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Lili Green

In spite of pervasive complaints after 1925 about the increasing Americanization of German culture, American ideas about bodily movement, so influential before the war (especially in relation to female physical culture), did not receive particularly serious attention in Germany. Of course, the Mensendieck theory had many disciples, but by 1920 her work was more of an inspiration than a rigorously applied system; in any case, Mensendieck seemed much more European than American. The influence of Isadora Duncan (1878–1927) was far weaker than that of Mensendieck, though commentators on dance continued to evoke her name reverently. She opened a school in Berlin-Grunewald in 1904; in 1911, at the invitation of the Duke of Hesse, the school moved to Darmstadt under the direction of Isadora's sister Elisabeth (1874–1948). Throughout her restless, vagabond life, Isadora Duncan opened schools in Germany, France, the United States, Greece, and Russia, but she was a very poor teacher, with no patience for pedagogic detail, systematic organization of experience, or theoretical


rigor. She left most teaching duties to faithful (rather than competent) disciples, and in the classroom she favored a tribe of completely worshipful female children eager to follow her every whim and path (Jowitt 96–97).

Elisabeth Duncan wanted a school that was independent of her sister's chaotic personality. With the help of Max Merz (1874–1964), whom she married, she sought to infuse some discipline into Isadora's improvisatory, Grecian approach to bodily movement by incorporating into the curriculum ideas from German body culture (including Merz's enthusiasm for race hygiene). The war compelled her to return to New York in 1915, but by 1920 she was back in Germany; she revived her school in Potsdam, maintaining a branch office in New York. The school operated out of the castle at Klessheim in Salzburg from 1925 until 1933, when she closed her school in New York and moved to Prague (1933–1935) (Stefan 97–98; Heun). Then she lived in Munich before returning to America. Afflicted with lameness, Elisabeth herself never danced, and her school, unlike Isadora's, did not strive to develop bodies for public performance: she wanted to produce imaginative teachers. Nevertheless, the school operated very much in the shadow of Isadora's looming personality. The pseudo-Grecian image of nature and art prevailed. Liberated movement was always a "natural" response to great pieces of classical music. (Merz published a pamphlet condemning jazz as a subversive, antisocial force.) Movement was an evocation of fantasies inspired by the music. Dance created a picture of the emotion inspired by the music; if neither the music nor the emotion stirred within the body, one should not force movement. A unique feature of the curriculum was a set of exercises in which students sang archaic German folksongs while moving (Rochowanski, Tanzende, 3). This approach succeeded with (female) children, but students over the age of thirteen or so required a much more powerful notion of bodily expressivity to sustain their interest (HB 76–81; RLM 38). Indeed, by 1920 a historical perspective had set in that made Isadora's and American attitudes toward bodily freedom seem childlike, unhelpfully naive. Still, it was obvious that in Isadora Duncan dance (more than her dances themselves) had produced a spectacular, tempestuous personality that provoked awe in almost anyone excited by the new currents in dance culture. The whole idea of Ausdruckstanz, of the body as a powerful instrument of expressivity, seemed to emanate from her.

Duncan's idea of expressivity, of painting emotion in movement, owed much to the semiotic system of Francois Delsarte, and it is therefore worthwhile to relate the curious fate of Delsartian theory in Germany. Delsarte devised a code, for use primarily in the theatre, that assigned particular gestures to signify particular emotions. Giraudet explained this elaborate system of categories and subcategories of signification in Mimique: Physiognomie


et gestes (1895). The body moved according to the rhythm of emotions it experienced or desired to represent. But the Delsarte system assumed that both gestures and emotions were clearly and immediately readable, as joy or anger or despair or delight, because emotions derived from universally common phenomena external to the body that experienced them. For Dalcroze or Günther, by contrast, a movement element had no inherent signification; one might even suggest that Ausdruckstanz as a whole represented an effort to free the body from imprisonment within a kind of semantic grid that sought to make the body "meaningful," to make it "say" things that were easily, clearly, and unambiguously understandable under conventions of "appropriate expression." American theatrical genius Steele MacKaye (1842–1894) studied the Delsarte system in Paris and around 1873 imported it to the United States, where it became enormously popular in theatre training. Its influence on the development of American modern dance was so considerable, even oppressive, that the greatly respected dancer Ted Shawn (1891–1972) felt disposed to publish a textbook on the system as late as 1954.

