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.