Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
New German Dance Studies$

Susan Manning and Lucia Ruprecht

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780252036767

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252036767.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM ILLINOIS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Illinois University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ISO for personal use (for details see www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 20 January 2019

Picturing Palucca at the Bauhaus

Picturing Palucca at the Bauhaus

Chapter:
(p.45) 3. Picturing Palucca at the Bauhaus
Source:
New German Dance Studies
Author(s):

Susan Funkenstein

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252036767.003.0004

Abstract and Keywords

Gret Palucca quickly ascended to dance stardom in the 1920s. Born in 1902, Palucca received her dance training at Mary Wigman's pioneering Dresden studio in the early 1920s and was among the first generation of Wigman students to go on to innovate in the world of dance. During her career ascent, Palucca positioned herself in close proximity to visual artists, and she especially touted her relationship with artists at the Bauhaus, the innovative school for art and design in Weimar Germany. This chapter examines the visual images of Palucca created by students and teachers at the Bauhaus. In so doing, it challenges the standard literature that associates Bauhaus dance exclusively with dance choreographer Oskar Schlemmer.

Keywords:   Gret Palucca, female dancers, dance history, visual artists, Weimar Germany, Bauhaus, Oskar Schlemmer

Gret Palucca quickly ascended to dance stardom in the 1920s. Born in 1902, Palucca received her dance training at Mary Wigman’s pioneering Dresden studio in the early 1920s and was among the first generation of Wigman students, including Vera Skoronel and Hanya Holm, to go on to innovate in the world of dance.1 Prominent dance critics recognized Palucca’s talent while she was still a student, and in 1925 Palucca left Wigman and opened her own Dresden-based dance studio, rivaling her former mentor for students and fame. Known for her careerist drive, Palucca toured extensively and became one of the most recognized dancers of the mid-and late 1920s. With signature movements of airborne springs, dramatic lunges, and high leg extensions, her rhythmic, geometric, and optimistic dancing style was noted by some critics as a balance of contrasts: strength and softness, pushing out and pulling in, light innocence and seriousness. Youthfully pretty, and regularly featured in books, dance reviews, and women’s magazines, the much-celebrated Palucca was portrayed—and portrayed herself—as an avant-garde performer and a mass-media star.

During her career ascent, Palucca positioned herself in close proximity to visual artists, and she especially touted her relationship with artists at the Bauhaus, the innovative school for art and design in Weimar Germany.2 During her visits to the Bauhaus, which began with her first performance there on March 18, 1925, Palucca performed in formal and informal venues, posed for photographs, and socialized with the faculty, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and László Moholy-Nagy. Equally noteworthy, she partied with the students. Between visits, Palucca corresponded with artists about art acquisitions and assigned her dance pupils to write essays about modern art; in turn, Bauhaus artists visited her in Dresden, met with her after her performances, (p.46) and wrote statements about her dancing that were published in her promotional materials. And, they created works of art inspired by those experiences.

This Palucca-Bauhaus interdisciplinary engagement was due to Palucca’s strong efforts, but she also chose to interact with an institution that strove to bring the arts together. At its founding, the Bauhaus was modeled after the ideal of the Gothic cathedral, in which artists and craftspeople collaborated to build soaring structures of spiritual and civic pride. Pedagogically, all Bauhaus students took the Preliminary Course and introductory courses in form and color, taught by Josef Albers, Johannes Itten, Kandinsky, Klee, and Moholy-Nagy, and these theoretical and aesthetic principles served as shared foundations for later work in media-specific workshops.

The Bauhaus ideal of unity, however, frequently did not correspond to its more fractured reality. Concerned that female students would dominate the institution, Bauhaus masters accepted limited numbers of women into the school and curtailed women’s artistic and design training to those media deemed “decorative,” namely the weaving workshop.3 Officially, the Bauhaus assumed a new aesthetic identity in 1923, in which the emotionalism and trembling lines of expressionism gave way to the hard-edged constructivism captured by the slogan “Art and Technology, a New Unity,” but ongoing infighting regarding this aesthetic shift continued for years. Moreover, the Bauhaus’s already turbulent town-gown relationship and financial state reached a crisis during the mid-1920s, as pressures on both fronts in 1925 forced the closure of the Weimar campus and the institution’s relocation to the city of Dessau. Palucca’s March 1925 premiere in Weimar happened to coincide with this particularly stressful moment. In this context, it is understandable why Klee wrote wistfully of Palucca’s 1925 dance concert that her efforts “brought her that otherwise infrequent unanimous praise from our former Weimar community.”4

How did Palucca manage to receive that elusive “unanimous praise”? And if women were envisioned as a threat to the institution, why was Palucca so popular with both masters and students, male and female alike? Palucca succeeded, I would argue, because of her ability to fulfill a wide range of artistic and personal needs and priorities. Savvy regarding her relationships with these celebrated, promising, and well-connected artists, she presented a clear dancing style, yet did so in a manner that served as conduits and triggers for the Bauhaus artists’ own aesthetic issues, gender concerns, and relationships with modernity. The complexity of her performance of gender, which intersected with the Bauhaus’s contradictory attitudes and policies about women, contributed to interpretations of Palucca as both—and simultaneously—androgynous and girlish, athletic and diminutive, career-driven and flirtatious. Although not limited to a single style or medium, artistic depictions of Palucca were all decidedly modern, as if the clean lines, geometric precision, (p.47) or tilted angles of Bauhaus work correlated to the perceived innovations of her dancing style and New Woman image.

So, why is my focus on dance at the Bauhaus on Palucca and not Oskar Schlemmer, the dance choreographer and master of the Theater Workshop? After all, the Bauhaus promoted Schlemmer as the leader of performance at the institution, and the 1925 publication Die Bühne im Bauhaus (The Theater of the Bauhaus) positioned him philosophically and pedagogically at the center of Bauhaus stagings of the body.5 Postwar publications solidified his reputation as the preeminent voice of Bauhaus dance, and even though published student reminiscences extolled the excitement for performance at the Bauhaus, few sources mentioned Palucca.6 Moreover, Schlemmer’s costumes and choreographies complement the aesthetic of the Bauhaus. The abstraction of the body through the geometric marionette-inspired costumes, the corporeal movement along the spatial axes of the stage, and the use of metallic materials and effects all reflected Bauhaus priorities of abstraction, grids, and technology.

