Germanic Pantomime: Varieties of the Austro-German Pantomimic Imagination

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

Varieties of the Austro-German Pantomimic Imagination

Nearly a decade later, in 1921, Vollmoeller wrote another pantomime scenario in collaboration with the Dutch composer Jaap Kool, Die Schiessbude, but this piece deserves attention later, in the discussion of German experiments with the curious genre of the “dance pantomime” in the 1920s. Here a group of Austro-German pantomimes deserves attention because they reveal the adventurous scope of Germanic pantomimic imagination, even if they received hardly any attention in their time, let alone any realization in the theater. Paul Scheerbart (1863-1915), a German author of visionary and utopian fantasies and experimental narratives, composed a two-act “astral pantomime,” Kometentanz (1902), a kind of science fiction pantomime of astonishing wildness. The piece is difficult to summarize, because it contains a great mass of actions following a logic that is outside of any “earthly” idea of narrative driven by characters whose motives unfold within specific conventions, laws, rules, a society, a “world” that determines the extent to which their motives “make sense” (cf. Vollmer 2011: 222-241). Members of an earthly kingdom find themselves in an astral realm (not a spaceship!). These include a King and his entourage, his two Queens, a Maid, an Executioner, a Magician, a Poet, a Merry Person, among many others. These characters interact with each other without regard to earthly status, need, or consequence. They pursue no erotic desires, no hunger for wealth or possessions, and no desire even to control their circumstances. In the astral realm, their actions are the result of cosmic forces over which they have no control and which no language, not even that of the scenario, can explain. Stars, planets, meteors, comets, and the moon move across or into the astral realm and cause humans to become still or to dance or to perform cryptic actions, but these human actions seem also capable of causing perturbations in the planetary movements. Humans embody the planets, the comets, the sun, and the moon. Scheerbart describes in detail the types of music and even the kinds of instruments that accompany the scenes—“the music of the spheres”—and the sounds of nightingales intermittently join the soundtrack. The movement of spheres causes peculiar dances involving interactions between humans and astral bodies: The Horoscope Minuet, The Maid’s Waltz, the Dance of the Three Great Comets, the Dance of the Three Great Comets and the Seven Little Stars, The Moon Curls Bacchanal. A large globe appears in the middle of the “stage” or however this thing is staged, but it is not clear if this globe represents Earth; various characters touch, ascend, or hide behind it; the Maid and the two Queens dance upon it, although not together. The action flows bizarrely and kaleidoscopically, but not destructively or chaotically. For example:

A great comet appears in the heavens.

And the stars of heaven stand still.

The women flee with bright cries at the sight of the comets approaching; the men attempt to soothe the women.

The King leans forward on his heavenly globe.

Meanwhile the comets swoop down and appear at the rear of the stage.

Everyone stands in fear and dismay like pillars with open mouths.

The Magician appeases their minds by guiding his peacock feathers over the heads of the terrified.

The comet comes forward and bows before the King, who with difficulty recovers his poise.

The poet stands up, bows before the comets and rattles his chains.

The two other comets come behind one another, like the first, to the front of the stage, and the greeting occurs exactly like the previous one.

The music of the spheres sounds very mild, submissive and soft. 

The men and women have gradually relaxed, the Magician indicates to the Servant, to spread out left and right colorful blankets on the tiles.

And the women lie down on the blankets.

The men place themselves behind the women. 

[…]

The music of the spheres assumes a dance melody.

And the comets dance. 

