Weidt expressed much gratitude for the help given him during his years in Weimar Berlin by Hertha Feist (1896–1990), although, curiously, her own students seemed reluctant to show her any gratitude at all (Reinisch 35; Peter 37). Her bourgeois socialism produced an image of group identity far removed from Weidt's archetypal "masses." She was the younger sister of Fritz Böhme's first wife. Böhme, in an unpublished 1947 manuscript, gave an enchantingly vivid description of Feist dancing nude only for him in the golden twilight of a grove in the Grunewald in the summer of 1915: she asked him to close his eyes until she said open them, and when he opened them he saw a glorious female body approaching him, improvising the most complex movements, stretching, folding, trembling, kneeling, rising up on tiptoes, twisting, spiraling, rotating, arching, turning her breathing into music, until she suddenly disappeared into the shadows (Böhme, "Laban," 1–5). Nudity and the "purest" expression of the healthy body constituted dominant features of Hertha Feist's aesthetic. Yet she had many teachers whose incompatible influences led to a set of works that somehow did not live up to the summer afternoon vision of her described by Böhme.
She studied first with Dalcroze at Hellerau (1914), then with Bode and a Mensendieck teacher in Munich (1915); Böhme recommended that she study with Olga Desmond in Berlin (1917), where she made her debut in
1919 with a baring of her breasts. Finding Desmond's instruction unsatisfying, she went to Stuttgart to study under Laban, whom she soon followed to Mannheim and then to Frankfurt, Lübeck, Bremen, Gleschendorf, and Hamburg, appearing in grandiose productions of Laban's Der schwingende Tempel (1921), Agamemnons Tod (1922), and Faust II (1922) and participating in his countercultural pastoral-communal lifestyle (Schuftan 32; Peter 36). By 1923, however, she decided it was time to go her own way. She therefore returned to Berlin to establish her own school and to teach a class at Carl Diem's sports academy. Feist was especially successful at integrating the study of gymnastics, sport activity, nudism, and dance. No other dance school in Germany attracted such a large number of male students, although few of hers entertained professional ambitions. She continued to collaborate with Laban on Berlin performances of his Lichtwende (1923), Prometheus (1924), Dämmernde Rhythmen (1925), and Don Juan (1926), in which she danced the role of Donna Elvira; of course, her pedagogy emphatically promoted the doctrines of Laban. She involved herself in curious projects, such as the dances for a production of Klaus Mann's play Anya and Esther (1926), with music by Klaus Pringsheim and costumes by Lotte Pritzel, and some sort of dance in connection with the showing of an American sound film, Hands (1929), containing music by Marc Blitzstein. However, her most provocative work was the bizarre group dance Die Berufung (1928), performed by her Novembergruppe with strong support from the social democratic cultural apparatus. With this piece she toured Germany, Poland, Switzerland, and England. In 1930–1931 she danced in the controversial Laban-Jooss Tannhäuser-Bacchanal at Bayreuth (Cameron). But with the beginning of the Nazi era, her work as a choreographer came to an end. Her last ensemble piece was an ambitious production of Glück's Iphigenie in Aulis on the steps of the Pergamon Museum in May 1933. Soon thereafter the Nazis appropriated her school building and compelled her to move to smaller quarters. She always had many students, but all her choreography, even after the war ended, consisted of reconstructions of Renaissance dance forms. In 1943 she moved to Celle, then Hannover, where she taught (1952–1965) at the Volkshochschule. Eventually she became an adept of the Rosicrucian Order, for which she created her last dance, in 1965, to consecrate the Golden Temple of the Rose Cross in Bad Münder (Peter, "Hertha Feist," 37).
Like Jutta von Collande, Hertha Feist cultivated an elaborately complex image of the group that achieved complete expression not in any one piece but in relations between pieces or between dancers from different schools. Just as she desired to integrate dance, gymnastics, and sports, so she welcomed opportunities to merge people from different institutions into a single work. But this inclination to merge forces conflicted with her deeper urge to achieve maximum purity of expression. Indeed, she experienced
some difficulty in naming her desires. A 1925 program proclaimed: "WE ARE NOT A DANCE COMPANY. NOT BALLET! Our dance work is spiritualized gymnastics"; however, the program also announced itself as the work of the Tanzgruppe Hertha Feist ("Hertha Feist"). She experimented with lengthy concerts containing as many as fourteen or fifteen dances, but the organization of the dances—solos, duets, trios, ensembles—conformed to a grand structure so that different pieces by different dancers seemed to be part of a single large work, with each dance a kind of commentary on the previous one. Moreover, Feist tended to impose a formal color scheme on the order of dances. Thus, a 1925 concert opened with an ensemble sword dance, in which the movement choir wore gray; the ensuing prayer dance, for solo male, was yellow, as was the seventh dance, a female solo on the theme of "the powerful." The third dance, a female duet, was in green, the fourth dance a female solo in white, and the fifth a female solo in blue; a female trio was in red, and the piece concluded with movement choir in a spectrum of colors.
Feist worked closely with Lotte Auerbach and Seraphine Kinne in producing concerts featuring the three of them, and she gave solo concerts as late as 1933, but she liked best to assert herself within a large, complex group, and she did not mind turning her own or another dancer's solo into a trio or ensemble piece. Early in 1927 she began including an ensemble of eight men in her concerts for "battle" dances, but she apparently had difficulty devising dances in which the sexes interacted, for the male dances consistently appeared separately. That was an especially odd feature of her choreography, because in the classroom or in outdoor arenas she liked to have large groups of male and female dancers exercise together and perform gendered thesis-antithesis patterns of movement. Even in these cases, however, the male and female groups rarely actually merged; males became integrated only if females greatly outnumbered them. Though she encouraged nudism for both sexes, Feist liked having the men exercise nude or nearly nude while the women wore tunics. In her dances, however, nudity was negligible, despite the unforgettable beauty of her nude dance for Böhme in 1915 and her association with Olga Desmond.