In contrast, Palucca was largely written out of much postwar scholarship on Weimar dance. Writers on Weimar dance focused on choreographers in West Germany or English-speaking countries, but Palucca’s decision to remain in East Germany after World War II marginalized her from this network.7 It is ironic because she was among the most famous German dancers of the 1920s in large part because of her approachability. Unlike Schlemmer, Palucca revealed her body, performing bare-legged and without masks. She played with gender, but unlike her mentor Wigman, Palucca did not challenge traditional structures of viewing, thereby facilitating a spectator’s visual pleasure and desire for the dancer.8 But like many dancers of the 1920s, she shared with Schlemmer a concern for the configuration of the body in space, and in this way both dancers embodied Bauhaus principles. To focus on Palucca’s performance style coupled with the images of her from Bauhaus artists thus affords us a view of the art school that is distinct from the standard narrative of Bauhaus dance.

Unlike most other German-language studies of Palucca’s relationship with the visual arts that focus on senior artists, I emphasize here her relationship with Bauhaus students and junior faculty.9 This illuminates the broader interest in Palucca at the Bauhaus and the collaborative interactions she had with people closer to her own age. Running against a master narrative approach, in which singular works by well-known senior (and male) artists are emphasized, my approach also recuperates a history of dance at the Bauhaus in which dance functioned as a part of everyday life and as a site for women’s creative expression. Methodologically, I am working within the interdiscipline of German studies, at the intersections of dance history, art history, and gender studies. As such, my essay reveals the variety of modernisms that thrived in the 1920s (p.48) through their exchanges with dance and illuminates visual artists’ respect for the impressive physical and creative feats of the female dancing body.

Palucca’s status as a prominent Bauhaus guest and an art world darling were due in part to her impeccable connections. In January 1924 Palucca married Friedrich “Fritz” Bienert, and from the beginnings of their marriage until their divorce in 1930, Bienert played a strong role in steering Palucca’s career. His efforts also undermined Palucca’s projected image of an independent woman in charge of her own career, which she touted later in life.10 Much of his clout derived from his family. His sister Ise (née Ilse) studied at the Bauhaus and provided her close friend Palucca with a distinct understanding of and relationship to the institution, its people, and its aesthetics. Fritz and Ise’s mother Ida, widely recognized for her illustrious modern art collection, cultivated relationships with artists, including many Bauhaus faculty; by 1933, for example, her collection comprised thirty-eight works by Klee, ten by Kandinsky, and numerous others by masters Lyonel Feininger, Moholy-Nagy, and Schlemmer, not to mention works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Pablo Picasso.11

Maximizing the Bienert family connections was one way in which Palucca and Fritz Bienert promoted her dance career; likewise, the couple paid great attention to her public reception, including the staging and circulation of her images, her reviews in the press, and the desires of her audience. Among her biggest promoters were women’s magazines, which were often read by women in their twenties—the age of a Bauhaus student. Palucca’s big break, a November 1923 article in the popular bourgeois women’s magazine Die Dame (The Lady), was published while she was still a student. Die Dame critic Pawel Barchan termed her a “Hochtänzerin” (high dancer) given her frequent leaps and springs, in contrast to Wigman’s more earthbound “Tieftänzerin” (low dancer) movements.12 But more frequently, Barchan and other critics described Palucca’s dancing as a feeling or personality: optimistic, instinctive, and projecting an almost naive purity not laden with symbolism or intellectualism. And equally, she was a model of the New Woman, the career-minded individualist with the athletic androgynous body and ubiquitous Bubikopf, the bob hairstyle widely recognized as the iconic style of the youthful, cosmopolitan, emancipated woman. The critic for the Jenaische Zeitung, the local Weimar paper that reviewed Palucca’s 1925 performance for the Bauhaus community, focused on these same issues: “Wasn’t it rhythmic gymnastics that the young, pretty artist with the fabulously trained body and bob hairstyle presented on stage?”13

It was along these lines that the Bauhaus community might have appreciated Palucca’s performance. When the Jenaische Zeitung review associated Palucca’s (p.49) precision leaping style with rhythmic gymnastics, not to mention her physical appearance as a New Woman, its critic aligned the young dancer with popular trends in German culture that the Bauhaus students also espoused. And yet, Palucca performed primarily to classical music accompaniment and within traditional structures of gendered spectatorship; this may have framed her innovative movements in a way that would have been easier for many members of the Bauhaus faculty to digest.14 Modern, innovative, and technically impressive, Palucca’s emancipation would have made her an ideal role model for the Bauhaus students. And yet, Palucca’s choreographic style could frame her as an attractive young woman who was not a threat to male hegemony. In these ways, Palucca’s representation of female liberation coincided perfectly with the Bauhaus’s own insistence on gender-defined cultural parameters.

As with the gender dynamics within the press and her performances, Palucca’s own self-proclamations as an emancipated woman, true as they were in some regards, were undercut by the behind-the-scenes machinations of her husband. Following the Weimar premiere, for example, Bienert strategized how Bauhaus masters could lend their voices to the dancer’s promotional materials. Active in steering her career, he expanded the Palucca dance-school brochure for 1926, Palucca Tanz (Palucca Dance), to include photographs of Palucca springing in soft-lit studio settings, quotations from glowing press reviews, and statements by prominent intellectuals and artists. These statements were initiated by Palucca’s circle, as Bienert’s own secretary, masquerading as the not-yet-opened Palucca School secretary, sent letters requesting comments to artists including Kandinsky, Klee, and Moholy-Nagy.15 The initial impetus was to boost Palucca’s avant-garde credentials by enlisting the artists to generate positive press, but it likewise appears that the artists reciprocated amicably and favorably.

