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.