In 1926 she and her school group started participating in concerts sponsored by the Social Democratic Party, performing her solo "Dionysian dance," Auerbach's "elegy," and ensemble pieces on the themes of summoning, struggle, and joy. Ein Frühlings Mysterium (1927) was a huge choraldance work, with music by Heinz Tiessen (conductor: Jascha Horenstein) and a script by Bruno Schönlank, the radical socialist author of Der gespaltende Mensch (1927), another grand hymn to class solidarity. Vera Skoronel supervised the choreography for this work, in which Feist coordinated the movements of her own students with those of children's, youth, and drama groups of the SDP.
Her most significant piece was Die Berufung (1928), a "dance poem in four round dances and a prelude," with orchestral music (now lost) by Edmund Meisel, costumes by Thea Schleusner, and masks by Wolfdietrich Stein. Die Berufung was an ensemble piece about the merging of ensembles. Feist differentiated each group by color, with each female group having a female leader: violet (Auerbach), green (Kinne), black (Anna Fligg), gray (Hertha Boethke), orange (Eva Becher). The silver group, however, was male and led by Feist herself. After a prelude establishing the control of the silver group over the space, the first round presented the "dance of isolated animal-like humanity," in which the five color groups danced independently of each other until the appearance of the silver leader, who imposed unity through oppression. The second round depicted the awakening of the groups to the perception that their obsession with preserving the purity of their colors had allowed the silver leader to dominate them. The third round showed the emerging strength within the color groups, their struggle against the silver leader, the appearance of the "dark forms," and the defeat of the dark forms by the silver group. The final round opened with a "bacchanal of groups," which led to strife between the groups, the return of the silver group, the partitioning, immobilization, and annihilation of the groups into an amorphous mass, and the summoning (Berufung ) of two kinds of controlling, balancing forms from the mass.
Feist saw the piece as dramatizing the evolution from chaos to community, but critics, not without good reason, tended to find the piece filled with obscurity. Richard Biedrzynski, in the Deutsche Zeitung (7 March 1928), observed that Feist had sacrificed dance power for visual power: "movement drama is not dance drama." Nevertheless, he contended, "the new as such is always stronger than what has already succeeded," and Feist had "raised movement in space to a symphony in colors." But Böhme was already convinced that Feist was not sure what identity she wanted for herself, her group, or her dances (Deutsche Zeitung, 22 November 1927). Even Die Berufung underwent several radical revisions at least one of which identified the different groups not by color but by species: hippopotamuses, rain worms, polyps, and "greedy, lewd, coquettish creatures." In the Volksbühne version, the silver group did not wear masks, but most of the other groups did. The silver group wore Buck Rogers–type capes and astro-suits that made no distinction between the female leader and the male group; the color groups wore costumes of a style that prevailed in the Dark Ages (Figure 58). John Schikowski in Vorwärts (18 November 1927) and a reviewer for the Tägliche Rundschau (17 November 1927) both asserted that Feist showed greater strength in handling grotesque or burlesque moods than melancholy or demonic themes, a serious defect in Böhme's mind. Feist's decision to use color rather than species groups was obviously an effort to encourage a more serious attitude toward her message,
which in any case was hardly a model of purity of expression ("Hertha Feist").
Although Die Berufung fascinated audiences, Feist abandoned the highly uncertain direction it entailed and instead concentrated on integrating with other groups guided by Laban (1930–1931), Dorothea Albu (1930), the social democrats (1932), and Jutta Klamt (1934). Iphigenie in Aulis (1933), with Max von Schillings conducting a full orchestra performing Wagner's updating of Glück's music, was an immense outdoor production that apparently involved movements very difficult to execute on the great marble steps of the Pergamon Museum, but knowledge about this piece remains scant. With Jutta Klamt in 1934 she created an eight-woman piece, Botschaft, with a score by the Croatian composer and theorist of "astral music" Josef Slavensky. By 1935, however, she had only one male dance on her programs, a duet fool's dance, and the following year she had no male dances at all, for she had no male students (though female students remained plentiful). Meanwhile, she wrestled with a theme that had preoccupied her since 1921, writing an essay on the "relation between body culture and art." Here she differentiated gymnastics from dance, contending that dance focused on the whole body and its emotional relation to time and space whereas gymnastics focused, in a mechanical manner, on parts of the body independently of feelings. By 1936 she had conceded the futility of integrating dance and gymnastics and proposed that dance ultimately achieved purity of expression by recovering the archaic spirit of the folk dance. At Nazified concerts she performed waltzes, mazurkas, tarantellas, humoresques, contra dances, and even dance forms from the time of the Renaissance, though nothing larger than trios; however, her taste in music did not entirely coincide with this direction, for she especially favored the music of Bach and Scriabin. Nazism clearly diminished her power to attract men toward dance and toward herself, but even before the Nazis took over she seemed to have experienced a great disillusionment over her failure to create anything as mysteriously naked and pure as the dance she performed for Böhme in the woods. The source of this disillusionment lay not within a pathological social reality or malfunctioning perception of group identity but within her own body, about which it is so difficult to decide whether it was seriously beautiful or merely good. As Schikowski remarked (Vorwärts, 18 November 1927), she projected strength, rigor, and elegance, "lightly shadowed by a frail cloud of melancholy."