In an elaborate example, Kandinsky’s essay for Palucca Tanz, “Tanzkurven” (Dance Curves), originated as a response to a form letter from the secretary, but Bienert quickly took the reins. Bienert encouraged the artist to turn his statement into a multipage essay and loaned Kandinsky four images by dance photographer Charlotte Rudolph, upon which he based his four drawings. Kandinsky’s completed version of “Tanzkurven” was enclosed in a letter sent directly to Bienert and published verbatim in Das Kunstblatt, one of the most illustrious cultural journals of the Weimar era, six months later.16 Kandinsky also included Palucca in his Bauhaus theoretical treatise, Punkt und Linie zu Fläche (Point and Line to Plane), completing the manuscript within weeks of submitting “Tanzkurven.”17 His final four images exhibit an economy of visual language, in which Palucca’s dancing form is reduced to a series of geometrically simplified arcs, straight lines, and acute angles. For Kandinsky, Palucca’s performances embodied his own expounded theories of composition, such as a (p.50) balance of warm and cool and light and heavy; not surprisingly, these qualities paralleled the contrasts critics described in Palucca’s choreography.18

Whereas Palucca’s interactions with the Bauhaus masters tended to be dominated by written correspondence and social visits, her relationships with Bauhaus students and junior faculty seemed more informal and collaborative. Several youthful Bauhaus recollections of Palucca align her with the fun experienced by students outside of the classroom. Clearly the students and young faculty were impressed: Marianne Brandt, student and later acting master in the metal workshop, reminisced, “Palucca enchanted us when she presented her newest dance.”19 Felix Klee, a Bauhaus student in the theater workshop and Paul Klee’s son, recalled the students’ “unique” feelings toward Palucca, one of their favorite choreographers. For Felix Klee, Palucca’s dancing and costuming expressed the simplicity and beauty of the human body, issues important for the Bauhaus at the time, and he noted her well-trained body’s capability to perform her legendary springs. Palucca fostered a warm atmosphere at the school on her visits, and the students were especially enthusiastic about her dance style. Klee also remembered their nickname for Palucca: Puck.20 A character in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck is a happy, troublemaking elf—and male. An elf ’s small size implies a youthful figure, even an androgynous or feminized male, a characterization that captured how Bauhaus students understood Palucca in gendered terms.

Ise Gropius, the young wife of Bauhaus director Walter Gropius, often socialized with the students and wrote in her diary of the parties, guests, and personal dynamics at the school. Reminiscing about Palucca’s 1927 Bauhaus visit, Ise Gropius wrote that the dancer charmed the students after her sold-out performance in the Bauhaus theater by taking over the neighboring cafeteria and amusing them with her rendition of the Charleston.21 Her performance suggests a mingling of modernism and popular culture in which the singular theatrical performance was quickly followed by a rendition of popular social dancing. This breakdown of hierarchies was not fully accomplished, however. Palucca’s formal dance concert of her choreographies for the Bauhaus community, including the masters, took place on the theatrical stage, but her more spontaneous Charleston, for students, exhibited more give-and-take between the audience and performer and occurred in the more informal campus space of the cafeteria. Only a temporary folding wall separated these two spaces at the compact Dessau Bauhaus, but that barrier also reinforced two very different Bauhaus experiences.

These different sites for performance created and reinforced contrasting spectatorial experiences of Palucca, the results of which are evident in the Bauhaus imagery of the dancer. The student works tend toward informality and collaboration, in which they interpret the dancer through their own priorities (p.51) of mass media, technology, and Bauhaus daily life. More than anything, they fully recognize Palucca’s star power. Seen in the collage by student Erich Comeriner, Palucca’s name is surrounded by newspaper pages and words in Bauhaus lettering (Figure 3.1). The collage references a “tanzabend” (evening dance performance) and features Palucca’s name, venues where she performed such as Odeon, as well as “kantine,” the German word for cafeteria, likely an allusion to Palucca’s 1927 Bauhaus performance. In addition, “hühner,” which translates as “chickens,” might suggest that Comeriner envisioned (or joked about) Palucca as petite or birdlike; it may also be a cropped and misspelled version of Blüthner-Saal, a prominent Weimar Berlin dance venue where Palucca performed.

Created for a typography class taught by Joost Schmidt, Comeriner’s collage juxtaposes the traditional and spiky Fraktur typeface of pages from the Anhalter Anzeiger (Anhalt Gazette), the local newspaper of the Bauhaus’s hometown of Dessau, with the Bauhaus’s innovative experimentation with modern typefaces.22 In German grammar, first letters of all nouns are capitalized, but Bauhaus typography challenges those fundamental rules, such that words are either all lowercase or entirely capitalized; the lower case p in palucca, t in tanzabend, and capitalized ODEON exemplify this. As with the universal

Picturing Palucca at the Bauhaus

Figure 3.1. Erich Comeriner, Collage “palucca” (Collage “palucca”), 1927. Collection Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.

Photo: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. © Erich Comeriner Archiv/Galerie David, Bielefeld.

(p.52) alphabet designed by Bauhaus typographer Herbert Bayer, the components of Comeriner’s individual letters are comprised of standardized and interchangeable parts, with similar curves and straight lines repeated across the alphabet. The u, h, and n letters in hühner are based on the same components; the N in ODEON is so simple that it is read correctly both right-side up and upside down. Requiring few strokes to print, Comeriner’s lettering is clear and efficient.

