Da-da-da-dancing

Da-da-da-dancing

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    For many years I used this blog for expounding upon my many explorations into the culture and history of chess. For just as many years I abandonned this blog in favor of publishing those explorations in the more popular article section. The article section has indeed proven to be, by far, the better medium.
     My blog has been sitting here like a boxed-up relic of times past rather than a vital, active reflection of myself and my interests, as a blog should be.

     I've decided to resurrect, revitalize and  reinvent it.

     Since there's no need for a second chess-specific outlet in my life and I have no desire to be a "top blogger" again, this new version of my blog will simply be an ecclectic assortment of my various thoughts, proclivities, avocations and . . . well, whatever suits me at the moment.



     At this moment it suits me to talk about Dada and Dada Dancing.

     I'm neither an artist nor a dancer; nor am I well-versed in the history of either disciplines. When I first read about the 1944-5 Imagery of Chess art show many, many years ago and did the requistive research into the participating artists, I experienced Surrealism in depth for the first time and became captivated. 
     Surrealism, somewhat formally established in 1924, found it's roots, perhaps ironically but with a certain internal logic, in an ealier anti-establishment, anti-art (in Marcel Duchamp's own words) movement called Dadaism.  Dadaism, in all its absurdity and extremism, totally fascinated me.  Not only did it fascinate me, but brought into my line-of-sight Sophie Taeuber who would become one of my favorite artists. 


A few words about Dada
     The accepted founder of Dada was a poet named Hugo Ball along with his fellow poet and girlfriend, Emmy Hennings. Together they rented a backspace in a building in Zurich and on February 5, 1916 opened the Cabaret Voltaire, the cultural focal point of Dadaism. Ball had fled Germany for Switzerland to avoid serving in the army. Hennings was a close friend of Else Lasker-Schüler (a poetess and big supporter of Austrian artists during WWI who had been married to Emanuel Lasker's brother, Bethold, from 1894-1903 and who was an important literary figure in her own right). Soon the couple was joined by mostly expatriate war protestors  such as Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara of Romania and Richard Huelsenbeck of Germany and Jean Arp of Alsace Lorraine.  Like many cafes, the Voltaire was a gathering place for artists, the disenchanted, disenfranchized, the avant-garde, the intellectuals and those just looking for something beyond what the current world was giving to them and the current Western war-torn world wasn't offering much.   Those drawn to the Dada movement rejected the bourgeois, the status-quo, contemporary values as well as contemporary definitions of art - and instead embraced anarchy, the shocking and the primitive.  The earliest Dada expressions were in the written or spoken word, then in  the visual arts.  Dance was something altogether different - which is what I'd like to explore here.

Arp and Taeuber

 
.nullSophie Taeuber dressed for a costume ball organized by Wilhelm Von Debschitz,
director of the Munich School of Art, Debschitz-Schule. in 1912


  Hans (Jean) Arp had moved to Zurich in 1915. Trained in the fine arts, his vision was to create "an elemental art that would cure humans of the madness of the epoch and establish a new order, a balance between heaven and hell.”  At an exhibition called "Modern tapestries, embroidery, paintings and drawings" at the Galerie Tanner in November, 1915 - where Arp was exhibiting his own works along side of those of Adya van Rees-Dutilh and Otto van Rees, he met a quite serious and gifted young woman named Sophie Taeuber.  
     Like Hans Arp, Taeuber was highly trained and educated in the arts. Her specialty was the textile arts and around the same time Hugo Ball was opening the Cabaret Voltaire, 27 year old Taeuber was given a position as an instructor at the Zurich School of Applied Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich).  

Laban Dancers

     Another group, called the Laban Dancers - headed by Rudolf von Laban, the Modern Dance (Moderner Tanz) pioneer,  creator of the Laban dance notation and founder of the  Zurich choreographic training centre - visited the Cabaret Voltaire and became involved in the Dada movement, though somewhat peripherally.  One of the anchors at the Laban school was Mary Wigman -the founder of the expressionistic school of dance who would become a close friend to Sophie Taeuber.   

nullThe Laban school in Monte Verità, 1917


     Sophie Taeuber enrolled in the Laban summer school (Schule für Tanz-Ton-Wort) -in Monte Verità, located in Ascona by Lake Maggiore in the southern Swiss mountains about 100 miles from Zurich-  in 1914 but the session ended with the outbreak of WWI.   Apparently a natural talent, she would be soon be performing dances at both the Cabaret Voltaire and the Galerie Dada which opened at Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich a year later as an exhibition venue but which also held "Dada Evenings" of planned shows- for example, at the "opening ceremony" (Eröffnungs-Feier), on March 23, 1917, attendees would witness:

"Perrottet Heusser playing piano, Emmy Hennings, Ehrenstein, Tzara, and Ball giving recitations, SophieTaeuber performing a dance in a costume created by Hans Arp  with "great gyratory and fairy movement of 400 people celebrating."

