A much more conventional and overtly politicized perception of group dancing appeared in the work of Hans Weidt (1904–1988), who was an
agent of the Communist Party. Born into a Hamburg working-class family, his father an alcoholic social democrat, Weidt was twelve when a folk-dance group stirred his interest in dancing. However, he had no money to study dancing, and when, as a teenager, he started working as a gardener, he found it difficult to arrange hours for dance lessons. In 1921 he studied briefly under Sigurd Leeder and then under Olga Brandt-Knack (1885–1978), both Laban students and ardent social democrats. But the poverty-stricken Weidt struggled to save money and find time for his passion, and in 1923 his participation in communist-led agitations completely radicalized his political beliefs in favor of a revolutionary transformation of society. In his solo debut concert in Hamburg in 1925, he presented dances depicting "the worker," "the lady beggar," "the new beginning," "on the dock," "rebellion," "the sick boy," "faces in the street," all subjects seldom introduced by bourgeois dancers. Further peculiarities of the concert were Weidt's use of Chopin compositions to accompany these unromantic themes and the use of a trumpet to perform the music (Weidt had made friends with an orchestral trumpet player who provided accompaniment for no fee).
Despite the ambivalent critical response to this concert, he decided to pursue a career as a dancer. He gathered about him a group of unemployed youths "from all classes," mostly male, who practiced in a factory studio and performed at communist-sponsored events. Yet financial difficulties constantly subverted his ambitions. Then Brandt-Knack, ballet mistress of the Hamburg State Opera, gave him the lead role in a ballet, Der Gaukler und der Klingelspiel (1928), enabling him to become conscious of his own capacity to sustain large-scale dance forms. Theatre director Erwin Piscator attended a performance of the Worker's Dance Group and was so impressed that he invited Weidt to work on theatrical productions in Berlin. There Weidt became acquainted with leading artists of the left: Friedrich Wolf, Erich Mühsam, Stefan Wolpe, Ludwig Renn, Ernst Busch, Helene Weigel. To support himself he gave dance lessons and taught physical education at Nacktkultur camps and communist youth societies, but his living circumstances remained hard. In 1930 he danced the role of the Dark Leader in Margarethe Wallmann's huge dance drama Orfeus Dionysos . Though in Hamburg he had performed some duets with Lotte Lobstein, he definitely preferred the company and collaboration of men, and he viewed his female students as narcissistic dilettantes (Weidt 15). He presented himself as a hopelessly unromantic working-class ugly duckling, incapable of inspiring desire in bourgeois women, but he was actually quite good-looking, enjoyed nudism, and delighted in opportunities to display his muscular physique in dances. He choreographed movement choirs in Piscator's production of Friedrich Wolf's Tai Yang erwacht (1929), and through Wolf, Weidt became indoctrinated into communist ideology, joining the party in 1931.
His party connections enabled him to form Die Roten Tänzer, a company that soon comprised forty-five dancers and produced the most overtly propagandistic dance in Weimar Germany, notably in Passion eines Menschen (1931, in collaboration with Ludwig Renn), Tanz des Arbeitslosen (1930), Arbeiterkampflieder (1931), Potsdam (1932), Das Gas wird von Arbeiter gemacht (1932), and Tanz der Gefangenen (1933). However, the audience for these efforts consisted largely of the already converted, and only the red press viewed them with much favor, although Fritz Böhme, soon to become a Nazi sympathizer, expressed enthusiasm for Weidt's aesthetic. The production of Potsdam , which clearly satirized right-wing political figures such as Hitler, Hugenberg, and von Papen, got Weidt arrested in January 1933. Theatre director Karl-Heinz Martin, for whom Weidt had originally conceived Tanz der alten Leute (1931) as part of a failed production of Alfred Döblin's play Die Ehe , arranged for Weidt's release, whereupon the Communist Party arranged for him and his group to participate in the Moscow Olympiade in May 1933. The Russians welcomed him effusively, but they regarded his dance aesthetic as insufficiently "militant": "Our attempt to shape themes of the worker movement with the expressive possibilities of the new artistic dance . . . was at that time still hard to understand, all the more in a country in which the classical ballet played so great a role" (Reinisch 48–49).