Scheerbart describes numerous lighting and color effects. “Of the other Harem ladies, each has a dress of a special color; the dresses reach to the knee and are garnished with gold and silver stars and spheres […] All the women have on their backs gold or silver moon sickles with masks like wings and except for the Queens no makeup and dark colored stockings.” In a scene called “The Insane,” the action entails this scenic effect: “The new shifting stars no longer have a ball form; they have the form of giant diamonds and many-sided phosphorescent crystal bodies—some consist of unformed tube structures that shimmer like soap bubbles and resemble polyps, others seem like frozen flames […].” In the Moon Gavotte, the Maid steps onto the globe and summons seven female Pierrots, all in white with gold ornaments (“golden moon hats”), and the Pierrots dance a gavotte with seven Ladies in Blue, although each Lady wears a different blue dress “and not like the Maid’s blue dress.” In the Horoscope Minuet, the seven Pierrots become five planets, the sun, and the moon (“The Venus-Pierrot has very blond hair that reaches to her knees, a star on her forehead, and a mirror in each hand)” (Scheerbart 1977: 7-34; Vollmer 2012a: 116-139). Kometentanz presents a narrative structure that does not follow the logic of humans living on Earth; it follows the logic of a cosmic design that only pantomime can simulate, because language cannot explain it. Dance is something that takes hold of both human and astral bodies as a result of enormous cosmic movements whose source is unintelligible and spectacularly enigmatic. The piece ends with the moon rising and all the humans and the comets receding deep into space. The curtain falls as the music grows softer and more distant: “And the voice of the nightingale sounds from far, far away.” As with many of his small, experimental plays, Scheerbart probably never expected his pantomime to achieve actual performance. The piece requires large resources, an inordinately ambitious director, and tremendously imaginative designers, as well as a very adventurous audience, and it is difficult to see how any theater with the resources to produce the show then or even now would risk such a large investment in a cosmic pantomime of Wagnerian scale utterly free of any intimation of a moral order to the universe, any sense of doom, any idea of redemption or salvation, or even any suggestion of universal absurdity. It is a fascinating image of freedom in which human bodies, having no need of speech, become cosmic forms, like comets, no greater and no lesser than stars, meteors, and planets. Nevertheless, in 1900, Scheerbart sent a draft of his scenario to Richard Strauss, who agreed to compose music for it as a ballet. The ballet master in Berlin rejected Strauss’s proposed ballet because the piece was “not serious.” Strauss then asked Gustav Mahler to consider the piece for performance at the Vienna Opera. Mahler agreed contingent upon review of the scenario in relation to the cost, which apparently turned out to be more than Mahler could afford. Strauss only sketched some of the music, then abandoned it, while Scheerbart never sought another collaborator (Heisler 2009: 17-18). But Kometentanz finally did receive a performance, in 2014, at the FullDome Festival held in the Zeiss Planetarium in Jena, Germany. The director of this project was an instructor at the Bauhaus Weimar University, Micky Remann (b. 1951), a multimedia artist, pioneer of the underwater “Liquid Sound” performance technology, and the author of a master’s thesis on Scheerbart, in which he argued that Scheerbart represented a “pre-psychedelic” approach to the “architectural-literary avant-garde” (Remann 2007). Remann assembled a large crew of technicians in video, lighting, editing, animation, mixing, and an ensemble of actors and dancers from the university. Ludger Nowak composed the electronic music soundtrack. The production made extensive use of the planetarium’s lighting and projection capabilities. However, according to the available imagery and not good videos of the production, Remann was not successful in developing the pantomimic aspect of the piece. The comets and planets consisted of video faces projected onto the dome-screen. Much of the human action took place on a small, elevated circular stage that did not permit interesting movement, especially with more than two people on it. The globe was much too small to accommodate all the actions Scheerbart assigns in relation to it. The choreography was interesting only to the extent that dancers wore or brandished lights in darkness. The actors appeared incapable of signifying anything more than awe or wonder at the cosmic imagery, even though Scheerbart doesn’t indicate anywhere that the humans express wonder at the cosmic spectacles engulfing them. The production was not really an “astral pantomime,” but a light show whose purpose was to display the multimedia pleasures offered by technology and the skills of multimedia technicians, whereas Scheerbart’s scenario, though its cosmic scenes do require inventive scenic technology and costuming, does not even suggest that the characters, human or otherwise, rely on any technology to pursue their interactions. This production of Kometentanz signified a considerable lack of confidence in the movement of human bodies to become celestial bodies as strange and fantastic as the movements of stars and spheroids conjured up by digital technologies. 

