Music and Movement
The power of music to motivate unusual, aesthetically interesting bodily movement is a strange, hardly understood neurophysiological phenomenon, and the idea that bodily movement "means more" when accompanied by music has dominated dance culture throughout the world since prehistoric times. But exact relations between music and movement are unstable and subject to all sorts of cultural relativism. To an unprecedented degree in dance history, the Weimar era exposed numerous complexities and ambiguities in relations between music and movement, without, however, producing any transformative theoretical perspective on the problem. Of course, Dalcroze proclaimed that music, particularly rhythm, determined and regulated movement, and Dalcroze's disciples in Europe were multitudinous. But Dalcroze was merely a starting point, for many dancers decided to explore the "independence" of bodily movement from music. No doubt the expanding gymnastic culture assumed much responsibility for encouraging these explorations. Yet in some ways the Weimar dance culture made music more significant than ever by revealing the mysterious capacity of the body to engage in dialogue with that power of expression that seems to have no body, no image at all.
Modern dance displayed an ambivalent attitude toward modern music. The vast majority of modern dancers favored classical music from the previous century, especially works from the romantic repertoire and especially in the years before 1923, when solo dancing prevailed considerably over group dancing. In a survey of more than two hundred European dance concert programs between 1910 and 1926, I discovered a strong preference for the following composers: Grieg, Schumann, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Schubert, Mozart, and Dvorak[*] . The Dutch dancer Tilly Sylon compiled an instruction list of 375 "Dalcroze dances" dominated by these
same composers ("Gertrud Leistikow"). Modern (or living) composers in the repertoires of most European dancers before 1925 included Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Moszkowski, Cyril Scott, Schmitt, Debussy, Ravel, Granados, Satie, and Sibelius. Modern music during this period was vaguely synonymous with an "exotic" coloring or "foreign" mood. Dances on the solo program rarely lasted more than four minutes, and the length of the music determined the length of the dance . One never finds a single dance accompanied by music from different composers, although in the early 1920s, Wigman and others began experimenting with "cycles" comprising different dances using different pieces of music. Solo dancers probably favored nineteenth-century composers partly because their music was cheaper than contemporary music, which required royalty payments. Few dancers ever collaborated closely with a composer; Grit Hegesa's long partnership with Jaap Kool was completely unique. Even when, after 1925, dancers became bolder in seeking music in an aggressively modern idiom (Bartók, Haba, Wellesz, Stravinsky, Milhaud, Hindemith, Slavensky, Prokofiev), they tended to use works that had been composed independently, not specifically for dance. The major exceptions here were Gunild Keetman's work for Dorothee Günther and Maja Lex, Friedrich Wilckens's collaboration with Harald Kreutzberg, and Fritz Cohen's compositions for Kurt Jooss. Max Terpis favored original ballets by modern German composers, but he wrote nearly all the librettos himself and thus felt no great inclination to maintain a close working relation with any composer or, for that matter, to build movements out of the music. As a result, critics complained that his dances lacked "musicality."
Moreover, composers, even those who were enthusiastic about dance, generally did not feel comfortable with the idea of collaborating with dancers. Egon Wellesz (1885–1974) was one of the busiest composers of dance and theatre music, but he liked being a free agent who could shape the libretto as well as the score. Music was "modern" for most dancers because of its rhythmic rather than harmonic complexity, and for that reason it was practically impossible to find a dance accompanied by atonal or twelve-tone music. Indeed, scarcely any dancer showed the boldness of Janine Solane (b. 1912), who, for her 1932 solo debut concert in Paris, danced a single large work, L'Abandon celeste, entirely to the music of Wagner. Ellinor Tordis in Vienna perhaps approached her by creating several dances in 1922–1924 using piano transcriptions for sections of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony. From a harmonic perspective, the modernist composer who most appealed to dancers was probably Scriabin, whose difficult piano pieces emphatically identified ecstatic experience with richly chromatic chord structures rather than driving rhythms.
