The Bauhaus, an experimental school for the arts and design, was founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, the same year as the Weimar Republic. Uniting the arts, crafts and technology in a gesamtkunstwerk (total work) of design, Gropius envisioned an architecture that would fuse the newfound technology of mass production with beauty and functionality. One of the more successful Bauhaus workshops, embodying Gropius’s concerns for unification and standardization of form, was the Stage Workshop, led by Oskar Schlemmer. While the Stage Workshop pioneered new abstract forms of performance, it also served as the catalyst for Bauhaus social happenings such as the famous Metallic Party.
The Bauhaus Dances were delivered as a series of lecture dances between 1927-29. They were directly inspired by the architectonic cubical stage space Gropius designed for the Dessau Bauhaus, which opened in 1926. Preoccupied with simple gesture--walking, sitting, jumping -- and influenced by Heinrich Kleist’s widely read essay on the marionette, Schlemmer aimed to create figures that would symbolize the new technology’s potential, but whose human element would supersede the mechanical. In fact, standardizing and unifying the human body through padded costumes and masks exaggerated the stylistic idiosyncrasies of the dancers. Each dancer was assigned both a primary color and a tempo to symbolize a psychological temperament; thus, Schlemmer entered the ongoing color theory debate with the Bauhaus faculty—including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Johannes Itten—on whether the circle was red (medium tempo), the square blue (slow tempo), and the triangle yellow (quick tempo). In both Formentanz
(Form Dance) and Reifentanz (Hoop Dance), Schlemmer investigated the impact of geometric props or forms on the human figure. Baukastenspiel (Block Play) was a parody of the Bauhaus architects and der Bau, "creative construction." In Stäbetanz (Stick Dance), by extending the human limbs and torso via twelve poles, the inherent geometric proportion of the dancer engages the mathematics of abstract space in a dance of the Golden Section. The Nazis forced the closure of the Dessau Bauhaus in 1932, but its design influence is felt to this day. Likewise, the avant-garde legacy of Schlemmer and his Stage Workshop students would eventually influence the performance theory and work of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk, the Judson Dance Theater, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne, amongst others.
Debra McCall recovered Schlemmer’s original notes and sketches during a research trip to Germany in the 1980s. After a year of translation and reconstruction with the assistance of the last remaining performer from the Bauhaus Stage Workshop, Andreas Weininger, and with the support of Mrs. Ise Gropius, the Bauhaus Dances premiered at The Kitchen, New York. This was followed by sold-out tours of the US, Europe and Japan, including the inaugural Biennale de la Danse in Lyon; the 1984 exhibition “Kandinsky: Russian and Bauhaus Years, 1915-1933” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the “Oskar Schlemmer” exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, the Art Institute of Chicago and the IBM Gallery of Art and Science. McCall’s reconstructions returned to the original Dessau Bauhaus in 1994, presenting the Bauhaus Dances on that stage for the first time in sixty-five years.
The film of the reconstructions, directed by Robert Leacock and Debra McCall, premiered at Goethe Institut-New York and was selected by the American Dance Festival for its first Dancing for the Camera: International Festival of Film and Video Dance. It also was included in the Museum of Modern Art “Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity” Bauhaus Lounge exhibition 2009-10, and in the “100 Years (Version #2)” Performa 09 exhibition at PS 1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York. The film and Labanotation for the dances reside at the Library of Congress and the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York.
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