Though Jooss and Rogge obviously saw Ausdruckstanz as moving toward an ultimate identity as dance-theatre, the relation between dance and theatre in the Weimar Republic was in reality a power struggle in which modern dance attempted to appropriate some of the terrain occupied by the established, subsidized institutions for opera, ballet, and literary drama. The attempt succeeded for the most part, but the reason for the appropriation was as much economic as aesthetic. The institutionalization of Ausdruckstanz occurred in three large phases. In the first phase (1910–1923), dance established its expressive power and credibility through solo concerts, which revealed the authority of dance to construct distinct artistic personalities. The second phase (1924–1929), marked by the opening of an amazing number of schools, witnessed the expansion of dance as a field of study. But by 1929 it was no longer possible for the schools themselves to provide careers for all their graduates. Moreover, the public had now seen a great deal of dance, and talented dance artists (rather than teachers) believed that, if they were to sustain the interest of audiences, they needed access to greater resources and virtuosity than the schools could offer. Thus, the third phase (1930–1935) entailed a self-conscious competition for subsidized positions within the huge network of publicly funded theatres throughout the nation. The program actually was well underway before 1930, with Laban and Wigman students being especially aggressive in obtaining theatrical positions as choreographers: Olga Brandt-Knack in Hamburg (1922), Skoronel in Oberhausen (1924), Jooss and then Jens Keith in Münster (1924–1925), Georgi in Gera (1925), Max Terpis in Berlin (1924), Anne Grünert in Duisberg (1925), Edith Bielefeld in Karlsruhe (1926), Günther Hess (1903–1979) in Hagen (1925), Lizzie Maudrick in Berlin (1928), Claire Eckstein in Darmstadt (1928), Ellen von Frankenberg in Aachen (1927), Manda van Kreibig in Darmstadt (1925), Ruth Loeser in
Düsseldorf (1929), and Laban himself in Mannheim (1922) and Berlin (1930).
Heinrich KrÖller and Ellen Petz
In spite of the invading action of these and other personalities, the history of Ausdruckstanz in the theatre remains obscure and almost absurdly underdocumented. Even the history of German ballet during these years is seldom anything more than a listing of names and titles (e.g., Erben), despite the fact that Germany officially possessed the largest system of ballet companies in the world. Yet ballet might just as well have not existed at all, so powerful was the hold of Ausdruckstanz on the dance imagination of the time. Powerfully influential dance critics such as Brandenburg, Böhme, Giese, Fischer, Lämmel, and Suhr tended to regard ballet as a dead and distinctly "un-German" art, and it is still something of a mystery as to why the Germans insisted on subsidizing a mode of dance in which they consistently failed to achieve any international or even national distinction. Gifted ballet dancers were hardly lacking, but imaginative choreographers trained in Paris, Italy, or Copenhagen definitely were. Curiously, the whole strategy of Ausdruckstanz to take over the ballet companies depended on a reconciliation between modern dance and ballet, with the schools making strenuous efforts to incorporate ballet technique into the curriculum.
The ballet world remained quaintly insulated from the storm of body consciousness that had swept over Central Europe even before World War I. Traditionalists acted as if modern dance advocates were hysterically unreasonable in asserting that ballet's rigid regulation of bodily expressivity emerged from a deeper—and darkly ideological—anxiety toward both modernity and the signifying power of the body. An exception was Heinrich Kröller (1880–1930), ballet director in Frankfurt (1915), Munich (1917–1930), Berlin (1919–1922), and Vienna (1922–1928). He openly promoted the idea that ballet and Ausdruckstanz could evolve only in relation to each other, rather than independently, and his susceptibility to at least a modern look on the ballet stage brought him invitations to choreograph in Prague, Stockholm, and Italy (see Mlakar). During World War I, in Munich, he apparently won admiration for his refusal to subordinate group movement to star solos and for his determination to make ballet an art form that conveyed serious meaning rather than a mere display of physical virtuosity (Vettermann, 217). But much more information about his work must surface before a strong statement about his significance can appear. He scored an enormous hit in Berlin in 1921 with his version of Richard Strauss's Josephs Legende (Suhr, Tänzerin ); Strauss himself was so impressed that he persuaded Kröller to give up his duties in Berlin and direct the ballet of the Vienna State Opera.
Kröller collaborated with Strauss on further successes, including Couperin Suite (1923) and Schlagobers (1924), but he was anything but happy in Vienna. Reactionary elements within the opera, supported in part by conductor Franz Schalk, persistently undermined his efforts to introduce some of the more modernistic (Stravinsky) productions of the Ballets Russes, let alone strategies affiliated with Ausdruckstanz . Munich was much more hospitable. There he choreographed bold productions of the Bartók-Balazs Wooden Prince (1924), the Krenek-Balazs Mammon (1927), and John Alden Carpenter's Skyscrapers (1927). But these were "bold" in large part because of their expressionistic or constructivist set designs. It remains unclear how modern Kröller was in his conception of group dynamics or bodily movement, though he freely acknowledged his interest in Laban's ideas about movement choirs. In Mammon, for example, he included a most intriguing image of a graceful huddle of women in conventional ballet slippers and tutus menaced by a phalanx of masked, pointing, caped demonic men, while another, smaller group of dwarfish, servile humans crept between these two groups. It therefore seems possible that Kröller created compelling dance theatre by self-consciously making the tension between ballet and the movement choir a dramatic feature of the performance itself.