Genevieve Stebbins (1857–1915) studied under MacKaye in New York. In books published in the 1890s, she modified the Delsarte system by incorporating theories of breathing and rhythmic movement to produce what she called "harmonic gymnastics" for female students. Stebbins's emphasis was not on developing a large vocabulary of expressions for use on the stage but on cultivating an ideal convergence of female hygiene and beauty. It was she who first associated the "natural" female body with the wearing of Grecian tunics and chitons. A student of Stebbins, Hedwig Kallmeyer (1881–?), opened a school for girls in Berlin around 1905, and her students included Dora Menzler and Gertrud Leistikow. In Künstlerische Gymnastik (1910), Kallmeyer modified the Stebbins method to accommodate some ideas of Bess Mensendieck, herself a student of Stebbins; flexibility was apparently a feature of her thinking. By this time, however, the connection to Delsarte began to get lost in the more immediate effort to construct a modern—and "correct"—identity for the female body. Kallmeyer's influence was probably greater than the paltry information about her would indicate. After the war, she seems to have moved to Hannover. Several photographs in the Joan Erikson Archive of the Harvard Theatre Collection depict activities at her school in Hannover around 1925. These show groups of children between five and sixteen years old playing outdoor body games. Some of the children are nude. One photograph shows a group of twelve boys with two women instructors; in other images, groups containing both sexes play games, and one photo shows a group of six women sculpting clay animals.

Taken together, these photos imply that Kallmeyer had moved some distance both from Delsarte and from the all-female, Stebbins-Mensendieck cult of idealized physical comportment. But why? Perhaps the answer lies in


a 1924 statement by Fritz Giese. Discussing Delsarte, Stebbins, Mensendieck, Kallmeyer, and Duncan as representatives of a single system in which gymnastics worked to produce beautiful rather than strong bodies, Giese remarked:

Mensendieck's thinking leads to a perhaps all too ice-cold aesthetic in the sense of an impartial, sober perspective. Here, where only women fit into the system, we find the hygienic-aesthetic gymnastic purposeful, useful, and at the same time clear in form, comprehensive, physically appropriate, and therefore beautiful. But one can also deprecate this attitude. The feminine, the womanly, moves into the foreground. The spectator is the man, the performer the woman. At least in general: grace and dignity in their old polarity. That is how one learns to understand the methods of Kallmeyer-Stebbins as well as those of the veil-wrapped Duncan school. (FGK 112–113)

The ideals of the Delsarte-Kallmeyer trajectory were "renown[ed] models of Nacktkultur: the unclothed, beautiful human," which led one to "a culture of the pose like an antique bronze or marble." "Body spirit here means the soul expressed in the body—but as if it were crystallized, petrified within it, set up for observation rather than experienced" (FGK 112–113). In other words, although a gesture still signified a distinct emotion, as Delsarte intended, the emotion signified was not grounded in experience nor even in the body; rather, it was imposed upon the body by an "objective" spectatorial gaze that actually looked backward, into an idealized, mythical, eternal past, for guidance—not on how to feel but on how to display feelings that gained the approval of a society (America) that feared the expressive body's power to undermine a fragile sense of social unity and shared capacity to read signs. The Germans, however, were not so worried about crypticity or darkness of expression.

But the Delsarte system was not entirely dead in Germany. In 1929, Lili Green published Einführung in das Wesen unserer Gesten und Bewegungen, perhaps the best and most ambitious treatise ever to emerge from Delsarte's notion of correspondences between gestures and emotions. Green so overhauled the notion that she produced an elaborate semiotic analysis of bodily signifying practices, permeated with a transfigurative Germanic aura. Born and raised in Surinam, where her father owned a coffee plantation, Green (1885–1977) began to study piano in The Hague after the death of her father in 1905, but she derived no happiness from it. Then she saw Isadora Duncan perform in Scheveningen and talked with her. Duncan told her that "you cannot learn dance, you have to make dances." In 1907, Green produced her own dance-song fairy tale in The Hague, apparently with considerable success. She tried to advance her career in the London theatre, but when told she needed more training she returned to Holland, where she appeared as Ophelia in Eduard Verkade's popular 1908 produc-


tion of Hamlet . The following year she was back in England to study ballet (ESG 15–18). She assumed the "Russian" name Vallya Lodowska for a few years and began dancing with Andreas Pavley (Henryk van Dorp de Weyer [1892–1931]), who had studied under Dalcroze and in 1909 had staged in Amsterdam a production of Beethoven's Prometheus with more than a hundred performers.

