In Berlin, Rita Sacchetto (1880–1959) became one of the first in Germany to form, out of students in her school, an independent dance company, though hers lasted only a couple of years (1916–1918). Born in Munich, she was the daughter of a respected Venetian painter and an Austrian woman. Two of her brothers became painters, and Sacchetto established her own artistic identity through the creation of what she called "dance pictures" (Tanzbilder ); in these she used famous paintings to model dances, so that it seemed as if music and movement made the paintings come to life. She took ballet lessons and gave her solo debut concert in Munich in 1905, performing sarabandes, gavottes, minuettes, tarantellas, and Oriental dances in which costumes and poses resembled to a remarkable degree well-known paintings by, among others, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Botticelli, Greuze, and Moritz von Schwind. Her success led to an invitation to perform her odalisque dance in a production of Bizet's opera Djamilah in Vienna, where such artists as Gustav Klimt, Kolo Moser, and Joseph Hoffmann expressed delight in her art. Sacchetto then began a long (1907–1909) period of touring throughout Germany, Eastern Europe, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, South America, and New York. Loie Fuller arranged for her to perform intermezzo dances at the Metropolitan Opera, and in 1910 she gave at the Met an entire dance concert featuring her Botticelli dances, Siamese dance, and a large-scale pantomime called The Intellectual Awakening of Woman , which used Grieg's Peer Gynt suites and a group of thirty female dancers (Rieger). Later that year she embarked on a tour of Russia, which led to a collaboration with fashion designer Paul Poiret at his private theatre in Paris, where she impersonated a famous painting of the Empress Eugenie wearing her original dress (Ochaim). By 1912 she was
back in Munich as Alexander Sacharoff's partner in a pair dance team (HB 147). But the collaboration was brief, for in 1913 Sacchetto initiated her career as a movie star by appearing in Odette .
A 1914 concert in Copenhagen was apparently a "fiasco," but it brought her to the attention of the Nordisk film company, which never had enough female stars for the sensational erotic melodramas that made Danish films competitive on the European market. The Danes had introduced dance into silent film melodramas such as Afgrunden (1910), Vampyrdanserinden (1911), Det blaa Blod (1912), and Atlantis (1913), and Danish film companies had even tried to make film stars out of ballet dancers such as Elna Jorgen Jensen. Not without controversy, Nordisk hired Sacchetto to star in films for the astonishing salary of 7,000 kroner per picture, but she made many quite successful films, including Tempeldanserindens Elskov (1914), Madame Destinn (1914), Den skonne Evelyn (1915), Rovederkoppen (1915), and Fyrstinde Bianca a Costa (1916) (Brusendorff 140–145; Hendig 49–55; Bordwell 203). Sacchetto exuded a dusky, melancholy beauty that seemed even more refined and aristocratic, a "breeze of perfume," when displayed in opulent historical costumes. Although she excluded modern paintings of women from her graceful productions, she was probably the first to use silent film as a model for composing dances. Brandenburg spoke somewhat disparagingly of her "kinodrama," La Sonambula (1912), performed with Sacharoff, and in a review of a Budapest concert the Hungarian cultural journal Nyugat (9/1, 16 March 1916, 375–376) complained that Sacchetto, excellent film actress though she was, relied too heavily on lavish costumes and theatrical devices designed to accommodate the tastes of movie audiences; consequently, her dances had "nothing to say" and represented a degradation of a Greek aristocratic ideal in which dance was central to the perfection of a highly educated intelligence.
By this time Sacchetto, now residing in a luxurious villa in Berlin-Grunewald, had opened her "ballet school," which actually had less to do with ballet than with pantomime training. Her most important students included Anita Berber and Valeska Gert. Gert caused a minor scandal at a 1916 concert in the Bluthner auditorium when Sacchetto allowed her to perform her Tanz in Orange (a lewd parody of ballet steps) and, with Sidi Riha, the homosexual duet Golliwog's Cakewalk , which the police regarded as indecent (LF 11–13). Sacchetto, however, remained faithful to the pictorial gracefulness that Gert subverted.
The dance company toured several German cities. In 1917 Sacchetto married the Polish Count Zamoysky and resumed her work in the movies with Die Nixenkönigen before returning to Munich to open another school. She was soon touring with a small company consisting of herself and two students, Wally Konchinsky (Valerie Conti [1903–1945]) and Isa Belle. Reviews of her concerts in Berlin, Breslau, and Düsseldorf unanimously reached the
conclusion that her dance aesthetic was "kitsch," "unintentionally humorous," full of "empty pretentious poses," very dated, technically crude, and entirely dependent on her personal beauty (KTP 4, 1920, 117–119). Nevertheless, she always seemed to find an audience; in 1921 alone, she gave 120 performances in Paris. In 1922 her company included the husband of Wally Konchinsky, Jan Pawlikowsky, and the repertoire tended to consist of ornamentally bizarre pair dances performed by different combinations of the three. For example, in the "dream of a young woman," Konchinsky, in white tights with a white veil, danced with Sacchetto, in a black veil and black pants, a curious echo of the black-versus-white theme of the Gert-Riha Golliwog's Cakewalk . Sacchetto also created a Cocaine dance at the same time (1922) that Berber produced her own, nude Kokain .
Through Count Zamoysky, Sacchetto and Konchinsky became acquainted with the intellectual circle around the radical modernist writerartist Stanislaus Witkiewicz in Zakopane, Poland (Siedlecka 122–126). In 1924 one of the count's friends accidentally shot Sacchetto in the foot, and only this misfortune prevented her from continuing to dance in public, even though she was already forty-four years old; her beauty apparently compensated for all her technical defects and long-faded tastes (LF 15). Still, she continued teaching in Munich, staging pantomime pair dances for Dagmar Helsing and Helge Peters-Pawlinin and opening a school in Krakow in 1928 (Rieger). In 1930 Sacchetto and the Count left Poland to live in her father's homeland, Italy, in the town of Nervi, near Genoa. She remained there until her death, although in the 1930s she worked occasionally in Italian film production. It was easy to sneer at Sacchetto; critics obviously did after she entered the movies, and Berber and Gert made a point of desecrating her gaudy, pictorial historicism. But few dancers enjoyed such popular international acclaim, and the reason for her success lay in her attempts to historicize her beauty; like an old painting, the danced movement of the body suspended time itself and, indeed, turned the present into a luxurious cinematic image of the past.