Even though no country in the world was as active as Weimar Germany in providing opportunities to observe modern dance, this art form, which, more than any other activity, calls attention to the expressive power of the body, produced almost no architecture designed specifically for it. Thus, dance culture constantly found itself having to accommodate, invade, or appropriate spaces intended for other modes of performance. Many dancers devised innovative studios, and these often had considerable pedagogical value for dancers themselves, but they seldom drew serious audiences for dance. Unlike cinema and sports, for example, dance was unable to move architectural imagination in a new direction, and though this situation indicated a measure of failure on the part of architecture to explore new relations between bodies and buildings, the consequences for dance were even more disappointing. Dancers rarely got out of the habit of seeing dance in a proscenium frame, with nearly all movement seen in relation to a frontal projection of the body. However, one performance space in particular attracted the interest of several personalities in the Viennese modern dance movement: the Raumbühne, constructed inside the Vienna Concert Hall in 1924. Its designer, Friedrich Kiesler (1890–1965), earlier had composed manifestos advocating "electromechanical" and "optophonetic" theatres and had close ties with the Bauhaus people, the futurist F. T. Marinetti, the De Stijl group in Holland, and the Russian constructivists. The Raumbühne was a giant spiral stage of iron and wood crowned by a large staging area accessible only by a pair of ladders, but action could occur anywhere on the spiral ramps. The audience surrounded the performance space but did not move, as Kiesler had proposed in his 1922 scheme for a "railway theatre." For Kiesler, the spiral was the dominant sign of a modern
spirit because of its power to convey a sense of movement. The weakness of the proscenium stage, he contended, was that it encouraged audiences to see drama as image rather than as movement. His spiral stage was therefore a "naked" performance space insofar as it dispensed with scenic and pictorial elements in favor of complex opportunities for movement and relations between bodies. The Viennese press displayed a lack of confidence in the Raumbühne to accommodate plays (Frischauer's Im Dunkel , Goll's Methusalem ) written with the proscenium in mind, but Kiesler hoped the spiral stage would inspire a new kind of drama that was not so dependent on enervating talk. Such was not the case; early in 1925, Kiesler accepted an offer to work on an exhibition in Paris, and in 1926 he pursued an invitation to work on an exhibit in New York, where he spent the rest of his life.
Without its inventor to supervise its fortunes, the Raumbühne quickly became a conventional (proscenium) performance space and then disappeared. However, the Viennese press did appreciate several dance performances given in the Raumbühne in October 1924. Toni Birkmeyer and his partner, Tilly Losch, produced a somewhat puzzled response, perhaps because they both seemed so deeply attached to the world of ballet whereas the space was so utterly alien to ballet culture. Losch swung up the steps to the upper platform, but Birkmeyer never moved beyond the middle level of the ramp, and this choice signified an "unreachable" distance between male and female bodies that otherwise moved to the same rhythm. Gisa Geert attracted a larger measure of critical approval when she performed a series of solo dances in the Raumbühne. She emphasized a notion of diagonal movement that pressured the body to move in a line up and down the ramps but nevertheless limited its freedom because the ramps were too narrow to permit movement trajectories outside of those forming the spirals. In other words, the Raumbühne seemed no different from the proscenium stage in its ability to signify the freedom of the body from environmental constraints. Group dances would appear to reinforce this point. But when Gertrud Bodenwieser's all-female dance group, which leased a studio in the Vienna Concert Hall, gave a performance in the space in late October 1924, the critics were apparently charmed. The "grotesque" piece, Film ohne Leinwand , took advantage of the space's peculiar features by incorporating acrobatic and gymnastic movements. Such movements enhanced the dynamic interaction of bodies and space precisely because they accommodated, rather than submitted to, the interruptions in movement flow and concentration established by the ramps, spirals, ladders, and elevations. Bodenwieser's group performed in the space two months later for Karlheinz Martin's production of Wedekind's Franziska (1912), but by then the Raumbühne had been largely dismantled to fit into the proscenium frame of the Raimund Theatre (Lesák, esp. 111–163).
The Raumbühne is an excellent example of how a modern performance space amplifies anxiety toward a modern performing body that resists being framed, not only by a proscenium but also by a literary, text-driven imagination contained by the same frame. The Raumbühne dance concerts generated considerable public interest, but the idea of modern spaces for modern performances threatened to subvert an intricate institutional apparatus, governed above all by the authority of texts and authors, for controlling the body, performance, and sexual difference. The greatest resistance to modernist performance spaces came not from audiences but from within the institutions of theatre culture itself. Kiesler became involved in a noisy public dispute with Dr. Jakob Moreno-Levy (1892–1974), a psychiatrist, over the origin of the spiral theatre concept. In 1926 both men left for New York, and neither revived the idea of a spiral stage (Moreno-Levy's scheme was a "therapeutic" space for performers only). Ironically, after designing the De Stijl modernist Film Guild movie theatre in Manhattan (1928), department store show windows (1929), and the experimental Space House (1933) (Stern 258, 354), Kiesler spent much the rest of his career trying to make modernist opera scenery fit into proscenium stages.