Another puzzling figure from the world of ballet was the mysterious Ellen Petz (aka Ellen von Cleve-Petz). She studied ballet in Berlin, Budapest, and London, with an interlude at the Mensendieck school in Berlin, and this international education allowed her aesthetic to exude an aura of cosmopolitan refinement, her dancers being "representatives of real aristocratic art," according to a clipping from the Leipziger Tageblatt (13 August 1921). As early as 1917, she attracted attention for her taste in luxurious costumes and for her darkly glamorous Amazon solo dance (Török 11). In 1919 she formed the Petz-Kainer Ballet with the expressionist artist Ludwig Kainer, who designed the decor for her productions. In the early 1920s she toured numerous cities in Germany, as well as Budapest and Vienna, with a corps of six female dancers. Kainer's decor introduced Caligariesque distortions of scenic context that were otherwise lacking in ballet culture, and Petz contributed innovative, worldly scenarios, as in Triumph der Mode (1920), which depicted the "liberation of Queen Fashion through the tempestuous Prince Fantasy" (Elegante Welt, 9/5, 3 March 1920, 7). She moved into more darkly decorative moods with Eifersucht (1921), Phantom (1921), Sklavin Reich (1922), Groteske (1922), and Hiawatha (1923). Petz apparently liked to keep her dancers on pointe, but she did not have enough performers to stage full-length ballets. So in her concerts she presented several small, entirely original stories (no adaptations) in quite idiosyncratic settings. She always subordinated the display of virtuosity to the necessity of telling a strange story.
But she soon wearied of running a private company and accepted the position of ballet mistress at Dresden. With more than twenty dancers at her disposal, she produced the opulent Die Elixiere des Teufels (1925), with music by Jaap Kool and almost lascivious Oriental costumes. Then she attempted a "dance symphony" (1925, music: Resznicek). Even more intriguing was her Spielzeug (1928), an abridged version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker using emphatically geometrized Bauhaus set designs by Oskar Schlemmer (DS 181–183, 325). At Dresden she made Helge Peters-Pawlinin her partner, and in 1929, in Brussels, they produced an even more unusual dance experiment, La Masque de cuir . This production employed as decor the projection of scenes from movies starring Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky, who were popular screen lovers between 1926 and 1928. Petz and Pawlinin apparently performed solo/duet dance commentaries on the screen lovers to the accompaniment of music by Mozart (Colman) and Brahms (Banky) ("Ellen Petz"). In subsequent years, Petz's already shrouded career became maddeningly obscure. She resurfaced in 1938, when Queen Elena of Italy and Ethiopia invited her to present dances with a vaguely medieval aura in Rome, but by then her decorative blurring of differences between ballet and Ausdruckstanz had led to work about which one must locate still hidden sources of information.
As the careers of Kröller and Petz indicate those who attempted to integrate ballet and Ausdruckstanz developed vague artistic identities, and their impact was considerably less obvious or even noticeable than that of the hard-core expressionist dancers. Still, by 1929 the appropriation of ballet seemed a necessary facet of modern dance's appropriation of theatre. Moreover, appropriation entailed more than approval of ballet's rigid regulation of bodily expressivity through the classical on pointe "positions"—it entailed the assumption that a greater expressive power for dance depended on its success in constructing sustained, comprehensible narratives of sufficient complexity to test the capacity of the spectator to read kinetic signs. In short, the appropriation of ballet and theatre implied a devaluation of the abstraction and montage aesthetics defining the domain of Ausdruckstanz .
Naturally, these aesthetic implications, driven by economic objectives, led to interesting theoretical controversies. As early as 1922, Hans W. Fischer argued that expressionist dance created its own forms of narrative, forms that, because they focused perception on the body rather than on costume or on "objective" systems of movement, were not pantomimic ("Tanztraum"). But this argument did not explain how modern dance
should appropriate established theatrical institutions if the institutionalization of dance depended on narrative values defined largely by ballet. By contrast, in Das ekstatische Theater (1924), Felix Emmel asserted that contemporary literary drama required a new mode of performance in which speech and gesture emerged out of "rhythms of destiny," an "ecstasy of the blood" achieved by bringing acting and directing closer to dance and choreographic design, as in his own production of Der Bogen des Odysseus (1922) in Weimar (30–33). However, at the Munich Dance Congress in 1930, Emmel declared that in the literary theatre dance must serve the aim of the text and come from within it rather than, as in the work of the Russian directors Meyerhold and Tairov, being imposed upon it. Thus, the incorporation of dance into the literary theatre would require dramatists to write plays embodying a strong dance consciousness ("Tanz und Schauspiel"). Gustav Grund, a lay movement choir director for youth groups in Hamburg, took almost the opposite position: in both the literary theatre and the opera, the written text functioned as music that motivated bodily movement. Dance was not an illustration of the words nor a pantomimic representation of the word referents; rather, it was a kind of dramatic commentary on the words, often in tension with them, and therefore did not depend on either the author or the text for its inclusion in performance (Die vierte Wand, No. 3, 1927, 7–10).
