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.