Overwhelmingly, the preferred instrument of accompaniment was the solo piano, even for ensemble pieces, for this instrument provided the cheapest means of achieving maximum tonal coloration and rhythmic
strength. Exceptions were rare: Alexander Sacharoff used two harps, Lili Green supplemented the piano with a violin or soprano voice, and Lavinia Schulz was accompanied by a solo saxophone. Anita Berber was apparently the first to dance to gramophone records, around 1925, and Gertrud Leistikow experimented briefly with street organ accompaniments in the late 1920s. But in any case, dancers who used accompaniments other than the piano restricted them to one or two dances on a program. Of course, the Günther cult, under the influence of Keetman and Carl Orff, constructed its own orchestra of wood flutes and percussion instruments; even more unique, Günther and Lex completely integrated music-making into the dance, so that the playing of instruments was no less important than pure bodily movement to the choreography. Conventional orchestral accompaniments for Ausdruckstanz appeared more frequently after modern dance developed affiliations with the subsidized theatres, which could afford to finance large royalties and rehearsals for a large set of musicians. Orchestral accompaniments elevated the prestige of dance as a cultural institution but invariably subordinated bodily expression to often conventional narrative expectations.
The great bulk of Weimar orchestral music for modern dance has long since disappeared from the stage, the concert hall, and the recording studio; a few of Hindemith's works occasionally appear on disk, but Egon Wellesz's dance compositions of the 1920s have suffered decades of unjust neglect. Jaap Kool wrote several fine orchestral dance compositions during the decade, but his later sympathy with Naziism seems to have kept him in oblivion in both Holland and Germany. No German composer in a modernist vein appealed as much to dancers as a variety of foreign modernists: Bartók, Stravinsky, Ravel, Schmitt, Prokofiev, Satie, Malipiero, Milhaud. Germany possessed greater resources than any other country to sponsor original dance orchestral music, yet no German achievements in this domain have matched the greatest works that Diaghilev, with no help at all from the state, managed to inspire in such composers as Ravel, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev. Indeed, the most popular German ballet music of the 1920s, Strauss's Josephs Legende (1914), was actually a commission from Diaghilev. But Diaghilev exerted such magnetism and awakened such intense ambition precisely because he had no serious competitors in Paris and could present the Ballets Russes as the ultimate opportunity for the marriage of new music and new dance. In Germany, however, no city, no theatre, and no personality could ever become established as "ultimate," because Germans regarded power as an expansive rather than concentrative phenomenon. Dance established its own authority when its value did not depend on music that enjoyed a life apart from the dance and that often subordinated the dancer's intention to the composer's. It was a matter of getting musicians to follow dancers instead of dancers following musicians.
Folk tunes and tunes from social dance forms, such as the tango and the habanera, appeared in dance concerts before World War I, and jazz music accompanied dancers as early as 1919 in the revues and cabarets; Kool had experimented with "blues" pieces for Hegesa during the war in Rotterdam. Jazz, however, tended to inspire gimmicky dances of a satirical nature that exposed the eccentric currents of ecstasy circulating within cosmopolitan night life; examples include H. H. Stückenschmidt's shimmy for Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt in Die Ungeheuer vom Sirius (1922), Wilhelm Grosz's music for Yvonne Georgi's Baby in der Bar (1928), and Gertrud Bodenwieser's Jazzbandparodie (1932). Jazz functioned as a category of light music with little capacity to urge the body into dark, tragic, mysterious, or monumental moods, although Kool, who authored an excellent treatise on the saxophone (1931), revealed a strong gift for blues invention and melancholy handling of social dance forms. The waltz remained the dominant social dance form in the repertoires of modern dancers, and not surprisingly: the vast majority of dancers were women and thus were expected to represent a connection between lyricism and feminine grace, which the waltz supplied more conveniently than perhaps any other musical genre. Yet Sibelius's somber and haunting Valse triste (1899) was a favorite among female dancers throughout Europe into the 1930s; the film actress Lil Dagover (1897–1980) made a deep impression when she danced this piece in a tight black evening gown (rather than a ballroom waltz dress) on a bizarre program of "Phantastisches Theater" in Berlin in 1919 (Ola Alsen in Elegante Welt, 8/19, 10 September 1919, 21).
