The Falke Sisters
Female pair dancing enjoyed special appeal because it dramatized competing models of femininity and exposed conditions under which one model of femininity dominated or achieved equilibrium with another. The homoerotic dimension to this sort of pair dancing was not negligible in supporting its appeal. For this reason, perhaps, it is extremely difficult to find any examples of male pair dancing, although Kurt Jooss did experiment with male duets in larger dances. Female pairs appeared more frequently in the period 1916 to 1921, and Mila Cirul danced with her sister Elia in Paris as late as 1935. The three Wiesenthal sisters were popular in the prewar years, but when Else and Berta formed a separate pair (1908–1914) they achieved only modest success. Ruth Schwarzkopf (1900–?) danced with her sister Isabella (1899–1918) before turning to the solo mode, and in Vienna, Mila Cirul formed a pair with Ellen Tels in 1919–1920. During the premiere exhibition in Berlin of two movies in 1916, Valeska Gert and Brigitta Riha, wife of the artist Erich Heckel, performed an intermezzo pair dance to Debussy's Golliwog's Cakewalk in which one dancer wore white and the other, clad in black, moved in "snakelike" fashion around her (FPV 29–30).
Perhaps the most interesting of the sister pairs was that comprising Gertrud (1890–1984) and Ursula (1895–1981) Falke. Their father, Ham-
burg poet Gustav Falke (1853–1916), encouraged them to pursue artistic vocations and introduced them to prominent figures of the Hamburg cultural elite. After studying with Dalcroze in Hellerau (1911–1912), Gertrud established her own Dalcroze-oriented school in Hamburg in 1913 and the same year presented, with her students, her first public concert, which received much acclaim. Ursula remained uncertain of her artistic direction, drifting tentatively into music, painting, and sculpture, and she was grateful when her sister invited her to study dance at the new school and eventually become a director of it. For some time the Falke family had experienced intensifying financial difficulties, which exerted great pressure on the sisters to alleviate the situation.
At Hans Brandenburg's suggestion, the sisters went with Laura Oesterreich to Ascona in summer 1914 to study Laban's ideas about bodily movement, but they found the atmosphere there uncongenial ("too technical"). Not until 1916, after the death of their father, did the Falkes begin performing dances together. They enjoyed considerable popularity between 1917 and 1919, making fifty appearances in ten German cities, but the critical response never escaped the tentativeness and reserve emanating from the sisters themselves. They consistently gave the impression of never giving more than enough to please, as if they danced entirely in response to a momentary external pressure rather than out of a powerful inner drive. They were beautiful women, tall, slender, and dark, and they made much of undulant, linear body movement, often on tiptoe, but they avoided any technical complexity and cultivated a restrained romanticism that reminded Brandenburg of the "nordic" music of Brahms (132). Peculiarly, they never attempted any productions with their students. In the solo portions of their concerts, Gertrud was apparently a more expressive dancer than Ursula, but they seemed strongest in the dances they performed together; in spite of Brandenburg's preference for their solo dances, their pair dances provoked far greater pleasure. In these they embodied a "ghostly life." For example, in Versunkene Kathedral (1918; music: Debussy) Ursula, clad in dark silky pants, moved as the shadow of her more radiant sister, whose short dress exposed her exquisite legs. The pair dances often dramatized a "darkness in darkness," with both sisters wearing dark garments and constructing languid arabesques and eerie mirror movements out of the delicate intertwining of their bodies. Ursula, though tinged with "genial dilettantism," disclosed a "morbid, languid decorativeness," a "mondainebizarre and capricious sense of movement" at the "edge of what is artistically possible." This contrasted well with Gertrud's soft smile, a fragile radiance slipping through the "nordic fog" (133–134).
The Falke sisters favored conservative-romantic music—Chopin, Schumann, Reger, Rachmaninov, Grieg—and elegantly decorative fantasy costumes designed by Doris Boekmann. The appeal of their aesthetic reached
its strongest intensity in 1920, when Mary Wigman, a friend from the Hellerau and Ascona days, invited them to assist her in the formation of a dance school at the Dresden Opera. But this plan fell apart when political intrigue at the opera prevented Wigman from receiving the anticipated appointment. Soon thereafter, the sisters began to move in separate directions, although in 1922 they did appear together on a special program in Hamburg that also featured Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt. Gertrud married a lawyer, Hermann Heller, in 1921 and settled in Leipzig, where he directed the Volkshochschule, but his work as an expert on administrative law required further moves to Berlin and Frankfurt. Because he was a Jewish socialist, he and Gertrud migrated to Madrid in 1933, and when Heller died in 1936, she settled in England, where she worked with Kurt Jooss at Dartington Hall. She devoted herself in later years to dance therapy instruction in Scotland and London, where she died.
Ursula sought to establish herself as a solo dancer; but this ambition proved difficult to attain because of her dark erotic life. She had long loved the sculptor Richard Luksch (1874–1936), under whom she had studied sculpture in 1914. She gave birth to his daughter in 1921 but she did not marry Luksch until 1923 because it took him until then to complete his divorce from his first wife. Because of his financial obligations to his previous wife and children, Luksch could not provide Ursula with the financial security she had craved since 1914. After the birth of her daughter she tried, unsuccessfully, to establish herself in the Berlin film industry. In 1925 she attempted to resurrect her career as a solo dancer by cultivating a more bizarre image. Luksch designed masks for three of her dances. In Der Prinz (1925) she wore a very androgynous white mask of vaguely Southeast Asian aspect, but her costume, which included dark, satiny pants, featured a vest with emphatically designated breasts (Figure 3). In Rosa (1926) her mask was that of a surprised little girl with ropelike, braided hair, reinforced by a very short, polka-dot dress. For Die weisse Frau (1925) she wore a white mask that was actually an eerie caricature of her own face; the rest of her body remained shrouded in a gauzy white cloak, so she moved like a tall, lean Gothic apparition.
Such effects, however, were not enough to sustain the interest of a reliable audience, for her sense of movement lacked dramatic power and always seemed governed by a sculpturesque perception of her body. By 1929 she had formed a partnership with another Hamburg dancer, Gertrud Zimmermann (1895–1962), and opened a new school that incorporated the theories of Laban, but this project was also a failure. In 1932 she and Zimmermann collaborated with Luksch on a most intriguing grotesque dance, Die grosse und die kleine Dummheit , which premiered at a Hamburg arts festival. The piece featured an enormously inflated balloon-caricature of Adolf Hitler, who hatched two large eggs, from which emerged Zimmer-
mann and Falke as a pair of lascivious, scantily clad, blonde-wigged caricatures of Aryan female beauty (Jockel 17–31). This piece was as much a macabre critique of the dark sister pair Ursula had constructed with Gertrud Falke and then with Gertrud Zimmermann as a sociopolitical satire. After 1933 Ursula ceased dancing in public, and after the death of her husband, in 1936, she moved to Berlin and taught in an arts academy. The Falke sisters had only minor artistic interest independent of each other, for what made them significant was their skill in disclosing the presence of another dark woman in the female dancer, an insight Ursula seemed to grasp with hauntingly ominous implication in her eerie Hitler dance. But the most curious aspect of the Falke sisters was their reluctance to exploit their strength with any rigor or visionary ambition; they seemed afflicted with languor, procrastinating gestures, a dilettantish disdain for technical complexity. Yet this resistance to ambition was perhaps their strongest defense against the constant temptation to treat dance as primarily a response to the oppressive economic realities they inherited from their parents and then from the war.