             Scheerbart himself showed little interest in developing his pantomimic imagination after Kometentanz, although he continued to write many small plays and theoretical pieces about theater. In 1904, he published Sophie, a two-page “marriage pantomime with music and dance,” which quite remarkably describes through spare pantomimic actions the façade of a bourgeois marriage wherein, at the behest of her parents, a woman reluctantly marries a man who becomes violently jealous of her affection for a mutual friend. She steps between the duelers, who stab her, causing her to become catatonic. The duelers embrace; the husband wanders off with the maid; the friend has no money to pay the doctor, so the parents arrive and wearily pay the bill. Scheerbart says he wrote the piece to show that pantomime was just as effective, just as emotionally engaging, and much more efficient than bourgeois marital dramas that tell the same kinds of stories using many, many words (Vollmer 2012a: 160-161). In 1909, Scheerbart wrote a very brief piece for Das Theater, “Riesenpantomime mit Fesselballons,” in which he describes a visit to a garden party given by Prince Saburoff in Finland. Part of the entertainment consists of a pantomime, “Goliath and His Wife,” in which these characters appear as gigantic balloons fastened to an enormous, two-story table; Goliath handles a table knife that is three meters long. Goliath swats his wife with a three-foot spoon, but she merely laughs with a great roar. After consuming “immense tankards of wine,” they perform a farcical minuet. The author suggests that the couple perform a pantomime entirely in the air, “but nobody paid any attention” to him (Scheerbart 1977: 123-124). Gabriele Brandstetter (2015: 325) contends that in this piece Scheerbart parodies Futurist aero-ballets, but it also uncannily anticipates the gigantic, popular puppet spectacles, starting in 1993, of the Theatre Royal de Luxe of Nantes. But Scheerbart’s mind was too happily busy hurriedly jotting down fantastic utopian visions to bother with the practicalities of bringing any of them to life, even on the stage. 

             The deep, gigantic shadows cast by Goethe and Wagner over Germanic culture perhaps inspired the monumentality that infected much of the Austro-German pantomimic imagination. Reinhardt and Scheerbart were contrasting manifestations of this belief that pantomime remained hopelessly obscure unless it operated on a vast, “cosmic” scale. The largest and longest pantomime scenario ever written is Lucifer (1899) by the German poet Richard Dehmel (1863-1920). The text runs over 120 pages and would require an enormous number of performers if anyone ever produced it. Lucifer is a monumental ode translated into the prose describing an immense theatrical celebration performed as pantomime and dance. The piece is devoid of conflict, dramatic action. Rather, each scene functions as a panel in a huge panorama glorifying Lucifer’s dominion on Earth. He encounters no opponent. Always resplendent, he mostly just summons and commands legions of followers: doctors, priests, witches, soldiers, workers, artists, pagans, Christians, bacchantes, scientists, teachers, knights, police officers, nuns, slaves, children, scholars, parents, among others. Various animals and mythic creatures appear to assist and celebrate Lucifer: apes, bats, owls, butterflies, angels, fauns, “amorettes,” a black sheep, and an actual donkey. Lucifer’s immediate court consists of the “seeming blind old man” Saturn, the black-winged boy Thanatos, the white-winged boy Amor, a Mother with Child, and Lucifer’s voluptuous partner Venus. The action takes place in “eternal Rome,” but the action mostly consists of elaborate, often torch-brandishing processions by the various categories of followers, their orgiastic dances, and their cryptic, ritual interactions with Lucifer and his officers. Dehmel describes in fanatically naturalistic detail spectacular, glamorous scenic, lighting, costume, and sound effects, and he occasionally accompanies the text with diagrams of the stage that include coded instructions for the application of different effects. The smallest visual effects consume his attention with even greater obsession than they would for Reinhardt: “The youths are dressed in sulfur yellow and have violet-colored hair, the girls are dressed in orange-red with dark cherry hair; they all wear tea-rose wreaths. The clothes of the young men leave one leg naked to the knee, and the other to the calf, so that they may leave open the center of the lower edge of the sandals reaching to the middle of the under thigh; the girls’ sandals, not yet fully visible, enclose at the ankles” (Dehmel 1899: 10). Dehmel describes scenic and physical actions in similar, maniacal but tediously repetitive detail to create as vivid an image as possible of a paradisiacal society in which manifold sectors of humanity bond together ecstatically through their adoration of Lucifer. A few scenes conclude with adult or children’s mixed choirs singing brief hymns praising Lucifer and Venus as divine figures of Light and Love. However, the piece seems like an elegant pornographic fantasy of a libidinous society in which all bodies are beautiful and bond ecstatically with each other without anyone having to say a word. In 1896, Dehmel had already achieved notoriety as a result of his battle with state censors over the inclusion of his allegedly pornographic poem “Venus Consolatrix” in the collection of poems Weib und WeltLucifer is an allegorical glorification or counter-cultural testament of a mythic, utopian social order in which the redemption of humanity depends on the unifying, erotic-ecstatic power of otherwise suppressed, condemned, and forbidden divinities of Light and Love. The Wagnerian ambition of the piece urged Dehmel to ask Richard Strauss to write the accompanying music, but Strauss thought the scenario was too complex to stage. Dehmel took the project to Gustav Mahler, Eugene d’Albert, and even to Siegfried Wagner (in hope of a production at Bayreuth), but they all passed on the opportunity (Vollmer 2011: 208-209). Reviewers tended to welcome the published book of the scenario as the intimation of a new, elevated, super-aesthetic form of theater, but by 1926, his biographer, the Berlin critic Julius Bab, concluded that the work was a “pedantic” mess, “completely uncreative, completely unoriginal” in its use of dance and physical action and without any “organizational power” (Bab 1926: 229-230; Vollmer 2011: 219-220). Vollmer is the only one to write about the piece with any seriousness since then, but even he accepts that the Lucifer “monstrosity” fails completely as theater and is noteworthy only as “an interesting attempt at a non-verbal sensualization of art” (Vollmer 2011: 207-221, esp. 221). Dehmel’s excessive, even fanatical faith in words to describe his vision was fatal to any pantomimic incarnation in this or another world. 