At the Magdeburg Dance Congress of 1927, Hans Brandenburg explained that dance was the "primal cell of all theatre" and that both dance and theatre should strive toward a common goal or aesthetic identity. He insisted that modern dance not only had every right to move from the concert podiums to its own deserved zone of the subsidized theatres but even should constitute an expected element of all literary theatre ("Tanz und Theater"). Gertrud Bodenwieser in Vienna adopted a more practical attitude. She hardly believed that dance and drama could form a single, unified art form, for the difference between the choreographic and literary imaginations was far greater than nonpractitioners supposed. But because choreographic imagination was as significant for performance as literary imagination, she displayed no hesitation about inserting dances into plays, even where they were not intended, a strategy rejected by Emmel in his 1930 statement (see Stefan 58–59).
In Tanzkunst (1926), Fritz Böhme grasped that modern dance had transformed relations between body, movement, and space to such an extent that the subsidized theatre could no longer accommodate it; modern dance required a new architecture altogether. The further evolution of Ausdruckstanz depended on freeing it from conventional ideas of a stage and situating it within radically different architectural forms so that the visual dimension of performance no longer remained confined within the picture frame of a proscenium (198–207). Laban had already expressed this sentiment
with his proposal for a Gothic, cupola "dance temple" (Die Schönheit, 22/1, 1926, 2–4; 43–48). But by 1928 it was obvious that new theatre architecture of any sort, let alone specifically for dance, would not appear soon in the Weimar Republic; dance would have to content itself with appropriating a prewar notion of performance space, which implied some form of reconciliation with ballet. At the Essen Dance Congress of 1928, Kurt Jooss offered a distinction between Tanztheater and Theatertanz. Theatertanz referred to dance as an element contained within a larger dramatic narrative, such as Salome's dance in Oscar Wilde's play. Tanztheater involved drama created entirely out of and for dance, and it was the strongest basis for dance's appropriation of theatre. Thus, dance theatre, as defined by Ausdruckstanz, entailed new forms of danced narrative (scenarios and themes) rather than new relations between the body and space or even new methods of dancing. In another argument, Fred Hildenbrandt claimed that the institutionalization of the modern dance impulse actually meant the appropriation of the acrobatic dancing found in cabarets and revues and of contemporary social dance forms—a not altogether eccentric idea, but one that hardly resonated in the world of "serious" modern dance (Der Scheinwerfer, 11/12, March 1928, 24–26). Yet another view came from Rudolf Kölling, first solo dancer of the Berlin State Opera, who contended that as a member of a ballet corps, a dancer had to cultivate a much more complex consciousness of theatrical context than prevailed in modern dance: the dancer had to calculate every bodily movement in relation to every detail of costume, lighting, decor, music, ensemble, and special effect. The ballet dancer worked under much greater pressure than did dancers in the school companies, for "as an opera dancer, one must think of a thousand things, must overcome constraints, master obstacles. Only in this way will we succeed in conquering the theatre" (Die Schallkiste, 3/9, September 1928, 7–8).
The influence of Dalcroze no doubt contributed to many dancers' hesitation to "conquer" the theatre. He denounced the pathological effects on the body caused by the exorbitant demands of theatrical dance, especially ballet. Nevertheless, the Hellerau-Laxenburg school, guided by Valeria Kratina (1892–1983), developed its own form of dance theatre favoring open-air productions of dance dramas on themes of classical mythology cherished by Dalcroze himself—although in 1923 Kratina did stage the German premiere of Bartok's The Wooden Prince (Chladek, 54–59). In the late 1920s she choreographed the Laxenburg dancers in open-air dance versions of Greek tragedies in the amphitheatre at Syracuse, Sicily. Then, in 1930, she accepted appointment as ballet mistress in Breslau and Karlsruhe (1933–1937), later shifting to Dresden (1938–1944). But in her case, too, a serious assessment of her significance depends on the excavation of some substantial information about her work. Like Lola Rogge, she apparently sought to create a monumental image of classical culture that was free of
both ballet classicism and the excessively feminized Grecian ideal of improvised "naturalness" promoted by Isadora Duncan. Kratina's work suggested that dance theatre became institutionalized as Ausdruckstanz when it evolved independently of the state theatres, even if she herself eventually moved on to official positions.
