The synthesis of Ausdruckstanz and theatre through dramatic narrative could take another form than that demonstrated by Jooss. Instead of building narratives out of socially coded movements, modern dance could build them out of idealized or historically coded movements that nevertheless did not derive from either ballet or "nature" as Jooss understood that term. Such a strategy defined the work of Lola Rogge (1908–1990). She was born in Altona near Hamburg and spent virtually her entire career in Hamburg. Her choreographic output was small, but she favored large-scale, ambitious projects, which she liked to revise and perfect. She first studied dance at age twelve under Gertrud Zimmermann, and in 1923 she decided to become a
dancer after performing a solo in a school dramatization of poems from Goethe's West-östlichen Divan, at which time she encountered a student familiar with Laban's new school in Hamburg. Rogge's parents opposed a career in dance for their daughter, believing that a career in hospitality services was more suitable. Her mother expressed alarm at the sight of bare-chested men in Laban's studio; however, the daughter displayed an even stronger will. She arranged for Jenny Gertz, a Laban disciple devoted to the instruction of children, to give another demonstration, which succeeded in persuading Rogge's parents to let her begin study at the Laban school in 1925. During the war, Rogge's health became delicate as a result of nutritional deficiencies, and she experienced a very sheltered life and education. Yet her dance aesthetic evolved toward a heroic-athletic image of the body, though she did not construct an especially hygienic attitude. One might even say that Rogge showed greater interest in representing a powerful will than in manifesting a healthy spirit.
At the Laban school, where she claimed she "discovered" her body, she became active in the movement choir experiments that contributed so abundantly to Laban's appeal and mystique. In these Laban treated the group as an abstract form, full of elaborate, geometric configurations detached from any conventional narrative context. What excited Rogge about movement choirs was the possibility of becoming a choir leader, who could "carry with her the group dancers, draw them into her sphere" (PS 29). But her sense of community was more cultured than cultic and did not altogether fit the aim of the movement choirs, with their constant, improvised appropriation of new spaces and their frequent indifference toward the idea of an audience. For Rogge, the group was the image of a powerful controlling will, the creation of a leader, whose desires manifested themselves in narrative movement that surpassed the strength of ballet technique or "systems" of modern dance to constrain them. But she first established her own identity as a leader by opening, at age nineteen, a school in Hamburg—the Lola Rogge Laban School, which still exists. Her first students came from elite Hamburg families, daughters of her parents' friends; she innovated by introducing courses whereby employees of major Hamburg firms, such as Shell, Reemtsma, and Deutsche Bank, could study bodily movement through corporate-sponsored cultural and development programs. She also devised schemes that permitted working-class families to take movement courses for very nominal fees, with some subsidiary support from labor unions. In 1928 she initiated regular free days for schoolchildren, who received an entire day of instruction and exercise free. She started doing morning radio broadcasts of gymnastic exercises in 1930.
In 1929, Rogge began collaborating with the Social Democratic Party and Hamburg ballet mistress Olga Brandt-Knack in coordinating lay move-
ment choir activities. This led, in 1931, to her first large-scale ensemble piece for the public, scenes from Albert Talhoff's expressionistic "vision for word, dance, and light," Totenmal, a choric memorial to soldiers killed in the Great War. Wigman had provoked much controversy the previous year at the Munich Dance Congress with her own grandiose multimedia version of Talhoff's poem; Rogge's treatment of the material was far less experimental, complex, or spectacular. She confined the action within a small proscenium stage and set the unmasked movement choir against painted expressionist backdrops, whereas Wigman had employed a huge space permitting antiphonal and contrapuntal relations between various masked speech and movement choirs, as well as highly abstract lighting effects achieved partially through a color organ. Rogge herself danced the role Wigman had assumed, the female spirit of life in dialogue with Death, but she apparently stressed the motherly dimension of the role at the expense of the erotic (PS 44–47; Peters 4). Nevertheless, the production received much acclaim; indeed, one can say that Rogge never created a work that was a failure with the public. Her next project, done in 1931 with her students, definitely thematized the identity of the leader by being a choreographed enactment, with original music by Willi Jansen, of the medieval story of the Pied Piper. The same year she married Hans Meyer, a businessman with a great affection for playing the piano. He added his wife's surname to his own and became Hans Meyer-Rogge. When he lost his job with an export firm during the economic crisis of 1930, he assumed significant managerial responsibility for the Rogge school and became a kind of shadowy collaborator with his wife on the creation of her dance works.
Thyll, with original orchestral music by Claus-Eberhard Clausius, appeared in 1933. This long dance drama in four scenes, from a scenario by Meyer-Rogge, depicted the Breughelesque adventures of the Flemish folk hero Thyll, danced by Rogge herself. The vagabond Thyll exerts a charismatic spell over the carnival-like crowd in a late-medieval Flemish town, performing a dance with two swords and other acrobatic feats. Upon learning of his father's death, he seeks his beloved, Nele, but their paths never seem to cross (Rogge constructed a curious, spatially distanced duet between them to signify their attraction to each other without their ever becoming a couple). In a dream Thyll sees the foreign oppressors of his country, then hears the voice of his conscience, which is also "the voice of the people." "Only when farmers and citizens are united, only then will Flanders be free. If Avarice, Envy, and Indifference hinder the work of unification, Thyll must die and with him freedom" (PS 56). When Thyll awakes, he gathers about him an expanding group of insurgents, who march on the town in the most spectacular scene in the drama, the "Geusenmarsch," or march of the Protestant "beggars." Thyll remains outside while the crowd pours into the
city. At a patrician ball featuring a children's gavotte and a nobles' pavanne, Thyll sees the disunity produced again by Avarice, Envy and Indifference. He therefore dies of despair—but who can bury the Flemish spirit? "You can sleep, but die?—never!"
Rogge used spoken narration to clarify some actions, such as the appearance of the disunifying vices in black, yellow, and gray. Unlike Jooss, she did not build narrative complexity through exaggeration of socially conditioned movements in daily life. Rather, narrative evolved through movements rooted in athletics, gymnastics, and military maneuvers, although these tended to signify something other than physical prowess or exertion. Rogge's movement style was far less pantomimic than Jooss's but always dramatic. She derived many of her movements from archaic or traditional dance forms, such as the gavotte, the pavanne, the Teutonic sword dance, and various German folk dances; few choreographers displayed as much imagination in making use of march rhythms. Her ensemble movements were consistently choric, faithful to the Labanian concept of the movement choir, which implied all sorts of complex geometric patterns and formal tensions between groups (in circles, countercircles, spirals, converging diagonals, colliding rows, phalanxes) but little development of individuals (or leaders) within groups and little effort to show transformations of groups into new communities. With the disbanding of the Social Democratic Party movement choirs by the Nazis and the subsequent pressure to depict groups in unison formations, Rogge enjoyed little opportunity to explore deeper dynamics or contradictory tensions defining group movement. However, the regime did not intrude much on her completely private school, never even reproaching her for excluding mandatory courses on ideology and race theory from her curriculum.
For the Hamburg State Theatre, Rogge choreographed numerous dance interludes inserted into otherwise strictly dramatic productions, and her school participated regularly in civic festivals held by the city of Hamburg. But these activities seemed incidental to her next big project, Amazonen (1935), a three-act dance adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist's monumental tragic drama of female warriors, Penthesilea (1808), which already had been turned into an exciting expressionist opera in 1926 by Othmar Schoeck and a luxuriantly eccentric comedy by Ilse Langner (1932). A passionate student of ancient Greek mythology and archeology, Meyer-Rogge wrote the scenario; the music consisted of various compositions by Georg Friedrich Handel, whom Rogge regarded, curiously, as a superior composer of dance music. In the first act, set in the mysterious, cultic female state of the Temple of Diana, the High Priestess bestows the golden bow of power upon the newly elected Queen of the Amazons, danced by Rogge. In the second act the Amazons encounter intruding Greeks, led by Achilles. A great battle ensues, with the outcome decided in a duel between the Queen
and Achilles. The Queen wins, and the Greeks become prisoners of the Amazons. In the final act, the Amazons celebrate the festival of roses, the culmination of which entails the marriage of the Queen to Achilles, with whom she has fallen passionately in love. But Amazon law forbids female desire for the male, and the High Priestess demands that the Queen return the bow. When the Queen resists and declares her intention to crown Achilles king, the High Priestess stabs her, and she dies in the arms of her beloved. All the women vacate the scene, leaving "men as the future rulers of the new state."
Rogge's productions established a powerful intersection of erotic desires and aggressive drives. But in Kleist's tragedy Penthesilea mistakenly kills Achilles, then literally dies of a broken heart; in Rogge's work, threats to the authority of the female community came from women themselves (the High Priestess), not from men. The choric movement was monumentally ritualistic, making extensive use of march patterns and rhythms, saluting gestures, and tensions between sinking obedience and triumphant invocation, with mass movements occasionally interrupted by grandiose solos (bow dance) and duets (Achilles/Queen duel) (Figure 61). The dancers wore sleek, art deco versions of Hellenic costumes, with male warriors, in armor, strongly differentiated from the more lightly clad female warriors. Except for the sacred bow, Rogge declined to use any shields, spears, or swords, preferring, apparently, to suggest martial prowess entirely through bodily gesture, although she claimed to seek a "realistic" image of antiquity (PS 87).
Rogge risked a great deal of money on the production, but Amazonen proved enormously popular in the Third Reich, impressing high-level officials at the Berlin dance festival of 1935. As Meyer-Rogge remarked: "The tragedy of community differs from the tragedy of the individual in that it places the hero as the basis for action in the people, that is, it identifies the hero with a necessary moral ideal," which reinforces unity of identity rather than accommodates difference (PS 86). However, Rogge's enthusiasm for classical antiquity dated back to her school days, when she wrote papers on excavations at Pompeii, using books in her parents' library (17), and it is doubtful that she paid much attention to Nazi ideology in shaping her dance drama. After performing Amazonen in several occupied countries during the war, she was able to revive it with equal success in 1947 and again in the 1950s.
Her next major work, the four-part Mädcheninsel (1939), also featured music by Handel and explored much the same domain as Amazonen . It functioned as the second part of a trilogy that was to have concluded with a great dance drama about the Trojan War (however, the outbreak of the real European war prevented this from materializing). Meyer-Rogge's scenario depicted the evolution of Achilles into a warrior. The first scene
shows the birth of Achilles to Thetis and Peleus. The oracle prophesies that Achilles will lead a short, glorious life or a long, peaceful but unremarkable existence, and Thetis must choose his fate. When representatives of the underworld arrive with gifts of helmets, shields, and swords, Thetis determines that Achilles shall not follow the life of a warrior. So he grows up on an island of girls, wearing girl's clothes and playing girl games. (Rogge herself danced the role of Achilles.) In one game the girls blindfold him, but suddenly a group of Greek warriors appears, bearing shields with doves imprinted on them. The girls flee, leaving Achilles alone; when a soldier removes the blindfold, Achilles sees the warriors and shields, becomes aroused by their dark challenge to him, and begins to test his martial prowess in a powerful combat duet with shields between himself and another soldier. He displays superior instincts as a warrior, and the soldiers express their admiration by bestowing the famous armor on him and lifting him up onto their shields. The women then return to the scene, shifting their allegiance from Thetis to Achilles, who boards the ship for Troy and a glorious doom.
As in Amazonen, Rogge relied here on choric movement patterns to sustain dramatic interest, with groups deployed in circles, friezelike rows, squares, and phalanxes: "The choric movements occurred chiefly through striding marches or feathery, skipping runs with raised arm gestures" (110). Not surprisingly, the Nazi-controlled press bestowed lavish praise upon the work, but Rogge herself saw nothing distinctly fascist in her production, which she viewed as an account of a figure moved by an "inner necessity," destiny, rather than will (109). But this explanation was peculiarly ironic from a woman for whom group dance was, as Stöckemann repeatedly asserts, the expression of an "iron will." In any case, she had no trouble reviving the dance after the war.
The war itself no more disturbed her "will" than had the political upheavals of the previous twenty years. Following the surrender, she became prodigiously active in restoring vitality to the Hamburg cultural scene and in establishing the prominence of her school within that scene. At the same time, she raised four children. She produced two more large dance dramas, Vita Nostra (1950) and Neue Lübecker Totentanz (1956), but in these works she turned for inspiration to images from the late Middle Ages rather than from classical antiquity. In both of these productions, the medieval image of Death (a skeleton painted onto the body stocking of a male dancer) became the power driving and defining the identity of the group. In these later works it became evident that for Rogge the will, as manifested through leadership and control over groups, was synonymous with a desire to face death, a determination to test the strength of the inevitable. Dance drama was for Rogge the ideal medium for establishing the body (rather than the state) as the decisive site of conflict between the will and the inevitable. She
came from a deeply respected, almost puritanical, patrician family governed by an ambitious ideal of civic honor and dignity. This sense of honor she brought to dance in perhaps greater degree than any other dance personality of the Weimar era. Yet her art was not without ambiguities in its images of a will, of a body, of entire groups seemingly "undetermined" by the great political turbulence of the times in which they lived.