Although the musical taste supporting the German dance culture may appear somewhat conservative, the relations between bodily movement and musical design showed an unprecedented experimental dimension. Some dancers, such as Clothilde von Derp and Mila Cirul, made dark or melancholy dances out of bright pieces of music; others, such as Julia Marcus and Valeska Gert, made comic dances out of dark compositions. The weird movements and costumes of Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt made any piece of music sound bizarre and alien. Dancers such as Ellen Tels and Hertha Feist would move rapidly to slow music or slowly to fast music. In Gertrud Leistikow's exquisite Gnossienne, Satie's music floats with hypnotic slowness, but the arms of the dancer undulate rapidly while the head, the torso, and the legs move far more slowly than the music. Wigman showed that deep tones do not necessarily accompany sinking motions, nor do notes in the high register signal the elevation of the body. Anita Berber revealed how soft or gentle music could accompany movements of extreme violence, and Charlotte Bara delighted in using music of grandeur to accompany movements of great delicacy. Jutta von Collande's preference for Gretry's music was significant insofar as it pleased her to demonstrate that she and no one else could persuasively dance to it. Niddy Impekoven
sought to escape her pubescent, "imprisoned bird" image by dancing, with a kind of virginal voluptuousness, to the music of Bach. A more mysterious figure, Edith von Schrenck, loved the rapturous romanticism of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, but their music did not send her rushing across the stage—instead, she contorted her body ecstatically within a very constricted portion of the performance space. Stranger still, in Hamburg, Erika Milee (b. 1907), a graduate (1928) of the Laban school and dancer for Kurt Jooss, produced a curious dance for the ghettoized Jüdische Kulturbund before receiving a teaching invitation that allowed her to migrate to Paraguay in 1939. Ein Tag bei den Mickeymäusen (1937), a "pantomimic revue" in ten scenes, depicted domestic scenes from the life of the Disney cartoon character Mickey Mouse and his family, but the music consisted of European folk melodies (Jockel 88–89).
These examples and many others I could retrieve from previous discussions indicate persistent tensions between music and the dancing body in the dance culture of the Weimar era, and in these tensions stir the aesthetics of the grotesque. In spite of all the rhetoric in the dance and gymnastic schools about restoring "harmony" to the body, a great many of the exciting dances of the era disclosed a deep distrust toward conventional harmonic order. Dance partially established its independence from music by setting ecstasy in tension with harmony.
But harmony proved less of a determinant of dance than did synchronization. The belief that musical rhythms regulate bodily rhythms is virtually universal. Dalcroze proposed a "natural" relation between musical and bodily rhythms, and for that reason he gave rhythm almost total power to motivate and define bodily movement. Performing a 3/4 waltz step to a 4/4 musical rhythm was a feat that dancers of the era (indeed, any era) found incredibly difficult to imagine. Dalcroze himself, in his obsession with composing exercises, stumbled across the underlying problem when he discovered how unnatural it was for the body to accommodate rapidly shifting musical rhythms, as when, for example, the meter (not to mention the tempo) shifts every measure or even every few measures from 3/4 to 5/4 to 4/4 to 3/8 to 6/2 to 3/16—an effect favored by Stravinsky. This observation strengthened the perception that synchronization depended on sustained musical rhythm, which habituated the body to such a degree that it actually constrained bodily expressivity and freedom.
To free the body from music, Wigman and many others devised dances accompanied entirely by percussion instruments—various drums, tambourines, gongs, cymbals, triangles, woodblocks. Detached from harmonic structures, sonic designs would follow bodily rhythms rather than determine them. Percussion sounds (rather than rhythms) stripped music of its power to blind or to weaken visual perception. In an article for a 1931 issue of Schrifttanz, Hanns Hasting, the percussion composer for Wigman, declared
that harmony, as an increasingly discredited sonic quality that creates a "sense of spaciousness," "is not a valid expression for dance," because dance produces an impression of space that is more "fluid, intangible, and imaginary" (VP 73–74). What he meant in a cruder sense was that the percussionist had to watch the dancer very carefully to know when to strike the drum or gong and could not simply count beats to structure the space of the music.
