Germanic Pantomime: Expressionist Pantomime

Pantomime: The History and Metamorphosis of a Theatrical Ideology: Table of Contents

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Expressionist Pantomime

But Levetzow’s writings did accurately proclaim a blossoming, if not exactly a Renaissance, of pantomime in the Austro-German theater. What Levetzow did not acknowledge was that the blossoming depended on Austro-German theater abandoning Pierrot and the exhausted French obsession with preserving pantomime within the commedia format. The German Frank Wedekind (1864-1918) was perhaps the first to grasp this point. Pantomime, ballet, and circus inspired him when he visited Paris in 1890, and in the mid-1890s, he composed four pantomimes, all with fantastic fairytale or rococo settings, numerous flamboyantly exaggerated characters, and manifold elaborate costumes, props, and musical effects (cf. Vollmer 2011: 176-206). The production scale of these pantomimes easily exceeded that of any of the Cercle Funambulesque productions, but Wedekind, unlike so many of the Austrians, diligently worked at getting his pantomimes performed. The composer Richard Strauss briefly attempted to write music for a couple of Wedekind’s pantomimes, but when he lost interest, Wedekind devised his own musical arrangements (Daub 2016: 274). The most popular of these pantomimes has been Die Kaiserin von Neufundland (1897, but composed around 1895), which, containing thirteen major roles that cannot be double cast and a great many smaller roles, requires the resources of a quite large theater company. Didi Zedeus, the royal physician to Filissa, Empress of New Foundland, recommends that she marry to improve her health. She reviews suitors: an adoring poet, Napoleon, a scientist-explorer, but she swoons instantly for Eugen Holthoff, “the strongest man in the world.” A long scene involves him lifting increasingly heavy weights and demanding more and more money to lift them, while Filissa and her finance minister extract the money from merchants, workers, and beggars. Filissa becomes so “demonic” with passion for Holthoff that her ministers lock her up in a cage and send her away with the strong man. The final scene unfolds in a dance hall “of the lowest rank.” Eugen gambles with the money he has received from Filissa, but he doesn’t win. He dances with Laura, but another woman, Hulda, enters and succeeds in seducing him. Filissa appears and signifies her disappointment in the dissipated Holthoff, who ignores her. Laura and Hulda struggle, while Filissa attempts to restore the strong Holthoff by urging him to lift a weight. But Holthoff, in an alcoholic daze, ends up dropping the weight on his foot, while Filissa, profoundly disgusted with him and herself, strangles herself with her own hair (Vollmer 2012a: 74-104; cf. Segel 1987: 168-171; Wedekind 1982: 233-267). It is a comic tale of degradation. The intersection of erotic passion and self-destruction was a theme that Wedekind developed more elaborately and intensely in his Lulu plays. “We have in this pantomime a quite broadly drawn caricature of passionate love, in which erotic satisfaction and the elevation of the comic are treated as equal: balanced weights” (Kutscher 1922: 310-311). It is astonishing that Wedekind was able to tell this story entirely through pantomimic action, much of which derives from the assumption that sexual attraction is a kind of circus contest. The most innovative feature of his aesthetic is the idea of building drama around the conflict between “strong” and “weak” pantomimic actions. Characters bow and kneel, summon and dismiss with hand waves, lift, pull, and restrain, rise proudly or sink impotently, crawl or dance wildly, bite and kiss. Holthoff picks up the poet and dangles him out a window; Laura and Hulda engage in a wrestling match; Filissa carelessly stabs a page to death before she herself is thrown into a cage; the dance hall owner throws out a drunken sailor and then grovels on the floor for money that Holthoff contemptuously sweeps off the table. Strong and weak actions co-exist in all of the characters: Holthoff may be the strongest man in the world and Filissa the woman with the greatest passion, but both end up utterly powerless and submissive to an overwhelming, self-destructive masochism. With his Wagnerian use of musical effects, Wedekind achieved a complexity of ensemble pantomimic action that almost no one had managed to imagine since the days of Cuvelier and Viganò. 

But Die Kaiserin von Neufundland found a longer lasting life on stage than any other pantomime from the era. In a truncated form, with music by his song writing partner Hans Richard Weinhöppel (1867-1928) the piece had its premiere in March 1902 at the Munich cabaret Die Elf Scharfrichter, where Wedekind was one of  “the eleven executioners” or directors. The production enjoyed numerous performances before moving, in 1903, to the Überbrettl cabaret in Berlin, where, as in Munich, the enterprise was in a state of financial collapse. The Munich Kammerspiele mounted a full-scale production in 1923, with music by Friedrich Hollaender (1896-1976) and Hollaender’s wife, Blandine Ebinger (1899-1993), playing the Empress and Carola Neher (1900-1942) playing the male role Count Lea Giba, which inaugurated her preference for playing male roles or performing female roles in male attire. The Raimund Theater in Vienna staged the work in 1924, the Leipzig Stadttheater in 1929. Hans Harbeck (1887-1968) turned Wedekind’s scenario into a three-act play in 1926, and Austrian composer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) wrote an orchestral accompaniment for the scenario in 1927, but the production history for either of these works remains obscure. In 1978, Henning Brauel (b. 1940) composed a much larger orchestral score for a performance of the pantomime at the Bavarian State Opera. Before this, in 1972, the Wroclow Pantomime Theater, under the direction of Henryk Tomaszewski, had produced a version of Wedekind’s scenario under the title The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa, although when the company brought the production to New York City in 1976, New York Times theater critic Clive Barnes (1927-2008) condemned the show as a boring, sexist “disaster” (NYT 24 Feb 1976: 29). The English experimental writer David Gale (b. 1944) turned the Wedekind scenario into a libretto for an extravagantly grotesque BBC television opera, The Empress (1994), with avant-gardish music by Orlando Gough (b. 1953) and directed by Jane Thorburn, but the singing in this production seems superfluous and even a pointless impediment to physical movement.

Despite his obvious, if expensive, gift for pantomimic narrative, Wedekind wrote no more pantomimes after 1895. He instead devoted himself to the writing of talk-besotted plays and occasionally verse and short stories. He never explained why he abandoned pantomime, but it is possible that he felt his pantomimic imagination had become too pornographic for the censorship-plagued theater of his time. One of his early (1892-1893) pantomimes was Der Mückenprinz, which was never performed. However, in his novella Mine-Haha, written in 1895 but not published until 1903, Wedekind inserted Der Mückenprinz, which the female narrator ascribes to “Ademar,” whom she meets ten years later when she is twenty-two. The narrator describes her experiences at a mysterious school for “the bodily education of girls.” From the age of four, students learn, from strict female instructors, only dancing, pantomime, acrobatics, and singing, with no knowledge of the world outside of the “park” in which the school is located. At the age of eleven or twelve, they perform a pantomime, Der Mückenprinz, in which they play adult characters of both sexes, including an old magician and male and female “mosquitos.” The action takes place in a fairytale world. Prinz Lenore captures a male and a female dancing mosquito and imprisons them in a cage; these actions qualify him to love and then marry Ada, the daughter of the magician Hächi-Bümbüm. Lenore and Ada perform various erotic actions, kissing, lying together, undressing, and marrying, surrounded by court ladies, pages, and farm girls in glamorous costumes. Lenore then imprisons Ada in the cage and releases a winged mosquito, with whom he begin an erotic relation on the golden bed while also pursuing one of the court ladies. The mosquito pierces Lenore as he sleeps, causing his belly to swell as if he is pregnant, while the caged Ada claps her hands. Lenore summons a physician to deal with his swollen belly, but “nothing comes out” of his body. So Lenore beheads him. Hächi-Bümbüm then appears to release his daughter, but Lenore instead imprisons him in the cage with Ada and the other mosquito. While Lenore surrounds himself with more court ladies, the magician manages to break out of the cage, free his daughter, and turn the mosquito into a human. With a signal, Hächi-Bümbüm summons a swarm of mosquitos, who peck Lenore to death. As the court pages and the farm girls perform a bizarre dance, the magician sends his daughter to bed with her new child. The girls perform this pantomime before an audience of cheering men who remain invisible to them, and none of the girls has any awareness of an erotic aspect to the performance. After the girls perform the pantomime 200 times, by which time they have become pubescent, the school releases them into the world without further consideration. Der Mückenprinz is apparently a kind of allegorical satire that uses the fairytale setting to blur distinctions between childhood and adulthood by treating “innocent” erotic actions as simultaneously pornographic. The piece represents the idea of a pantomime that is “unperformable,” not because it asks too much of theater, but because it is performable only within a clandestine, male-controlled moral environment completely isolated from what most people think of as “society.” Yet the pantomime in Mine-Haha seems to have provoked much more abundant scholarly commentary than any other Wedekind pantomime, only partly because, as an element of a literary text, it is more “accessible” than the actual performance of any Wedekind pantomime. Some commentators suggest that the story and the pantomime form a satire on the “education” or indoctrination of girls to become agile, silent, unknowing, “innocent” performers in male sexual fantasies of power over the opposite sex—that is, “unknowingly,” the innocent-pornographic pantomime of sexual domination actually occurs everywhere within “society” (cf. e.g. Kolb 2009: 224-240; Hafemann 2010: 80-85; Gutjahr 2001: 94-97; Boa 1987: 192-195). But with Der Mückenprinz, Wedekind probably reached the limit of his pantomimic imagination as circumscribed by the society in which he lived; to sustain his gift for pantomime, he needed to live in a different society where the “silent” perfection of “bodily education” was not, in his mind, synonymous with powerless wordlessness. 

 The Austro-German abandonment of Pierrot proceeded with Hermann Bahr. Der liebe Augustin (1901) was an ambitious, three-act allegorical extravaganza about the legendary Viennese bagpiper Marx Augustin (1643-1685), who struggles to maintain his dignity, generosity, affability, and then his life in a crass, rapacious, plague-ridden Vienna of 1679, where money controls all motives for action and he must negotiate with the devil to find any relief from his miserable poverty (Bahr 1902). The piece, written for the opening of the Jung-Wiener-Theater zum liebe Augustin, a cabaret launched by Felix Salten, apparently suffered a dismal production and has never been performed since, although Bahr tried unsuccessfully to interest Richard Strauss in composing music to accompany it (Schaller-Presser 2006: 8; Vollmer 2011: 258-260). A cabaret theater probably lacked the resources to stage the scenario. Performance of Der liebe Augustin requires a large cast, big crowd scenes, several dances, intricate musical cues, and spectacular scenographic effects, including the on stage transformation of an old female beggar into a formidable male devil. It was apparently a very costly venture to defeat Pierrot. But in adopting the folk figure of Augustin as his protagonist, Bahr, despite having repudiated his Pierrot of the 1892 Die Pantomime vom braven Mann, seemed to be seeking a distinctly Viennese Pierrot around which to build a uniquely Austrian pantomime aesthetic. This idea sank into complete oblivion. With Das schöne Mädchen (1902), Bahr’s approach to pantomime was overtly modern and devoid of folkloric elements. The one-act scenario unfolds in a highly naturalistic manner, and nearly a fifth of the text describes in great detail the lobby of the grand hotel where the action takes place, which includes scenes occuring on a second storey. The protagonist is a tired “beautiful girl” who works as a servant in the hotel. The action depicts the efforts of several male hotel staff and guests to impose their sexual desires on her and her success in eluding them while performing her duties. At the end, as the church bells strike midnight, she takes a deep breath and steps out into the street, with her arms upraised “longingly” as the moon shines on the roof windows (Vollmer 2012a: 150-155). The piece largely shows how different men, from different positions within the hotel lobby, watch the girl and treat her as an object of discreet but persistent surveillance, even though she scarcely seems aware of them except when called upon to perform a routine hotel service. But the piece also places the spectator in the position of being complicit in the surveillance of the hotel lobby, for the male characters do not seem aware of each other as agents of surveillance of the girl. Although Bahr indicates the use of subtle, Wagnerian musical leitmotivs to differentiate the male characters, Das schöne Mädchen is an exceptionally “quiet” pantomime insofar as all the actions are subdued and without any flamboyance: “The beautiful girl appears in the room of the Englishman, which is on the first floor left of the corridor, fixes the bed and starts to close the window. The Englishman approaches her, taps her on the shoulder, then she turns around, with a questioning look, as he draws from his briefcase a five gulden coin, holds it before her, and when she refuses it, he draws a second, third, and fourth.” Vollmer (2011: 262) does not regard the piece as a “genuine pantomime” because the characters occasionally mime conversation that the spectator cannot hear, as in a silent film. But this assessment underestimates the innovative quality of Bahr’s pantomime, for in this piece Bahr widened the definition of pantomimic action. He grasped that the performance of seemingly ordinary actions or chores turned dramatic when they became objects of surveillance; in this respect, his thinking resembled that of Bess Mensendieck. Das schöne Mädchen requires a documentary style of pantomimic action to show how surveillance is the basis of sexual harassment and how a “beautiful girl” cannot escape it, whether she is aware of it or not, even if her observers are unaware of it, and even if the spectator is aware of it. It is a quite complex and utterly strange piece of theater without requiring the far greater theatrical resources that Wedekind, Schnitzler, or Beer-Hofmann expected for their pantomimes, and far away from the Pierrot model of pantomime, yet it never seems to have received any performance, even though Hugo Felix (1866-1934) composed music for it. The piece was the second in a trilogy of pantomimes, under the title “Existences,” that also included Der liebe Augustin. The scenario for the third pantomime, Der Minister (1903), is extremely difficult to obtain. Vollmer describes the one-act piece as a satiric farce, in which variously caricatured politicians and bureaucrats approach a bored minister with petitions. The action shows that the minister’s approval of petitions depends on the success of petitioners in bestowing on him small gifts of hedonistic pleasure, such as cognac and cigars. “It is not the common good that lies in the minister’s heart and for which he should bear concern, but his own personal well-being […]. The satisfaction of bodily pleasures is for him more important than the burdensome, always repetitive offical responsibilities” (Vollmer 2011: 267). But like Das schöne MädchenDer Minister apparently has never been performed, and even its publication has sunk into oblivion. Yet despite its failure to have any impact on theater history, Bahr’s trilogy remains important for reinforcing the idea that the “existence” of an Austro-German pantomimic imagination resulted from using material that did not depend on Pierrot and the commedia format. After Der Minister, however, Bahr wrote no more pantomime scenarios. No doubt his inability to interest cabarets (for which he claimed he wrote his pantomimes) in staging his trilogy contributed to his reluctance to continue working in the genre. But other projects and opportunities persistently distracted him, and above all he lacked an overriding sense of commitment to pantomime to make a more powerful contribution to the art. 

Perhaps the strongest Austrian commitment to pantomime came from Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), a precocious, aristocratic personality whose mandarin approach to pantomime emerged from a cautious, highly intellectual philosophical framework that actually prevented his commitment from being greater. Unlike other pantomime enthusiasts within the almost entirely Jewish Jung Wien group, Hofmannsthal was rigorously skeptical of the capacity of speech and even language to construct semantically or aesthetically significant representations of the world, an attitude he articulated suavely in the famous story “Letter of Lord Chandos” (1902), published in the Berlin newspaper Der Tag. The story masquerades as a 1603 letter of the fictional Lord Chandos to the real Francis Bacon, in which he elegantly explains why, after producing works of literary genius, he no longer wishes to write or even say anything, for “the language in which I might be able not only to write but to think is neither Latin nor English, neither Italian nor Spanish, but a language none of whose words is known to me, a language in which inanimate things speak to me and wherein I may one day have to justify myself before an unknown judge” (Hofmannsthal 2008: 79). Literary critics tend to treat the story as a kind of theory or at least an exalted symptom of the Viennese Sprachkrise at the beginning of the twentieth century. But Hofmannsthal showed less concern with revealing the limits of language to represent a transfigurative beauty than with the power of language to reach a threshold of a bodily reality that was attainable only through performance. Pantomime, rather than dance, enabled language to reach that threshold insofar as pantomime centered on physical actions, rather than movements, and insofar as pantomime was the bodily interpretation of a written scenario. In his 1911 essay “Über die Pantomime,” Hofmannsthal proposed that pantomime retrieved an archaic, repressed image of bodily performance unfiltered or unveiled by language or any gestural vocabulary, as in dance. Hofmannsthal identified in pantomime a “pure gesture” that did not depend on language or a code to communicate the “true personality” of the body and to reveal a religious quality of symbolism (Hofmannsthal 1979a: 502-505). He asserted that pantomimic gestures were unique to the body that performed them, unlike dance, which regulated the movement of the body through steps and positions imposed upon the performer, although he seems, as in a 1910 letter to the dancer Grete Wiesenthal, to have adopted Mallarmé’s idea of pantomimic gesture as an enigmatic “hieroglyph” (Vollmer 2011: 34-35; Hofmannsthal 1979a: 505). On a theoretical level, Hofmannsthal’s ideas about pantomime were neither original nor distinctive in articulating a modern philosophy of bodily performance. Vollmer (2011: 34-36) links Hofmannsthal’s thinking about pantomime to philosophical ruminations on language, silence, and gesture by heavyweight intellectuals like Friedrich Nietzsche and Wilhelm Wundt, but Hofmannsthal was simply too uncertain in his view of pantomime to produce a theoretical statement that was anything more than a cautious, even shy justification for writing pantomime scenarios. He never stopped writing spoken dramas and opera libretti, and his ventures into pantomime depended more on his collaborations with performers like Grete Wiesenthal than on a governing aesthetic theory of bodily performance. 

Inspired by Lucian’s essay on pantomime, Hofmannsthal wrote his first pantomime, the one-act Der Schüler (1901), for performance at Salten’s cabaret Zum lieben Augustin, but the performance never took place there nor at a subsequently scheduled performance, with specially composed music, at Wolzogen’s Berlin Überbrettl cabaret in 1902, and Hofmannsthal even withdrew the scenario from publication, although the piece has nevertheless provoked a great deal of scholarly commentary that Vollmer helpfully summarizes in his own lengthy discussion of it (2011: 111-136; cf. Daviau 1968). Originally Hofmannsthal set the piece in the home of a rabbi living in the mystical realm of the sixteenth century Prague ghetto. But in the revised version, he removed all references to Judaism and made the rabbi a master alchemist, “Der Meister,” although even without the Jewish references, the piece still retains a peculiarly Jewish atmosphere of supernatural scholasticism. In his gloomy, crypt-like home, Der Meister, immersed in the esoteric speculations of his many arcane books, uses the magical power of a ring on his index finger to command his own shadow and make the shadow his servant, who obediently kisses the master’s foot, a very complex scenic effect that perhaps has yet to be achieved in the theater realistically. The Master’s daughter, Taube, appears and interrupts the peculiar séance, but the Master’s relation to his daughter is also peculiar: he asks her to dance for him, which she refuses to do, and he forbids her to see a man who stirs her affections and never appears. The Master’s student desires Taube, but she scorns him, and the Master becomes impatient with him because he does not understand a passage in one of the arcane books. The student plots with an unsavory character, Strolch, to murder the Master: Strolch will obtain the Master’s treasure, and the student will gain the Master’s ring. Taube, however, disguises herself as the Master so that she may rendezvous with her boyfriend. Strolch mistakes Taube for the Master and stabs her to death. When the student realizes the fatal mistake, he grabs the dagger and pursues Strolch. When the Master enters, he sees himself sitting at the desk reading his book, his shadow, to which he bows and dances around. “The phantom seems immersed in the sacred book, paying no attention to him, and he disappears full of awe into the alcove, leaving behind the silent reader” (Vollmer 2011: 105-115). Hofmannsthal writes some sections of the scenario as dialogue, but it is not clear if the actors actually speak the words or find gestures that convey the sense of the words. But the piece evokes a spectral atmosphere of profound misperception, almost hallucinatory, in which the characters, seeking a condition higher or “beyond” their sequestered world, completely misread each other’s intentions, desires, and identities. Even the Master, striving to conjure a self that is obedient to his will, in the end can no longer recognize “himself.” The piece also conveys the idea that a life devoted to reading, to deciphering the secrets embedded in writing, creates a phantom “self” within the reader, an “awesome,” destructive self-perception, for what is “beyond” the magical writing is only death. Despite anticipating the popular German and Jewish preoccupation, during the era of Expressionism, with Jewish mysticism, particularly with the figure of the golem created by Rabbi Loew in sixteenth century Prague, Der Schüler remains unperformed. The technical challenge of the shadow scene is not a sufficient reason for this absence, nor is Hofmannsthal’s ambivalence about the Jewish atmosphere. Hofmannsthal feared the piece too closely resembled Beer-Hofmann’s Pierrot Hypnotiseur and was thus too derivative. As a result, Vollmer traces what he sees as connections between Der Schüler and the commedia tradition (2011: 111). But these connections only obscure the extent to which the pantomime radically deviates from the tradition; Hofmannsthal’s removal of the Jewish references was an attempt to make the piece less radical. This piece, along with so many Austro-German pantomimes, was too radical in its performance aesthetic for the institutionalized theater of the time or subsequently, for that theater culture did not believe in a “crisis of language.” On the contrary, the theater world did not believe the society would take it seriously as a source of great intellectual power without speech, without the utterances of many voices, and without the speaking of far too many words to keep bodies from acting too strangely. Such was the ideology toward which Austro-German pantomime, as a product of a “language crisis,” registered skepticism: the pervasive belief that the strength of nationalist feeling depended on “giving voice” in abundant measure to the unique and diverse elements within the language(s) that defined a nation, and that the chief function of theater was to affirm this belief—with an incredible amount of talk on the stage that would have been almost impossible for anyone in the Roman Empire to imagine. Perhaps by eliminating the Jewish references from Der Schüler, Hofmannsthal felt he was making pantomime more valuable to the affirmation of nationalist sentiment than to the dissemination of skepticism toward nationalism itself (cf., Gilman 2009: 54-73). 

 Suffused with uncertainty about the mission of pantomime, Hofmannsthal took his time attempting his next pantomime, Amor und Psyche, which he wrote a decade later, in 1910. During that time, he achieved distinction within European literary culture for adapting or rewriting (that is, streamlining) classic dramas by Sophocles and Thomas Otway. He also began his famous collaboration with the composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949) by turning his own version of Elektra (1903) into a libretto for Strauss’s violently modernist and hugely popular opera (1908). Hofmannsthal’s return to pantomime, however, was the result of another collaboration with the dancer Grete Wiesenthal (1885-1970), a prominent figure in the upper reaches of Viennese cultural life who befriended nearly all of the most significant artists, authors, journalists, and musicians in the city (Fiedler 2009: 127-128). A member of the Vienna Opera ballet corps since 1902, she achieved distinction by performing waltzes with her two sisters, but her ambitions carried beyond infusing the cozy, decorous nostalgia of Viennese waltz lyricism with a carefree, uncorseted exuberance. She began performing solo dances in 1908, but she lacked the imagination to construct large narratives through dance or pantomime. The same year, she appeared as the tragic Dwarf while her sister Elsa was the beloved Infantin in a Viennese production of Franz Schreker’s ballet-pantomime Der Geburtstag der Infantin, based on a story by Oscar Wilde and set in seventeenth century Spain (Steiert 2009: 168-170). Max Reinhardt recruited her for the Berlin production of the extravagant fantasy pantomime Sumurun in 1910, although he cast her sister Bertha for the role in the film version made the same year. Wiesenthal’s elegant, melancholic physical beauty inspired many artists, including Hofmannsthal, who, having first seen her perform in 1907, wrote a letter, then a poem and then a fictional letter to her that captured her attention. He never developed a closer friendship with any other performer, and she referred to him as her “true spiritual dance partner” (Schmid 2009: 151). She motivated his return to pantomime. Yet they collaborated for only about six years, beginning with Amor und Psyche. In separate accounts, Hofmannsthal and Wiesenthal described how they composed the scenario in a woodland area near Vienna in the summer of 1910: Wiesenthal danced and Hofmannsthal incorporated what he saw into the text or he gave her words and she interpreted them in pantomime (Schmid 2009: 152-153). In effect, Wiesenthal was also an author of Austrian pantomime insofar as certain pantomimes would not have existed without her participation. 

Amor und Psyche unfolds in three brief scenes, all of which take place between a “radiant twilight” and the onset of night in the room of a villa illuminated by mysterious lamps. Amor appears like a veiled statue, “like a god,” on an altar. Psyche prepares for his “coming” by painting her face and waiting anxiously, trembling. She approaches the altar with a mixture of excitement and fear. A flame rising from the altar intimates his presence, but he remains invisible to her, and she searches for him, while he glides behind her. She tries to guide him toward the light of the lamp, but Amor warns with his hand not to move into the light, for gods are “never more powerful than when they command, when they forbid.” Terrified, she glides back into the shadows, throws her arms around him; they kiss and sink into a slumber. When she soon awakes and finds him still sleeping, she moves, “half unconsciously […] like a maenad,” to bring the lamp closer to him. But when the light touches him, a flame springs up, and he disappears, while she becomes “cramped” with the realization of facing an “infinite punishment.” The second scene takes place in an “underworld” of “pale light,” neither day nor night, with shadows swirling about her “like worms,” although these are simply “the shadow of herself.” Psyche dances with these shadows, but it is a “dark torment” against which she struggles, as if she is trying to “throw out a part of herself.” She curls herself on the floor “like a caterpillar” while the shadows grow higher. Then she spreads her arms and lies peacefully, “like one exhausted rather than victorious.” As Psyche lies gloriously radiant, “as if made of glass,” Amor suddenly appears in a golden light, but seems shocked, even terrified by the frozen Psyche. He tries to revive her with his touch, but when she awakens, she looks at him uncertainly, as if she is not sure who he is. She rises, Amor steps away from her, then engulfs her in his arms. Their arms become like wings that carry them away into “eternity,” darkness (Hofmannsthal 1911: 7-14). 

 Amor und Psyche functions as an abstract of the complicated ancient myth described by Apuleius, not a comprehensive retelling of it, yet as such it perhaps more closely resembles the spirit and style of ancient Roman pantomime than anything else produced by Austro-German culture. Gabriele Brandstetter (2007: 299) claims that in performing the piece Grete Wiesenthal developed a unique “body language” that involved a “binding of movement,” a tension between movement and pose, an intoxicated “kinesis” interrupted by a sudden stillness, which implies a further affinity with the ancient Roman model of pantomime performance.

Figure 127: Grete Wiesenthal and Lilly Berger in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Amor und Psyche, Berlin, 1911, costumes designed by Erwin Lang. Photo: Becker and Maass, from Wiesenthal (1911: 27). 

The piece feels like a pantomime of a woman’s sexual fantasy, a masturbatory reverie. The dance with the shadows in the second scene seems like an orgasmic exorcism of an imaginary male who “torments” the dancer. The woman wants to give herself to a man she cannot see, whom she can only imagine: he disappears with every effort to shine a light on him, to reveal him. The idea is that she overcomes her guilt about desiring a man she imagines rather than a man she knows and finds salvation in the darkness of her psyche. It is a narrative that was utterly unique in theater, and in constructing this narrative, Hofmannsthal and Wiesenthal displayed exceptional imagination in the sequencing of simple, Mensendieck type actions that carried great symbolic resonance in relation to the sultry environment. As with Der Schüler, the most complex action is actually the “wormlike” movements of the dancing shadows. Though derived from ancient mythology, Amor und Psyche exudes a mood of modernity, a sense of affinity with the emerging Viennese psychoanalytic investigation of psychosexual behavior and release from repression. The performance of the scenario in Berlin in 1911, under Wiesenthal’s supervision, further complicated the sexual dimension by having a woman, the Austrian actress Lilly Berger, play the role of Amor. Moreover, Berger wore a tiara, a long, white dress, and a sort of cape resembling translucent wings, a costume designed by Wiesenthal’s husband, the artist Erwin Lang (1886-1962) [Figure 127]. These casting and costume choices turn the scenario of Amor’s sexual fantasy into a homoerotic fantasy, particularly when one considers that for the second piece on the program, Hofmannsthal’s Das fremde Mädchen, Wiesenthal found a male actor to perform a male role. However, none of the critics who reviewed the production, for the most part negatively, make even the slightest allusion to this implication, as if homosexuality could be represented as long as no one mentioned it (cf. Vollmer 2011: 332-335). Astoundingly, though, neither Schmid in 2009 nor Vollmer in 2011 in discussing the production make any remark on the peculiarity of the casting and the costume for Amor, as if such peculiarity resulted from the application of some sort of “convention” that needed no explanation, even though the evidence for such a convention does not exist. Even if such a convention existed then, why did it exist and why would Wiesenthal have employed it? This recent “overlooking” of such obvious details is hard to explain. Perhaps Grete Wiesenthal has become such a revered historical figure that any implication of her boldly exploring homosexual fantasy is simply too risky to advance within the institutionalized Austro-German discourse about her. The critics of the production complained about the now lost music by the blind Viennese composer Rudolf Braun (1869-1925) or about Wiesenthal’s stylized performance style or mostly about Hofmannsthal’s limitations as a pantomime scenarist, although none of the critics could claim much experience of pantomime. The composer Max Marschalk (1863-1940), not much impressed with Wiesenthal’s performance, remarked that her dance with the shadows resembled her “well-known springtime waltzes,” yet he contended that the audience applauded the performances rather than the piece (Vollmer 2011: 334). In his correspondence, Hofmannsthal himself, despite some reservations about Wiesenthal’s and Berger’s performances, apparently found the production satisfactory, if not powerful or stirring; indeed, he saw it as the “beginning of a great success” (Vollmer 2011: 331). But Amor und Psyche was not a great success insofar as it had any other performances than Wiesenthal’s 1911 production. Of course, hardly any of the few Austro-German pantomimes that actually reached stage had any performance history beyond the first performers who staged them, even though these were and remain among the most imaginative representations of pantomime for the stage in the twentieth century. 

Hofmannsthal’s Das fremdeMädchen was the second piece on the 1911 program. He began work on the seven-page scenario in 1909, but did not complete it until the end of 1910. He collaborated with Wiesenthal on the scenario at the same time they worked on Amor und Psyche, according to Wiesenthal (Schmid 2009: 153). The scenario was unusual for Hofmannsthal in that he set the action in an overtly contemporary setting; he gives none of the characters a proper name and inscribes a heavily expressionist atmosphere. In a luxurious restaurant, a young rich man and his girlfriend eat dinner while a gypsy band plays. The man and woman appear bored and detached from the opulent milieu and from each other. A sinister gang enters, led by an old woman and consisting of a hunchback, a one-armed man, a one-eyed man, and an “insolent youth with a cap.” The gang approaches the couple and brings with it a shrouded “clump”; when they release the shroud, they reveal a beautiful, lean, but pathetic, “half-grown” girl, who rises from her knees and offers the young man a basket of violets. The young man rises and so does his girlfriend, but he seems petrified by the girl, who draws back as if “pulled by a string.” The gang pulls away, “into the darkness,” taking with them the girl, covered again with the shroud. The young man gives the old woman a pair of gold coins, but he remains fixated on the girl. In the next scene, the young man and his girlfriend go slumming in a sleazy bar, where they again encounter the grotesque gang. The old woman makes the girl dance for the young man, but the girl soon becomes “weak and pale,” so the old woman pulls her away and pours alcohol into her, after which she lifts her arms longingly and with “incomprehensible innocence.” But the old woman pulls the girl behind a curtain that conceals a door in the wall through which the gang, except for the old woman, disappears into the night. The girlfriend remains terrified, as the old woman and an unsavory bar employee gaze at her earrings and bracelets. The young man, however, longs to follow the girl, but, tossing a gold coin to the old woman with the bottle, he follows his girlfriend into the fresh night air of the street. At home (it doesn’t matter if it is the young man’s home or the girlfriend’s), the girlfriend, seeing that the young man remains distant from her, tries to fathom why he has fixated on the beggar girl. She acts toward him tenderly, seductively, although she is also scared of him. He seems to see only his vision of the beggar girl. A soft knock on the door precipitates the entrance of a servant, who announces a visitor: the old woman appears and hobbles toward the young man. She hands him a key, which he realizes opens the door to the beggar girl’s room, but he draws a revolver and drives the old woman away. Yet he cannot resist following the old woman, and the girlfriend and the servant understand that he has escaped them. The final scene takes place in an ugly, ruined “corner” of the city, where the old woman knocks on the door of a crumbling tenement, while members of her gang lurk in the windows or shadows. The old woman invites the young man to enter, but he, with the revolver pointing at her, wants the old woman to bring the girl to him. When the beggar girl appears, she freezes when seeing the young man and signals that he should go away. The gang pulls her back inside, but the young man has “lost all caution,” and knocks on the door, which half opens. But before he can raise the revolver the gang jumps on him. After several moments of desolate silence, the gang drags him into a grim alley, robbed, bound, and severely beaten. They disappear as dawn begins to emerge. The strange girl comes out of a cellar door, on hands and knees, “like a fugitive animal.” She approaches the seemingly dead young man, touches him, unbinds him, slowly revives him, and appears more like a woman than a girl. But as he returns to life, she grows weak and pale, then collapses at his feet. She is dead. The street fills with people going to work. They notice the young man beside the dead girl. And when they realize that she is dead, they respond with shock and suspicion toward the young man, who stands against a wall, shaking with an “inner frost,” as the people on the street stare accusingly at him and the girl lies “quietly and beautifully in the middle of the stones and knows nothing more” (Vollmer 2012: 199-204). 

While the story is not especially original, Hofmannsthal introduces innovative scenic effects, such as presenting both interior and exterior places of action in the same stage set, so that interior and exterior pressures never appear mutually exclusive. Hofmannsthal also prescribes expressionistic lighting and costuming effects to create a distorted image of modern urban life. In the final scene, for example, a brightly lit street appears beyond the dark, degenerate alley and “corner” where the young man visits the beggar girl’s abode; at the same time, the door to the abode opens up to reveal an alluring but sordid world. This combination of interior and exterior places of action within scenes bestows a powerful sense of depth to the pantomimic action. Moreover, Hofmannsthal imagines pantomimic actions in complex ways that go well beyond simply driving the narrative: “Here [the girlfriend] feels how firmly the other sits in his thoughts, and she is tender and more snuggly and takes his hand and gently releases the little piece of string from his hand and lays it somewhere, and he lets it happen, but in his thoughts is nothing but the strange girl; there she stands before him quite alive as if she had come out of the wall and turned to him in passing and moved her arms like a piece of thin but strong thread pulled them from behind.” The first scene is especially impressive insofar as the author describes many actions happening almost simultaneously in the restaurant to create a dark, lurid, even depraved emotional environment that the young man and his girlfriend apparently find necessary to sustain their partnership. But the scenario shows that it is an illusion to believe that awareness of an external world, awareness of another social class can strengthen sexual pairing within a class. It is an illusion to believe that one social class can be the salvation of another, because class-defined actions and movements result from an invisible, controlling force, puppet strings pulled by Death, by self-destructive urges. Survival within one class depends on the sacrifice of what is beautiful in another class. In this respect, Hofmannsthal had moved well beyond Bahr’s Das schöne Mädchen in using pantomime to construct a critique of social class relations, although his perspective could be considered politically conservative insofar as he presents class conflict or inequality as the result of an inscrutable, invasive, inescapable Death-puppeteer rather than a cause of it (cf., Schmid 1991). 

At its Berlin performance in 1911 on the same program as Amor und PsycheDas fremde Mädchen did not fare any better with the critics, who almost unanimously regarded the whole program as a failure, for which Hofmannsthal was mostly to blame. Wiesenthal, however, apparently did not regard the Berlin critics as reliable judges of her performances or of the scenario. In 1913, while touring in Sweden, she made the acquaintence of the film director Mauritz Stiller (1883-1928) and persuaded him to make a film of Das fremde Mädchen, presumably because Hofmannsthal’s name added prestige that would help in securing an international audience for the film as part of the “Authorenfilm” strategy for elevating the artistic identity of cinema (Bachmann 2013: 220). The now lost 54-minute film, shot in Stockholm and financed by a consortium of Swedish theaters that bought the rights to the scenario from the Danish film company Nordisk, featured, except for Wiesenthal and the Norwegian Ragnhild Ovenberg (1885-1963) as the girlfriend, a Swedish cast and crew, including the young Gösta Ekman (1890-1938), later to achieve international fame playing the title role in F. W. Murnau’s powerful silent film adaptation of Faust (1926). Stiller followed Hofmannsthal’s scenario very closely and theaters used the music that cabaret composer Hannes Ruch, the pseudonym for Richard Weinhöppel (1867-1928), wrote for the Berlin stage production. In Sweden, where it appeared under the title Den okända (The Unknown), exhibitors advertised the film as “a dream play.” The film seems to have contained only ten intertitles of a largely abstract character, such as: “Life had nothing to offer for the rich, pleasure-satiated man”; “Underworld”; “A beautiful flower grows in the lap of vice”; “Death – Liberation” (cf. Hiebler 2003: 443-454). Comparing photographs of the stage and film versions, Heinz Hiebler (2003: 449) concludes that the film somewhat diminishes Wiesenthal’s “presence” by creating more authentic playing spaces and dynamic imagery. Reviewers in Stockholm and Malmö responded to the film negatively, complaining mostly about Wiesenthal’s unpersuasive performance; one critic asserted that the film was not up to the standard of foreign productions (Svensk Filmdatabas Den okända (1913) Kommentarer 2017). The Swedes sold the film to distributors in Denmark, Germany, Austria, and the United States. In Berlin, reviewers displayed a divided attitude toward the film, with a critic for the Berliner Börsen-Courier (5 September 1913, Nr. 415) observing that Hofmannsthal’s poetic, mystical scenario had been turned into sentimental “kitsch,” and that Wiesenthal’s “stylized, rhythmic art” was completely inappropriate for silent film. But Kinematographische Rundschau (3 August 1913, iv) regarded the film as an “art work,” the “film of a poet,” “a truly poetic work in film,” “engrossing from beginning to end,” which revealed the “incomparable art” of Wiesenthal. Evidently assuming that Hofmannsthal wrote the scenario for film, the cultural journalist Ludwig Klinenberger (1873-?) proposed that Hofmannsthal had not yet mastered the technique of film drama; although many images “are very beautiful” and Wiesenthal “knows how to bind audiences to her great art,” “many scenes are too repetitive and the action does not move forward strongly enough.” “The audience for this drama was not satisfied,” perhaps because the film required too much “literary education” to appreciate. He urged Hofmannsthal to direct his talent toward representing “paths of life” that benefit from the sound of “his wonderful and famous language.” “We prefer to hear him” than “see him dead” on the screen (Kaes 1978: 107-108). In Vienna, the Neue Freie Presse (25 January 1914) was similarly enthusiastic: “tense action with interesting figures” well acted especially by Wiesenthal and Ekman. In the United States, The Moving Picture World (1913: 869) found the film a bit puzzling: “We do not dare commend it without reserve as a first-class offering for public amusement, because it is obscure even in its story, and though filled with scenes that show remarkable stage-craft and skillful acting, it will not be wholly understood, except by a very few”; even so, “the picture is full of art” and “we have had nothing at all like it […] those underworld pictures are truly astonishing.” Audiences for the film proved large enough for the Berlin film company Deutsche Bioscop to enter into a three-picture contract with the dancer to produce a “Wiesenthal series” of films, of which two were completed, though now lost: Kadra Sâfa (1914) and Erlkönigs Tochter (1914).

The success of Das fremde Mädchen may have strengthened Hofmannsthal’s awareness of public and intellectual attraction to pantomime, especially in film, which, in a 1921 essay, he described as “a substitute for dreams” among those people, particularly city workers, for whom language, as “the instrument of a [de-natured] society,” was a thing to fear, an apparatus of repression (Hofmannsthal 1955 IV: 46-50). But he was slow to develop actual pantomime projects and found dance projects somewhat easier to start, although even these he found difficult to complete, despite their intriguing themes or premises. In 1911-1912, he started eight ballets or pantomimes that he never completed, including the pantomime Der dunkle Bruder, based on a story from A Thousand and One Nights, on which, after seven or eight pages, he was still working in 1928. After the release of the film Das fremde Mädchen, however, Hofmannsthal’s ventures into pantomime not only declined in number, even as “fragments,” but became much more oriented toward exotic fantasy and exquisite historicism and much less preoccupied with the dark undercurrents of erotic desire that pervaded Der SchülerAmor und Psyche, and Das fremde Mädchen. His pantomimic imagination for the stage became less innovative on both the thematic and scenic levels, while his work in relation to silent film pantomime was more adventurous. Reinhardt’s great success with the exotic and mystical pantomimes Sumurun (1910) and Das Mirakel (1912) could not urge Hofmannsthal to suppose that the future of stage pantomime lay in the expressionist style of Das fremde Mädchen, which German filmmakers would develop with such startling artistry and popularity after World War I. Yet Wiesenthal favored somber, tragic pantomime in her first two films for Deutsche Bioscop, made before the outbreak of war; indeed, in Erlkönigs Tochter she played a demonic fairy who comes between a man and his fiancée. At any rate, Hofmannsthal collaborated with both Reinhardt and Wiesenthal on his next pantomime, Die Biene, on which he began work in 1914, although he seems to have pondered the idea of bees invading human life for quite some time: in an 1896 poem, “Lebenslied,” he wrote, “The dark swarm of wild bees/Took hold of his soul.” Wiesenthal planned to direct the premiere of the piece in Berlin, but this did not happen, partly because the outbreak of war had upset theatrical production schedules, but also because Wiesenthal wanted more money for her work. Reinhardt and Wiesenthal saw pantomime as a more lucrative international theatrical venture than dance or drama because it did not depend on a commonly understood language or movement vocabulary. They wanted to work on a scale, with orchestral accompaniments, that required the use of opera houses rather than cabaret theaters, yet the subsidized opera houses saw no benefit to themselves in accommodating pantomime productions. To assist Wiesenthal financially, Hofmannsthal allowed her to publish his scenario under her name, and though those familiar with the project understood that Hofmannsthal was the author, it was not until the publication of volume 27 of the Gesammelte Werk in 2006 that his name finally became officially attached to the scenario and even to the concept, despite obvious evidence in his correspondence that he was the guiding hand of the project (cf. Vollmer 2011: 342-345). In thirteen short scenes, Die Biene is a kind of fairy tale set in an exotic China of no specific historical location, but it bears some similarity to Das fremde Mädchen and Erlkönigs Tochter. A scholar works in his library while his wife keeps his children from distracting him. A bee enters the room, and when it nestles in a curtain, it transforms into an enchanting girl, with whom the scholar becomes smitten. The bee-girl appears again in subsequent scenes, urging him away from his wife. In Scene 5, he approaches a tree behind his house, from which he hears the hum of bees echoing from an alluring cavity. He enters and finds himself in a kind of pleasure palace of voluptuous eroticism, presided over by the Queen Bee fairy (Wiesenthal) who has seduced him. Despondent, the wife poisons herself before the enchanted tree. Gradually, however, the scholar becomes estranged from the draining life of the bee harem, and he returns to his home. But his children now see him as a stranger. He returns to the enchanted tree and sets it on fire, and in the flames he sees the ghost of his wife. The bees swarm around him, bringing death to the man who has destroyed their home. The ghost of the wife rises from her coffin to protect him, and the bees disperse onto the flowers that cover the ground. The scholar and his wife become one in death or in some kind of resurrection (it’s not clear how this unity occurs) (Wiesenthal 1917). Wiesenthal invited Franz Schreker to compose music for the scenario, but he did not feel he was right for the project, so Hofmannsthal prevailed upon the German opera composer Clemens von Franckenstein (1875-1942), a longtime friend, although Wiesenthal was not happy with the collaboration. With a planned 1915 Berlin production an impractical proposition, Wiesenthal eventually arranged for a production at the Darmstadt Hoftheater in November 1916, which Vollmer (2011: 360) claims was “successful.” But commentary on the production is quite difficult to locate, as is commentary on a March 1917 guest performance in Zürich. No one has performed the piece since then, although that can be said about almost all of the Austrian pantomimes, which even then the press and the established theater world regarded as a marginal, experimental fringe of a European literary culture that had great difficulty, despite or perhaps because of the expanding appeal of silent film, in seeing any advantage to speechlessness in a society it wished to define through the word. Die Biene presented adultery as a remote, decorative fantasy, a kind of “bewitching” illusion of transcending an otherwise cavernous separation of refined, erudite, domesticated civilization from the purely sensational, instinctive, and amoral realm of nature. It was hardly a daring approach to the theme, even if the piece called for imaginative scenic effects, such as the transformation of bees into humans and a ghost formed of flames, and it is possible that Die Biene did not represent a superior treatment of material that Wiesenthal had already explored in the film of Erlkönigs Tochter. One does get the feeling that Hofmannsthal and Wiesenthal have become aware that stage pantomime now has a strong competitor in film pantomime, and that to compete with film, stage pantomime must become “richer” in visual design.

To achieve this richer visual design, Hofmannsthal and Reinhardt worked with a fairytale Chinese setting for what became Hofmannsthal’s most popular pantomime scenario, Die grüne Flöte (1916), although the process of writing it involved so many collaborators providing input that Hofmannsthal did not want to publish the piece with his name because so many different versions of the text began to circulate (cf. Fiedler 1972). For this three-part scenario, Hofmannsthal amplified fantastic and decorative elements on behalf of a much more conventional story of sexual attraction. In an exotic, “Chinese” kingdom, a river landscape, the Princess Fay Yen is, along with twelve other princesses, the prisoner of the sorceress Ho and her brother, the magician Wu, and these slaves wear gold chains. They perform a dance with a golden net. Ho removes Fay Yen’s chains so that she can perform a dance during the tea ceremony. But the distant sound of a flute interrupts the ceremony and causes restlessness among the slaves. The Prince Sing Ling appears, playing a green (jade) flute, but he is on the other side of the river. Fay Yen dances passionately to the music and, on the branch of a tree, stretches her arms out longingly to the Prince. Ho, however, captures her and clamps her in chains again. Sing Ling throws his flute into the river and considers drowning himself, but the river goddess rises up and holds his flute, signifying that she has bestowed some great power on him or his flute. In the morning, Wu shows alarm as Ho recounts in gesture the incident with the flute using a mysterious mirror. A storm gathers. Sing Ling arrives on the river and engages in a battle with Wu, who ensnares him in the net, precipitating the dance of the brother and sister. Sing Ling draws a sword, but Wu transforms into a bird. The Prince then pursues the sorceress, but Wu returns as a dragon. The river goddess then emerges with the green flute, and the music causes the dragon to flee into a gold grotto, where he bursts into flames. The sorceress then dies and the magical realm “sinks away.” Fay turns into a butterfly and the other princesses become bellflowers. Then the sound of the flute awakens the exhausted Prince and restores the butterfly and flowers to their human forms; he and the Princess embrace. The ensemble performs a “joyful round dance” to reinforce the idea that “music defeats evil” (Hofmannsthal 2006: 591-601). Hofmannsthal emphasized decorative details, such as that the scenery should resemble Chinese lacquer ware and that the princesses should wear gold and black costumes. Reinhardt engaged Ernst Stern (1876-1954), his regular scene designer, famous then and later for his brilliant expressionist decors for both stage and film. The music was by Mozart, heavily arranged by Reinhardt’s Swedish musical director, Einar Nilson (1881-1964), later a musical director for the Warner Brothers film studio, and a Norwegian, Gyda Christensen (1872-1964), the director of Oslo’s National Theater ballet school, did the choreography for the piece, which often was referred to as a “ballet pantomime” because it contained several dances. Her daughter, Lillebil Christensen (1899-1989), performed the part of Princess Yen Fay, and film actress Katta Sterna (1897-1984), a former student of Wiesenthal, played the Prince Sing Ling, wearing a satiny, luxuriously decorated tunic and pants that projected at the very least a highly androgynous image of the character in the manner of the male figure in Wiesenthal’s production of Amor und Psyche. The film actor and future film director Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) played the sorceress, while the Hungarian Ernst Matray (1891-1978) was Wu. As usual with his productions, Reinhardt stressed spectacle through the conjuration of an “enchanting” atmosphere that relied intensely on the complex interplay of sparkling surfaces, gleaming fabrics and colors, shimmering lighting, dreamlike music, and stylized bodily movement, an “optical poetry,” according to the dance and music critic Oscar Bie (1864-1938), who even saw “in the international decorations the pulsations of an entirely modern soul” through a “mirror of the eighteenth century” (Vollmer 2011: 375; cf. Herald 1918: 113-120). To precede the thirty-minute production, Hofmannsthal wrote Die Lästigen, a one-act adaptation of Moliere’s three-act comedy-ballet, Les Fâcheux (1661). He intended that marionettes would perform the characters of the play, but this idea proved unworkable. At the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Berlin in 1916, the show provoked considerable popular and critical approval; Vollmer (2011: 373) contends that Die grüne Flöte offered a “fantastic counter-world” to the “nasty reality” of the war, or, as Bie put it, the show reveled in the “ornamental essence of things, the arabesque of being.” Reinhardt took the production on tour, making it the most widely seen of any Hofmannsthal pantomime, although most spectators then did not even know he wrote it. But Die grüne Flöte probably enjoyed even greater popularity after the war when, in 1925, Ernst Matray and Katta Sterna, now a romantic couple, revived Reinhardt’s production of it for the Salzburg Festival, of which Hofmannsthal was a guiding power, this time with Hofmannsthal’s name attached to it and Reinhardt protégé Tilly Losch (1903-1975) playing Princess Fay Yen. The production moved on to Vienna, Berlin, and Prague before the starring cast dispersed to new projects. The Vienna Volksoper obscurely notes that some kind of performance of Hofmannsthal’s scenario took place there in 1943, with choreography by Herbert Freund (1903-1988), but most likely it was a version purged of all the “Jewish” elements associated with Reinhardt’s sumptuous treatment (Volksoper Zeitung 33, 2014: 14). Another production took place at a “Mozart Evening” at the Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar in 1964, with choreography by Hermann Rudolph, but otherwise Hofmannsthal’s scenario seems remembered above all by what Reinhardt and his collaborators did to it. In 1928, however, the Estonian choreographer Rahel Olbrei (1898-1984) staged Die grüne Flöte (Roheline flööt) with the ballet corps of the Estonia Theater in Tallinn, although Hofmannsthal seems not to have received any credit for the scenario. Olbrei apparently used expressionistic movement techniques developed by Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) in the choreography for the piece, and she may even have seen the Reinhardt production in Berlin on a possible visit to Germany in 1926. The production, in which a male dancer, Artur Koit (1908-1980), played Prince Sing Ling, inspired generally enthusiastic commentary from the Estonian press, largely because it represented an adventurous and ambitious “turning point” of choreographic imagination for a quite new ballet corps that previously had played only an incidental role in the theater’s operetta productions. Some debate emerged about whether Estonian ballet should adopt such an eclectic mix of pantomime, Labanesque movement, and ballet, and in this sense, the piece seemed to open up discussion about the future rather than to cultivate opulent nostalgia for a fairytale, rococo past (Einasto 2018: 122-128; Postimees, No. 138, 22 May 1928: 4).

For Hofmannsthal, Reinhardt’s production of Die grüne Flöte indicated that the success of pantomime in attracting large audiences depended much more on directors than on writers. He wrote no more pantomimes for the stage, except for a few brief pantomimic moments in his grandiose allegorical drama Das salzburger grosse Weltheater (1922, 1927). Even his interest in dance libretti evaporated after his not especially successful collaboration with Richard Strauss and Count Harry Kessler on the one-act ballet Josephs Legende(1914) for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Only ballet companies have performed this piece despite the immense orchestra the voluptuous score requires and despite the refusal of Strauss or Hofmannsthal to designate the work, based on the Biblical story of Potiphar’s wife, as a ballet or pantomime (the role of Potiphar’s wife was designated as pantomime and played as such at the Paris premiere by the Russian singer Maria Kuznetsova [1886-1966], who had been a ballerina in Russia). The 1922 production in Vienna, in which the soprano Marie Gutheil-Schoder (1874-1935) pantomimed Potiphar’s wife under the direction of choreographer Heinrich Kröller (1880-1930), provoked a remarkable commentary from the socialist music critic David Josef Bach (1874-1947), who speculated that the refusal to identify the piece as ballet or pantomime had to do with preserving the “purity” of Joseph in a work that had “created a richly homosexual situation” and an “abnormal sexual feeling”: “At first, women interwoven with each other, veiled, unveiled, continually in deepest lust, then men among themselves, naked, half-naked, and finally boys with their playmate Joseph, who is an exemplary holy dancer.” The piece was about male fear of women and as such “shows the theater in its function as the nerve whip of modern society. An angel in silver armor frees Joseph and leads him to the bliss of a womanless existence” (Arbeiter-Zeitung, 23. March 1922: 5). The idea that pantomime, as a feminine phenomenon, is the corrupter of the masculine purity achieved through dance may seem odd in relation to the female-dominated history of dance. But in relation to Hofmannsthal’s pantomimic preoccupation with dangerously seductive female figures, and in relation to the homoerotic connotations in the casting for the productions of Die Biene and Die grüne Flöte, the idea perhaps embeds a motive for Hofmannsthal’s reluctance to venture further with stage pantomime. Hofmannsthal’s last complete ballet-pantomime libretto, the one-act Achilles auf Skyros (1914), featured Achilles disguised as a woman among the thirteen daughters of King Lycomedes so that he may pursue his romance with one of the daughters, the Amazonian Deidamia, and which concludes with him performing a sword dance with Odysseus that releases him from the female garments—the sword dance, “completely disciplined and sacral,” “symbol of the mature man, the poetic expression for the feeling of freedom” (Schmid 1991: 252, 255). In Vienna, Egon Wellesz (1885-1974), a resolute modernist closely associated with the Second Viennese School of Music, composed a score for the libretto in 1921 and managed to stage a production of it in Stuttgart in 1926 on a program with his one-act opera Alkestis (1924), also based on a libretto by Hofmannsthal (cf. Schmid 1991: 252-255). But this leap into advanced Viennese modernism, probably unjustly neglected like so many of Wellesz’s intriguing projects during these years, did nothing to restore Hofmannsthal’s willingness to experiment further with stage pantomime. In 1925, Hofmannsthal, Strauss, Reinhardt, Nilson, and Matray formed the Internationale Pantomimen Gesellschaft, but the society collapsed a year later due to financial difficulties, its only significant achievement being sponsorship of the revived Die grüne Flöte (Vollmer 2011: 380-381). Indeed, when Hofmannsthal did return to pantomime, his focus was on silent film, with the scenario for Der Rosenkavalier (1925) and the sketches for the unmade film about Daniel Defoe (1924). But these deserve attention when dealing with the disappearance of literary pantomime in the Austro-German theater of the 1920s. 

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