Wigman perhaps believed even more strongly in this position. No doubt the political intrigues that prevented her from receiving the ballet mistress position in Dresden in 1920 contributed to her distrust of the official theatres and of dance theatre itself, for her concept of the group was probably too cultic to flourish within the complex political apparatus of a state theatre. She did choreograph dances for Hans Pfitzner's opera Die Rose von Liebesgarten (1921) in Hannover and for a Dresden production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1922), but obviously she saw no future in this sort of work. By 1929 she had disbanded her own school group because she felt she had reached an impasse with regard to further development of expressionist group dancing. She tried to resolve the crisis by producing one of the largest and most complex group pieces of the century, the controversial Totenmal (1930), which enjoyed an unprecedented run of ten weeks in Munich following its premiere at the Dance Congress. The production entailed an elaborate intersection of personnel and logistical support from a variety of organizations, as well as a stadiumlike performance space. But if Totenmal represented the future of expressionist dance theatre, one could not expect the state theatre system to supply the resources for it without introducing a radical change in production practices, and subsequently no one, including Wigman, attempted an ensemble production of similar scale or complexity. At the Essen Dance Congress of 1928, she gave a lengthy statement in which she argued that the aims and working methods of expressionist dancing and theatre dancing were so different that expressionist dance could "conquer" the theatre only through a radical revision of what theatre is: "We want not only dance in the theatre, but a rhythmically propelled and propelling theatre" (MS 77–82). In practice, she meant that expressionist dance theatre had to create its own institutions rather than try to fit into the prewar system, a strategy that was not convincing for some of her own brightest students, including Yvonne Georgi, Darja Collin, and Max Terpis, who accepted the necessity of accommodating ballet technique.
However, Margarethe Wallmann (b. 1904), director of the prosperous Wigman school in Berlin since 1927, attempted to reinforce the complex mode of production for Totenmal . In 1930, in Berlin, she produced the hugely successful (or, at least, far less controversial) Orfeus Dionysos (music: Glück), a vast and violent dance drama with a scenario by Felix Emmel. It employed an enormous corps of dancers and musicians (including Ted Shawn, Hans Weidt, and Mila Cirul) recruited from a variety of sources; Wallman herself danced the part of Euridice. The piece contained no con-
cessions to ballet technique, even though Wallmann had studied ballet in her native Vienna, but her choreography for the savage tribe of female Furies was so complicated that she required many more rehearsals than a regular full-length ballet. Her group movements avoided synchronized or unison effects and involved convoluted configurations that individualized each dancer, creating a very turbulent image of an ecstatic community in violent contrast to the almost stately composure of the ecstatic couple (see Mueller, "3. Deutscher," 23). For Wallmann, the ecstatic couple was an illusion destroyed by the ecstatic community of Furies, with communal ecstasy reaching its peak in mass violence, in the tearing apart of Orfeus.
Wallmann continued her complex, large-scale group choreography in another violent "mystery play," Das jüngste Gericht (1931, music: Handel), which premiered at the Salzburg Festival, where she was an annual participant during the 1930s (Figure 62). Here she situated her apocalyptic vision in a vaguely biblical context inhabited by allegorical figures such as the Rich Youth, the Poor Girl, the Spirit of Darkness, the Activist. The success of this piece urged her to break with Wigman, from whom she had already become somewhat distanced after a difficult experience teaching the Wigman doctrine at the Denishawn school in the United States 1928–1931). With the advent of the Third Reich, Wallmann, who was Jewish, returned to Vienna, where she became ballet mistress of the Vienna State Opera and director of its ballet school. Though she devised intriguing, original ballet scenarios such as Fanny Elssler (1934) and Der liebe Augustin (1936), her work became distinctly less intriguing than it had been before 1933. In 1939 she migrated to Buenos Aires, where she directed operas at the Teatro Colon, a task she pursued after the war in Rome and Milan, where she still lives.
Another Wigman student who did remarkable work in the theatre was Claire Eckstein (1904–1994). In Munich she met the gifted scenic designer Wilhelm Reinking, whom she soon married, and he recommended her to Heinrich Strohm, director of the opera theatre in Würzburg. Impressed with her extravagant sense of humor, Strohm hired her to choreograph Hindemith's ballet Der Dämon (1926), then Kool's Der Leierkasten (1927) and Rimsky Korsakoff's Scheherazade (1927), for which Reinking did the scenery. Along with stage director Arthur Maria Rabenalt, Eckstein and Reinking moved to Darmstadt, where from 1927 to 1931 Eckstein, in addition to her usual duties for the opera and operetta, staged several comic ballets with a distinctive modernist ambience: Massarani's Der arme Guerino (1928), Milhaud's Le boeuf sur le toit (1928), Satie's Parade (1929), Schmitt's Ein höher Beamter (1930), and two ballets for which she herself composed
the music: Soirèe (1930) and Die Gestrandeten (1930). During these years, American dancer Edwin Denby (1903–1983) was her partner-collaborator. However, in 1930 the Berlin Kroll Opera invited Reinking to design The Barber of Seville, and this opportunity led to others for him in the city. Eckstein brought several of her Darmstadt pieces to Berlin (1931), but these did not open up possibilities for her in a theatre culture suffering from severe austerity measures. She and Reinking divorced the same year. In 1933 she danced in Berlin cabaret productions of Werner Finck and Erika Mann, but she did not return to choreography until 1942, when she arranged dances for Helmut Käutner's film Anuschka, shot in Rome and Prague. Her final choreographies were for two musical films directed by Rabenalt in Yugoslavia in 1954 and 1955. According to Reinking, she could "no longer open herself up without her partner Denby" (176). But what did Denby—or, more accurately, what did the peculiar collaborative environment in Würzburg and Darmstadt, with Reinking and Rabenalt—bring out in her? "She had the gift of being able to observe the movements of people and to arrange these observations into dance-like gestures, in which the bearing and character of these observed persons became strikingly revealed in a lightly caricatured or at least exaggerated form" (63).