            But when pantomime writers avoided extravagant experimentation or fantasy and followed a modest, feasible, and even conservative aesthetic, their scenarios risked almost as much obscurity in the theater as Scheerbart’s or Dehmel’s. The Austrian writer Max Mell (1882-1971) was perhaps the most conservative, politically and aesthetically, of all the Austro-German pantomime scenarists. He wrote a pair of pantomime scenarios for Grete Wiesenthal, who seems to have made friends with every artist in Vienna at that time. Wiesenthal was the motive for writing the scenarios; her early (1907) concerts with her sisters had rapturously enchanted Mell (Linhardt 2009: 55-56). It may be that Mell’s mentor and friend, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, assisted in connecting Mell to Wiesenthal. In June 1907, Wiesenthal collaborated with Secession artists Koloman Moser, Alfred Roller, and Josef Hoffmann to produce a summer garden festival in a park in the Meidling district of Vienna, and with the involvement of numerous students from the Kunstbewerbeschule, where Moser, Roller, and Hoffmann taught, she staged an outdoor performance of Mell’s pantomime, Die Tänzerin und die Marionette, with music by Rudolf Braun and decors by the Wiener Werkstätte designer Josef Wimmer (1882-1961) (Wiesenthal 1919: 207-209). The scenario sets the action in a vaguely medieval milieu. A young King enters an undefined space arm-in-arm with the Dancer, whom he kisses and fondles, although she responds reproachfully. The sound of a shepherd’s flute causes her to pause, as if suddenly plunged into a dream. But the King breaks the spell and ushers her before his ministers. She acts in an informal, casual manner that disconcerts the court. She takes the King’s scepter to perform a dance, but returns it to him when finished with her piece, which “expresses awe of the King without devotion.” She wants the King’s cloak, and he gives it to her. At the same time, a crowd of citizens and children has gathered around the clownish figure of Hanswurst, who entertains the group with a marionette. The King becomes entranced by the marionette and asks the clown what he wants for it. After evaluating the court ladies and then the neglected Dancer, Hanswurst decides he wants the Dancer. The King agrees to exchange the Dancer for the marionette, which causes the Dancer to despair. When the King wanders away with his new toy and his court, Hanswurst starts drinking rowdily with the townsfolk. But then the sound of the shepherd’s flute disturbs the party; the four country girls begin dancing and the Dancer stands “radiantly” expectant. When the Shepherd appears, he and the Dancer become immediately and physically drawn to each other. Hanswurst becomes enraged and accuses her of disloyalty to him and the King. But the Shepherd tosses him aside and walks away with the Dancer. The country girls and the townspeople console the furious Hanswurst. The King returns with the marionette and prods the clown to explain why he is depressed. When Hanswurst declares that love has devastated him, he and the King weep together. A gang of peasant men returns with the Shepherd and the Dancer. Hanswurst wants the Shepherd beheaded; the King grants the request, but the Dancer intervenes, asserts that he must kill her as well. The King will free the Shepherd if she will return to him—she might even become ennobled: he orders her release. But she demands that he give her the marionette. He agrees. But as soon as she has the marionette in hand, she leaps onto the drinking table and performs “haughty and scornful movements” indicating her scorn for the “dumbfounded gathering” of citizens (Vollmer 2012: 162-166). 