A quite different, but no less modern, approach to architecture for dance performance was the Himmelssaal (Heaven's Hall) of the Atlantis House in Bremen (1930) (Figure 77). This fascinating building was the work of a very complex personality, Bernhard Hoetger (1874–1949). Though his family background was decidedly humble, Hoetger achieved astonishing mastery and success in a wide range of arts. Beginning as a sculptor, he branched out into graphics, painting, furniture design, ceramics, publishing, and architecture. In 1914, supposedly under the spell of the primitive expressionist paintings of Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907) Hoetger moved from Darmstadt, where he was a professor of art, to Worpswede. After designing his own house there, he received invitations to design cafes, hotels, gardens, and monuments in the Bremen-Worpswede area, and for these he applied an increasingly idiosyncratic, dramatic expressionist style that fused modernist and pre-Christian Nordic aesthetics. Hoetger was remarkably eclectic, absorbing influences from Paris, Italy, Egypt, black Africa, expressionism, art deco, and ancient Teutonia. Modern dance appealed to him, and one of his early sculptures, done in Paris, is an exhilarating figurine of the American dancer Loie Fuller (1901). In 1917 he became friends with Sent M'ahesa, who performed works in an Egyptian style, and he produced at least two dramatic sculptures of her, an Egyptian-expressionist head (1917) and a Nordic-expressionist nude (1922).
In 1918 Hoetger made the acquaintance of the Bremen trading tycoon Ludwig Roselius, and the two of them devised plans for renovating an alley in downtown Bremen, the Böttcherstrasse. Hoetger's first building was the Paula Modersohn-Becker house (1927), a fantastic, expressionist brick
castle that honored the work and life of this artist, who, like Hoetger, actually discovered her artistic identity in Paris. The second building in the Böttcherstrasse project was the Atlantis House (1929–1931), the purpose of which, according to Roselius, was to remind Germans of their origins in an archaic Nordic culture inhabiting the great plain between the North Sea and the Baltic. In the Atlantis House, architecture strove to link modernism with the recovery of a primordial racial identity, but the result was a strange brick building that combined expressionist monumentality, art deco ornamental effects, and pre-Christian symbolism (above the entrance to the building was a huge crucifix, but the body on the cross was not Jesus but a rather demonic Odin). As Thiemann (29) has observed, moving through the building was like moving through the compartments of a great ship. A stunning, futuristic spiral stair tower, studded with starlike light holes and encased in a glass mosaic cylinder, connected the three floors. The Himmelssaal was on the second floor, between the first floor reading room and the third floor museum.
Figure 77 depicts this room, designed exclusively for dance performances. In spite of its small size and the absence of fixed seating for spectators, the space nevertheless conveyed a monumental atmosphere through its bold contrast between curving lines, smooth surfaces, and cryptic symbolism: cross, glass-imprinted arrows, spears, and discs (one of which, not visible in this picture, was suspended like a gong at the other end of the room). The glass walls of the arcing dome permitted sunlight to pervade the performance space, but the room contained no provision for the use of theatrical lights (or scenery) other than the rows of fixed lamps on each side of the hall; on the left side (not seen), the lamps glowed within glass globes, which further contained intricate wire netting to filter the light. The Himmelssaal projected the aura of a cult temple suffused with mystical light: "a space of meditation, of devotion to something invisible, yet in light. Hoetger is here the adept of abstraction. It makes the cult space ideology-free, but grounded in brotherliness" (Thiemann 29; see also Golücke 94–99; Küster, Kunstwerkstalt , 58–83). The swirling linearity and planar emptiness of the room made it an ideal space for modern dance performance. The space invited people to dance within it, to move with unexpected freedom. The three women in the 1930 photograph (probably from Estonian Helmi Nurk's company) seem to "belong" to the space to a degree that is unusual in modern dance photography. By far the majority of modern dancers preferred to have their pictures taken in photography studios, in nature, or in a space without context, as in Figure 1, rather than in the spaces in which they actually performed their dances, because they felt that modern movements did not really belong on proscenium stages designed for bodily movements that were not modern. Figure
77 shows a remarkable unity of modern bodily movement and modern architecture, and this unity requires no more (or less) in the way of scenic context.
But to say that the Himmelssaal was "ideology-free" is somewhat misleading. Critics favorable to the International Style condemned the building for its reactionary mysticism and its eagerness to associate modernism with the politics of cultural fragmentation, with the localization of identity, with provincialism. The Nazis were even less appreciative, despite Hoetger's initial enthusiasm for their program and his scarcely concealed anti-Semitism. In 1935, Hitler himself declared the Böttcherstrasse complex so repulsive that he thought it should be torn down, and Roselius, whose global business interests were important to the Nazis, had to make passionate appeals to the city council to prevent the annihilation of the "temples." In 1937, Hitler agreed to let the buildings stand as examples of "Bolshevist" artistic corruption as long as Roselius affixed placards explaining why such architecture was decadent and anti-German. By 1938, Hoetger was on the list of "degenerate artists," and his life became even more difficult and reclusive. (Today the Böttcherstrasse buildings are a major, delightful tourist attraction.) Hoetger's eclecticism, his openness to so many "foreign" (and feminine?) influences—luridly satirized in Paul Masdack's biographical novel, Der schwarze Magier (1924)—undermined his capacity to develop a distinctly Nordic mode of expression that was recognizable to the Nazis. The Himmelssaal was a powerfully and seductively unique space for dance performance; no one from the dance world itself showed the capacity to envision, let alone realize, a dance space even remotely as satisfying. Perhaps, then, an eclectic (rather than "pure") imagination, a Hoetgerian will to absorb ever more categories of artistic expression, is necessary to create the context best suited to allowing bodies to move with a uniquely modern freedom.