With Pavley, Green produced a series of enormously successful dance concerts in London and The Netherlands (1910–1911). These presented Oriental and classical-mythological themes in a decoratively theatrical manner, for the Java-born Pavley strongly typified the prewar perception of dance as a rapturous submission to glamorous exoticism. But Green had her own ideas, especially in regard to the concert program, which always followed the example of her 1907 debut show: she supplemented dance pieces with solo performances by the pianist, a violist, and a singer (her English friend Margaret Walker). In all her dances, she impersonated a character in a little story inspired by the music: The Murderer's Dance, Death and the Maiden, Anitra's Dance . For Tchaikovsky's Songs without Words, she and Pavley devised a Pierrot and Columbine tale. Newspaper reviews of concerts given in Leiden, Haarlem, and Amsterdam in 1913 consistently and enthusiastically remarked on the pantomimic quality of her dances, and all suggested that she was a much stronger dancer than Pavley. The decorative elegance of her movements, produced by a body of exquisite slenderness and suppleness ("like the ripples of a harp"), established her enduring appeal for critics and large audiences alike, although "The Murderer's Dance doesn't suit her" ("Lili Green," G5-G7, G11). Into the 1930s she continued to perform, in cities across Europe, dances she had created before 1913, provoking virtually the same enchanted critical response she had originally inspired (see Wiener Gesellschaftsblatt, 3 March 1930).

In 1913, Pavley met Sergey Oukrainsky (1885–1972), a dancer with Anna Pavlova's ensemble. Oukrainsky persuaded Pavley to join the Pavlova group, and when that tour of duty ended, in 1915, Pavley and Oukrainsky stayed in the United States, where in 1916 they founded the Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet. They subsequently became quite prominent for their promotion of a flamboyantly decorative ballet culture in Chicago (1916–1927) and then in Los Angeles (1927 ff.) (Prevots, Dancing, 133–151; Het Tooneel, 3/10, March 1918).

Meanwhile, Green opened a school in The Hague and began working with Margaret Walker as her dance partner. In 1918 she produced Carnaval, with Schumann's piano cycle as accompaniment and a group of her students in fantasy Biedermeyer costumes. Here she revised the Pierrot and Columbine story to put Walker in the role of Pierrot and a male dancer in the role of Pantalon; the piece enchanted audiences, despite Green's somewhat perverse approach to the material (Lapidoth). In the 1920s she


initiated several ambitious projects, including ballets of Dukas' La Peri, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, and Roussel's Le Festin de l'araignee . Debussy's music apparently unlocked a recessed inclination toward perversity in her solo dances, judging by several photos of her in the Nederlands Dans Instituut. Wearing an extravagant wig, she did a witch dance that probably represented the limit of her willingness to depart from the decorative, but in several other Debussy pieces she seems to have enjoyed baring her breasts or appearing nude under a diaphanous cloak, even though she was over forty years old. An article in Spel en dans (September 1925, 15–16) ranked her with Tamara Karsavina, Anna Pavlova, and Jenny Hasselquist as a world-class dancer. While on tour in Czechoslovakia, Green, "unhindered by labor laws," collected some slum children and brought them back to Amsterdam to perform in her fairy-tale ballet, Die Verliebten (ESG 16). Then she was busy with opera and civic spectacles.

In 1933, she appeared in a powerful open-air production at Zandvoort of Wilde's Salome . Besides playing the title role, she choreographed two ballets not designated in the text. These, according to one reviewer, were "absolutely justified" and produced a very dramatic effect, but he felt that, as Salome, Green, though "very beautiful," lacked morbid passion and sensuality, her response to the head of Jokanaan being "more the whim of a spoiled princess than of wild lust." However, she performed expertly and with great delicacy, especially at the end, and the Dance of the Seven Veils, with Strauss's music, was perhaps "the great moment of the production" ("Lili Green," A11). Green was forty-eight years old when she played Salome. But just as surprising was the publication of her Verzen (1934), which contained turbulent erotic poems: "My love is like a burning wound" (36); "I am lonely, beautiful and pale. My body longeth for thine arms to enfold me, my lips are parted with desire" (63). In 1935 she formed around her students Het Nederlandsche Ballet ("Lili Green," A12), and in 1936 she worked on dances for the Berlin Olympics. But she was not sympathetic to the fascist elements within Dutch dance culture that sought to develop nationalist feeling through ballet, and during the war years she led a cautious existence. In 1948, at age sixty-three, she gave her last solo concert, then went to Washington D.C. to create another school, which lasted until 1959. She then returned to The Hague to receive various honors and gave lessons well into her eighties.

