Ernst Blass and Rainer Maria Rilke
Fischer's difficulties in theorizing meaning formation in dance and bodily expression perhaps explain the increasing tendency toward metaphysical idealism in German dance theory—the tendency, that is, to define the value of dance according to the intentions, or will, that created it. Ernst Blass devoted the first half of Das Wesen der neuen Tanzkunst (1921) to identifying the abstract categories defining the "being" of a new dance art; these included the marionette, the animal, breathing, and leaping. The new dance art achieved being as the power of breathing (as taught at Loheland) moved the body away from the lifelessly mechanistic precision of the marionette archetype to natural animality and then to the ecstatic hurling of the body into space. In the last part of the book, he very briefly described the personalities of four dancers (Wigman, Impekoven, Bara, Gert). Yet the strongest section of the book described a completely "imaginary jazz cabaret," a sort of short story in which a character named Madeleine Travers, "a genie of public dancing," performs a wild dance with a bear, a nude dance, and then an "incredible march," a "storm," a "titanic attack" (21–26). These imaginary dances, rather than those of real dancers, served to illustrate the abstract categories defining the new dance art. Certainly this approach suggested that dance was something more imagined than seen.
Yet Blass's theory of the new dance actually represented the self-conscious response not to dance itself but to theories of the body by two great poetic minds: Heinrich von Kleist and Rainer Maria Rilke (14). Kleist, in his disturbing essay-short story "Ueber dem Marionette Theater" (1807), had argued that the perfect, sublime movement of a body resulted from forces external to it—gravity and the manipulations of the invisible marionetteer. A dance achieved complete purity and perfection insofar as the dancer possessed no will—indeed, no consciousness. Will, as a manifestation of distorted self-perception, was the source of imperfect movements and actions. Rilke, in an essay on puppets written in 1914 and
published in 1921 as Puppen in collaboration with the figurine-maker Lotte Pritzel, sought to differentiate the doll or hand puppet from the Kleistian marionette. For Rilke, the marionette, a figure of fantasy, could awaken artistic imagination because of its potential for perfect movement. But the "soulless" doll was the object of a child's rather than an artist's imagination because it was incapable of perfect movement. It remained subordinate to the will of an unformed or ungrown body—the child's. The child grabbed and discarded the doll, squeezed, caressed, and neglected it, knowing that it possessed no serious value independent of its owner. The doll helped the child to grow by being an estranging and somewhat sinister image of a body without a will.
On the face of it, Rilke seemed to disagree with Kleist over the relation between will and the beauty of human movement, but he described the doll with such melancholy delicacy that he implied that the idea of "growing" a will, which enabled humans to achieve perfectability of their actions, was an illusion (cf. Lüders). For Blass, a "new dance art" detached the concept of will from the manifestation of perfectability: modern dance embodied a powerful will whose object was not perfection but movement, a "ceaseless" condition of becoming rather than a state of being implied by the notion of perfection. However, the evidence to support this theory came more from the imagination than from performance realities; apparently dance had yet to "become" what will (imagination) could make it.