2019 celebrates 100 years of Bauhaus. Widely known for their iconic design and contributions to the art world, Bauhaus concepts also extended into dance. Not as well known as their crafts, the dances nevertheless, encompassed the values and constructs of the workshop: modernity, geometry, experimentation and functionality. The most famous and most studied dance being Das triadisches Ballett (The Triadic Ballet).
Steeped in the artistic and revolutionary concepts, it also mesmerizes with its psychedelic, whimsical oddities that would not be out of place in a modern avant garde production. Oskar Schlemmer, a Bauhaus painter, sculptor and teacher created the Triadic Ballet in 1922. The score was composed by Paul Hindemith, and only eight minutes of the original score survive. Schlemmer described his work as “artistic metaphysical mathematics”.
The entire work is based on threes: three dancers, three plot-free acts with twelve choreographies and 18 costumes. The three acts play with the color theory so central to the Bauhaus work. The first act is yellow, second pink and final black. The yellow set is very cheerful and burlesque-like, the pinkish theme is more ceremonial and festive, and the final is much more mystical and esoteric. Schlemmer plays with the Nietzschean Apollonian and Dionysian ideas of the strict, controlled and reserved versus the more emotional and expressive.
As with all of the work of the Bauhaus, there was a desire to free and dismantle the old forms of the art form, stripped to the basic and bare components. Schlemmer used ballet and pantomime, opposing the excesses of the opera and theater, even shunning the tiara and tutu. Funnily enough though, his Triadic Ballet costumes are so elaborate and unconventional, they distract from the movements and take on a life of their own.
The mechanical and geometric costumes explore the human form and movements in unique and trippy ways. They also play with these modern themes that were encompassing Europe in the early 20th century: industrialization and machinery and relationship between humans and machine.
Due to the Bauhaus’ controversial and groundbreaking work, they became targets of the Nazi destruction and the school was closed in 1933. Schlemmer was forced to leave teaching and his work was deemed “degenerate art”, a lot of it destroyed during the war. He died of a heart attack at only age 54 in 1943.
The beauty of the legacy of Bauhaus, is that the work is always being revamped, reinterpreted and renewed. The Triadic Ballet was no different. Reconstructed versions began appearing in the 1960s, and have continued ever since. Choreographers and dance historians piece together interpretations using Schlemmers notes and drawings. This video of the 1970 reconstruction by Margarete Hastings, Franz Schömbs and Georg Verden shows the results of that work, and was one of the earliest and well-known reconstructions. With the centennial of Bauhaus, the Bayerisches Staatsballett has been performing the revival of the ballet.
So unique were the costumes and designs, that they provided the inspiration for films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust looks. With Halloween approaching, it might be a good source of costume ideas for art buffs as well.
The appeal and impact of Schlemmer’s ballet is yet again another demonstration of how powerful, far-reaching and noteworthy the Bauhaus legacy is. It penetrates across countless aspects of our visual world and culture. So modern and intriguing in its own time, it continues to provide fuel and stoke creativity a hundred years on.