Expressionism presented modernist abstraction as a primal image of inner psychic or spiritual conditions. Klamt and Steiner represented almost antithetical political variants of abstractionism in this key. But expressionism sometimes linked abstraction to heightened conditions of mechanization rather than spirituality. Skoronel insisted that in her case mechanization referred to formal properties of movement rather than to the theme of machines or industrialization, but expressionist performance did not remain entirely indifferent to relations between bodies and machines, as was evident in such prominent dramas as Kaiser's Gas (1918–1920), Capek's[*]RUR (1920), Toller's Die Maschinenstürmern (1922), and Bronnen's Anarchie in Sillien (1924), Max Brand's opera Maschinist Hopkins (1929), and Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1927). As late as 1934, one could see in Braunschweig a full-length ballet, Menschenmaschinen , by the genial Hungarian composer Eugene Zador (1894–1977). Unlike futurism, however, which glorified machines, expressionism projected a skeptical attitude toward their salvational power, even though, in the theatre at least, expressionism relied extravagantly on new performance technologies to construct its messages.
Dämon Maschine (1924) was probably the most famous "machine dance" performed in Germany during the Weimar era, but its creator, Gertrud Bodenwieser (1890–1959) resided in Vienna. Though she converted to Catholicism early in life, she came from an affluent, cultivated Jewish family influential in financial circles, and she eventually married a Jewish theatre director, Friedrich Rosenthal. From childhood she enjoyed contact with modernist art and music personalities in Vienna; the artists Felix Harta and Franz von Bayros collaborated with her on the designs for some of her early dances. Between 1905 and 1910 she studied ballet under Carl Godlewski, ballet master at the Vienna Royal Opera, but the reactionary insulation of Viennese ballet from virtually any modernist impulse in dance meant that most of her "teachers" were dancers she observed at concerts or learned about through readings and photographs. She matured quite slowly, for she did not give her debut concert, at a modernist art gallery for an invited audience, until 1919. The program contained only six dances, but she received an enthusiastic critical response; yet she did not give her next concert, again presenting only six dances, until two years later. In 1922 she ventured into pair dancing in a recital with Ernst Walt, who was actually a composer, but neither solo nor pair dancing accommodated her ambitions, and the only other dance in which she performed with a man (Curt Hagen) was Konstrucktivistisches Liebeslied (1928, music: Poulenc). Group dance was her passion. So in 1923 she formed a school and ensemble in the basement of the Vienna Concert House, which remained her headquarters until 1938 (MacTavish 15–20).
Her school, she asserted, embraced expressionism wholeheartedly and did not focus "one-sidedly" on the cultivation of "gracefulness," nor did it adopt any of the prewar Grecian dance styles as a model for a new dance art. Bodenwieser saw dance as an image of the modern world in which she lived: "I want in my dances struggle, passion, Dionysiacally intensified feeling for life, but also chaos, horror, and degeneration" (Stefan 95). With her ensemble she choreographed an enormous number of pieces, and the company visited an astounding number of European cities, perhaps more than any other Germanic dance group of the era, especially in such countries as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Belgium; it also visited New York, France, England, Holland, and gave the first Germanic ensemble productions in Japan (1934). Wherever the Bodenwieser group appeared, it signified a self-consciously modernist attitude toward performance, informed by avant-garde tendencies in the visual arts and an openness to contemporary music. When the Nazis annexed Austria, she knew she no longer had a future in Europe, so she and her husband went into exile, along with several of her students, first to France, where she formed a new group, then to Venezuela and Colombia, for a concert tour that even included performances in a bullfight ring. Her husband stayed behind in France to do radio work, but two years later he disappeared after the Gestapo arrested him. Bodenwieser, at the invitation of one of her students, had traveled to New Zealand and Australia, which became her home for the rest of her life. In Sydney she soon established another school and became one of the strongest personalities in the modern dance scene of Australia and New Zealand, producing about a hundred dance works in less than twenty years.