Because dance seemed to challenge the authority of music to regulate bodily movement, composers themselves began to review the conditions under which music was appropriate for dance. In Tanz in dieser Zeit (1926), Paul Stefan gathered a valuable collection of statements from nine composers (80–91). Friedrich Wilckens maintained that effective dance music entailed an emphatic, controlling rhythm and a distinctive melody but not harmonic, contrapuntal, or rhythmic complexity, for "while the ear can easily follow rapid tempos and abrupt changes of musical rhythm, the eye is not capable of following too complicated movement rhythms" (82)—definitely a synchronist perspective. But Alfredo Casella contended that dance music was not defined by the intentions that created it, that any music was danceable, and Vittorio Rieti echoed him, claiming that music was danceable to the extent that a dancer discerned a way to move to it. Ernst Krenek, after supposing that "dance without music is unthinkable," settled for the view that music amplified the dramatic effect of performance. Erwin Schulhoff confessed that the composition of dance music was for him an "erotic concept," for writing dance music meant thinking deeply about the body; but the image of the body intensified most through the use of percussion sounds, which he categorized as "masculine" (drums), "feminine" (tambourines), or bisexual (cymbals, triangle, ratchet, whip, gong, Japanese wood drum). Schulhoff further proposed that modern dance music had no life independent of dance performance. But Felix Petyrek argued for a distinction between "pantomimic" music, which was "programmatic," and "dance" music, which was "absolute" and defined by abstract musical categories, chiefly rhythm. Heinz Tiessen reinforced this view: "[T]he more suggestive the rhythm, the stronger the fusion of music and dance" into an "organic totality." Egon Wellesz straightforwardly declared: "The are no special laws of dance composition"; though "the composer who writes for dance must have a clear optical vision of dance," knowledge of the choreographic process must not override purely musical considerations. Jaap Kool, however, argued that a dancer danced not only the rhythm (assigned to the feet and legs) but also the melody (assigned to the arms and upper body), and this "symmetrical construction of the body" required music of similar symmetricality: "a too finely differentiated ambience is unplastic."
Both Kool and Wellesz reflected elsewhere on the identity of dance music. At the Magdeburg Congress of 1927, Wellesz, in a lengthy speech,
linked the relation between dance and music to large cultural and historical processes that had evolved toward the present moment, when the identity of dance music was completely "subjective" and governed by an intricate complex of psychological variables. The work of Laban, Wigman, and Niedecken-Gebhard was revelatory in showing unprecedented possibilities of bodily expressivity that rendered all previous models of dance music composition obsolete. For Wellesz, modern dance music implied above all complex rhythmic contrasts that pushed both music and dance toward ever greater complexity of expression. This complexity was necessary to achieve the synthesis of will and drive, which the nineteenth-century ideal of civilization had separated (Die Tat, 19/8 November 1927, 597-604).
Kool's perspective was more anthropological than historical. He sought the identity of dance music in an "original" but repressed relation between sound, rhythm, and movement ascribed to prehistoric and primitive cultures, as indicated in his little book Tänze der Naturvölker (1921). In Tänze und Tanzszene (1920) he treated dance as an exotic form of bodily expression that benefited from music influenced by exotic (chiefly Asian) rhythms and harmonies. Kool's interest in jazz derived from his belief that this form of music emanated from a buried, primitive notion of pulse. In a brief article on the composition of social dance music, he asserted that the appeal of a dance tune depended on what one "does not hear": "the most important thing is, so to speak, what lies behind the music": namely, the "nerves," the "energy," the "tension," which disturb the "inner" stability of the body and urge it to move, though not necessarily in agreement with the "external" rhythms of the music (Tanzsport Almanach 1924, 89-94). A couple of years later, in a statement on "noise instruments," he observed that the difference between tones and noises became blurred when one examined the acoustic properties of percussion instruments; the primeval power of percussion instruments—"mystic drums"—to blur distinctions between tonality and noise was the foundation of ecstatic release from the "demon and Moloch of our time," rationality, with its sharp distinctions between identities (Stefan 77–79). Kool supported this view by composing a concert piece for 28 drums.
By 1929, however, Alfred Schlee, an editor with the Viennese music publisher Universal Edition, perceived that dance and music seemed to move in completely different directions, neither of which was healthy for the other: musicians buried themselves in the notes, dancers buried themselves in "expression," and neither paid sufficient attention to the audience perspective. In a 1929 article for Schrifttanz, a Universal Edition publication, he saw technology as the solution to the conflict: mechanical instruments, gramophone recordings, film models, and a new collaboration between composer, dancer, and engineer (VP 69–72). Among many other musical-theatrical activities, Schlee (b. 1901) worked with Wigman, Georgi, and
Niedecken-Gebhard, edited for publication compositions by composers prominent in the modern dance empire (Bartók, Grosz, Wellesz, Kool, Schulhoff, Wilckens, Milhaud, Krenek), composed percussion pieces for Georgi and piano dances for Ruth Abramovitch, and played the piano accompaniment for Oskar Schlemmer's Triadic Ballet in Paris in 1932 (Oberzaucher-Schüller). He thus enjoyed influential status in both the dance and music worlds. Yet his idea of mechanizing musical accompaniments to accommodate dance expressivity went nowhere. Some composers did write unmechanized music that attempted to evoke machines or sound like them, and more than a few choreographers created dances about humans turned (alas, of course) into machines (Rode 270–271). Such was, one might say, the legacy of synchronism in the uneasy relation between music and dance.