Lili Green had a long career as a performer/choreographer in solo dances and stage plays, in opera and mass spectacle, in modern dance and ballet. Though the curriculum in her schools adapted to new trends, the dances she created did not change in their approach to bodily movement from around 1912 until her retirement from the stage in 1948. Yet her dances constantly seemed dramatic and exciting to audiences in Amster-


dam, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin. The reason is that she cultivated an attitude toward bodily expressivity that enabled her to interest audiences regardless of differences in media, cultural context, or historical era. This attitude derived from a Delsartian faith in a correspondence between specific gestures and specific emotions and manifested itself through the phenomenon of pantomime, or "plastic dancing," as Green called it. The Einführung was an impressively erudite treatise on pantomimic art. Missing from her book was any discussion of rhythm, music, or group movement. Nor did she introduce any reference to hygienic or therapeutic effect. The focus remained strictly on what particular gestures signified. In pursuit of this aim, Green used photography in an imaginative way. She herself was the model for all the examples. A sequence of photographs could show how a series of gestures produced "concentration moments" that culminated in large emotional complexes; for example, an eighteen-photo sequence depicted a girl awakened, puzzled, and drawn by the fragrance of flowers, then conveyed her desire to possess the flowers and weave them into a rapturous bouquet (67–73). The photos posited a difference between the body's reading of a stimulus ("emotion station") and the body's response to the stimulus ("will station").

"Concentration moments" referred to dynamic tensions between qualities of energy and qualities of will. Subsequent chapters explained these relations. Seven "primary impulses" encompassed all relations between emotion and will: joy, fear, pain, struggle, inclination, disinclination, and sex drive. Each primary impulse subsumed distinct categories of emotional signification. Thus, for example, fear entailed terror, suffocating anxiety, helplessness, or horror, whereas disinclination (not the same as disgust) included repulsion, hostility, or aversion. Accompanying the text for each category was a photo of Green performing the appropriate gesture. To signify attraction, a category of inclination, the body stood with one foot forward, arms hanging away from the body with suspended effect, the head tilted and turned in the same direction as the forward foot, with the eyes fixed level to the object of attraction. To signify friendship under the same category, the head should remained turned (in the same direction as the forward foot) but now should be slightly uplifted, with both arms reaching forward and the hands together. To signify erotic desire, the body stood with feet slightly apart and arms hanging close against the body (thighs) while the head cast a level gaze at the object of desire with eyes half-closed and lips pressed into a slight smile. (However, for me, Green's signs of erotic desire might just as well signify "haughtiness.") To signify erotic enticement, the body stepped forward and approached the object of desire at an angle, with arms behind the back, the head sharply tilted, the eyes open, and the lips pressed into a full smile. To signify erotic excitement, the arms moved


away from the body, which curved, arc-like, with the torso and groin pushed forward, the head pushed back, the eyes half-closed or closed, and the mouth open.

Of course, the total range of emotions the body may signify far exceeded Green's capacity to represent them or even to clarify distinctions between emotions she discussed and those she did not (such as the relation between erotic desire and haughtiness). Nor did she suppose that men differed from women in their signification of emotions. Furthermore, she did not clarify how the signification of emotions differed, in expressive value, from the performance of abstract categories of action, such as stabbing, kissing, praying, cradling, marching, or kneeling. Green's aim, however, was to demonstrate the decorative signification of emotion, so she left out all kinds of significations that convoluted the reading of bodily expressions. Decorativeness was synonymous with clear, refined readability of signs, but such readability was also synonymous with a filtering out of significations that transgressed anonymous conventions of appropriate expression and complicated the spectator's perception of the body.