Though Bodenwieser choreographed an astonishing number of group dances before she left Austria, Dämon Maschine remained her most famous achievement and the work upon which perception of her as an avant-garde artist rested. This piece contained all the major features of her dance aesthetic, and her prolific output was perhaps based on her skill in constructing manifold variations of these features. But the piece projected a peculiar relation to abstraction. Originally, Dämon Maschine was the second part of a four-part cycle of dances, Gewalten des Lebens (1924), whose first part, Ein Wesen , dated from her brief partnership with Ernst Walt in 1922. However, the second part attracted so much fascination that the cycle as a whole often became identified as Dämon Maschine . Bodenwieser began presenting the second part independent of its context, even though the cycle constituted a dramatic narrative that disclosed an overarching, controlling attitude toward machines. The second part unwittingly showed the power of abstraction to undermine narrative unity, yet Bodenwieser's notion of abstraction was hardly extreme, for she never allowed it to undercut her enthusiasm for decorative theatricality. In the first part, two figures, He and She, wearing
light-blue veils, made swinging motions together to "dreamy" music by Debussy. (In group performance, a woman danced the male figure.) According to Bodenwieser, "The body of the woman softly repeats the rhythm of the man. He reaches high and grasps at the stars. But already the half-sunken beings [around the couple] reach with the same desire into the ether. Full of ardor, the man kneels humbly before life. And she with him." With the couple, a "common destiny weaves them into asingle being," and the "great swaying of life urges them toward a final and scarcely intimated abyss" (RLM 181).
The second part, "Dämon Maschine," employed gong and percussion music by Lisa Mayer and showed how machines destroyed the unity of being achieved by the couple. Six dancers turned their bodies into images of machines: gears, levers, pumps, pistons, pulverizers, dynamos. Five of the dancers wore abstractly colored briefs and long-sleeved tops that exposed much flesh and thus reinforced the perception of the body as a machine; the sixth dancer wore a dark, "demonic" uniform, looking somewhat like a robot. Bodies functioned as parts of a single "machine"; they intertwined and joined mechanically through complicated, contortionistic relations among kneeling, squatting, kicking, grasping, thrusting, squirming, hammering, and interlocking, moving from lying to standing positions, from profile to full face. A group was a carnal machine—and quite decorative, too (Renner 53–54) (Figure 60).
The third part presented "the golden calf" (music: Petyrek). Here two bodies formed a single idol, with four arms, a crown, and a "golden aura." Around the idol danced five Corybants: "Lust from tip-toes to fingertips. . . . Throbbing, ecstasy, frenzy, impotence, collapse. The idol grins victoriously" (RLM 182). In the final part (music: Mussorgski), "the oppressed, the defeated, the confused, the devastated. Frost passes through the column of the outcast. The priestess strides through the group. The glow of reason and good streams through the darkness," in the manner of a painting by Massacio. What probably made the machine dance so popular was its erotic decorativeness. The piece did not, as in revue dancing, rely on chorus-line synchronicity of movement to suggest mechanization of identity and feeling. Rather, bodies formed different patterns of synchronicity and counterpoint with each other to create a pulsing, mutant machine-organism of ecstatic intensity, amplifying both the desireability and the demonic power of female bodies.
The piece was never so abstract that one lost sight of the theatrical imitation of a machine. Bodenwieser always remained devoted to theatrical effects; indeed, she advocated closer relations not between dance and opera-ballet but between dance and the literary theatre (Stefan 58–59). For Karlheinz Martin and Friedrich Rosenthal, she "choreographed" actions and inserted dances into productions of otherwise danceless plays by
Raimund, Wedekind, and Kokoschka, and she designed a dance for Friedrich Kiesler's experimental, spiral Raumbühne in 1924. But in spite of her declared distaste for gracefulness, she never detached her theatricality from decorativeness and elegant pictorial effects derived from her familiarity with modernist art trends; these made her dances seem advanced and sophisticated without being especially demanding or disturbing. In her solo "cubistic dance" (1923), she wore a bizarre costume of conical sleeves and pants, but the music was by the American romantic composer Edward MacDowell! Her image of the machine was peculiarly lyrical, drawing on a Viennese tradition of curvilinear beauty exemplified earlier by Grete Wiesenthal; her introductory dance course began with the study of figure-8 spiral movements (Brown 16). She created a huge quantity of charming adaptations of folk, social, and cabaret dances that pleased audiences as much in London or Crakow as in Vienna. These contrasted almost absurdly with her ambitious, mystical-allegorical dance cycles, usually in three parts, such as Biblische Themen (1923), Gotische Suite (1928, music: Glück), Schwingungsaustausch (1930, music: Lorber), Rhythmen des Unbewussten (1928, music: Wellesz), Die grosse Stunden (1931, music: Tcherepnin), and Drei Tanzsymbolen (1933, music: Bortkievich). Strömung und Gegenströmung (1928), whose three parts were titled "Mysticism," "Mechanization," and "Decadence," was another machine dance based on Henry Ford's principles of automated factory labor, but this piece provoked less favor than others had, perhaps because it lacked decorativeness. A Rumanian reviewer remarked: "With shining eyes, girls wander happily in pairs. Demonic mechanization emerges. Sucks them into its black-red song. Compels them to convulsive gliding, stamping, and swinging, to pushing and shoving." The orgiastic bacchanal of the "decadence" part ended in paralyzed impotence (MacTavish 37). The narrative for this strange cycle suggested that mechanization arose out of mysticism, out of the mysterious unity of the couple, and destroyed it as well as the couple; mechanization awakened in the body a hunger for a monstrous ecstasy, leading inevitably to decadence, from which no one could expect salvation or a redemptive light.
A recurrent feature of Bodenwieser's group dances was the absence of a leader figure, a major contrast to Wigman's ensemble aesthetic. However, her mystical image of the couple appeared even stranger than most embodiments and was not without a strong homoerotic aura. Bodenwieser liked images of intertwining female bodies—pillars, pyramids, friezes of conjoined or interlocking bodies—which produced a curiously contorted, arabesque view of feminine being as multilimbed, multiheaded, and multimirrored, an effect beautifully captured in popular photographs taken by the D'Ora-Benda studio (Faber, Tanzfoto , 66–69). But Bodenwieser especially stressed the looping, cradling, embracing, nudging, plying, rubbing, and prodding of bodies, often in kneeling or reclining positions, with pairs
and sometimes trios of dancers, most obviously in Ich und Du (1935), Wiegenlied der Muttererde (1934), Tanz mit goldenen Scheiben (1934), Die Masken Luzifers (1936), and Tanz der drei Schwestern (1928). For Bodenwieser, the mystical coupling of bodies entailed a lyrical mechanization of movement—ecstasy, one might say, depended on the decorative coupling of mysticism and mechanization.
The intertwining of female bodies also appeared, to a lesser degree, in the work of other dancers in Vienna, such as Ellen Tels and Ellinor Tordis, and in the work of Gisa Geert and Hilde Holger, both students of Bodenwieser. Holger (b. 1905) danced in the first production of Damon Maschine , and her ensemble aesthetic relied strongly on the Bodenwieser device of intertwined bodies creating a "single being." This device appeared most emphatically, perhaps, in Orchidee (1933, music: Ravel), though it also pervaded her choreography of Mechanisches Ballett in 1926, with music by Hirschfeld-Mack. Holger, too, came from a cultivated Jewish family, which brought her in touch with prominent Viennese artists and intellectuals such as Stefan Zweig, Elias Canetti, and Erni Kniepert, and she posed nude for modernist artists such as Felix Harta, Benedikt Dolbin, and Joseph Heu and the photographer Antios (Takvorian 18–19). Yet a peculiar timidity marked her dance aesthetic and her performance productivity. In 1926 she left the Bodenwieser group and formed her own school and ensemble in the Ratibor Palace in Vienna. Unlike Bodenwieser, however, Holger ventured eventually to infuse her mysticism with overtly Jewish themes, which appeared in the solo Hebräischer Tanz (1929, music: Weprik), Kabbalistischer Tanz (1933, music: Rieti), Ahasver (1936, music: Rubin), and Golem (1937, music: Wilckens).
Holger's perception of bodily movement owed less to the image of the machine than to the image of the marionette, particularly after she became friends with Richard Teschner (1879–1948), the Viennese designer of masks, figurines, and marionettes. Teschner's eerily exquisite fairy-tale figurines inhabited a fantastic miniature theatrical world ("Figuren-Spiegel") of rococo, Arabian Nights , and Indonesian puppet ornamentality. Holger began to introduce masks and historicizing costume details that made her dances appear less abstract, as in her solos for Javanesische Impression (1931) and Golem . Much of her group work in Vienna was for children, and it was not until she went into exile in 1939 and gave up solo dancing altogether that she disclosed any expansive confidence in group dance to embody her desires. She spent the war years in Bombay, where she formed a school and put on concerts, then (1948) migrated to London, which became her permanent home (her husband, an Indian, was a physician). There she opened another school (1951), which operated continuously into the late 1980s. Unlike Bodenwieser, Holger liked working with male students and dancers, one of whom was the wild English theatre director Lindsay Kemp (b. 1939).
But wildness was precisely what Holger's aesthetic lacked. Her reluctance to push herself beyond the devices of Bodenwieser and Teschner apparently resulted from her sense, throughout her life, of having to move cautiously, with marionette decorum, in societies (rather than close-knit circles) that were permanently foreign to her (including Vienna) and easily capable, as she herself suggested, of "misunderstanding" almost any serious bodily movement of modernity (Takvorian 37).