It sounds as if she was close to Kurt Jooss in her aesthetic. However, Jooss never achieved the comic intensity that Eckstein brought to grotesque dance, though his caricaturizations of ordinary movements often carried him into the realm of the grotesque. Eckstein caricatured idiosyncratic movements of persons rather than of social classes or of socially conditioned modes of gesture. She exposed the absurdities of individual rather than social identity and therefore also exposed the power of dance to treat social norms as sources of humor rather than anxiety. Moreover, having a designer for a husband, she relied much more than Jooss on complex scenic effects to construct comic perceptions. In Oben und unten, Reinking's set depicted a building under construction; the construction workers (in blackface) moved on the stage, on the ramp leading to the second story of the building, and on the second story, handling boards, buckets, and building tools. Die Gestrandeten featured a bizarre collection of dancers stranded on a desert island, where they perched on small tables, lounged on pillows of "sand" under a palm tree, sewed, fixed meals, and prayed before an altar. The stage thus became fragmented into idiosyncratic zones defined by individual dancers and their props. Neues vom Tage (1929), an opera by Hindemith, was set in the headquarters of a newspaper, with dancers in business suits working at copy desks before a three-story edifice containing rows of cubicles and workers (Rabenalt 441). Offenbach's Die schöne Galatee (1929) showed dancers impersonating mannequins in display windows. Eckstein obviously delighted in pieces that used complicated or not particularly danceable costumes; in Soirèe, for example, the performers wore elaborate
formal garb of the 1890s. She constantly played with Denby's image by outfitting him in wigs, eccentric makeup, extravagant paddings, and whimsical accessories such as a monocle. Probably no other choreographer of the era was as fond of dances in which dancers wore heeled shoes or laced boots. Many of her dancers were actors, and she sometimes incorporated their voices into her works to create a "sort of sound painting, as if one heard the members of a grand society all speaking and perhaps the ladies laughing but cannot understand any individual" (Reinking 108). It was therefore through the curious movements of the body that individuality revealed itself.
But Eckstein, though entirely theatrical in her attitude toward dance, had little interest in subordinating dance to narrative. She constructed her ballets out of material she had already used for dances in operas and operettas, and her dances for the musical stage seldom had any connection with the libretto story. Reinking suggested that her dances were not ballets at all but "little theatre pieces," in which actions and relations between bodies unfolded in strange fragments and the climax resulted from the accumulation of idiosyncratic effects rather than from the resolution of an intensifying conflict. Yet Berlin theatre critic Herbert Ihering observed that her dances were "in no way abstract, but immediately, directly critical" in a way that was quite remote from the aesthetic of her teacher, Wigman. In performance, Eckstein exuded an exquisitely radiant smile, a luscious, lavish pleasure in masquerade.
Laban in the Theatre
Laban's contribution to theatre dance was much more ambiguous than Eckstein's, partly because of his own uncertainty regarding his aims in appropriating the theatre. His perception of group dynamics was shaped by his work with lay movement choirs, which offered all sorts of opportunities to introduce convoluted rhythmic patterns and bodily entanglements. Moreover, movement choirs, with their partially gymnastic foundation, seemed to function best when they appropriated almost any space except the theatre. Laban was more at home in meadows and groves than on the stage. Nevertheless, serious validation of his grandiose ambitions depended on his success in gaining a critical audience among established theatre circles. He therefore devoted much energy to the production of large-scale dance dramas for conventional theatres. In these works he sought to affirm the credibility of his "runic" ideas about bodily movement and to present the movement choir aesthetic as an alternative to ballet in forming a modern concept of group dynamics in dance. Laban's work for the theatre hardly lacked ambition, but its impact on both dance and theatre remained obscure, and it is difficult to find insightful documentation for any of his
dance dramas. During the 1920s, his group choreographies for conventional theatres in Stuttgart, Mannheim, and Hamburg were largely staged by a student unit, Tanzbühne Laban; productions included Himmel und Erde (1921), Die Geblendete (1921), Faust II (1922), Der schwingende Tempel (1923), Gaukelei (1923), Agamemnons Tod (1924), Dämmernde Rhythmen (1924), Don Juan (1925), Terpsichore (1925), Narrenspiegel (1926), Die gebrochene Linie (1927), Ritterballett (1927), and Titan (1928). These works, originated not in the theatre but in the school, and Laban took them to various venues, such as, in Hamburg, the Conventgarten, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, the Circus Busch, and the Schiller Opera. As ballet director in Hamburg (1923–1925), he blurred the distinction between theatre and school, but the blurring in itself suggested considerable ambivalence about grounding a dance aesthetic within the theatre.