Comeriner’s experimentation suggests to me how typeface can be used to express a notion of Palucca as a modern New Woman. In a clean, straightforward style that could be read quickly, Bauhaus letterings were to be readable on a train, equating a modern experience of reading with the rapid pace of cosmopolitan life.23 This ideal of the modern typeface parallels the discourse on the Weimar woman. An integral participant in fast-paced urban centers, the modern Weimar woman wore straight-cut unfrilly dresses, and her frankness and directness paralleled the coolness of attitude that critics aligned with New Objectivity and industry. In Comeriner’s collage, Palucca’s name is written in this new lettering in red. A bold standout against the ways of old—the Fraktur typeface—the modern typographical form suggests that Palucca herself is a new type of dancer and woman. Comeriner expresses Palucca as pure precision in lettering as if evoking the pure precision of a dance curve. Through these choices, Comeriner describes Palucca as new, modern, and innovative, qualities also ascribed to the Bauhaus itself.

A 1929 photomontage by Marianne Brandt, Palucca tanzt (Palucca dances), portrays the artist’s identification with the dancer as a New Woman (Figure 3.2). A student at the Bauhaus from 1924 to 1928, Brandt was the only woman to graduate from the male-dominated metal workshop. Championed by her mentor Moholy-Nagy as well as director Walter Gropius, Brandt had the greatest number of industrial contracts in that workshop, bringing in much-needed money for the institution, and served as acting director of the metal workshop upon Moholy-Nagy’s departure in 1928. In July 1929 Brandt departed from the Bauhaus, and in August started a position designing furniture at Gropius’s Berlin architectural studio. Throughout this time Brandt worked actively in photomontage as a private art for her personal enjoyment.24

In contrast to Comeriner’s emphasis on pure text, Brandt’s photomontage features a widely circulated Charlotte Rudolph photograph of Palucca performing one of her signature springs. Exemplifying Palucca’s popularity in both avant-garde and popular contexts, this photograph was published in Moholy-Nagy’s 1925 Bauhaus treatise Malerei Fotografie Film (Painting Photography Film), as well as in the February 1926 Uhu (The Owl) essay “Der fliegende Mensch” (The Flying Human). Brandt likely knew of both sources, the former because of Moholy’s mentorship and the latter because Brandt saved clippings from the mainstream press for later photomontages. It is thus likely that Uhu (p.53)

Picturing Palucca at the Bauhaus

Figure 3.2. Marianne Brandt, Palucca tanzt (Palucca dances), 1929. Collection Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden, Germany.

Photo: Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, N.Y. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

was her source here.25 These multiple sources for influence and imagery further speak to Tag Gronberg’s assertion that women’s modern artistic culture frequently bridged the avant-garde with mass culture.26

Whereas Comeriner’s text prioritizes Palucca’s dance venues, Brandt’s text and image highlight the act of dancing. The centrality of the Palucca spring coupled with the words “Palucca tanzt” showcases her impressive corporeal feats, and Brandt’s modifications to the original photograph further emphasize the dance. For example, Rudolph photographed Palucca in a spring staged for (p.54) an optimal image. Dancing in a studio setting, with a plain floor and background, a spotlight creates a dramatic shadow of Palucca’s body on the back wall. This shadow alludes to expressionism, evoking an instinctive, emotional aspect to her dance. (This parallels Kandinsky and Klee’s Bauhaus explorations, which carried expressionist undercurrents despite their conversions to a constructivist aesthetic.) For her photomontage, however, Brandt cuts Palucca’s springing figure out of the photograph, separating the dancer from her studio context and expressionist shadow, a change that enables Brandt to portray Palucca’s work in the service of her own constructivist vision.

At the same time, Brandt’s photomontage highlights Palucca’s career success. In a poster format, Brandt’s work promotes a Palucca dance concert. A box in the lower-left corner details ticket information, and clippings from French newspapers of various dance reviews, announcements, and advertisements jut diagonally across the picture plane. Suggestive of Palucca’s extensive European touring calendar, the French clippings evince the cosmopolitanism of dancer and artist alike. Brandt likely cut the clippings from French newspapers during her nine-month stay in Paris from 1926 to 1927 and kept them for several years before using them here.27 Palucca’s springing form is placed off-center in a large red circle, highlighting her performance of pure dance within a space of pure geometry. Yet, this photomontage was not intended to promote Palucca; Brandt created her montages as a private art and did not expect to exhibit them publicly. Pencil marks on the page to indicate text placement further demonstrate that this photomontage was neither a finished product nor a final version of a poster set for mass production. What we see, then, is Brandt’s vision of Palucca’s dancing and career fashioned in an innovative Bauhaus style after posters that would have lined urban streets. The image promotes the New Woman, and along those lines, Brandt’s photomontage echoes modes of female spectatorship in the 1920s, in which the flâneuse, strolling in a city like Berlin or Paris, would have related to her surroundings through her own visual pleasure of its surfaces: posters, store windows, and cinema screens.28 Highlighting consumerism rather than sexual consumption, Palucca tanzt suggests how the modern woman in the metropolis might experience Palucca as a star.

Comeriner and Brandt were not alone among the younger Bauhaus generation in their enthusiasm for Palucca; the students seemed to have identified with her, admiring her as a model and relating to her as a peer. Close in age, the students welcomed her into their Bauhaus daily lives, which included taking photographs of each other. In these Bauhaus daily life settings, the process was collaborative, a give-and-take between the dancer and the Bauhäusler. For a savvy self-promoter such as Palucca, these instances allowed her to socialize with and learn from the students and permitted opportunities for her to shape how she would be portrayed. As an example, an unknown photographer—but (p.55) quite possibly student T. Lux Feininger—photographs his brother, Andreas (sons of Bauhaus master Lyonel Feininger), taking a picture of Palucca as she climbs and springs on the rooftops of one of Gropius’s master’s houses29 (Figures 3.3, 3.4). She appears stylishly modern in her street clothes, with her skirt length fashionably above the knees, and she smiles as she plays on the roof. Here, her choreographed springs are replaced by a lively climb and a jump in an informal setting, for her climbing reveals her knees and toned legs, evoking the similar youthful femininity remarked upon during her 1925 performance for the Bauhaus community. She conveys a happy, even flirtatious personality. Andreas Feininger’s positioning plays into this flirtatiousness; with his long phallic camera lens pointed directly at Palucca, the photographer seems to gaze up her skirt as she leaps toward him.

