A German dancer whose career unfolded largely in Holland, Gertrud Leistikow (1885–1948) was also familiar to German audiences before and during World War I. She, however, displayed less confidence than Villany or Mata Hari in photography's ability to produce a satisfactory image of her art. Photographs of her nude dances are extremely difficult to locate, although Brandenburg published one (an ecstatic leap in a meadow, with face obscured) in Der moderne Tanz (Figure 6). Instead, she placed the documentation of her image in the hands of gifted painters, for her face lacked charm, and her reputation as a dancer stemmed primarily from her innovations in grotesque dancing, which sometimes entailed the use of bizarre
costumes and masks. It is not clear where or when she performed nude dances. She debuted in Berlin in 1910, but nearly all references to her nudity in performance seem to date from the war years. In 1917 the Dutch artist Jan Sluijters did a mysterious, expressionistic painting of Leistikow in nude performance (he also did a very similar print of the painting) (Juffermans 96, 100; Bakker and Trappeniers 72, 115). Her flesh glows out of a dark, curtained background and through a diaphanous, veil-like negligee; lurid flowers blossom behind her. The pose captures her in a moment of voluptuous bodily undulation while she turns her face, with eyes shut, away from the spectator. This tension between revealing and withholding, expressed in a single movement, effectively dramatizes an attitude of deep (and by no means unpleasurable) uncertainty in her regarding the consequences of performing the nude dance.
Leistikow brought an unprecedented complexity to the image of nude dancing. Hans Brandenburg (HB 157–173) discussed Leistikow at length as a "tragic," "Dionysian" dancer but devoted only one page (167) to her nude performances. In her case, he explained, nudity served to expose movements concealed by costume and mask; more important, it revealed the "thousand-fold play of muscles" in the body. He did not analyze any particular dance but identified general features of Leistikow's aesthetic defining all her dances. Because "the painful tension between the personal and suprapersonal sets her body in action" (161), Leistikow was the "envoy of a new tragic culture" rather than some sort of savior who linked women's emancipation (Frauenemanzipation ) to "women's movement" (Frauenbewegung ) (173). The book included Dora Brandenburg-Polter's collagelike sketches of Leistikow in nude performance; these ascribed to the body of the dancer a freedom that was much less evident in those sketches of Leistikow performing in costume. In other words, the sketches did not entirely support the text's contention that nude dancing is the sign of a tragic, rather than emancipated, condition of female identity. What was evident in the images of both visual artists was the stark expressionistic quality of her nude performances. Unlike the many prewar female dancers who linked the performance of graceful movements to the signification of an elevating spirituality, Leistikow favored a hard, convulsive, ecstatic, even violent type of movement. The "thousand-fold play of muscles" disclosed by her nudity made her body a radical sign of power and freedom, contradicting traditional inclinations to inscribe female bodily strength in theosophic, exotic, and spiritual terms. Moreover, Leistikow was in her mid-thirties when she had artists document her nudity; it seems quite possible that, because she did not depend on photography to transmit her image, she succeeded in making nudity a sign of modernity without imprisoning that sign within the image of virginal youthfulness pervading female nude dancing in the 1920s.
The discussion of these three pioneers of nude dancing raises a contradiction. The evolution of modern dance generally (not just nude dancing) depended on the still image of the dancer projected by the visual arts, chiefly photography; yet modern dance, with its stress on the liberating effects of movement, sought quite consciously to release the body, especially the female body, from the imprisoning images of it dominating premodern consciousness. Not surprisingly, many dancers, particularly those involved with nude performance, entered into an ambivalent relation with those who wished to produce images of them. Images of dance were obviously necessary to expand public interest in dance, but it was also necessary for the image to project enough complexity to indicate something withheld from it and given only in performance. Nina Hard, a Swiss expressionist, is a peculiar example of this ambivalence. She enjoyed posing nude for photographers and painters, especially (1921) Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, but apparently did not want her nude dances documented photographically (Kirchner 241, 259, 270, 281; LFg 110, 118). Yet she did not mind photodocumentation of her transvestite performances (Holtmont 205).