As a choreographer, Laban apparently was innovative without being especially imaginative, guided more by theory than artistic insight. He conducted daring experiments but was reluctant to follow up on them with any tenacity. In Ritterballet (music: Beethoven), for example, he put a large number of dancers in vaguely medieval costumes with intricate, emblematic black-and-white motifs; when the dancers moved they created a strange kinetic mosaic or jigsaw puzzle, an extravagantly abstract design that nevertheless retained an archaic aura. In Die Nacht (1927, music: Kahn), the men wore fezzes, tuxedos, and tights, the women fezzes, eccentric tutus, or skirts with aprons. Movement appeared calculated to produce striking effects through different combinations of costume motifs; design did not evolve in response to an independent movement scheme. But this approach actually resulted in highly complicated movement patterns that subordinated narrative clarity to abstract relations between body, time, and space. In Drachentöterei (1924), the dancers wore costumes faintly reminiscent of fairy-tale Orientalism, but the movements, judging from still photos, were extravagantly, expressionistically angular. For Laban, modernity did not imply an image of contemporary society, even if the movements he employed sprang completely from the time in which he lived; rather, he sought an image of modernity that was ahistorical or, as in his Gothic projects, polyhistorical in the decorative context for bodily movement, with costumes and scenes in which signs of different historical eras intersected.
Yet Laban's choreography often lacked narrative or dramatic drive. In reviews (on deposit in the Leipzig dance archive) of Laban's work as ballet director for the Berlin State Opera (1930–1934), Fritz Böhme observed that Laban's choreography lacked "musicality" and expressive power. Laban apparently had difficulty shaping his material and building emotional structures for his pieces, and his productions suffered from prolixity, from a sense of squandered energy that set up grandiose expectations the work could not sustain. Don Juan (1925, music: Glück), with Laban himself as the
seductive hero, was three hours long, contained numerous intriguing tableaux, and enjoyed performances in numerous cities; however, the piece failed to move audiences with near the efficiency of innumerable smaller works produced by dancers who had access to far fewer resources. Indeed, the discourse provoked by Don Juan seemed almost entirely focused on its scale. In spite of his difficulty in telling a story, Laban believed that a dance theatre built around Ausdruckstanz depended on devising original scenarios. However, those of his students who accepted theatre appointments found themselves charged with maintaining a repertoire defined and associated with ballet.
Other Theatre Choreographers
Lizzie Maudrik (1898–1955), ballet director at the Berlin Municipal Opera (1926–1934) and then the German State Opera (1934–1945), studied ballet under Michel Fokine (1880–1942) in Paris before becoming one of Laban's adepts. At the Municipal Opera she encouraged her large ensemble to adopt techniques of expressionist dance, and she guided a ballet corps composed of many dancers with modern dance backgrounds, including Julia Marcus, Jens Keith, Ruth Abramowitsch, George Groke, and Alice Uhlen. But in a 1929 article she firmly declared that an opera house dance corps must always remain subordinate to theatrical objectives and that the opera house was no place for the cultivation of "abstract" or "absolute" dance (MS 43). Thus, her ambition was to apply expressionist dance techniques to the performance of standard works from the ballet repertoire, as in her immensely successful 1930 version of Delibes' Coppelia (1870), in which Julia Marcus danced the role of the mayor and Alice Uhlen that of the doll Coppelia. Later, at the State Opera, Maudrik devised ballets with national-historical themes, such as the rococo Die Barbarina (1935) and Bauerischer Tänze (1935), which continued to incorporate expressionist attitudes toward bodily movement. But, as with Kröller, much more evidence of her work needs to surface before a satisfactory understanding of her significance is possible.
The same is true of two other Laban-educated ballet directors: Olga Brandt-Knack (1885–1978) in Hamburg (1926–1932) and Ruth Loeser in Düsseldorf (1929–1933). Virtually all of Brandt-Knack's choreography was for mainstream opera production, but she put on concerts consisting of dances from seven or eight operas. These concerts, definitely in a modernist vein, had the effect of establishing her opera dances as independent entities, a view not pursued by Maudrik, who always saw dance in relation to a total, theatrical-narrative context. In Düsseldorf, Loeser presided over a corps of eight to thirteen dancers (including one male) presenting old or classical forms of dance in a sardonically modern style. For example, Suite I
und II (1930), with music by Stravinsky, consisted of several old dance forms: gavotte, Neapolitan, flamenco, balalaika, march, waltz, polka, gallop. But the dancers wore cocktail dresses, with some of the women impersonating men in tuxedos. Scenery was virtually absent from the bare stage, so perception focused entirely on the tension between old dance steps and modern bodily inflections or distortions. No conventional narrative logic linked one dance to the next; rather, an abstract emotional logic governed the piece, making it closer to a theoretical-critical essay than to a story. However, evidence of Loeser's achievements is even more recessed than that of other theatre choreographers. She, like Brandt-Knack, lost her position because of her left-wing affiliations, not because she repudiated narrative in dance or incorporated modern dance techniques.
