Sunday, March 31, 2024

Oskar Schlemmer - Triadisches Ballett (1912 / 1922 / 1968)

"... while still remembered as a Bauhaus designer, painter and teacher, Oskar Schlemmer’s contribution to dance gets little more than a passing reference. With one exception. His designs for his Triadic Ballet, which premiered at the Wurtemburgische Landestheater in Stuttgart on September 30, 1922 remain among the most striking and unusual ever conceived.... 

"The costumes or figurines as Schlemmer called them, of which nine of the eighteen originals survive, seven in the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, are extraordinary. Even a hundred years later, they look strangely futuristic, like something from a science-fiction cartoon. Schlemmer only hinted at possible interpretations of them in his manuscripts. “Precision machinery, scientific apparatus of glass and metal, artificial limbs developed by surgery, the fantastic costumes of deep-sea divers and a modern soldier,” he wrote.

"Heavy and made from unusual materials such as foil, sheet steel, plywood, wire and rubber, they transform the human body into moving sculptures where movement is severely restricted.

"Gold Sphere is an armless ovoid torso. Sphere Hands is a figure whose handless arms end in swollen coloured balls. The twin Disk Dancers, whose heads and bodies are set with thin blade-like disks, move toward each other from opposite directions, appearing to slowly slice through one another as they merge together. Wire appropriately appears as a figure snarled within the coils of barbed wire. Made of wood, The Diver is armless, grotesquely deformed and comes with a strange oversized helmet. It’s original, housed in the Bauhaus Dessau, is apparently so heavy that it takes two people to carry it.

"Perhaps oddest is The Abstract, which it has been claimed was something of an alter ego for Schlemmer, who danced the role himself on several occasions. Split into unequal areas of light and dark, largely white with patches of red, black and blue, it comes with a large half-head, one-eyed mask and wields a dagger and a club. On top of that, it has a permanently outstretched white leg that cannot be bent, which reduces the dancer to limping or hopping around impotently.

"The female costumes do all bear some resemblance to a traditional ballet tutu, however. Perhaps that’s not so much a surprise when one considers that Schlemmer saw himself not so much as a radical but someone updating historic tradition for the new age with new materials and ideas.

"While detailed designs for the remaining costumes remain, the choreography is long lost. Schlemmer’s left many diaries, notes and sketches but they do not detail the steps and there is no known surviving film. Those notes do at least detail many of the floor patterns though and have been used for modern re-imaginings that challenge perceptions of dance just as much as the 1922 ballet must have done.

"Schlemmer was mooting the idea of a gesamtkunstwerk, a bringing together of visual art, dance and costume design, as early as 1912 after meeting husband-and-wife dancers Albert Burger and Elsa Hötzel.... 

"Having staged initial sketches for what would become The Triadic Ballet at a charity event for his regiment in Stuttgart in 1916, Schlemmer continued to design a formalised, plotless, three-act ballet, which he referred to as a ‘Dance of Trinity’. It had three dancers, one female, two male, in 12 dances and 18 costumes. There were also the three dimensions of space – height, depth and width; and three basic shapes: sphere, cube and pyramid. Finally, there were three basic colours, one for each act: yellow for the first, which was festive burlesque; then pink, solemn; then black, mystical and fantastic.

"The choreography itself was developed by Burger, Hötzel and Schlemmer in collaboration. Floor geometry and geometric shapes determined the paths of the dancers. The music was a collage by eight composers across three centuries. The programme for the opening night noted how the ballet flirted with comedy without being grotesque and brushed against conventions without becoming base. It also suggested that it might demonstrate the beginnings from which a particularly German ballet could be developed. The costumes certainly determined the movements of the dancers, who had to subordinate themselves to their rigid shapes, although, from his notes, it seems that restricting movement per se was not Schlemmer’s prime aim.

"In the premiere, Schlemmer danced under the pseudonym Walter Schoppe but, in a letter to Swiss artist Otto Meyer-Amden, he wrote, “As a dancer…I failed. I may be a dance director, but not a dancer.” The reviews were mixed, although the Frankfurter Zeitung commented, “The foundation has been laid for a completely modern ballet that is real art.”.....

"Schelmmer’s work was removed from the Staatsgalerie in 1933 as part of the now Nazi German government’s purge of art and by 1937, prominent Bauhaus artists such as him were completely ostracised.

"Schlemmer died in 1943 and the Burgers’ costumes were destroyed by fire in 1944. 

"The ballet itself fell into oblivion until it was reinterpreted in 1968 as a 30-minute piece for German television by Margarete Hasting, Franz Schömbs and Georg Verden.

".... Schlemmer’s influence has reached outside dance too. lives on. Among others, David Bowie has twice worn costumes that closely resemble those from the ballet." 

- David Mead, Seeing Dance

Bathetic ending to the piece: "in 2019, the American alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins adapted them and turned them into three giant inflatable fantasy figures that towered over the performances."

Surely this video is influenced by the Triadisches Ballett? 

Ah, yes: 

"The release of "True Faith" was accompanied by a surreal music video directed and choreographed by Philippe Decouflé and produced by Michael H. Shamberg. The opening sequence, showing two men slapping each other, is a reference to Marina Abramović and Ulay's video performance Light/Dark, shot in 1977.Costumed dancers then leap about, fight and slap each other in time to the music, while a person in dark green makeup emerges from an upside-down boxer's speed bag and hand signs the lyrics (in LSF). Other parts of the video were inspired by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer's Triadisches Ballett."

I thought maybe also Fine Young Cannibals's "She Drives Me Crazy" promo but I had a look at it and not really. 

Another pop-detournement, although not by the pop group itself: a fan-made video for Japan's "Suburban Berlin"