Somewhat more complex was the aesthetic of Olga Desmond, an English woman whose career developed almost entirely in Germany. In her prewar work she used photography to blur distinctions between dance and posed tableaux, so it is not quite clear whether the images documented a performance or functioned as a mode of performance in themselves. In 1910 she produced a luxurious folio that featured narratively sequenced nude photos of her as she assumed statuesque, classical Greek poses of a heroic character. She even treated her hair to give it a sculpted look. Thus, the sense of movement was cinematic rather than corporeal (Figure 7). Furthermore, she dramatized her nudity in a manner that was extremely rare in nude dance: in partnership with a nearly nude male, Adolf Salge. Fear of obscenity prosecution perhaps compelled her to confine such presentation of the body to a Berlin photography studio. Dance, nevertheless, was where she wanted to manifest her enthusiasm for nudity. In 1919 Desmond published a pamphlet, Rhythmograpik, that linked the self-study of dance to the study of her own system of dance notation. For her, as for so many other modern dancers, the new image of dance actually implied a new method of writing down dances, of transcribing the movements into a special grammar of symbols. Yet the pamphlet's frontispiece is a photograph of Desmond dancing in a see-through diaphanous gown. The little book, obviously intended for female readers, also prefaced chapters with ornamental arabesque designs that showed nude women dancing within floral or arboreal patterns. For Desmond, nothing was more significant than
nudity in calling attention to the problem of seeing the movement of the body itself.
But in spite of her close connection to the nudist movement (she was for a while the wife of Karl Vanselow, the editor of the nudist magazine Die Schönheit ), after the war she avoided nude dancing and photography altogether, perhaps because she felt she was too old. A review of a 1920 Berlin dance concert (KTP 4, 115) suggests that she projected a sibylline aura of "great artistic consciousness" signified chiefly through movements of extreme precision and delicacy (rather than voluptuousness or wildness): a "convincing, lovely self-absorption which makes one forget for a moment that her elegance and cosmetic as well as dance- technical aesthetic cannot dispel her age and her weariness." In reporting her suicide attempt in 1937, Der Tanz (10/11, 8–10) associated her dance aesthetic with that of Anita Berber, Lucy Kieselhausen, and Cleo de Merode, all of whom delighted in flamboyantly theatrical, artificial effects rather than unity with "nature." In 1925 Der Blitz (2/50, 1) published a photograph of seven women at Desmond's Berlin school wearing tiny bikinis, constructing a very complicated tableau for a "ballet." Yet an anonymous 1924 mimeograph deposited in the Fritz Böhme Collection of the Leipzig Tanzarchiv, "Olga Desmond" (apparently a lecture by Desmond herself), urged students to keep focused on simple movements (stepping, breathing, bending, turning, plucking, springing, hopping) and then to incorporate the movement of insects, birds, and animals. Thus, for Desmond, nudity appears to have been an early phase in an evolution toward greater and greater uncertainty concerning her aesthetic and identity.