These informal moments between the star guest and students also reveal their shared engagements with Bauhaus modernism. Andreas Feininger situates

Picturing Palucca at the Bauhaus

Figure 3.3. László Moholy-Nagy fotografiert Gret Palucca vor einem Meisterhaus in Dessau (László Moholy-Nagy photographing the dancer Gret Palucca in front of a Master House at the Bauhaus in Dessau), 1927–1928. The represented photographer might be Andreas Feininger.

Photo: Unknown, possibly T. Lux Feininger. Collection Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden, Germany. Photo credit: Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, N.Y.

(p.56)

Picturing Palucca at the Bauhaus

Figure 3.4. László Moholy-Nagy fotografiert die springende Gret Palucca auf dem Dach eines Meisterhauses (László Moholy-Nagy photographing the dancer Gret Palucca while jumping on the roof of a Master House at the Bauhaus in Dessau), 1927–1928. The represented photographer might be Andreas Feininger.

Photo: Unknown, possibly T. Lux Feininger. Collection Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden, Germany. Photo credit: Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, N.Y.

(p.57) himself to photograph Palucca’s movements from a skewed angle; this maximizes the defamiliarizing perspective common in Bauhaus photographic experimentation. The photographs overtly reference the process of taking a photograph, reinforcing modernism’s priority on materiality and the technological emphasis of the later Bauhaus years. Moreover, the modernist architectural setting is integral to the photographic setting. The juxtaposition between the Gropius-designed architecture and dancer suggests a culture/nature divide of rigid modernist angles versus the curves of the body, and yet the shifting geometric configurations of her dancing form coupled with the straight silhouette of her clothing complement the structure of the building and highlight the shared attributes of both the architecture and her practice. T. Lux Feininger’s own work in performance and photography—as a student in Schlemmer’s Theater Workshop (1927–1929), a member of the Bauhaus jazz band (after 1928), and outside of the Bauhaus as a photographer for the Agency Dephot in Berlin (1927–1931)—bridged multiple media and gave him a distinct advantage to understand how to picture Palucca.30 As with Kandinsky’s experience of Palucca, the Feininger brothers’ relationship with Palucca-as-dancer was mediated by photography. But, whereas “Tanzkurven” was based upon photographs chosen for him, T. Lux and Andreas Feininger experienced a more extended, temporally bound collaboration between themselves and Palucca. The Feininger photographs are blurry precisely because they demonstrate the impromptu, informal moments and the ever-changing spatial, personal, and spectatorial relationships between the dancer and her two photographers.

Palucca’s popularity among Bauhaus women was because her New Woman performer persona meshed with women’s own notions of themselves as both within and outside of the avant-garde. Despite numerous institutional biases against them, many Bauhaus women forged their own relationships with cultural production as an intersection of modernism, mass culture, and physical culture. One of the key ways was through gymnastics, and in particular through the person of Karla Grosch, the women’s gymnastics instructor and a former student of Palucca’s. Grosch’s profile complemented the Bauhaus vision: while a dance student, she wrote essays for Palucca on modern art and on geometry that evoke Paul Klee’s theories of form.31 At the Bauhaus, she was a good friend of Felix Klee’s and performed in Schlemmer’s choreographies and toured with his Bauhaus dancers to Switzerland.32 Featured in a 1930 article about Bauhaus women published in Die Woche (The Week), titled “Mädchen wollen etwas lernen” (Girls want to learn something), Grosch appears youthful, optimistic, and determined—the very qualities ascribed to Palucca. Among the activities of Bauhaus women featured in the article were Grosch’s gymnastics classes, including a photograph of women throwing medicine balls.33

(p.58) It was through their own bodies that many Bauhaus women expressed this connection with Palucca’s principles. The movements Grosch taught combined athleticism with the arrangement of human form based in geometry. Taken by T. Lux Feininger, photographs of the gymnastics classes capture the precision of movement and the geometry of the body, not dissimilar from Kandinsky’s own abstractions of Palucca. Weather permitting, the lessons took place on the roof of one of the Bauhaus buildings, combining the restorative power of fresh air with the modernist aesthetic of Gropius’s architecture. Several photographs depict gymnastics students performing yoga inversions. In one example (Figure 3.5), Grosch supervises her students as they create triangular shapes from their bodies; two women form an isosceles triangle, posing in a shoulder stand and leaning their feet toward one another, using each others’ arms and legs for support and resistance. These geometries are accentuated by Grosch’s wide-legged stance that repeats her students’ triangular form and by Feininger’s choice of perspective, for which he positioned himself on the roof at their level. Taking lessons from Palucca’s dance as geometry, Kandinsky’s

Picturing Palucca at the Bauhaus

Figure 3.5. Sport am Bauhaus: Boden-Gymnastik der Frauen auf dem Dach des Bauhauses, mit Gymnastiklehrerin Karla Grosch (Sport at the Bauhaus: Women’s Floor Gymnastics on the Bauhaus Roof with Gymnastics Instructor Karla Grosch), 1930.

Photo: T. Lux Feininger. Collection Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. Photo credit: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.

(p.59) “Tanzkurven,” Bauhaus student work, and the women students’ daily lives, Grosch’s teachings of gymnastics fused geometric abstraction with New Woman personal expression.

Whereas the Bauhaus masters addressed women’s liberation abstractly and obliquely, the students and junior faculty more readily and directly incorporated its themes, materials, and attitudes in a celebratory way. With the students, the flow between modernism, mass culture, and the body was exceptionally fluid; diverse as their responses to Palucca were, each expressed their admiration for her through visual forms as well as through their own bodies. As we have seen, they tended to highlight moments of movement: climbing on master’s house roofs, enjoying the Charleston in the cafeteria, or participating in a gymnastics class. Even examples that might seem static, such as Comeriner’s typography experiment and Brandt’s photomontage, are filled with lines, words, and geometric shapes on diagonals—a direction that visually implies movement. In all these examples, Bauhaus artists imaged Palucca because they envisaged something of themselves in her; Palucca’s career savvy allowed her to maximize this potential. I would argue that this relationship worked because the pursuit of modernism and the expression of the body, on stage and as an everyday dynamic, were seen by the younger Bauhaus generation as one and the same. Indeed, Palucca’s example demonstrates the centrality of the body in discourses on modernism.

Notes

(1.) Editors’ Note: For Mary Wigman, see the essay by Sabine Huschka in this volume. For Hanya Holm, see the essay by Tresa Randall in this volume.

(2.) On Palucca’s relationship with artists, see Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett, Künstler um Palucca: Austellung zu Ehren des 85. Geburtstages (Dresden: Die Kunstsammlungen, 1987); Ralf Stabel, Tanz, Palucca! Die Verkörperung einer Leidenschaft (Berlin: Henschel, 2001), 47–54.

(3.) Anja Baumhoff, The Gendered World of the Bauhaus. The Politics of Power at the Weimar Republic’s Premier Art Institute, 1919–1932 (New York: Peter Lang, 2001).

(4.) “… Gerade der Umstand, daß alles Allzuindividuelle, Zufällige überwunden und ins Typische gesteigert war, brachte ihr das sonst nicht immer einstimmige Lob unserer damaligen Weimarer Gemeinschaft,” Palucca Tanz Prospekt III (1925/6), 4.

(5.) Oskar Schlemmer, László Moholy-Nagy, and Farkas Molnár, Die Bühne im Bauhaus (Munich: Albert Langen, 1925); Walter Gropius, ed., The Theater of the Bauhaus, trans. Arthur S. Wensinger (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961).

(6.) Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, K. W., Sprengel Museum Hannover, Bühnen Archiv Oskar Schlemmer, eds. Oskar Schlemmer: Tanz Theater Bühne (Stuttgart: Gerd Hatje, 1994); Dirk Scheper, Oskar Schlemmer: Das Triadische Ballett und die Bauhausbühne ( (p.60) Berlin: Akademie der Künste [West], 1988); Tut Schlemmer, ed., Oskar Schlemmer: Briefe und Tagebücher (Munich: Albert Langen-Georg Müller, 1958), later translated as The Letters and Diaries of Oskar Schlemmer (Middletown, Conn., Wesleyan University Press, 1972); Karin von Maur, Oskar Schlemmer, 2 volumes (Munich: Prestel, 1979). For student responses, see Felix Klee, “My Memories of the Weimar Bauhaus,” and Xanti Schawinsky, “bauhaus metamorphosis,” in Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, ed. Eckhard Neumann, trans. Eva Richter and Alba Lorman (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993), 39–45, 155–162.

(7.) Ralf Stabel, IM “Tänzer”: Der Tanz und die Staatssicherheit (Mainz: Schott, 2008), 164–183Stabel, Tanz, Palucca!, 128–237Marion Kant

(8.) Susan Manning, Ecstasy and the Demon: The Dances of Mary Wigman, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 41.

(9.) Publications on Palucca from the German Democratic Republic in the 1970s and 1980s highlighted her Weimar life and work as modernist dancer and muse to visual artists (and, perhaps not uncoincidentally, passed over her involvement in the Third Reich and the problems she encountered with the German Democratic Republic government). See Akademie der Künste der DDR, Palucca. Zum Fünfundachtzigsten. Glückwünsche, Selbstzeugnisse, Äußerungen (Berlin: Akademie der Künste der DDR, 1987); Kupferstich-Kabinett, Künstler um Palucca; Gerhard Schumann, ed. Palucca: Porträt einer Tänzerin (Berlin: Henschel, 1972); Stabel, Tanz, Palucca!, 230–237.

(10.) Kupferstich-Kabinett, Künstler um Palucca, 4–30.

(11.) Will Grohmann, Die Sammlung Ida Bienert, Dresden (Potsdam: Müller and I. Kiepenheuer, 1933).

(12.) Pawel Barchan, “Palucca,” Die Dame 51:3 (Nov. 1923): 7.

(13.) “War es nicht rhythmische Gymnastik, was die junge, hübsche Künstlerin mit dem fabelhaft trainierten Körper und dem Bubikopf auf der Bühne ausführte?” M.R., “Gast-spiel von Gret Palucca im Nationaltheater in Weimar,” Jenaische Zeitung, Jena (March 21, 1925).

(14.) Program, Weimar Nationaltheater, March 18, 1925. Collection SAdK, GPA, no. 265. See also Akademie der Künste der DDR, Palucca. Zum Fünfundachtzigsten, 118.

(15.) Stabel, Tanz, Palucca!, 47–54Susan Laikin Funken-stein, “Engendering Abstraction: Wassily Kandinsky, Gret Palucca, and ‘Dance Curves’” Modernism/modernity 14.3 (2007): 392–394.

(16.) Wassily Kandinsky, “Tanzkurven: Zu den Tänzen der Palucca,” in Kunstblatt (March 1926), translated as “Dance Curves: The Dances of Palucca,” in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, vol. 2 (1922–1943), eds. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982), 519–523.

(17.) Letter to Will Grohmann, Nov. 3, 1925, cited in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, 524 and 904 n. 2.

(p.61) (18.) I discuss the gendered implications of “Dance Curves” at greater length in my article “Engendering Abstraction”: 389–406. The Rudolph photographs and Kandinsky drawings are also illustrated there.

(19.) Marianne Brandt, “Letter to the younger generation,” in Neumann, Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, 100.

(20.) Felix Klee, quoted in Akademie der Künste der DDR, Palucca. Zum Fünfundachtzigsten, 30.

(21.) “tanzabend palucca. volkommen schön! es gibt nichts mehr hinzuzusetzen und das schönste an dieser vollkommenheit ist, dass sie nicht einen gipfel bedeutet, der nun nicht mehr überboten werden kann, sondern dass die entwicklungsmöglichkeit unbegrenzt ist! nach dem eigentlichen abend tanzte sie in der kantine einen einen [sic] charleston, der wirklich für alle ein erlebnis war, die es gesehen haben.” Ise Gropius, Tagebuch, 1924–1928, April 29, 1927, 177. Unpublished diary collection Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin.

(22.) Ute Brüning, Das A und O des Bauhauses. Bauhauswerbung: Schriftbilder, Drucksachen, Ausstellungsdesign (Berlin: Bauhaus-Archiv and Edition Leipzig, 1995), 195.

(23.) Frederic J. Schwartz, “Utopia for Sale: The Bauhaus and Weimar Germany’s Consumer Culture,” in Bauhaus Culture: From Weimar to the Cold War, ed. Kathleen James-Chakraborty (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 119–125.

(24.) On Marianne Brandt’s life and work in photomontage, see Elizabeth Otto, Tempo, Tempo! The Bauhaus Photomontages of Marianne Brandt (Berlin: Jovis, 2006) and Elizabeth Otto, “A ‘Schooling of the Senses’: Post-Dada Visual Experiments in the Bauhaus Photomontages of László Moholy-Nagy and Marianne Brandt,” New German Critique 36:2 (Summer 2009): 89–131.

(25.) Otto, Tempo, Tempo!, 106 and 162 n. 3.

(26.) Tag Gronberg, “Sonia Delaunay’s Simultaneous Fashions and the Modern Woman,” The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris between the Wars, eds. Whitney Chadwick and Tirza True Latimer (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 109–123.

(27.) Otto, Tempo! Tempo!, 137.

(28.) See Mila Ganeva, Women in Weimar Fashion; Discourses and Displays in German Culture, 1918–1933 (Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2008); Janet Ward, Weimar Surfaces: Urban Visual Culture in 1920s Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

(29.) Scholars do not agree upon either the identity of the photographer or the depicted photographer in the two photographs. Although the Kupferstichkabinett in Dresden, which owns the originals, and the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin both believe the photographer is unknown, I would make a case that T. Lux Feininger could be the photographer of these images. He was the dominant chronicler of Bauhaus everyday life, and the fact that his own brother is depicted in the scenes increases the likelihood that it was T. Lux Feininger. Moreover, in written correspondence with the author, T. Lux Feininger noted the photographs’ date as 1931. If this information is correct, it suggests to me that T. Lux Feininger is the photographer of these two images, or at the very least that he had a close understanding of the photographs’ creation. In any event, the informal style indicates to me that a student was the photographer. In terms of the depicted photographer, the Kupferstichkabinett believes him to be Moholy-Nagy, but the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin identifies him as Andreas Feininger. The two men do look somewhat alike, but the photographer appears to be student-aged and with Feininger’s thinner face. Furthermore, in written (p.62) correspondence with the author, T. Lux Feininger identified the depicted photographer as his brother Andreas. T. Lux Feininger, correspondence with the author, postmarked August 7, 2010.

(30.) Neumann, Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, 172.

(31.) Karla Grosch, “Über den Kreis” and “Meine Einstellung zur modernen, bildenden Kunst.” SAdK, GPA, no. 1514 and 116.

(32.) Metal DanceRoseLee Goldberg, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001), 119.

(33.) No author, “Mädchen wollen etwas lernen,” Die Woche (Apr. 4, 1930): 30–33.

Notes:

(1.) Editors’ Note: For Mary Wigman, see the essay by Sabine Huschka in this volume. For Hanya Holm, see the essay by Tresa Randall in this volume.

(2.) On Palucca’s relationship with artists, see Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett, Künstler um Palucca: Austellung zu Ehren des 85. Geburtstages (Dresden: Die Kunstsammlungen, 1987); Ralf Stabel, Tanz, Palucca! Die Verkörperung einer Leidenschaft (Berlin: Henschel, 2001), 47–54.

(3.) Anja Baumhoff, The Gendered World of the Bauhaus. The Politics of Power at the Weimar Republic’s Premier Art Institute, 1919–1932 (New York: Peter Lang, 2001).

(4.) “… Gerade der Umstand, daß alles Allzuindividuelle, Zufällige überwunden und ins Typische gesteigert war, brachte ihr das sonst nicht immer einstimmige Lob unserer damaligen Weimarer Gemeinschaft,” Palucca Tanz Prospekt III (1925/6), 4.

(5.) Oskar Schlemmer, László Moholy-Nagy, and Farkas Molnár, Die Bühne im Bauhaus (Munich: Albert Langen, 1925); Walter Gropius, ed., The Theater of the Bauhaus, trans. Arthur S. Wensinger (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961).

(6.) Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, K. W., Sprengel Museum Hannover, Bühnen Archiv Oskar Schlemmer, eds. Oskar Schlemmer: Tanz Theater Bühne (Stuttgart: Gerd Hatje, 1994); Dirk Scheper, Oskar Schlemmer: Das Triadische Ballett und die Bauhausbühne ( (p.60) Berlin: Akademie der Künste [West], 1988); Tut Schlemmer, ed., Oskar Schlemmer: Briefe und Tagebücher (Munich: Albert Langen-Georg Müller, 1958), later translated as The Letters and Diaries of Oskar Schlemmer (Middletown, Conn., Wesleyan University Press, 1972); Karin von Maur, Oskar Schlemmer, 2 volumes (Munich: Prestel, 1979). For student responses, see Felix Klee, “My Memories of the Weimar Bauhaus,” and Xanti Schawinsky, “bauhaus metamorphosis,” in Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, ed. Eckhard Neumann, trans. Eva Richter and Alba Lorman (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993), 39–45, 155–162.

(7.) Ralf Stabel, IM “Tänzer”: Der Tanz und die Staatssicherheit (Mainz: Schott, 2008), 164–183Stabel, Tanz, Palucca!, 128–237Marion Kant

(8.) Susan Manning, Ecstasy and the Demon: The Dances of Mary Wigman, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 41.

