The Bauhaus Ballet That Anticipated Science Fiction
Schlemmer's exorbitant theatrical work was recognized as an anti-ballet, dual-minded, futuristic, and surrealistic.
The school of Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus, had a close, subversive relationship with the artistic ideals of the 20th century: “The mere drawing and painting world of the pattern designer and the applied artist must become a world that builds again,” admonished Gropius in his manifesto. As had other currents at the time, including Dadaism, the Bauhaus began with a socialist philosophy. This demanded that the artist return to the primary spirit of the artisan and beyond solving a superb posture in the world of art, it demanded that through this work a bridge be built to the aesthetic structure of the future.
Though the Bauhaus is generally associated with painting, graphic arts, architecture and interior decoration, it also encouraged rebellion within the artistic context of the 20th century. This academy fed a contradictory relation between a “mechanized” reality and indomitable acts of performance.
An example little remembered today is the work of the German painter, sculptor, and designer Oskar Schlemmer. After beginning in the classrooms of the Bauhaus, and shortly before becoming a professor, Schlemmer moved on to the performative capacities of human geometry, seeking always to replicate the forms of the constructivist image from an anticipated surrealist vision.
From that experimentation came his first theatrical exhibition, the Triadic Ballet (Das Triadisches Ballett), an interpretation of a mechanical-futuristic dance that had never before been achieved. An exotic three-frame sequence (yellow, pink and black), three actors and a “dance of the trinity” moved one of the most popular Greek polarities, that between the Apollonian and the Dionysiac, into a scene of mimicry. It was a perfection of form and a frenzy of the senses.
The Triadic Ballet can be understood as a symmetrical abstraction. It simplified the human figure to its most basic geometric forms, relying on an abstract scenery, a mechanical choreography and costumes that inevitably re-emerge in their direct influence on science fiction and even, in color and style, in the glam of figures like David Bowie.
The mechanical ballet (or anti-ballet) – considered by some experts as the first example of multimedia theater – was first performed in Stuttgart in 1922 and appeared as it does in the photographs below. The video version was reconstructed in 1970 and filmed by Margarete Hastings.
We may audaciously recall the works of Bauhaus pillars like Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Mark Lawliette, Vasili Kandinski, and contemporaries like Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Ray Eames. But we can’t deny Schlemmer his role in creating a reality that, almost a century after it was imagined, still seems radiantly futuristic.
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