlin Municipal Opera, and the same year she danced publicly for the first time, at which time the press acclaimed her as a prodigy. At the outbreak of the war, her family moved to Munich, where her parents compelled her to continue ballet studies, but these she regarded as painfully constricting and deadening: a collection of postcard photos depicting Anna Pavlova inspired her more than the bankrupt rhetoric of ballet did. During the war she danced for patriotic occasions and suddenly acquired a startling number of fans, not all of whom were children. The great moment in her education came when her father permitted her to study for six weeks at the Loheland school in summer of 1918; there she experienced a freedom and awareness of bodily expression that decisively con-
firmed her desire to dance (72–75). Her father, however, felt the Loheland approach lacked rigor, so she took some lessons from perhaps the most prominent ballet master in Germany, Heinrich Kröller (1880–1930), who appreciated the uniqueness of her talent.
But her health was always delicate; the arduous ballet training had turned her into a dispirited "skeleton," and at the age of fourteen she decided it was time to test the authority of her painful education. She gave her first solo concert in Frankfurt late in 1918. From then until 1923 she created a new program of dances every year, and these made her an object of enormous adulation throughout Germany. Her exquisite, nubile embodiment of fairy-tale feminine innocence often provoked dark, possessive impulses in her male worshippers, and she became eerily conscious of the power of her seemingly harmless art to produce pathological consequences—or rather, to reveal secret conditions of illness, remoteness from innocence, in others (102–105). Most curious in this respect was a book about her, Briefe an eine Tänzerin (1922), written by Fred Hildenbrandt, feuilleton editor for the Berliner Tageblatt . The dances of Niddy Impekoven awakened in Hildenbrandt a rapturous, unbridled, incoherent, even fanatical language of glorification:
She dances the breath of rapid-breathing anticipation, the play of a thousand things gleaming in the daylight, she dances the storm of tenderness, the weariness of all meanings, the blessed languor of the heart, she dances the sun, which creeps through the morning window, and [she dances] the early footsteps on the street which press in on her in her sleep. So she spreads in her arms, her hands, her lips and eyes the shimmering mosaic of love and no one is there who can destroy it with naked eyes. Her body is the chosen instrument of dance, the chosen instrument of love (41).
The book was actually an extravagant, obsessive, and often hysterical love letter, but it obviously indicated the wild convolution of feeling that Impekoven's pretty dances could stir up in male spectators. Hildenbrandt advised her not to find a partner for her dances, for "the man who dances should only dance grotesquely" (85). The very looniness of the book did much to clarify the appeal of Impekoven's dances for a particular kind of spectator, "grey with gloom" and living in a "world of rain": "I cannot love people, Ny, because I do not love myself, and I cannot hate them because I do not hate myself, and because I am bound to this [male] sex as I am bound to myself, the result is a desolate condition of foolish hours" (83). As biographer Hans Frentz put it, "She dances what we have all lost"—namely, a mythical sense of childhood purity of being (Niddy Impekoven, 35).
In 1923 she married an immensely wealthy physician, Hans Killian, whom she had known for several years. This event marked a dramatic change in her aesthetic. With gentle seriousness, Killian provided her with
a deep appreciation of the music of Bach, and through her love of Bach's music she evolved toward a more "womanly" dance aesthetic, attempting to reach an audience looking for more than a girlish affirmation of innocence. But she was never a tragic dancer nor even an especially innovative or daring one. What she offered was an acute aura of fragility. Her fragile body displayed superb mastery of fragile movements, and yet in this fragile negotiation with time and space there evidently lay a superior strength of will that has allowed Impekoven to live a very long life indeed. It was the aura of fragility (more than the aura of innocence) that allowed her dances to open up the emotional responses of audiences to a greater degree than could many dances with more aggressively modern ambitions. As she herself said as early as 1922: "My aim is constantly to distance myself from 'intellectual' dance. . . . The purest, most natural dance is for me the unreflective surrender to music" (N. Impekoven, Werdegang, 31). But the music for her dances was now rarely modern, limited to a couple of pieces by Milhaud and Bartók; otherwise her love for Schumann, Mozart, and Bach prevailed.
In 1928 she embarked on an amazing world tour in which she visited numerous European cities before going on to exuberantly acclaimed concerts in Port Said, Bombay, Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Shanghai, Tokyo, Honolulu, San Francisco, New York, and many, many other cities. The tour made her quite wealthy, and she decided to accept further invitations to tour the Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia in 1930. In 1933–1934 she presented her last program, which contained the Drei Engel cycle of dances to Bach preludes and Das Fest, a cycle of sixteenth-century German court and folk dances, and these pieces seemed to appeal to the conservative sensibilities that quite suddenly dominated German dance culture. Impekoven, however, felt no invigorating enthusiasm for the emerging cultural scene, so she retired to Switzerland, which she had regarded as her home since 1923. The great majority of her life still lay before her, but she lived quietly, apparently secure in the belief that she had already accomplished what she was born to do. In 1955 she published her brief and poignant autobiography, Die Geschichte eines Wunderkinds, which examined her life only up to the age of fourteen and suggested that the image of childhood innocence pervasively defining public perception of her concealed a measure of suffering, self-sacrifice, and anxiety that one could never really transcend and that in any case hardly affirmed the innocence of her audience.
In 1926, John Schikowski observed that, despite their evolution toward an "adult" phase, Impekoven's dances were "still always the dances of a child" and disclosed "a world of naive feelings": "This world is small, but it is full of beauty and fairy-tale radiance. This child gazes with large, teary, strangely shiny eyes, an aching smile on the lips. A sick child. Even over manic exuberance a little, melancholy cloud hovers. Poignant the droll exaltation, the grimacing gestures. Touching the little desires which strive
toward heaven, without soaring, but rather helplessly seek their chains. Tensions and releases of a gentle, sweet softness which appears vacuous when it does not assume a child-like style. A perfectly polished body" (153–154). What made Impekoven's dances childlike was her tendency to equate the signification of innocence and fragility with the performance of delicate, precise, highly nimble movements; it appeared as if she moved in a hostile, treacherous space in which the slightest false gesture could lead to a mishap, a fall, a desecration. She was capable of bold, swinging movements, but these always remained subordinated to a small sense of scale, to a doll-sized world. Even in her "adult" phase, she simply transformed the doll image into the image of a lithe angel. Photographs of her dances suggest that while performing she liked suddenly to gaze directly at the spectator, her large eyes leveling in a haunting and almost questioning way, as if to say, "Are you sure what I'm doing makes you happy?" She often danced on the balls of her feet and occasionally on pointe, with numerous delicate, lilting kicks, hops, and skips, and she liked having outspread arms in motion; she apparently did not favor movements that brought her hands close to her body.
She definitely preferred curvaceousness to angularity in shaping bodily expressivity. Her costumes avoided elaborate ornamentation, yet she loved dancing in a great variety of costumes. In Schalk (1918) she wore a kind of trapeze artist blouse that displayed all of her arms and legs, but in Pavanne (1918) she appeared in an eighteenth-century aristocratic boy's shirt and breeches. For Pizzicato (1918) she donned an elegant white ballet tutu, whereas in the Beethoven Bagatelles (1920) she wore a gypsy-style shirt dress with long fringes (Holdt). For her dance concerning "the life of a flower" (1918), she wore a simple, sleeveless dress with an abstract floral design. In later dances, she put on a thirteenth-century gown with mantilla or a buffoonish jacket and pants that, when performed with all sorts of quirky movements, made her look like an intoxicated imp. Her costume for Dernier cri (1924) was quite odd: she danced in heels, with a little boa around her neck and a small, feathered hat at a tilt; her dark blouse had very short sleeves, yet she wore gloves extending above her elbows. Her skirt was long, extending to her ankles, quite tight around the waist and thighs but shredded just below the thighs into a long, dense fringe. Toward the end of her career, with her Bach pieces, she went in for long, dark, completely undecorated gowns with thigh-length slits that allowed for freedom of movement and flashing glimpses of her legs. But she exuded an austere, vaguely haloed aura.