(9.) Publications on Palucca from the German Democratic Republic in the 1970s and 1980s highlighted her Weimar life and work as modernist dancer and muse to visual artists (and, perhaps not uncoincidentally, passed over her involvement in the Third Reich and the problems she encountered with the German Democratic Republic government). See Akademie der Künste der DDR, Palucca. Zum Fünfundachtzigsten. Glückwünsche, Selbstzeugnisse, Äußerungen (Berlin: Akademie der Künste der DDR, 1987); Kupferstich-Kabinett, Künstler um Palucca; Gerhard Schumann, ed. Palucca: Porträt einer Tänzerin (Berlin: Henschel, 1972); Stabel, Tanz, Palucca!, 230–237.

(11.) Will Grohmann, Die Sammlung Ida Bienert, Dresden (Potsdam: Müller and I. Kiepenheuer, 1933).

(12.) Pawel Barchan, “Palucca,” Die Dame 51:3 (Nov. 1923): 7.

(13.) “War es nicht rhythmische Gymnastik, was die junge, hübsche Künstlerin mit dem fabelhaft trainierten Körper und dem Bubikopf auf der Bühne ausführte?” M.R., “Gast-spiel von Gret Palucca im Nationaltheater in Weimar,” Jenaische Zeitung, Jena (March 21, 1925).

(14.) Program, Weimar Nationaltheater, March 18, 1925. Collection SAdK, GPA, no. 265. See also Akademie der Künste der DDR, Palucca. Zum Fünfundachtzigsten, 118.

(15.) Stabel, Tanz, Palucca!, 47–54Susan Laikin Funken-stein, “Engendering Abstraction: Wassily Kandinsky, Gret Palucca, and ‘Dance Curves’” Modernism/modernity 14.3 (2007): 392–394.

(16.) Wassily Kandinsky, “Tanzkurven: Zu den Tänzen der Palucca,” in Kunstblatt (March 1926), translated as “Dance Curves: The Dances of Palucca,” in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, vol. 2 (1922–1943), eds. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982), 519–523.

(17.) Letter to Will Grohmann, Nov. 3, 1925, cited in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, 524 and 904 n. 2.

(p.61) (18.) I discuss the gendered implications of “Dance Curves” at greater length in my article “Engendering Abstraction”: 389–406. The Rudolph photographs and Kandinsky drawings are also illustrated there.

(19.) Marianne Brandt, “Letter to the younger generation,” in Neumann, Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, 100.

(21.) “tanzabend palucca. volkommen schön! es gibt nichts mehr hinzuzusetzen und das schönste an dieser vollkommenheit ist, dass sie nicht einen gipfel bedeutet, der nun nicht mehr überboten werden kann, sondern dass die entwicklungsmöglichkeit unbegrenzt ist! nach dem eigentlichen abend tanzte sie in der kantine einen einen [sic] charleston, der wirklich für alle ein erlebnis war, die es gesehen haben.” Ise Gropius, Tagebuch, 1924–1928, April 29, 1927, 177. Unpublished diary collection Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin.

(22.) Ute Brüning, Das A und O des Bauhauses. Bauhauswerbung: Schriftbilder, Drucksachen, Ausstellungsdesign (Berlin: Bauhaus-Archiv and Edition Leipzig, 1995), 195.

(23.) Frederic J. Schwartz, “Utopia for Sale: The Bauhaus and Weimar Germany’s Consumer Culture,” in Bauhaus Culture: From Weimar to the Cold War, ed. Kathleen James-Chakraborty (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 119–125.

(24.) On Marianne Brandt’s life and work in photomontage, see Elizabeth Otto, Tempo, Tempo! The Bauhaus Photomontages of Marianne Brandt (Berlin: Jovis, 2006) and Elizabeth Otto, “A ‘Schooling of the Senses’: Post-Dada Visual Experiments in the Bauhaus Photomontages of László Moholy-Nagy and Marianne Brandt,” New German Critique 36:2 (Summer 2009): 89–131.

(26.) Tag Gronberg, “Sonia Delaunay’s Simultaneous Fashions and the Modern Woman,” The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris between the Wars, eds. Whitney Chadwick and Tirza True Latimer (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 109–123.

(28.) See Mila Ganeva, Women in Weimar Fashion; Discourses and Displays in German Culture, 1918–1933 (Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2008); Janet Ward, Weimar Surfaces: Urban Visual Culture in 1920s Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

(29.) Scholars do not agree upon either the identity of the photographer or the depicted photographer in the two photographs. Although the Kupferstichkabinett in Dresden, which owns the originals, and the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin both believe the photographer is unknown, I would make a case that T. Lux Feininger could be the photographer of these images. He was the dominant chronicler of Bauhaus everyday life, and the fact that his own brother is depicted in the scenes increases the likelihood that it was T. Lux Feininger. Moreover, in written correspondence with the author, T. Lux Feininger noted the photographs’ date as 1931. If this information is correct, it suggests to me that T. Lux Feininger is the photographer of these two images, or at the very least that he had a close understanding of the photographs’ creation. In any event, the informal style indicates to me that a student was the photographer. In terms of the depicted photographer, the Kupferstichkabinett believes him to be Moholy-Nagy, but the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin identifies him as Andreas Feininger. The two men do look somewhat alike, but the photographer appears to be student-aged and with Feininger’s thinner face. Furthermore, in written (p.62) correspondence with the author, T. Lux Feininger identified the depicted photographer as his brother Andreas. T. Lux Feininger, correspondence with the author, postmarked August 7, 2010.

(31.) Karla Grosch, “Über den Kreis” and “Meine Einstellung zur modernen, bildenden Kunst.” SAdK, GPA, no. 1514 and 116.

(32.) Metal DanceRoseLee Goldberg, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001), 119.

(33.) No author, “Mädchen wollen etwas lernen,” Die Woche (Apr. 4, 1930): 30–33.