Dance theorists showed less inclination than composers to define the identity of dance music. In promoting the independence of Ausdruckstanz, they found it expedient to push the issue of music to the periphery of consciousness. Thus, in Tanzkunst (1926), Fritz Böhme explored numerous categories of dance, cultural-historical contexts for dance, and pedagogical problems of dance without even mentioning music. Brandenburg devoted only two pages to dance music in Der moderne Tanz, simply stressing the need for dance to maintain its independence (222–223). Lämmel, in his Der moderne Tanz, had even less to say about music, as his major aim was to establish the arbitrariness of music in relation to the expressive rhythms of the body. The controversy that reverberated in the music world between proponents of opulently sensuous music for dance (Franz Schreker, Alexander Zemlinsky) and proponents of undecorative, "functional music" (Gebrauchsmusik ), many of whom were students of Schreker (Hindemith, Krenek, Wilckens, Schulhoff), scarcely seemed to exist for the dance theorists. In Körperseele (1924), Fritz Giese, coming from a gymnastic orientation, spent a mere three pages discussing "musicality," which he largely defined as a "bridge" to discovery of unique sources of rhythm within the body: dance "musicality" resided within the body, not the music (143–145).
Frank Thiess, in Der Tanz als Kunstwerk (1923), devoted somewhat more attention to the issue. He suggested that dance and music emerged simultaneously from a common origin: rhythm. They were like two siblings who, despite being quite different, nevertheless enjoyed an affinity for each other. This affinity manifested itself through "structural parallelism," whereby dance was a response to music, not an illustration or translation of it. The same piece of music could produce entirely different dances of equal artistic value: for example, Lucy Kieselhausen's "tender and perfumed" version of Mozart's "Gavotte joyeuse" and Rony Johansson's "grotesque," satyrlike version. One could imagine many other versions of the same music. Nor did Thiess (unlike "hundreds" of other critics) object to pantomimic
dramas accompanied by music with no programmatic content of any sort. Indeed, because artistic dance was a response to music, not a child of it, music was "not necessary" at all for dance (37–42).
By 1923, this assertion hardly seemed radical, for "silent dances" appeared on concert programs almost simultaneously with the advent of the percussion orchestras in Hellerau and in Laban's Ascona camp. Alexander Sacharoff introduced a silent dance in Munich in 1913, and Wigman's first solo dance, at Ascona in 1914, was silent. By the mid-1920s numerous dancers included a silent piece in their repertories, and the appeal of silent dances continued into the 1930s, although by then it took considerable imagination to provide any more surprises using this concept. Laban loved to improvise with unaccompanied movement choirs, yet in the concert hall group silent dances remained extremely rare. Ironically, group silent dances tend to sustain attention longer than solos. In Der tanzende Mensch (1921), devoted entirely to the theme of musicless dance, Fritz Böhme contemplated the significance of music more seriously. He argued that cultural and historical pressures conditioned a person to expect music with dance and to expect dance to obey music. With music dominating perception, the ear learned to process acoustic signs more quickly and confidently than the eye processed visual signs. This argument implied that behind the obedience to music resided a deep, culturally determined fear of looking intensely at the body. But if dance was to achieve an artistic identity of its own, such as music already possessed, then the body must display a power of expressiveness that owed nothing to music. Unfortunately, Böhme's language remained entirely on a cloudy theoretical plain; he did not demonstrate the authority of his speculations by analyzing any dance performances, silent or otherwise. But Böhme dedicated his pamphlet to Hertha Feist, who in 1915, we should recall, had improvised her unforgettably mysterious nude dance for him in the silent twilight of the summer woods.