One of her most memorable costumes was for Der gefangene Vogel (1918 [music: Bruno Hartl]). Here she wore a dark caftan that entirely concealed all the hair on her head; her minidress generously exposed her legs, but its sleeves covered her arms and even her hands. Attached to the sleeves and
to the sides of the dress were wings, upon which she had painted brightly colored feathers. Unlike Sent M'ahesa's use of wings in her Isis dance, Impekoven made the wings of "the captured bird" an intimate, indistinguishable part of the dress itself, so that it appeared as if the costume was what allowed the body to soar. Yet Impekoven performed this dance in a completely neutral context, pure space, as though in the sky. Thus, she conveyed the sense of the bird imprisoned by its own wings and the dancer's body imprisoned not so much by its costume as by a peculiar sense of many things tightly attached to it: wings, feathers, cloth. The piece implied that the poignant fragility of creatures was most evident when they moved in a state of captivity; yet it also suggested that a creature's fragility was a motive for capturing it, and no amount of space or freedom could protect the body from its fragility. A cage did not amplify the body's fragility; mere consciousness of space and gravity did that (Figure 48).
In 1918 Impekoven created her curious series of doll dances, which in addition to the "rococo" doll and the Münchener Kaffeewarmer included miniatures inspired by the wax or porcelain figurines created by Lotte Pritzel, Erna Pinner, and Käthe Kruse. The Erna Pinner doll dance appeared in the film Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit (1925), with Impekoven wearing a delightful polka-dot clown costume with black stockings and gloves. She slumbered in an armchair until the twitching of her sleep and dreams propelled her into whirling, jerky, puppetlike movements that quickly exhausted her and caused her to fling herself back into slumber on the chair. Here she signaled that feminine innocence was but a toy of the unconscious, a windup doll with no discernible motive for its sputtering movement other than to exhaust itself with pleasure in its own absurdity.
Very few dancers received the pervasive acclaim and prestigious respect bestowed upon Gret Palucca (1902–1993), yet today her work seems perhaps less interesting than that of others of her generation. After spending a couple of years in San Francisco, she grew up largely in Dresden, where between 1914 and 1918 she studied ballet intermittently under Heinrich Kröller. In 1919, Palucca saw Mary Wigman perform in Dresden, and as a result she became a student in the new school Wigman opened in that city. Palucca was a member of the famous "first Mary Wigman group," which included Hanya Holm, Vera Skoronel, Berthe Trümpy, and Yvonne Georgi; with this group Palucca created her first pieces, a drum dance and Golliwog's Cakewalk (1922). By 1924, however, she, along with Trümpy, Skoronel, and Georgi, decided it was time to chart her own course. She followed an aesthetic path that gained her many admirers yet prevented her from becoming a complex, influential artist. The same year she married Fritz Bienert,
the son of wealthy art collector Ida Bienert, and through the marriage (which lasted until 1930) she came into contact with many prominent modernist artists, including members of the Bauhaus, such as Kandinsky and Klee. In 1925 she opened her own school in Dresden, much to Wigman's annoyance; as it turned out, Palucca lasted much longer in Dresden than Wigman did. She then formed a dance group in 1927 whose members for the most part merely accompanied her on percussion instruments.
Palucca was above all a solo dancer, giving up to a hundred solo concerts a year throughout Germany and Switzerland; unlike many German dancers, she found numerous admirers in Poland (1928–1929). She showed little imagination for group choreography, for she was unsure how to create complex, expressive relations between bodies without succumbing to the mechanized drill formations of the revue dance modes, which she disliked intensely (Palucca). She apparently found the process of collaboration on group pieces oppressively tedious and complicated by the necessity of managing so many unexpectedly significant details. Instead she produced new collections of solo dances every year, year after year, until she retired from performance in 1950.
In spite of her friendly connection with the Bauhaus and in spite of her completely "abstract" image of modernity, Palucca gained the favor of the Nazis, with Goebbels an especially enthusiastic admirer. Purged of Jewish students and teachers, including codirector Irma Steinberg, the Palucca school received strong state subsidies, and Palucca herself enjoyed prestigious appointments. In 1935 she turned down the leadership of the newly formed modern dance section of the German master workshops for dance, not for ideological reasons but because she felt that accepting the appointment would make her complicit in government efforts to discredit her teacher, Mary Wigman. The next year she participated in organization of the gigantic dances for the Berlin Olympics, but because these entailed group choreography on an unprecedented scale she found the experience nerve-wrackingly exhausting ("Palucca," 22–23). When at last, in 1939, it became obvious that her method of teaching paid little attention, if any, to matters of ideological indoctrination, the Nazis removed her from the leadership of her school and then from any position within it. But she continued to present solo concerts in cities throughout Germany and Switzerland during the war years.
The catastrophic firebombing of Dresden in February 1945 destroyed nearly all her possessions. She was, however, as resilient as ever: by June she had started teaching classes again, and these became the basis for a new school, which began receiving state subsidies in 1949. In 1952, during the construction of a new building for the school, she ran into disagreements with Communist authorities, and she declined to teach there until 1954, when Minister of Culture Johannes R. Becher intervened on her behalf.
From then on she and her school prospered. The Communist regime heaped upon her numerous medals, honors, privileges, appointments, foreign invitations, commemorations, and documentary tributes, although the government actually promoted a skeptical, unencouraging attitude toward the whole Ausdruckstanz legacy. East German publications on Palucca were almost entirely uncritical testimonials (Krüll; Schumann). Even in West Germany she attracted a fairly strong measure of veneration, simply because she seemed a living link to the thwarted, suppressed modernist potential in German culture generated by the ill-fated Weimar Republic ("Palucca"). But during the cold war years, Palucca's notion of "the new artistic dance" hardly represented a new direction anywhere, even when compared with the dance scene of 1920.
Palucca may have been the most abstract of all expressionist dance artists, including Schlemmer, despite his obsession with robotic dancing bodies. She produced a huge repertoire of solo dances, but she was so prolific because she did not complicate her aesthetic with narrative or thematic ambitions. She was a superb technician who regarded the mastery of technique as the subject of virtually every dance. As she herself explained in 1935: "My dances have no other content and meaning than just dance, natural movement, formed in congruity with the music. It is my wish in my dances to be just so free and so bound [by music] as a musician is. Free of themes and symbols" (Losch 104). Palucca viewed the body as a pliant structure, which movement shaped into endlessly varied arabesque forms. Movement was an end in itself, and as such it did not "express" anything except a "natural" state of freedom and a superior command of space. Her dances projected hardly any of the erotic aura found in the work of so many other modern dancers. Palucca was famous for her extraordinarily high and long leaps; when she was a student at the Wigman school, Wigman, who favored strong contact with the performance surface, had to restrain her from incorporating ever greater leaps into the group dances (HM 89). Hardly any other dancer produced such a variety of leaps as Palucca, but she was also fond of bold strides, high kicking steps, exaggerated stretches, sweeping arm movements, torso-twisting pivots, gliding surges, and precisely balanced turns on one foot (Figure 49). Her body seemed to cut across the performance space in diagonal patterns while constantly striving to spiral upward. Her dances were primarily about the beauty of these devices. She kept adding so many new dances to her repertoire because in themselves none of her pieces left a strong emotional impact; in most cases a new dance was simply a reconfiguration of her favorite devices set to different music and given a different title. Her dance titles were often quite abstract and merely descriptive of the movement she performed, such as "lively" (1925), "light" (1925), "colored" (1928), "distant" (1928), "intense" (1925), "furious" (1931), "sad" (1934), "graceful" (1941), "only so" (1945). Other
pieces carried purely musical appellations: Largo (1943), Rondo (1933), Lento (1924), Capriccio (1932), Waltz (1922, 1927, 1933, 1943, 1948), Tango (1923, 1929, 1941). She consistently chose neutral costumes that might fit any number of dances, and her taste in music was quite eclectic, though not particularly adventurous.