Weidt returned to Hamburg, but the police were waiting at the dock to arrest him, so he stayed on the ship and made his way to Paris, where he had friends, party connections, and opportunities through the House of Culture. He renamed himself Jean Weidt, starred in short dance films of Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1933) and Ravel's Bolero (1934), and formed a new dance group, Ballet Weidt, which performed mostly at party-sponsored rallies. The French bourgeois press reacted more appreciatively to his aesthetic than had Weimar critics, but the French police considered him a foreign subversive and took steps to have him deported. In 1935 he therefore accepted another invitation from the exiled Piscator to work again in Moscow, where he seriously began to study ballet technique at the Bolshoi. Although ballet technique offered exciting possibilities for Ausdruckstanz , the ballet productions themselves seemed tediously "conventional" and lacking in modernist revolutionary spirit. Thus, in January 1936, Weidt journeyed to Prague to work with the avant-garde theatre director E. F. Burian and the Liberated Theatre of Voskovec and Werich. Life continued to be hard for him, and he had to construct a pseudonymous identity to avoid deportation by the vigilantly anticommunist police. Eventually, however, he succeeded in strengthening his connections to the party in Paris, where he returned in 1937. There he cultivated many influential friends: Jean Cocteau, Louis Aragon, Arthur Honegger, Pablo Picasso, Charles Dullin, Jean-Louis Barrault. A newly formed Ballet Weidt, following an itinerary shaped by the party, performed in Paris, Marseilles, Cannes, and
Corsica, often in support of fund-raising efforts to defeat the fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. Weidt also pursued a romance with a communist French woman, who gave birth to a son in 1939, but his German identity, so he claimed, estranged her from him, and when the Germans invaded France he never saw them again.
He sought to escape persecution by fleeing to North Africa, but by 1942 Casablanca was under Vichy control, and Weidt's life became even harder. He spent terrible months in an Algerian concentration camp until a new commandant permitted him to dance for soldiers at the Algiers Opera House. When the British captured Algiers, he danced for them, too—mostly his solo worker dances from the Weimar days. He then joined the British army and participated, as a member of a construction brigade, in the Allied invasion of Italy. Upon his discharge in 1946 he returned to Paris, where he founded yet another group, Ballet des Arts, comprising six men and six women. In 1947 the company produced Die Zelle , winner of the gold medal at the international ballet competition in Copenhagen. But in spite of successful tours of Holland and Belgium, the group suffered from continually inadequate financing. Weidt could not resist an offer of generous subsidies from the communist government in East Berlin, to which he made his final migration in 1948. There Weidt became a highly respected teacher and choreographer of ideologically correct ballets for opera companies, but his work during the many ensuing years of stability lacked both the innovation and the utterly distinct political expressivity of his fugitive years before the war (Weidt; Reinisch)
Weidt's perception of group dancing was virtually antithetical to that of Skoronel: political content entirely dominated his thinking about bodily movement, and matters of form and technique always remained subordinate to the projection of a correct spirit, which acknowledged that "dance is struggle" on behalf of an oppressed class of people (Reinisch 185–191). In his memoirs and polemical statements, he scarcely reflected on dance at all; instead, he discussed his hard struggle to live as a dancer with a communist perspective. His autobiography devoted more pages to his few dismal months in the concentration camp than to any phase of his artistic career. Dance was for him a way to achieve a higher class identity, which, however, he assumed was impossible for him to achieve independently of the Communist Party. From his debut concert on, he thought of his work as ballet, because ballet resonated with a grandeur and dignity of identity denied the working class. But his aesthetic before 1939 actually had little to do with ballet in any rigorous sense, and even in relation to Ausdruckstanz he was hardly an auspicious innovator in the realm of movement dynamics. He claimed to free dance from the prettified mythic images of bourgeois female dancers, yet his own dances borrowed heavily from the stereotyped poster imagery of downtrodden social types and heroically victorious work-
ers. He asserted that his dances included movements he had learned as a gardener, but in reality none of his dances presented any insightful relation between laboring and aesthetic movements, despite the enormous and quite unexplored potential for expressivity in constructing such a relation. Slow, ponderous movements and huddled bunching of female bodies signified the oppressed masses; gaping mouths and outstretched arms signified suffering. Drooping, cowering, cringing, plodding movements characterized further aspects of oppression. The heroic side of the struggle, represented mostly by bare-chested males, entailed militant flexing of muscles, strident stepping, uplifted faces, vigorous swinging of arms, confrontational stances, and lunging rushes.