Perhaps the most fanatical advocate of the silent dance was Hilde Strinz (1902–1927), who inspired strong admiration from Böhme. After studying ballet for several years, she presented her first solo concert in Berlin in 1921 with a program accompanied entirely by music of romantic composers (Grieg, Schumann, Beethoven, Liszt). But already she sensed the limitations of music in releasing the "inner tones and melodies of the body." She searched for revelatory teachers, but none seemed radical enough; the strongest dance influence in her life was apparently Pavlova. Wigman, seeing Strinz's great potential, tried without success to keep her as a student. For the most part, Strinz developed her aesthetic alone and in isolation, though she showed up at the Magdeburg Congress in 1927: "a woman
travels a bitter path of sorrow when she ventures out and becomes a creator." She did not present her second concert until 1925, earning money in the interim by dancing in cabarets in Dresden, Leipzig, and Berlin. At the second concert, also in Berlin, she used no musical accompaniment but titled her dances with abstract categories of musical form (adagio, scherzo, polonaise, minuet, waltz, two-voice melody). The third Berlin concert, in 1926, was also musicless and even more abstract. Here she performed two four-part cycles of dances, with each cycle following the four-movement structure of a musical sonata. Thus, the four movements of Tanzstück Nr. 2 were: 1) allegro, with great swinging power; 2) adagio, sunk and burdened; 3) allegretto, light but with energy; 4) finale, rising out of the depths, quietly, rhythm with quickening feet. Her "four dances in red, with restrained passion to dance" carried even more abstract designations of their identities (Fantasie Nr. 1, 2, 3, and 4 ). For her final Berlin concert, in February 1927, Strinz formed an ensemble of seven women to present group dances without music. The concert was not entirely silent, for in a couple of the dances she employed a drum. This time she followed classical sonata form less rigidly. A "pathetic dance piece" contained five movements: majaestoso, adagio, march, scherzo-trio-da capo, and finale. The "unsung songs" contained three movements, including a choir with solo "voice" and a "night song," but Chorodie was in one movement, with drum and group choir.
Strinz's willingness to use abstract musical structures as models for dance structures did not really compromise her determination to detach dance from music; her ambition was to free dance from the sound of music and to advance dance as visual music. Her aesthetic had barely reached articulation when she died of a heart attack in 1927. But she left behind a strange collection of notes, aphorisms, and theoretical pronouncements, which Böhme published as a way of commemorating her eerie achievement. She regarded her body as a kind of orchestra—the right arm was a violin, the left a cello, the right leg a flute, the left a bass—but melody was in the movement. She admitted the use of percussion instruments in dance as long as the player danced while striking them. But in that moment when the dancer achieved "ecstasy itself"—the "aim, climax, and conclusion" of all dance—the dancer must cease to make any sound, for ecstasy was a "sleep-like plunge" into silence. "Dance is the unknown goal of all action." She disliked ensemble pieces in which the group moved in unison, for the group, like her body, was an orchestra, with each dancer able to function momentarily as a soloist. The strongest dancer was the "conductor," "the center, the magic element," whose "leading power . . . brings the group to ecstasy." "Artistic dance is no amusement or diversion or a form of womanly surrender through melting into music. It is surrender, but the surrender of a creator to dead space, which he wants to bring to life. Through the will, strength rises out of the body, without the stimulation of a third party (here
music)." She added, "I have no desire for women's kisses, I have no desire for love of men." Music "disturbed" her "concentration," for to concentrate meant to "breathe the world pulse" from which "the world emerges."
Strinz cultivated curious ideas about the visual aspect of dance: "There is only one mask for the artist—that is his pure [naked] face." She liked saturating a cycle of dances with variations on a single color, such as her "four dances in red." "Brown: the mystic, unreal color, which never appears in the rainbow. Color of distance. It creates the atmosphere of space between signs of endless becoming." She preferred to dance in a long, satiny, somewhat medieval gown, but the other women in her group performed with bare arms and bare legs. For Strinz, the tension between dance and music led to a profoundly tragic, death-driven conflict over the real identity of the self: "I could sink away entirely without a sound and tomorrow perhaps everything would be extinguished. I have so many people inside me, it makes me sick. Therefore I love best being centric" (Böhme, Hilde Strinz ).