            Die Tänzerin und die Marionette strives for a genial, folkloric mood. The piece manifests Mell’s inclination, more pronounced in later, stronger works, like the gripping novelette Barbara Naders Viehstand (1914) and the astonishingly popular religious drama Das Apostelspiel (1923), to show the power of marginalized, humble female figures to cause a spiritual crisis or upheaval within a community. The pantomime avoids the religiosity of Mell’s later work, but here the Dancer appears as a foreign or alien figure whose sexuality allows her to ignore behavioral codes associated with different social classes, although her own desires focus on another “outsider,” the Shepherd with his mysterious flute. The Dancer competes for male desire with the marionette, a robotic body controlled entirely by male desire. The ending is startling in that the Dancer does not wind up pairing with the King, the clown, or the Shepherd, but with the marionette. Yet as the partner of the marionette, she actually mocks the society that equates her with the robotic body, because she appears in control of both the real and simulated objects of male desire. Vollmer complains that Mell displays a weak pantomimic imagination insofar as he asks actors to mime spoken utterances that can’t be heard rather than inscribes physical actions that communicate instead of the unheard utterances (Vollmer 2011: 278-279). For example, when the King signals for the guards to behead the Shepherd, the Dancer intervenes and “explains: only over my dead body!” But Mell more likely intends these words as a kind of shorthand to describe a physical action corresponding to the idiomatically phrased sentiment that is left to the actor to formulate, such as thrusting her chest toward the blade of execution. Schnitzler used a similar kind of shorthand in Die Verwandlungen des Pierrot. In this respect, the actors are not themselves marionettes manipulated by the scenario or the author. But Vollmer is correct when he asserts that Mell remained “bound to a narrative and dramatic” way of thinking that did not move pantomimic action in an innovative or adventurous way. The scenario reads like an archaic, folkloric tale in the present tense and without dialogue. The ending may feel modern, but Mell does not introduce a particularly modern way of seeing medieval action: modernity simply and abruptly brings the folkloric world to an end. Yet photographs of the 1907 garden festival production that Vollmer has published show that Wimmer’s costumes for the large cast were quite imaginative and “medieval” or “folkloric” in an art nouveau way that made the characters appear to be members of an old society that was at the same time strange and beautiful. Wiesenthal, for example, wore white shoes with heels and a white peasant dress, from the waist of which streamed dark, thin lines, as if veins or spider strands flowed through the fabric from Wiesenthal’s abdomen. Her husband at the time, the artist Erwin Lang (1885-1961), who played the Shepherd, later did a famous woodcut of Wiesenthal dancing in the dress, though he greatly multiplied the number of black “veins” pouring from her abdomen. Available commentary on the performance describes a poetic, dreamlike atmosphere, a stylized aestheticism that comes more from the design and from Wiesenthal’s “extraordinary performance” than from the scenario, although none of the commentaries provides any details regarding the pantomimic action (Vollmer 2011: 277-278). It is evident that Wiesenthal and her numerous collaborators invested a good amount of money and time in the production of a scenario that had only three performances and has never since received another production. Perhaps the startling ending of the scenario makes the piece too modern for folklore-honoring audiences, for whom a pantomime in which a woman prefers a marionette-robot to any human member of the folkloric community probably seems perverse, if not insulting. