A fragment from "Theatre at the Weimar Bauhaus"

(Droste, Magdalena, Bauhaus Archive. Bauhaus. Berlin : Taschen, [1990]. ISBN 978-3-8228-5002-2)

The first test of the theatre workshop was the occasion of the exhibition of 1923. Students had prepared a number of their own productions, but it was a performance of Schlemmer’s “Triadic Ballet” which stole the show. Schlemmer had been working on the ballet since 1914 and it had been premièred at Stuttgart in 1922. It was not a ballet in the conventional sense, but a combination of dance, costume, pantomime and music; the dancers were dressed as figurines. “The very title was a creation itself… derived from trias = the number three (triad), it was a three-part dance consisting of three dance sequences whose mood progressed from joking to serious. Between these two extremes lay the “Dance of Triad”, a symphonic composition of twelve dance scenes, each involving one, two or three dancers, with a gradual transition from the cheerful burlesque of the “Yellow Sequence”, via the dignified atmosphere of the “Pink Sequence”, to the mystical-heroic sphere of the “Black Sequence”. Schlemmer’s “Triadic Ballet” is really an anti-ballet, a form of “dance Constructivism” which could only have been created by a painter or a sculptor. The origins and vehicles of expression were here no longer the human body and its movements, but instead specific figurative inventions, the disguise – one could almost call it a chrysalis – was so dominant that body and movement had to “incorporate” it like a sculptural shell.

A number of students [from Bauhaus Theatre workshop] wishing to stage their own work assembled under the name “Group B”. Their formal solutions in particular retained many traces of Schlemmer’s theatrical world, but the content was distinctly their own. While Schlemmer’s artistic goals were always metaphysical – namely to bring basic elements of form into harmony with man and space – his students placed greater emphasis upon mechanisation and automation.

These students produced a “Mechanical Cabaret”,premièred at the Bauhaus, and a “Mechanical Ballet” which was also staged. The aim was a direct illustration of the Zeitgeist: “Mechanical Ballet” sought to give the technical spirit of our age new forms of expression through dance… the machine principle (was) presented and translated into form of dance.  A “uniform, constant rhythm was selected with no changes of tempo in order to underline the monotony of the mechanical.”

The musician and music critic Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt described the background to the first performance. László Moholy-Nagy had invited him to come to the Bauhaus, where he met, among others, Kurt Schmidt.

“After the first communal meal, I accompanied Kurt Schmidt to his studio. It was full of man-high constructions of cardboard, wire, canvas and wood, all in elementary forms: circles, triangles, squares, rectangles, trapezia, and naturally all in the primary colours yellow, red and blue. Schmidt put on a red square, fastening it with leather straps in such a way that he disappeared behind it. Two of his colleagues did the same with a circle and a triangle. These strange geometric figures, their wearers completely invisible behind them, then danced an eerie round. There was an old piano against the wall. It refused to stay in tune and sounded appalling. I improvised a few chords and aggressive rhythms. The cardboard figures immediately began to react. The abstract dance of square, circle and triangle was performed ad lib. After about a quarter of an hour, Kurt Schmidt got out of his square, rather out of breath but thoroughly satisfied. I had instinctively guessed and performed something he had wanted but only vaguely imagined: a primitive accompaniment roughly corresponding to the primary geometric forms… From now on we rehearsed every day, from morning till night… After two or three weeks the programme of “Mechanical Ballet”, or rather the “Mechanical Cabaret”, of which it was part, had been created.”

“The Man at the Control Panel” also confronted the relationship between man and machine. The creation – the machine – conquers its creator. The “new man” has become a “marionette”, “ruled by a higher, non-human and untameable power.”