In Germany, by contrast, the general mission of modern dance was to challenge the conventions of appropriate bodily expression. Indeed, German dance equated the liberated body not with an enhanced power to signify a wide range of emotions but with the power to signify and/or experience a single, great, supreme emotion: ecstasy. The basis for a free and modern identity lay in that most difficult to feel of all emotions. Green apparently sensed this problem with her approach, for she devoted a special section of her book to that "exceptional emotional condition," ecstasy (38–41). But her discussion of it was excessively conventional. For one thing, she asserted that the Greek meaning of ekstasis , "standing outside oneself," was the same as "an absence of the self," by which she seems to have meant an absence of bodily self-control. She associated ecstasy with dream states, with involuntary bodily movements such as those caused by epilepsy and hysteria, and with mystical visions of an archaic and frequently heretical nature. It was obvious that she was not at all sure how the body should signify ecstasy. "It happens with a cry," she remarked vaguely (38). She offered only one photograph of ecstatic signification, and this appeared at the end of a nine-photo sequence, "Amor Dei," that showed her in a medieval dress and cowl demonstrating the signification of revelation, awe, reverence, humility, service, prayer, sacrifice, embrace, and ecstasy (48–49). Ecstasy was manifest when the body thrust the arms upward and outward, with the head thrown way back so that it looked straight up. Ecstasy was a sculpted pose, a panel in an "appropriate" frieze rather than a peculiar condition of movement. Related to this limitation was her failure to trust her own photographic imagination. She came up with a worthwhile innovation: attaching tiny reflectors or battery lights to parts of the body


and then photographing movement at slow shutter speeds so that the image recorded the traces left by the lights (63–64). But she failed to apply this interesting device to the analysis of emotional signification. Yet it was exactly this sort of technology that might have proved effective in resolving the problem of signifying ecstasy.

It is easy to assume that Green's theory of pantomime—and the whole Delasartian legacy she sought to preserve—was as marginal to German body culture as Green herself. But the assumption is misleading. Her analysis of conventions for signifying particular emotions was sound. Though her representation of emotions seems somewhat extravagant (melodramatic) by today's standards, the difference is primarily one of degree, not kind. Conventions of signification rigidly control communication with large audiences. To reach the large audiences vital to its economic security, the German film industry relied on performers who followed fairly closely the conventions of signification described by Green. Acting in silent films especially entailed a mastery of pantomimic expression. The music that invariably accompanied silent films was created independently of the screen performances, which meant that actors could not depend on external rhythms or harmonies to shape their bodily expressivity, nor could they rely on the stilted-looking declamatory style appropriate for classical theatre or make elaborate, time-consuming Stanislavskian efforts to build a completely realistic character. They had to employ conventions of physical-emotional "plasticity." Oskar Diehl's Mimik im Film (1922) purported to explain the pantomimic conventions of film acting, which he claimed derived directly from dance. But this little book, containing no pictures and no analysis of any particular signifying practice, was worthless as a contribution to pantomimic semiotics. Diehl focused almost entirely on movements available to the face, then merely listed various dramatic situations that required facial expression. However, the book did not signify so much the bankruptcy of pantomimic art as the failure of film culture to grasp the theoretical foundations of bodily expressions appropriate for the screen, for moving images rather than three- dimensional spaces. As pantomime became an art of containing bodily expression within an image, dance became an art of opening space through movement and therefore freeing the body from conventional images of it, which was why dance critics continually displayed skepticism toward performances that were "merely" pantomimes.

Yet the distinction between dance and pantomime was not always altogether precise, considering the complex career of Green herself and considering that several prominent modern dancers became skillful film actors and even stars, including Valeska Gert, Grit Hegesa, Lil Dagover, Leni Riefenstahl, Jenny Hasselquist, Harald Kreutzberg, Anita Berber, Rita Sacchetto. Conrad Veidt (1893–1943), a wonderful actor with no dance


training, developed a highly expressive and idiosyncratic pantomimic style that sometimes seemed dancelike in its precision. According to a 7 April 1920 letter in the Leipzig Tanzarchiv, even Laban himself negotiated with the UFA film studio to produce a ten-part fairy-tale dance-pantomime, Der Komet , about a dance temple, a dance god, a dance cult, and a female dancer curious to see the invisible dance god. However, an inability to determine the relation between dance and pantomime prevented the film from being made.


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