Stage experiments at the Bauhaus Dance of the New Man

Figurines of the “Triadic Ballet”, reconstruction of Senac University Center, Sao Paulo
Figurines of the “Triadic Ballet”, reconstruction of Senac University Center, Sao Paulo | Photo: Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

  • The synthesis of machine and the “new man” on stage or the whole stage as machine? The exhibition “Human – Space – Machine. Stage Experiments at the Bauhaus” shows concepts and works on theatre, dance and space at the stage workshop of the Bauhaus.

Shrouded in grotesque-looking fabric masks, marines fire a canon; a telephone operator in front of a switchboard inserts cables; dozens of workers synchronously assemble technical devices: right at the entrance of the exhibition, documentary photographs such as these from the 1910s and 1920s transport visitors to a time when industrial standardization and the mechanization of the body were re-ordering movement and space. The exhibition in the historical building of the Bauhaus in Dessau is entitled Human – Space – Machine, and it presents the new artistic interpretations of theatre, stage and dance as a response to the technically conditioned reorientation of the man at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Organization of form and movement

This is the first time an exhibition has been expressly devoted to the theatre work of the Bauhaus. After Walter Gropius founded the stage workshop in 1921, Oskar Schlemmer, the head of the stage workshop, pressed forward with stage experiments under the influence of László Moholy-Nagy. It is these three Bauhaus teachers who complement the prologue of the exhibition with a radio-play collage entitled Trialog, a fictional conversation that consists of authentic quotations from the three main figures of the Bauhaus stage and gives an impression of the then prevalent ideas. While the architect Gropius saw stage work as “inwardly related to the work of architecture as an orchestral unity”, Schlemmer and Moholy-Nagy focussed instead on the connection between man and technology as the guarantor for the design of the “New Man”. Schlemmer saw theatrical dance as the “starting-point of renewal”, through which not only the corporeal technique of dance would be put at the service of man but also “the lamentations over mechanization” supplanted by “joy in precision”; and Moholy-Nagy spoke similarly of the “good understanding of the machine” as the foundation of a new “organization of form and movement”.
 

TRIALOGUE

Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Schlemmer in a fictional conversation about modern theatre.
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Torsten Blume (director), Torsten Blume and Christian Hiller (design, composition of quotations from the originals), speaker: Raphael Kuehler (Oskar Schlemmer), Steffen Klewar (Walter Gropius), Marton Peter Nagy (László Moholy-Nagy), Felix Lehmann (production management, cut), Jaike Hermann (project coordination)

A production of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation for the exhibition “Man-Space-Machine. Stage Experiments at the Bauhaus”, 2013

By means of abstraction

Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet, first performed in 1922 in Stuttgart, is certainly one of best-known and most striking examples of the aesthetics of a new stage understanding influenced by Bauhaus teachers and students that aimed at bringing man and machine together. In the exhibition, the replicas of the ballet costumes produced by students from São Paulo make plain the geometrical and abstract character that is a result of this connection. The exhibition, curated by Torsten Blume and Christian Hiller, amply shows that the formal language of the Bauhaus also found its reflection in the stage workshop: lighting effects by Schlemmer, Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, drawings with figurines and stage sketches by Andor Weininger, Xanti Schawinsky and Joost Schmidt, and photographs with dancers in action document how the influence of various trends at the art school met in the concepts and performances of the Bauhaus stage. The idea of presenting human beings on stage as adaptations of machines (as in Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet) soon encountered the more radical concept of a quasi-mechanical stage on which there are only forms, colours, light, sound and movement (as in Kurt Schmidt’s Mechanical Ballet from 1923). Walter Gropius’s Totaltheater transforms the stage during the entire performance into an architectural machine whose constant changing makes the viewer an actor in the events.
 

The exibition Mensch – Raum – Maschine (i.e. “Human – Space – Machine”), took place in Dessau December 2013 to April 2014, in Høvikodden, Norway, from May to September 2014 and at in Seoul, South Korea from October 2014 to January 2015.

 
Two DVDs about stage and dance at the Bauhaus were released in the Edition Bauhaus parallel to the exhibition Mensch – Raum – Maschine. Both films can be found in the film catalogue of the Goethe-Institut.