For Weidt, a group implied a synchronized, uniform identity for several bodies, and although he sometimes contrasted different groups he showed little awareness of contradictions within a group; nor did he disclose a sophisticated perception of leader-group dynamics: the destiny of a group derived not from any force within it nor from the force of a mesmeric, lonely individual nor even from any distinct music but always from a conventional, archetypal image of "hunger" or "the worker" or, perhaps, "the red flag." One of Weidt's most interesting works, Passion eines Menschen (1931), with spoken narrative by Ludwig Renn, music by Stefan Wolpe, and masks by Erich Goldstaub, derived its imagery from a "novel" in woodcuts by the Flemish expressionist-socialist artist Frans Masereel. This piece followed a simple iconographic narrative: workers in a factory suddenly find themselves laid off, and, when they protest, the police persecute them. One of the workers, Klaus, kills a police spy who attacks Klaus's mother in a bar where she sells flowers. In jail Klaus meets his true "comrades" while "women lament over their men." The court regards Klaus as a political murderer, and the workers' efforts to save him from execution are in vain; however, his death provokes a revolutionary upheaval (Reinisch 165). Narrative content sustained interest in this and most of Weidt's other dances, and as long as the story dominated movement choices, movement retained a crudely pantomimic identity almost completely devoid of irony. To insure that his audience "got" the story, he even inscribed it into the program: Eine Frau (1930, music: Heyken)—"once she was a mother, but the war took everything from her. Now she must work again, as if she were thirty. Her life is worry and work"; Strassentänzer (1931, music: Erben)—"China—it could be Berlin—he always dances with consuming ecstasy. For what? For the street? For pleasure? For a pair of coins?" A more curious work was Potsdam (1932), in which narrative development remained subordinate to an abstract aim, the construction of a group piece that had no leader, even though it showed the leaders of the Weimar Republic. Hitler, Hugenberg, Hindenburg, and von Papen, wearing caricatured masks, danced as unified group to hit tunes of 1932. They moved in an amusing, courtly-bizarre style
that was "not directly ridiculous" but "incredible" and so perverse as to imply a dreadful "danger" in such a unified group of leaders.
Although Weidt revived the dance in Paris, his aesthetic never again moved in this intriguing direction. He loved using masks in his group works, yet most were eerie caricatures of archetypal expressions of oppression, elderliness, and deprivation. However, in the solo Indian-Romantik (1934) and the group Kampftanz (1934), supposedly based on Sioux Indian tribal dances, he explored opportunities to display heroic male nudity, and he made a very handsome model for nude sculptures by Niko Eekman in 1937. In his choice of music, he showed an enthusiasm for contemporary composers, as long as they possessed correct political credentials: Arthur Berger, Stefan Wolpe, Hanns Eisler, Wolfgang Erben, Alban Berg, Josef Kosma. Yet the music he loved best was by that most bourgeois and romantic of all composers, Chopin. If it is difficult to take him as seriously as he wished, it is because he never seriously acknowledged any struggle within himself to form the personality he valued so highly. Personality for him always emerged from without, as a struggle to rise from the depths. Ambiguities of bodily movement and sexual identity seemed obstacles to the approval of the great party of revolutionary men who understood his constant hunger to find a better place to sleep, a better home.