Throughout her career she tried to succeed at the performance of dark, somber, or tragic moods, but she could not achieve anything memorable in these dimensions, for at bottom she regarded dance entirely as an expression of joy, an exuberant release of energy. The most appealing photographs of her always showed her smiling radiantly, completely delighted by the sheer sensation of her own movement and unconcerned with its significance. In a sense she was a barefoot ballerina, putting ballet techniques and devices at the service of improvisation. She freed ballet technique from elaborate narrative contexts, and the result was dance that meant nothing other than that freedom and ecstasy depended entirely on the perfect exposure, the unclothing, of technical devices. Palucca's aesthetic transcended the political-historical contexts in which she lived and protected the freedom of the body from competing ideological perspectives about its meaning. However, detaching the display of technical devices from narrative motivations required Palucca to detach herself from any strong emotional response to the world around her; she created a perfectly closed universe that was never any greater than the space in which she could leap. Yet it was her ability to detach technique from intention that made her an excellent teacher, for she knew how to correct movements without disrupting the message the student wanted to convey. Her method of improvisational instruction enabled students to achieve superior technical mastery in relation to desires that were uniquely their own, as is evident from the abundant testimonials compiled by Schumann. Some of her students, such as Lotte Goslar, Marianne Vogelsang, and Dore Hoyer, demonstrated far greater emotional expressivity and depth than their teacher but probably could not have achieved such confidence in their expressive power by studying entirely under a teacher like Wigman, someone devoted to the realization of visions and urgent meanings.
Modernists such as Bertolt Brecht, László Moholy Nagy, Ruth Berghaus, and Wassily Kandinsky liked Palucca's dances because they seemed to deconstruct the vocabulary of abstraction that supposedly invested the body with modernity. In 1925, Kandinsky published his famous Tanzkurven zu den Tänze der Palucca (Figure 50), in which he went about as far as anyone could go in constructing an abstract image of a still recognizably human form. The artist reduced the movement of the body to a minimal set of converging or intersecting arcs and lines of varying thickness. The images created a strong impression of purely formal dynamism, as if dance were nothing more than a vigorous conflict between curved and straight lines. What
Kandinsky saw in Palucca's dances were devices of movement, expressions of nothing more than a desire to achieve a completely generic identity as a dancer. The images showed "dance" with geometric simplicity and authority, but one needs a caption to know that the dancer who inspired the artist was Palucca; the device discloses the unique identity of a form (dance), not the unique identity of its user, the dancer.
Virtually opposite Palucca in aesthetic temperament was Gertrud Kraus (1901–1977), who lacked a clear idea of technique and for whom "technical ability grew out of emotion" (Manor, "Weg," 11). Kraus possessed an impulsive personality driven by strong emotional responses to the immediate, peculiar moment. Born in Vienna, she first studied piano at the State Academy of Music. Upon graduation she worked as an accompanist for silent movies and for the dancer Ellinor Tordis (1896–1976), a dark figure whose ambitions included dancing to the music of Anton Bruckner. Initially, Kraus was ambivalent about the possibility of dance as an art: "My suspicion was that dance was only for cabarets" (Ingber, "Conversations," 45). But as she accompanied Tordis, she became aware of dance's great expressive potential. Her impulsive personality registered clearly in the story she told of how she decided to become a dancer. One day Tordis asked if any students were prepared to present a piece for the class. After a brief pause, Kraus jumped from the piano, tossed off her shoes, and improvised a piece, completely unpremeditated, unrehearsed, and, indeed, untrained except for what she had learned from watching the classes given by Tordis. Her performance was followed by a long silence, which Kraus found so excruciating that she grabbed her shoes and belongings and headed for the door. Tordis called after her: "Wait! We must talk about this," but Kraus responded, "The pause was too long," and kept going (Manor, "Weg," 9).
With this action, Kraus decided she was a dancer. She studied for awhile with Gertrud Bodenwieser and even joined her dance company for several months. But Bodenwieser's aesthetic soon struck Kraus as too full of theatrical cleverness and sentimentality, and at the end of 1925 she rented one of the largest theatrical spaces in Vienna and presented her own concert of solo dances. The success of her solo concerts encouraged her to form a school and dance company in 1927. The company toured extensively in Germany, giving many performances for socialist and Zionist organizations. In 1929 she assisted Laban in the creation of festival processions in Vienna, and at the 1930 Munich Dance Congress she and her group attracted much attention by performing a cycle of dances evoking "songs of the ghetto." The following year she gave concerts in Palestine, where she became intoxicated by the sounds, colors, and rhythms of the Middle East. Because she
was Jewish, the advent of the Nazi regime completely destroyed all artistic opportunities for her in Germany. However, her decision to migrate to Palestine actually resulted from her impulsive response to communism. While performing in Prague in 1934, a clandestine cell of communists approached her and urged her to become an agent of the party and to make her dances an instrument of party propaganda. Though she adopted vaguely left-humanitarian political values, Kraus sensed that in Central Europe she could not do anything anymore without turning her art into a "placard." "I felt I had no flag and I wanted only to leave Europe behind," she said, although she claimed her life in Vienna was "the most glorious time anyone could ever have had" (Ingber, "Conversations," 48). In 1935 she emigrated to Palestine, where she spent the rest of her life choreographing, teaching, researching Jewish folk dance, and sculpting. In her later years, she produced elaborate sketchbooks in which she continued ecstatically to "dance on paper."
Unlike many modern dancers, Kraus relied heavily on literary sources to shape the identity of her dances and suffuse them with narrative logic. She also grounded her dances in socialist and Zionist political theory. Her dances signified heavy emotions because they were intensely dramatic, but the source of dramatic conflict always lay in her strange, almost alien image of feminine beauty. In her dances, female bodies moved as if they came from a secret, unmapped corner of European culture. An eerieness pervaded all her European dances, which consistently favored a convergence of the bizarre and the melancholy. A wispy, diminutive woman with raven-black hair and large, almond-shaped eyes, she delighted in exaggerating the strangeness of her beauty. Unlike Impekoven, however, she did not make the fragility of the body the basis for the emotional intensity of her dances. Photographs of her European dances depict a phantasmal woman, a Lilith, a creature moving in a dusky glow. Expressionist chiaroscura suited her temperament exquisitely, even though that style, so strong in the visual and performing arts in the years 1919 to 1923, was largely out of fashion by the time she started making dances. Kraus loved rocking or swaying movements that curved the body, the arms often moving more freely than the legs. She seldom danced on tiptoes, and she liked having bodies close to the floor, especially in kneeling positions, which compelled them to make inventive use of head, hand, and torso movements; in 1935 she created a piece in which dancers moved while drumming their hands on the floor (Manor, Life, 32). Kraus also borrowed curving, serpentine, and undulant movements from Near Eastern and Indonesian dance cultures. In Fire Dance (1930, music: De Falla) she stood with legs spread and performed much of the dance using shaking, trembling, throbbing, gyrating movements of her arms, torso, and head. In Air on a G-string (1931, music: Bach), she wore a long, flowing lamè gown with long sleeves and
began the dance (as photographed at the D'Ora studio) in a profile kneeling position, eyes closed, while her arms made spiraling movements over her breasts and head until her body seemed coiled up; then she spiraled upward onto her feet and began rocking sideways, back and forth, twisting her whole body so that the tilting of her head appeared to control the balance of her entire body. The movement of her head dominated the body and the dance, yet she never opened her eyes. A footlight effect emphasized the trancelike eerieness of the dance. Few dancers could make the head so expressive because few dancers treated dance as a submission to the elevating power of intellectuality.
Guignol (1929) was even stranger. Here Kraus impersonated a bizarre puppet. She sat on a pedestal in a long black dress with a white stripe from hip to hem and a sort of large white claw stamped onto her chest. Around her neck she wore a large bow; her face was painted white, and she attached to her fingers long brass fingernails of the type used by Javanese dancers. In this case her large dark eyes stayed constantly open and gazing at the spectator. She never left the pedestal; she sat on it, knelt on it, peered from behind it, and stood against it while the rocking of her body and tilting of her head inspired uncanny arabesque swirls of her arms and clawlike brass fingernails. She never smiled. Yet one did not see a body trapped in space; rather, it was as if the freedom of her body depended on its achieving a beautiful alienness through its power to concentrate perception within a highly confined space. Kraus created a haunting image of robotized femininity suffused with a vaguely supernatural aura, as if the key to comprehending the mystery of sexual identity lay in the puppetization of the body. Equally spooky was her incarnation of The Tired Death (1930), in which she moved in a long, satiny, purple gown and a great purple cape; her head, however, was covered with a white skullcap, so that she looked bald, while her eyes remained heavily mascared and her lips starkly painted. She moved slowly, stealthily, as if in a predatory trance, sweeping into death all humanity in her path. In The Beast (1931), however, she wore a kind of jumpsuit and combined powerful striding, lunging, pouncing movements with the "feminine" curvaturing of rocking and swaying motions. Decorative exoticism appeared in Oriental Girl (1929), and in Russian Folk Song (1932) she introduced a wild, ecstatic swirling movement seldom associated with "colorful" peasant costumes. With The Jewish Boy (1929), she experimented with a mysterious, seductive image of androgyny. Manor claims that Kraus's dances contained no eroticism, perhaps because she consistently covered her legs with longs skirts or dresses and did not seem interested in narrative themes of sexual desire (Life, 36). But from my perspective, her preoccupation with producing an alien, melancholy image of her body is evidence of a desire to estrange the spectator from normative, narratively contextualized significations of erotic feeling.
Information about her group dances in Europe is so scanty that it is difficult to say anything about them. Apparently she attracted only Jewish women into her group. She had as many as eight women in the group, but in some dances the women impersonated men. In 1928, Kraus tried to persuade Baruch Agadati (1895–1976), a Russian-Palestinian who performed Jewish folk dances in an expressionist style, to join her group, but he insisted that he was exclusively a solo dancer (Manor, "Weg," 9). Old Jewish narrative ballads and Hassidic tales inspired Ghettolieder (1930, music: Joseph Achron), which offered tragic images of the hermetic world of Eastern European Jewry; the dancers wore long, dark, expressionist gowns somewhat similar to the Guignol puppet costume, with shawls attached to their heads for some pieces. Rocking and swaying movements dominated the choreographic design, but Kraus developed ingenious variations on this motif: for example, a trio of women deep in the space swayed in a horizontal line, backs to the audience, while a quartet of women in diagonal formation swayed-glided toward the trio. She introduced multiple pairs of dancers performing eerie swaying movements: two dancers in profile on their knees rocked their way across the stage while two pairs of dancers, on their feet, swayed in tango fashion behind them, creating a curious image of sexual ambiguity (only two of the tango dancers had a definitively established sexual identity, wearing shawls to signify their femininity).
Pendulum mechanicality of movement appeared again in Dream of Happiness (1932), ten scenes built around a poem by Kraus's friend Elias Canetti; some of the accompaniment included the speaking of Canetti's words. In this work, a monumental machine dance turned into a triumphal procession to signify the "dream of happiness" arising from "a vicious circle of hopelessness" (Manor, Life, 30). In 1932, Kraus also worked on a dance inspired by Karl Kraus's (no relation) enormous drama The Last Days of Mankind (1921), in which the female dancers were soldiers wearing gas masks. Her last and perhaps most popular work, The City Waits (1933), derived from a story by Maxim Gorky: "A boy goes to [a] town and hears how the town suffers" (Ingber, "Conversations," 46). The accompaniment included the speaking, by a woman, of words from the Gorky story as well as music composed for the piece by Marcel Rubin. Kraus herself played the boy, though by this time she had at least one male student, Fritz Berger (aka Fred Berk [1911–1980]) in her group. When Kraus disbanded her group the following year, Berger achieved some success in Vienna as a solo performer of folk dances and political allegories, such as the Pharaonic The Tyrant (1932), and as a partner for the Viennese ballerina Hedy Pfundmayr (1899–1966). He emigrated (1939) to Switzerland, Cuba, and finally New York, where he became prominent in the research and preservation of Jewish folk dance traditions (Ingber, "Vienna"). In spite of having such a strong male talent on hand, however, Kraus deliberately welcomed opportunities,
provided by narrative situations, for female bodies to appropriate male identities and thereby create a strange, alien image of female beauty. She liked shifting sexual identities, just as she liked shifting impulsively from dancing to accompanying dance on the piano, just as she liked rocking, pendulum movements of the body.
In 1921, before Wigman's genius was fully apparent, Hans Brandenburg regarded Gertrud Leistikow (1885–1948) as the most tragic and "Dionysian" of all German modern dancers, the figure closest to the primeval concept of dance as an expression of an ecstatic body (HB 157–173; Bragaglia, too, Scultura vivente, 84–85). But by 1925, Leistikow's significance seemed confined almost entirely to the Netherlands, where she had resided since about 1917, although she kept trying to achieve dramatic comebacks as a dancer until 1939. After attending girls' schools in Metz and Spa, she studied at a school of applied arts in Dresden, where in 1904 she observed a demonstration by Dalcroze. The same year she apparently took lessons in the Delsarte-Stebbins "artistic gymnastic" method of Hedwig Kallmeyer in Berlin. Leistikow gave her first dance recitals sometime between 1906 and 1910, with the earliest known dances dating from 1910 (Lustig). By then her reputation was such that until 1914 she could command sizable audiences for her solo concerts in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Lausanne, Utrecht, and Sarajevo. In summer 1914 she joined Laban's group in Ascona, where she and Mary Wigman assumed the main roles in Laban's large-scale "tragic word and dance drama," Sieg des Opfers, by Hans Brandenburg (MS 17). In Ascona, Leistikow also experimented with nude performance of several of her dances, though drawings of her by Dora Brandenburg-Polster indicate she may have performed nude dances for special audiences as early as 1911. But she did not stick with the Laban group; in 1916 she toured Germany and the Netherlands, where she attracted much attention in Amsterdam artistic circles. After her marriage to a Dutch rose dealer in 1921, her contact with modern dance culture outside Holland declined sharply, but her influence in the Netherlands grew stronger. By then she operated three schools, in Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam; a tour of the Dutch East Indies in 1924 inspired her to open three more schools there. She announced "farewell" tours of the Netherlands in 1929, 1930, and again in 1937, but in 1938–1939, she launched another tour of the Indies. When the war broke out on her return home, she and her family became stranded in Somaliland, and when she finally managed to reach Holland again, she opened yet another school in Amsterdam. However, she distanced herself consid-
erably from the pro-Nazi spirit dominating Dutch dance culture during the war years (ESG 20–21).
Gertrud Leistikow had a slender, supple body, but her face lacked charm, elegance, or mystery. She therefore constantly sought to hide her face, partly through suave manipulation of shawls, veils, or masks but also through movements that called attention to the beauty of her body. This anxiety over exposing her face appeared clearly in various carefully constructed photographs of her and even more conspicuously in Dora Brandenburg-Polster's drawings of her, some dating from 1911. Many of these show her nude but faceless or with concealed face. Her earlier dances tended to project a tragic, melancholy aura, but after she moved to Amsterdam her distinction seemed to lie in her peculiar cultivation of the grotesque. The Dutch dance critic Werumeus Buning thought she was stronger in the performance of waltzes than mazurkas, and he contended that in her pursuit of the grotesque she neglected to develop her greater potential for tragic expression (WBD 31–33). But Leistikow's concept of the grotesque was cosmopolitan, so perhaps her grotesque dances constituted a curious evolution of a controlling tragic aesthetic rather than a break with it. Junk suggested that the grotesque dance displayed "more strength than grace" or, "more recently," substituted "the bizarre for the graceful," as manifested through "unusual positions, deformed body structures, and adventurous leaps and gestures" (98). In other words, grotesque dancing did not necessarily imply a comic mood but perhaps made a calculated challenge to aesthetic conventions of "gracefulness" and bodily composure. Brandenburg thought such a challenge led Leistikow into the realms of the demonic and heroic rather than toward any spirit of parody, frivolity, or malicious travesty.
Yet Leistikow's aesthetic of the grotesque placed less emphasis on displays of strength or "deformed" and "adventurous" movements than on perversities of dramatic structure and decor. For Faun (1912) she wore a furry black leotard that left her arms and lower legs exposed; her head was completely covered with a horned, furry black mask, with only two slits for the eyes, and a little black tail was attached to her bottom. Borrowing from the "sylph" movement conventions of ballet, she flitted about rapidly on tiptoe, "with increasing estrangement from her own presence in this world wherein she suddenly found herself" (WBD 33). But the dance, which began with animal exuberance, grew darker and slower as "the faun began to wonder about his own nature" and felt some troubling glimmer of consciousness, an impulse to "discover another world." However, the movements of the dance were not in themselves grotesque; rather, the bizarre costume and the dramatic shift from exuberance to anxiety made the conventional, balletic signification of gaiety and frivolity seem grotesque.
In other cases, Leistikow deformed movements by performing them at flashing speed, as in the Furientanz (1912), which began slowly and ended in orgasmic frenzy. Brandenburg-Polster's drawings show Leistikow performing the dance nude, except for a great diaphanous veil. Peering directly into a glaring footlight, she started deep in the space, crouching on one knee, her entire body shrouded in the veil and projected as a great shadow behind her by the footlight. Then she rose, swirled out of the veil, and raced around in spiral configurations with the veil trailing behind her and her shadow leaping across the space. She ran lower and lower, ensnaring herself in the veil, struggling with it in dervish frenzy. Finally she stopped running and starting spinning in place with the veil looped over her head, whirling with legs spread, then on tiptoe, until she collapsed (HB plates 23–25).
Most of her dances observed this simplicity of technique and complexity of dramatic ambiguity. Totentanz (1912) also used a footlight-looming shadow effect, but in this case, Leistikow, in one of her usual tight-fitting dresses, stood deep in the space, her face nakedly exposed and her legs pressed together, and moved slowly, in tiny tiptoe steps, toward the light. She made undulating movements with a shawl, and when she tossed it away she seemed terribly naked; because she was closer to the violet footlight, her shadow appeared even larger than before. Her face was a violent glare of fear. Wrote Brandenburg:
The violet spotlight becomes coldly reflected in the pearl ornamentation of the hair. It makes the head of the dancer, with Medusa-like, wide open eyes, perch over the purple shawl which entwines and strangles her throat. The crass red cloth separates head from body, so that the head seems to float in the air, but through constant transformation the little cloth serves the movement of the dance: now it dips and flows like blood, then it throbs and flutters like lightning flashes, then it spreads like an imperial mantel around the shoulders, then it tightened again like a noose around the neck. And the language of the body discloses just as much fear of death as desire for death (HB 162; also Van Collem 22).
For many of her numerous dances, she appears to have repeated much of the movement of earlier dances, merely changing the costume. For example, in Haremswächter (1911) she wore a very short dress with long, drooping sleeves and a bizarre Asian mask with a large, black, Afro sort of wig, but her movements were grotesque. For the entire dance, she moved with her body directly facing the audience; she never turned but drifted laterally in the performance space while facing the spectator. She dipped up and down, on her toes, then on her heels; she squatted, then shot up to make odd shifting movements, with one foot on tiptoe and the other jutting forward on its heel. Meanwhile, her arms in their droopy sleeves
extended sideways from her body and made wavy up-and-down motions, like the flapping wings of a strange bird. One could say that this simple dance showed the extent to which one became grotesque in maintaining a sense of balance. But "balance" implied more than physical poise; it included the problem of balancing the body between conflicting signs of cultural and sexual identity, as the harem guard wore a dress yet donned a male mask.
In subsequent years, Leistikow used pretty much the same movements with different costumes. In Maskerdans (1914) she wore a white minidress with short, billowy sleeves and a flamboyant blonde wig, as if her hair consisted of a huge mass of plumes; her mask was not Asian but macabre, skull-like, with large dark eye sockets and a gleaming red smile (Velde). In another version of the balancing movements, she wore a black leotard that covered even her hands and feet; indeed, her hands looked like reptilian claws. She concealed her face behind an oversized male mask with vaguely Asian features. In her right hand she dangled an Asian sword (male emblem), and in her left hand she dangled a veil (female emblem), while some sort of knotted chain was attached to both arms (WBD 16). For Rote Groteske (1922), the simplest version of all, she wore a red minidress, red stockings, and a red mask of indeterminate sex. But, according to Marja Braaksma's 1991 reconstruction, Leistikow apparently did not retain the crouching or tiptoe movements in this version. What made Leistikow's dances grotesque was her determination to invest the simplest movements with startling dramatic power, an unsuspected intensity of conflict.
This determination was perhaps most mysteriously evident in Gnossienne (1924), which used as accompaniment Erik Satie's equally simple and haunting piano melody "Gnossienne No. 1" (1889). Here Leistikow stood in a tight-fitting, shimmering gown and faced the audience in a veiled light. She concentrated the dance almost entirely in the hands and arms, which undulated slowly, like waves, horizontally, then vertically, while her face constantly stared straight ahead with Sphinxlike inscrutability (one had to see the dance more than once to make this observation, so strongly did the arms and hands attract focus). After performing a pattern of arm undulations, the dancer took a step forward and turned into profile to repeat the pattern but raised her right leg slightly and held it suspended for the duration of the repetition. Then she turned and faced the audience again and repeated the pattern. The dancer repeated the initial pattern five times, thrice forward and twice in profile. With each repetition, the dancer merely moved forward a step or, while in profile, suggested a step in another direction without actually taking it (Braaksma). The dance conveyed a sense of a body very slowly and hesitantly moving closer to the audience without, in its trancelike state, even seeming aware of the spectators. Repetition of movements was the key to bringing bodies closer to each other, but in this case it
did not induce a feeling of familiarity; rather, the closer the body came and the more it repeated its movements, the stranger it appeared. This was a highly sophisticated form of irony. The spectator gained the impression of watching a body moving underwater, its arms and hands undulating hypnotically like the tentacles of a luminous, aquatic plant, a human anemone. This dance still fascinates audiences today.
Buning (Dansen, 32), Van Collem (21), and Brandenburg (HB 169) all remarked that in Leistikow's dances, the body undulated like wind or water. More important, she showed that the expressive power of dance depended not on any virtuosity of technique but on intensity of dramatic purpose. Because she subordinated technique to dramatic effect, she could produce many new dances, without having to devise much in the way of new movement, for what made movement new was a different dramatic or theatrical element, such as costume, mask, lighting, or props. Her taste in music was eclectic but not adventurous. She heavily favored music from the nineteenth-century romantic repertoire and folk songs, although in 1921 she attempted a dance to music that contrasted conditions of "blindness" and "seeing" (Buning did not think it successful ). In 1929 she experimented with the accompaniment of two harmonicas, then of an accordion, and further introduced a dance employing jazz music, but these did not resonate well with Dutch audiences. She appropriated folk music from many cultures—Spain, Russia, Ukraine, Java, Bohemia, India, Chile, Hungary—yet her dances never gave an image of the culture from which the music derived. Rather, they created a mysterious image of cultural ambiguity, as in Gnossienne, which adapted arm movements found in Javanese dance to produce an atmosphere of accumulating uncertainty regarding the cultural identity of dancer and movement. In Goldene Maske (1921) she used a Russian folk song (as she had in Rote Groteske ), but for Anton Van Collem, "the dark, slender little god with the golden mask" performed a dance reminiscent of an ominous Aztec ritual (24).
In the early 1920s, Leistikow worked with the Dutch sculptor Hildo Krop (1884–1970) on the construction of many of her masks, and her success with them inspired other Dutch dancers to work with gifted artists in creating bizarre dance masks. Whereas Krop's masks tended toward a sleek, constructivist image of the face, Jaap Pronk's masks for Tilly Sylon's group exuded a fantastic primitivism. In 1932, Hein von Essen created masks for dances by his daughter, Dini von Essen, but these were more "realistic" than either Krop's or Pronk's—that is to say, they functioned more as caricatures of Western faces ("social masks") than as cultural estrangements of Western bodies (Lagerweij-Polak; Hein von Essen; Dini von Essen). But no dancer
seemed as sensitive as Leistikow to the face as a mask and as an object of masking and veiling; she saw in the face the decisive emblem of imperfection and deception, regardless of whatever technical perfection the body as a whole possessed. Perhaps this perception was most obvious in her dance to Weber's Scherzo (1914), which apparently she performed in a body-covering veil before a mirror. Van Collem remarked of this dance: "The beautiful woman in the dead little village lives as one estranged from herself" (24).
Trudi Schoop, Julia Marcus, and Valeska Gert
Grotesque dancing in the 1920s assumed so many curious forms that the term "grotesque dance" came to signify a larger and larger measure of freedom for the dancer, even if it never achieved much in the way of a stable definition. Nevertheless, hardly anyone confused grotesque dancing with comic or "cheerful" dancing, and some dancers established their identities by emphasizing this distinction. Ronny Johansson, for example, consistently put on programs of cheerful ("heitere") dances, with brisk, springy, decorative movements accompanied by lyrical music in a major key. Johansson sometimes performed dances in pretty pants, but her dances exuded cheerfulness because they presented a body radiantly freed of sexual, cultural, or psychological ambiguity. In Vienna, Elsie Altmann (1899–1984) projected a similar image of cheerfulness, reinforced by an elegant taste for Biedermeyer-style costumes. This approach marked her entire career, beginning with her debut concert in 1919, just before her marriage to the famous architect Adolf Loos (1870–1933), and continuing unchanged until at least 1929. Her talent brought her opportunities to choreograph operettas (Altmann-Loos 268–278).
By contrast, the Swiss dancer Trudi Schoop (b. 1903) specialized in comic pantomime. An awkward child, she struggled to achieve elegant physicality through rigorous ballet training and then through the rhythmic gymnastics offered by the Elisabeth Duncan school; but when her own family laughed at her as she performed for them a solemn dance, she decided to devote herself entirely to comic dance, and in this direction she exhibited unprecedented ambition. In 1929 she assembled in Berlin a comic ballet company containing twenty-two members, including several men, although Schoop still employed numerous female impersonations of men. Fridolin
(1930, music: Paul Schoop) was a great success and led to performances of the group around Germany and in Oslo, Stockholm, Venice, Paris, Prague, and Amsterdam. This pantomime established the model for her subsequent successes, which followed the episodic structure of the expressionist "journey" drama. Fridolin, for example, contained twelve scenes, each depicting Fridolin's encounters with a new set of characters as he wanders eternally and vainly in search of a woman who will return his love. Scenes showed Fridolin achieving distinction as an acrobat, competing for a woman who despises him, joining a secret sect, stumbling into a boring marriage, joining a bowling club, and falling hopelessly in love with a cabaret acrobat. Schoop herself played Fridolin, and her brother Max designed the costumes. The ballet company also produced divertissements, such as Want Ads (1933) and Current Events (1937), in which Schoop presented satiric views of contemporary social realities, such as unemployment, retail selling, and male sports fanatics, but her strength lay in the ambitious comic pantomime. Blonde Marie (1938, music: Paul Schoop), with costumes by Oskar Schlemmer, presented eight scenes describing the absurd journey of Marie (Schoop) from servant girl to waitress to soubrette to diva to rich wife to bored mother to publicity-happy adulteress. All for Love (1939, music: Lothar Perl, Schoop's brother) contained six long scenes depicting episodes from the life of Catherine (Schoop) as a schoolgirl, at a nightclub, around the Christmas tree, and on trial, concluding with the grotesque apotheosis of Catherine the Clown in a "super-colossal Diamond Star Revue," in which "dancing and vocal choruses, apaches, clowns, jugglers, with the help of make-believe and blinding spotlights, combine to give the romantic illusion: ALL FOR LOVE" (Hurok).
Schoop's aesthetic seemed driven by a Brechtian inclination to puncture the illusions of socially idealized romantic erotic desire. But she achieved the puncturing through eccentric costumes and pantomimic distortions of conventionalized balletic and functional movements rather than through hauntingly bizarre transgressions of gracefulness. Her success in the United States was considerable, beginning in 1935, and when the war broke out she decided to emigrate there. She could not, however, maintain the large-scale ballet company; in the 1950s and 1960s she therefore (and not altogether unexpectedly) devoted herself increasingly to the realm of dance therapy for both physically and psychologically damaged bodies (Schoop).
Schoop's comic aesthetic relied too much on a complicated theatrical definition of society to achieve her distinction in the realm of solo dance: she showed little inclination to see how the body moved alone, apart from a group. Most grotesque dances, however, operated in a solo mode and emphasized the power of grotesquerie to separate the body from a socially determined identity. In the years 1916–1920, Rita Aurel performed solo parodies of Oriental dances, using her contortionist ability to produce
bizarrely distorted serpentine movements of the arms and belly. Aurel did a piece in which she represented a woman injecting herself with morphine, causing Brandenburg to suggest that she had devised a form of aesthetic movement that was neither dance nor pantomime. She was not a dance clown but a sort of freakish dancer. With the Mozartian Rondo (1916), she appeared in a child's costume and danced with small balls suspended by strings; then a very large black ball descended, introducing "the demonic into the supposedly naively charming music." Despite such obvious evidence of a strong imagination, this "strange, super-tall, super-slender, hysterical, graceful, and very worldly personality" most regrettably left behind very little trace of herself (HB 58–59).
Even more obscure was Hilde Schewior, who lacked any feeling for danced movement, according to Schikowski (153). But she was a dance clown with a gift for goofy, satiric costumes, and she liked impersonating grotesque types of males, deforming her movements to create an impression of bizarre physiognomy (Holtmont 227). Lotte Goslar, a student of Wigman and Palucca, was also a dance clown in the early 1930s, but she was quite a pretty woman and sought to construct a dance aesthetic in which strong comic ingenuity was not incompatible with a confident display of feminine beauty. How she achieved such a remarkable synthesis remains unclear, but a photograph of her suggests that she may have used the theme of trying to look her best as the basis for various comic misadventures with costumes or movements (MS 95). This approach apparently succeeded best in a cabaret milieu. In 1937, as a member of Erika Mann's Pfeffermühl company, she came to the United States, where she has resided ever since. Like Schoop, she felt her comic talent unfolded most effectively in a company, and she founded her own in Hollywood in 1943.
Julia Marcus (b. 1905), a Swiss student of Laban, Elisabeth Duncan, and Wigman, not only was active in cabaret performance but in 1931 became a member of the unusual Berlin City Opera ballet company under Lizzie Maudrik. She apparently had a gift for dark, dramatic voluptuousness, as in her Mexican-Aztec suite of dances (1930), but her uniqueness was most evident in her radically grotesque parodies of contemporary figures such as Al Jolson (1931), Adolf Hitler (1931), Gerhart Hauptmann (1932), and Gandhi (1933). In these she collaborated with Berlin artist Erich Goldstaub, who created for her oversized, caricatured masks of these persons (with Jolson in blackface). She modeled the movements of these dances on acute observations of the gestural idiosyncrasies peculiar to the famous personalities. In Der Friedensengel (1932) she reached a truly astonishing threshold of the bizarre when she donned a creepy, oversized mask of French prime minister Aristide Briand (1862–1932), winner of the 1926 Nobel Prize for Peace. But the mask was hardly all that was strange: she wore a tuxedo shirt and jacket over the upper portion of her body, and these
garments clashed dramatically with the white ballet tutu, stockings, and slippers apportioned to the lower half of her body. In this costume she performed a waltz satire on diplomatic gesturing. In Wälzer (1933), she danced in a gas mask.
Marcus was a friend of the Communist Party, and for party cabaret entertainments she created dance parodies not only of contemporary political figures but also of social types, such as the symphony conductor, the servant girl, the sewing machine operator. Some of her dances used music by the communist composer Hanns Eisler and strove to construct heroic images of proletarian figures ("Julia Tardy-Marcus"). Of course, the Third Reich severely limited opportunities for Marcus, so she began touring restlessly around Europe, inserting herself into the cabaret culture of Warsaw, Amsterdam, and Zurich. She finally settled (1933) in Paris, where, as usual, she made numerous friends and, even during the war, put on well-received dance recitals, sometimes in collaboration with, among others, Ludolf Schild, Lisa Duncan, and Mila Cirul. In 1937 she collaborated with Schild in the production at the Théâtre Pigalle of a "ballet," Le Fievre du Temps (music: Graca), employing a scenario based, intriguingly, on scenes from current movies. As a Swiss citizen married to a French engineer, she remained fairly safe from the Gestapo and helped other dancers escape to safety. After the war, she drifted toward cultural-literary journalism (Robinson 134–136; Jelavich 259–260).
When she first arrived in Paris, Marcus rented a dilapidated little theatre in which, according to her unpublished memoirs, one could see mice scurrying across the stage during performances. She shared this space with one of the most renowned of all the Weimar comic dancers, Valeska Gert (1892–1978). Born in Berlin to a wealthy Jewish family, Gert led a complicated international, interdisciplinary life, which she recounted in four autobiographies (1931, 1950, 1968, 1973) and which Frank-Manuel Peter abundantly documented in 1985. But Gert's dance aesthetic was also complex, allowing her to function in different artistic contexts: dance recital, cabaret, film, theatre, and writing. In the realm of dance, her success remained confined largely to the performance of grotesque caricatures, though she made occasional efforts to explore a wider emotional range. Her strength was also her weakness—an acute distrust of romantic feeling—yet she began her career with one of the more romantic figures of prewar German dance culture.
At first she considered some sort of career in the fashion industry, but in 1915 she started taking acting lessons from Maria Moissi. Through her Gert came into contact in 1916 with the dance school of Rita Sacchetto, from whom she apparently received little guidance on matters of technique. Nevertheless, Sacchetto gave Gert a chance to perform her solo Tanz in orange (1916), a parody of ballet movements danced in a curious orange dress with
billowy pantaloons. This piece was appealing enough to appear as an intermezzo item on a program of silent films. Meanwhile, Gert pursued opportunities as an actress, appearing (1917–1919) in small, odd roles—a witch, a skeleton, a parrot, a child, and so forth—in expressionist dramas and productions in Munich and Berlin. She created cabaret dances and in late 1917 introduced them in Berlin; they were so popular that by 1919 she was a prominent figure in the Berlin dance culture. Her interest in acting for the stage faded as her interest in more modernist modes of performance intensified. In 1923 she participated in an unusual production that began with the showing of an abstract color film by Walther Ruttmann, Opus 2, followed by two grotesque dances performed by Jutta Hertig and then, after the intermission, Gert's performance in the title role of Salome in Wilde's play. The program purported to demonstrate, as Gert explained, the difference between technology-driven and actor-driven forms of performance, with the Salome fragments employing extremely austere scenic elements. Gert played Salome in a simple red apron-dress, and she created the "head" of Jokanaan simply through the movement of her bare hands; Herodias and Jokanaan wore, respectively, green and silver-gray dresses, and Herod wore blue pajamas. For the Dance of the Seven Veils, Ruttmann accompanied her with "meowing" sounds on a cello, along with the "rhythmic, passionate howling of some women behind the stage" (FPV 26).
Between 1924 and 1931, Gert appeared with memorable distinction in several major films of the Weimar era: Ein Sommernachtstraum (1925), Die freudlose Gasse (1925), Nana (1926), Alraune (1927), Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (1929), So ist das Leben (1929), and Die Dreigroschenoper (1931). In all these films she played unsavory or rather freakish characters. She always left a strong impression on the spectator, but her roles remained small, and she never became a star. Berlin photographer Suse Byk made the first film of Gert dancing, Die Küpplerin, in 1925. Throughout the Weimar years, she supplemented her comic dances with sketches and songs for cabaret performances in Zurich (1918), Oslo (1919), Munich (1922), and Berlin (1926, 1931). In 1932 she formed her own cabaret company, but it provoked highly ambivalent responses. She had participated with the great dramatist Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) as early as 1922, in Munich, on a cabaret project, Der Abnormitätenwirt, that included appearances by the grotesque actor Max Schreck, the comedians Lisel Karlstadt and Karl Valentin, and Brecht himself. In 1929 the Baden-Baden premiere of Brecht's Badener Lehrstück contained a filmed sequence, shot by Karl Koch, of Gert performing her dance Der Tod (1927). Her international identity expanded with performances in Paris (1926, 1930) and a tour of the Soviet Union (1929), where she became friends with Soviet film director Sergey Eisenstein (1898–1948), who regarded her as the most interesting of all modern dancers.
Unlike most dancers, Gert published many brief articles on dance in major periodicals, often from a critical-satirical perspective, but her ability to understand dances other than her own was quite limited. The triumph of Nazism compelled her to wander internationally and not very successfully in search of a cabaret career, first in Paris (1933), then London (1934), New York (1936), London (1937), Hollywood (1939), New York (1940), Provincetown (1941), Paris (1947), Zurich (1948), and finally Berlin (1949). Her first husband, the physician and Sanskrit scholar Helmut von Krause (1893–1980), had built her a vacation cottage on the North Sea island of Sylt back in the early 1930s, and in 1955 she opened yet another cabaret there; it, too, failed to prosper, because of her excessively austere attitude toward scenic decor and production values. But she was always resourceful, publishing books, making guest appearances, and doing an occasional small, bizarre role in a film—for example, the hermaphrodite in Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits (1965) and the Old Bird in Ulrike Ottinger's Die Betörung der blauen Matrosen (1975).
Gert's dances appealed primarily to a disillusioned intellectual elite that favored modes of performance embodying a critical attitude toward socially determined conventions of signification. Even in her most serious pieces, such as Salome and Der Tod, she parodied conventions of signification, in contrast to Marcus, who tended to parody the idiosyncratic movements of personalities. Hers was an art of satiric quotation. Like Niddy Impekoven she always worked on a small scale, but unlike her Gert never confused smallness of scale with childlike naiveté. Moreover, the range of subjects she parodied was fairly wide, although her repertoire of dances as a whole was small. She started by parodying dance itself—first ballet, in Tanz in orange (1916), then social dances such as the waltz, fox trot, and Charleston. Her Japanischer Groteske (1917) and Japanischer Pantomime (1921) parodied not only Kabuki-style movements but also images of male bodily assertiveness that already seemed parodies; Gert stamped, strutted, and grimaced with wildly swinging arms, turning Kabuki into a parody and parodying the parody. She also parodied the conventional Spanish dance, the Negro dance, the gavotte, the minuet, and the expressionistic dance incarnated by Mary Wigman, whose compositions, according to Gert, were "never vehemently released from a central force, but constructed and therefore never unified. Something always remains stiff. She is completely undancerly in a higher sense, because she is physically and intellectually without rapture" (Gert, "Mary Wigman," 362).
In 1919 Gert moved toward the parodying of sleazy social types with Canaille, in which she impersonated the movements of a street girl who transformed herself from a "sweet, helpless" waif into a brazen, lewd, vulgar slut (KTP 4, 1920, 115–116). This parody of feminine modes of seduction remained in her repertoire until at least 1930. In Die Küpplerin (1920) she
was apparently even more lascivious (and disturbing) in her portrayal of a procuress, but in this case the imaginary object of her extravagantly wanton movements was not a man but a woman she wished to turn into a prostitute (a dramatic situation defining her role as Frau Greifer in the film Die freudlose Gasse ); here she parodied the movements she had already used to parody seduction in Canaille . More lurid still was Grüss aus dem Mumienkeller (1925), in which she presented, through movement above all, the most sordid, depraved embodiment of female desire "greeting" the habitués of the mummy dive, a "hellish vision of misery from the deepest depths" and an excellent example of "pornochoreography," according to a 1926 comment in the socialist journal Vorwärts (FPV 39). In the mid-1920s, Gert extended her range of parody subjects to include the boxer, the cabaret singer, the concert singer, the celebrated pianist, the "profane Madonna on the cigarette package," and the circus clown (Figure 51). With Verkehr (1926) she parodied the impatient movements of pedestrian, driver, and traffic cop at a busy Berlin intersection, and in Kino (1926) she parodied cinematic newsreels and film-star posturing. In the late 1920s, she began doing parodies of abstract emotional conditions, such as "nervousness," "pleasurable despair," and, most interesting, "tragic sorrow." The latter characterization appeared in Kummerlied (1928), in which she distorted the movements and sounds of sobbing until she burst into a scream, then subsided into a slow, weak, dry, pulsating sobbing (Gert, Mein Weg , 41).
In these strange pieces, she used dance to parody conventions of acting , and only a dancer with strong acting talent could produce such entertainingly sophisticated semiotic analysis. Actors tend to conserve rather than complicate bodily movement, preferring to emphasize the transparent function of a gesture instead of its autonomous beauty, although in 1920 a critic complained that Gert's dances suffered from too much superfluous, "restless" movement (KTP 4, 116). Gert relied heavily on her upper body to construct parodistic signification, but in Der Tod (1927) she went to extremes, wearing a simple black dress and painting her face white. One critic wrote: "She does nothing. She stands and dies." That is to say, she moved only her hands and face; her eyes, mouth, chin, cheeks, forehead, and shoulders did all the dancing to convey the approach of death, presenting a "face which seeks help . . . and already knows that nothing more is possible, no return, no escape." No music accompanied the piece, just the dancer's soft sighing or moaning. The movements of hands and face gradually diminished into a "soft and scarcely perceptible trembling." She became so still and silent, yet with eyes wide open, that spectators could not even hear themselves breathe, so powerfully did the parody of dying intensify rather than dissipate the fear of death (Hildenbrandt 128–129).
Gert always danced to popular forms of music—waltzes, Charlestons, tangos, jazz tunes—for "so-called art music says nothing to me." She claimed
her favorite musical instruments were the accordion, the saxophone, the calliope, and the street organ. She contemplated a "new music" derived from the sounds of neighing horses, mooing cows, squeaking birds and frogs, barking dogs, the rustling of wind or waves, the buzzing of airplanes and motorcycles, the pulsation of machines, the scolding of women (Gert, Mein Weg , 44–45). She believed, however, that dancing without music was "senseless," for she regarded music as the whole motive for dancing. Thus, for her, Der Tod was "no longer a dance" but simply an impersonation of dying and death (Gert, "Der neue Tanz"). Hardly any other dancer appeared so closely identified with the cynical, antiromantic atmosphere of Weimar-era Berlin. Bragaglia thought she was the most vivid incarnation of femininity deformed or demonized by immersion in "modern life, the immensity of the city" and the most perfect example of the "macabre apparition" the dancer becomes when she invests the grotesque with purely modernist qualities (Jazz Band , 161–168). But one can just as well say that, through her dance parodies, Gert embodied a highly intelligent femininity, deriving ecstasy from the "brutal," as she put it, deconstruction of semiotic conventions that strangled bodily expressivity with "gracefulness."
One could discuss other dancers who pursued careers in the solo concert mode, including Lisa Ney, Hannelore Ziegler, Tatiana Barbakoff (1899–1944), Leni Riefenstahl, Oda Schottmüller (1905–1943), Ilse Meutdner, and numerous others. However, their contributions to the solo medium still remain inadequately documented or, as in the case of Riefenstahl, less important than their contributions in another vein. As for Meutdner, she did not begin giving solo concerts until the late 1930s; though she was not an especially innovative dancer and did little to expand the expressive power of the solo medium, she was nevertheless significant in preserving a measure of the individuating spirit of Ausdruckstanz during a time (1937–1949) of intense efforts to discredit Weimar-era dance. Oda Schottmüller was a sculptor as well as a dancer and created an extraordinarily imaginative variety of self-designed masks of fascinating, exotic beauty; in one dance from 1940 she wore a tuxedo, carried a bowler and umbrella, and covered her head with a mask that made her bald and put strange eyes on her forehead, above her real eyes. She also employed music written especially for her, including a "xylophone dance," and, intriguingly, she constructed dance cycles using the music of different composers. But knowledge of her aesthetic remains obscure; research has focused on her participation in the anti-Nazi resistance and her arrest and decapitation by the Gestapo. Her dances themselves apparently did not trouble the authorities, who permitted her to perform them for troops at the front (Molkenbur; MS 202–203).