Maudrik, who prospered during the Third Reich, remained devoted to the authority of narrative but consistently maintained in print that ballet had no serious significance independent of modern dance techniques, even though the Nazis aggressively promoted the necessity of establishing a "German" idea of ballet at the expense of modern dance. Nazi cultural policy favored ballet because ballet was already so rigorously institutionalized in the theatre: it was easier to administer, to regulate, and to standardize than modern dance. Once ballet had come to dominate dance culture, the government exerted complete control over the destinies of dancers.
Despite the lack of any serious understanding of dance by members of the Nazi hierarchy, dance in the Third Reich managed to achieve some distinction, for it was during this time that Ilse Meudtner, Oda Schottmüller, Marianne Vogelsang, Dore Hoyer, Afrika Doering, Lola Rogge, Maja Lex, Alexander von Swaine, and Helge Peters-Pawlinin established their artistic identities. Of course, these personalities worked independently of the subsidized theatres. One of the most impressive ballet talents of the 1930s, Aurel von Milloss (b. 1906), studied ballet in Budapest and Italy before attending the Laban school run by Hertha Feist in Berlin. In 1928 his relation to Feist ended sadly (for her) when he accepted an invitation from Max Terpis to dance at the Berlin State Opera. Though he gave his first solo concert at the Sturm Gallery in Berlin in 1928, it was not until 1932 in Breslau that he presented his first choreographed ballet, H.M.S. Royal Oak , with jazz music by Schulhof. Then his star rose. He became ballet master in Hagen, Duisburg, Augsburg, and then (1934–1935) Düsseldorf, accepting assignments in Budapest and Italy during this period. He was immensely prolific, probably staging more ballets, theatre dances, opera dances, and operetta dances in more theatres than any other figure of the 1930s and 1940s. He favored the modernist music of such composers as Stravinsky, Bartók, Kodály, Roussel, Honegger, Milhaud, Strauss, and Prokofiev, and he enjoyed working on scenic designs with such modernist painters as De Chirico, Prampolini, Casorati, Severini, and Cassandre. In 1936, Milloss
accepted appointment as ballet master in Budapest and stayed until 1938, when he moved to Rome, which became his home for the remainder of his long and prodigious career (Taui). His art lacked an innovative dimension, but he brought a sumptuous elegance to his productions, and through grand production values he restored vitality to the depleted classical ballet scene. Yet the heralded ballet culture of the Third Reich apparently offered inadequate scope for his ambitions.
Perhaps the most troubled of the theatre choreographers in Germany during the 1920s was actually a Swiss, Max Terpis (aka Max Pfister, 1889–1958). Originally a student of architecture, he encountered Laban in Stuttgart (1920) and took classes from Laban's protégé in Zurich, Suzanne Perrottet, who urged him to study under Wigman in Dresden. He spent only a single year (1922) with Wigman. Though Terpis came to dance relatively late in his life, no one soared to such national prominence with greater speed. His talent for group movement immediately attracted the attention of Hannover theatre director Hanns Niedecken-Gebhard, who hired him to choreograph Der Tänzer unser lieben Frau (1923, music: Stürmer), Die Nächtlichen (1923, music: Wellesz), and Der fliegende Prinz (1923, music: Paumgarten). Terpis danced the lead role in his own version of Richard Strauss's Josephs Legende (1923). His only solo concert, given in Hannover in 1924, featured no musical accompaniment and was a collaborative affair involving solo dances by Kreutzberg, Frida Holst, and Else Rudiger.
The Hannover choreographies brought him to the attention of Max von Schillings, director of the Berlin State Opera, who sought to reform the ballet corps, which numbered nearly a hundred dancers yet failed to achieve anything resembling the seriousness of purpose that Kröller had attempted to provide it in 1919–1922. Terpis held the State Opera position for six years, but his life there was a nightmare of political intrigue and reactionary efforts to undermine his reforms and authority. He produced nineteen ballets at the State Opera, nearly all of which used music by living modernist composers, including Kool, Stravinsky, Kömme, Wilckens, de Falla, Schreker, Prokofiev, Klenau, Benatzky, and Milhaud; Terpis wrote most of the scenarios himself. Scenic designers such as Emil Pirchan and Panos Aravantinos assisted him in creating expressionist-constructivist settings for ballets that largely inhabited the realm of symbolic fantasy; Die fünf Wünsche (1929) contained a film sequence shot by Gina Fagg. Because of persistent resistance to his expressionist methods from doyens and classically trained dancers, he could not construct group dances as powerfully or radically as he wished, so he increasingly relied on the talents of a few extraordinarily gifted soloists—Rolf Arco, Rudolf Kölling, Daisy Spies, Walter Junk,
Dorothea Albu. This strategy only aggravated tensions between himself and the majority of the corps, although Schillings and his successor, Heinz Tietjens, continued to support him. But in 1929 Terpis faced a full-scale insurrection, from new music director Otto Klemperer, who accused him of lacking "musicality" and of failing to grasp the nature of theatrical art. Terpis therefore handed in his resignation, and Laban soon replaced him. The next year he retreated into almost monastic seclusion, opening a school in Berlin-Grunewald, which he directed until 1939. He then returned to Switzerland, where he directed numerous operas and stage plays in Bern, Basel, and Zurich throughout the war years. In the last decade of his life, he devoted himself primarily to the study of psychological theory, particularly to problems of color perception and semiotics, on which he even published scholarly articles, although relations between color and movement had preoccupied him in the 1920s (Schede).
Terpis appealed to male theatre administrators because his thinking seemed rigorously disciplined and austerely rational. He seemed capable of creating an atmosphere of sober freedom derived from a synthesis of ballet and modern dance techniques. Thus, a major irony of his career was that his own corps regarded his thinking as too radical (expressionist), when in reality his ideas lacked sufficient respect for excess, flamboyance, and wildness. None of his ballets resonated much with either the public, the critics, or the dance world, in spite of his impressive seriousness and ambition, and useful descriptions of them remain difficult to excavate. Even his almost completely uncritical biographer, Wolfgang Schede, gave only the vaguest descriptions of them, offering only a couple of photographs, and Terpis himself did not discuss any of his ballets, publishing scenarios of ballets that never got produced rather than analyzing those that did. He offered an aesthetic of grandiose restraint and heightened sobriety, as he indicated in a lecture to students around 1932: "Our time has an outspoken inclination toward exaggeration, consumption; it loves the loud, the screaming, the extreme. . . . The dance programs consist largely of grotesques, parodies, problematic spiritual distortions, insofar as they do not exhibit artistic or virtuoso formalisms. . . . It is rarely that one can identify a dance as 'beautiful' or 'elegant,' rarely that a dance displays internally or externally an aristocratic bearing. Today we are immediately ready to identify everything that is 'beautiful' and poetic—that is, harmonic—as kitsch. The ugly, unharmonic, unlogical strike us as interesting" (Schede 101–102).
Terpis pursued what one might call an architectural sense of movement fusing concepts of classical ballet with theoretical categories of modern dance; indeed, "architecture and choreography share the narrowest of affinities" (Terpis, Farbenspiel , 102). He tended to build individual movements out of classical concepts supplemented by a distinctly modern enthusiasm for swinging motions, although he showed little interest in pointe
technique. For group movements he favored modern theoretical categories, which nevertheless seemed more rooted in architecture and space than in the body. Group movement achieved maximum expressivity through Terpis's notion of "symmetricality": "The ordering of masses in space is symmetrical," he believed, for symmetricality provided the most effective "representation of the idea of power, wealth, strength, and domination" (107). Asymmetrical constructions opened up the world of "fantasy" (which he actually preferred on the narrative level), but these must never transgress "laws and order" established through symmetry (112). Group symmetry occurred through the application of abstract geometrical categories: the circle, the triangle, the square, and the row. Each category contained numerous variations—the circle, for example, included cylinders, half-circles, tunnels, balls, arches, and so forth. Asymmetry intervened when group movement no longer disclosed recognizable geometric categories. Choreography entailed the fusion of abstract geometrical categories with classical ballet positions and with modern notions of swing and pulse.
Terpis's belief in synthesis operated at a further level: he sought to fuse abstract categories of movement with a very literary sense of narrative. He wrote most of the scenarios for his ballets, which primarily projected a fantastic or Gothic atmosphere, and he seemed unable to imagine dance without an elaborate libretto (Terpis, "Wie ensteht," 4). Yet knowledge of his scenarios is so scant that it is difficult to ascertain what he wished to say. Don Morte (1926, music: Wilckens), perhaps his most successful work, was a grandiose adaptation of Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death." This piece, which revealed such powerful anxiety toward fleshly pleasures and the body, conveyed the logic of his asceticism: he feared the body and the turbulent emotions it provoked; carefully scripted narrative dance, constructed symmetrically within an elaborate theatre bureaucracy, was the most effective way to regulate the body and the threats to spatial order from impulse and fantasy, which the body "covered up." He loved the extravagant productions of the Ballets Russes when they visited Berlin—these sent him walking alone through the city for hours—but he was incapable of anything so unapologetically lavish and hedonistic. Yet the State Opera (including the corps) probably expected him to come up with some serious competition for the Parisians, a task he could hardly achieve through his own productions of Stravinsky's Pulcinella (1925) and Petrouchka (1928). In the scenarios for his unproduced dances—Saul und David (1930), Orpheus Lysios (1936), Circe (1936), and Niobe (1937)—he revealed perhaps most overtly his greatest desire: to show how dance bestowed upon the body a redemptively priestly identity (Farbenspiel , 169–177). But the theatre was never a happy home for such an ascetic attitude.