Dance As Writing
The use of spoken words to accompany dance was the subject of an article on "Worttanz" in Schrifttanz (2/3, August 1929, 52–54) by E. F. Burian, a Czech avant-garde theatre director and advocate of jazz in the theatre. Burian proposed that spoken words possessed the power to move the body uniquely because they were a unique acoustic phenomenon, and anything acoustic was "impossible without space." His thinking derived from the efforts of the Czech composer Leos[*] Janácek[*] to notate the melodies of common speech. A polyphonic dance composition, according to Burian, contained three components: word dynamics, body dynamics, and text content. The dancer responded to the acoustic dimension of the word, not to its semantic value; the dance was not a redundant illustration of the text, as too often occurred in pieces involving movement choirs and speech choirs. Group dances accompanied by "group words" introduced the "especially rich" possibility of polyrhythms in the dance, whereby, for example, some dancers within the group move to one tempo or beat (2/4) while others move to another (7/4) or yet another (3/2). Such complexity was extremely rare in ensemble pieces, although Laban, for one, tended to explore polyrhythmic complications without any accompaniment at all. Of course, polyrhythmic music was (and still is) itself extremely rare. Burian did not clarify whether the spoken word should come directly from the dancer or from speakers external to the dance, for the "word dance" was not in any sense sung with a trained voice. Cilli Wang (54) responded to Burian's ideas by suggesting that success in this venture depended on using words and sentences whose intellectual or semantic density did not "destroy the line of movement"; lyric poetry therefore (and rather predictably) provided
the appropriate language for word dancing. Although experiments of this nature remained almost entirely confined to the "choric drama" genre, Burian's article actually indicated that language emerged from peculiar bodily rhythms, rather than the other way around. But for most dancers, language implied text, an inscribed configuration of signs rather than an acoustic spatial phenomenon, and music constituted a text with great power to overdetermine the movement of the body.
For some, this overdetermination could be inhibited by treating bodily movement as a text in itself. Dance notation systems therefore functioned as potent evidence of dance's "textuality," particularly in the courts, which did not consider dances copyrighted, according to a 1901 law, unless they existed in a permanent, verifiable format. Dance notation systems date back at least as far as the fourteenth century, and each succeeding century has produced a plethora of methods for "notating" human movement. Even the advent of film and video documentation has not lessened the zeal for writing down dances. Laban's system first appeared in print in 1926, but he had worked on the problem of notating bodily movement since around 1900. By 1930 the Germans generally accepted Labanotation as the most accurate system for recording movement, and it remains the most widely used system in the world. Yet very few Weimar dances actually got notated (nearly all of those that did were notated by Laban disciples), partly because Labanotation is quite difficult and time-consuming to read and learn and partly because it was so expensive to have anyone do it. In a 1929 article for Schrifttanz, which Universal Edition originally founded to promote Labanotation, Fritz Klingenbeck pointed out that Labanotation recorded only the movement of the dance and ignored significant variables, such as the physiognomy and personality of the dancer, costume, set design, lighting (VP 43–46; see also 24–42).
Laban used music notation as the model for movement notation: the body was a stave upon which the notater inscribed a complex array of symbols for parts of the body, direction, duration, tempo, frequency, weight, and many other dynamics. But unlike music notation, dance notation, contrary to Laban's expectations, showed no creative potential: dancers disclosed no inclination at all to compose dances on paper before entering the performance space, so Labanotation's chief purpose became to record dances which were already composed. Of course, dancers like Mary Wigman and Dorothee Günther shaped movement concepts in their minds by drawing stick figures and using colored pencils and symbols that (especially with Wigman) were virtually unreadable to anyone but themselves. Some dancers worked from vague scenarios, others (Skoronel, Schlemmer) from abstract geometric forms; Terpis did both. Quite simply, the dance imagination, unlike the musical imagination, resists "textualization" as notation defines it: we don't see the dance until we see the body.
Jaap Kool (1891–1959) offered a composer's perspective on the problem when he published his Tanzschrift (1927), in which he introduced a notation system that (in vain) he believed would make it easier to compose dances. Indeed, his system was easier to learn and far easier to read than Laban's. He used a musical stave to inscribe the notation of the movement, but he set it directly above the stave for the musical notation, so that one read the dance concurrently with the music. He ascribed musical note values to steps by creating a stick figure whose head designated the note value for any combination of steps and movements. Direction in space he signified by the placement of the stick figure in relation to spatial values assigned to lines of the stave. Other dynamics entailed further symbols (Figure 67). It was an ingenious method that gave a pretty clear image of the movement (not scenic elements) from measure to measure and even from note to note. But Kool did not demonstrate its practicality in handling more than Grit Hegesa's technically uncomplicated solo dances. Once a dance contained two or more bodies, the space of the stave became inadequate to accommodate all the complexities. Of course, that was always the problem underlying the tension between music and dance: as an image on the page, as a text, musical imagination could always fit into the stave, the measure, the note, a confined space of enormous symbolic density. With dance, however, the body produces signs that refuse to fit into any space other than that in which it actually moves. In that sense, the dancing body is the clearest manifestation of reality, the opposite of an inscribed text, which always refers to something absent.