Iconic Images
Hugo Ball reciting and Sophie Taeuber dancing (dances were performed to recitations, in this case readings of Ball's "Seepferdchen" and "Flugfischen" ) the "Festliche Verzweiflung" while wearing a Kachina mask, believed to have been created by Marcel Jenko, at the opening of the Galerie DaDa.
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A YouTube video representation of DaDa Dancing

     Ruth Hemus wrote in "Sex and the Cabaret: Dada’s Dancers" :

At the end of the first issue of the journal Dada, a note acknowledging the Laban dancers reads:
'Miss Sophie Taeuber: delirious bizarreness in the spider of the hand vibrates rhythm rapidly ascending to the paroxysm of a beautiful capricious mocking dementia.'


     This is in contrast to what Hemus observed about  the "Laban Ladies" in general by quoting Hans Richter from "Dada Kunst und Ant-Kunst" (Dada Art and Anti-Art)

If the Odéon was our terrestrial base, Laban’s ballet school was our celestial headquarters. There we met the young dancers of our generation: Mary Wigman, Maria Vanselow, Sophie Taeuber, Susanne Perrottet, Maja Kruscek, Käthe Wulff and others. Only at certain fixed times were we allowed into this nunnery, with which we all had more or less emotional ties, whether fleeting or permanent.


     Richter's implication, upon which he later added that he didn't know or care much about dancing but was fond of the Laban dancers for different reasons, was that the girls served more as eye-candy than as accrual contributors to the Dada movement.   And he had a point, I believe.  Other than superficially, Modern Dance and Dada weren't exactly compatible since Modern Dance was inherently expressive, emotive and individual while Dada was inherently anti-expressive and, as we'll see later, devoid of individuality.   

     While Dadaists seem to enjoy the visual aspect of dancing as well as the dancers' presence and company, as an art form dancing wasn't elevated enough to be taken seriously and besides, it was, for the most part, women's domain and women as artists were automatically considered inferior.  Oddly enough, the only two artists of lasting value from that Zurich enclave were Hans Arp and a woman, Sophie Taeuber.  They ended up first as collaborators, then as husband and wife.  Taeuber was always in the shadow of her husband, but many modern art historians now consider Taeuber the more innovative, versatile and influential of the two. 
     Just as Taeuber almost single-handedly raised the utilitarian crafts to the level of fine art. she elevated dance as an art form appreciated by the Dadaist artists separate from the individual performing the dance. 

 

Taeuber: The Bridge
     Just as in the famous image above of Taeuber wearing a Kachina mask, this primitive motif would become intrinsic to her Dada dancing career.


nullSophie and her sister Erika wearing Kachina costumes (1922)

nullThe same costume in color

     Kachinas are spirit beings in the Hopi religious system. Kachina dancers - men in costumes and masks representing these spirits - were part of their ceremonial activities.  Children carried kachina dolls.  Below is Emmy Hennings (Hugo Ball's lover and co-founder of the Cabaret Voltaire, but also a poet and reciter whose sultry voice added an erotic undertone and was therefore used as a drawing card) holding a kachina-like doll, presumably fashioned by Taeuber:

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     Kachinas in the Pueblo culture were intercessors between the humans and the deities.  That Sophie Taeuber chose this particular symbolism is fascinating as it perfectly describes Taueber's role as the bridge between Modern Dance and Dadaism by using costumes that the dancers (in non-dada mode) would normally find too restrictive and the masks that reduce the individualist and expressive nature of the dancers' performance.  

     Below is a shadowed depiction of Dada dancing followed by a group of dancers wearing Taeuber's costume creations.

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     Hans Arp would describe Sophie's dancing in a poem:

Sophie dansait et rêvait,
elle rêvait et dansait
les fleurs envoûtées, les fleurs envoûtantes.
Elle dansait l'orage amical,
qui veut être fleur et essaie de fleurir
sagement sans la foudre et sans le tonnerre

Sophie was dancing and dreaming,
she dreamed and danced
the bewitched flowers, the mesmerizing flowers.
She was dancing the friendly storm,
who wants to be flower and tries to bloom
wisely without lightning and without thunder

     
    Emmy Hennings described Sophie's dancing between two Kandinky painitngs,as "the ineffable tenderness of her movement made you forget that her feet were in touch with the ground, all that remained was soaring and gliding.

     In his essay, "Occultism and other things rare and beautiful," Hugo Ball also described Taeuber's dancing:

"All around her is the radiance of the sun and the miracle that replaces tradition. She is full of invention, caprice, fantasy. She danced to the 'Song of the Flying Fishes and the Hippocamps,' an onomatopoetic plaint. It was a dance full of flaches and fishbones, of dazzling lights, a dance of penetrating intensity. The lines of her body break, every gesture decomposes into a hundred precise, angular incisive movements. The buffonery of perspective, lighting, and atmosphere is for her hypersensitive nervous system the pretext for drollery full of irony and wit. The figures of her dance are at once mysterious and ecstatic."

    

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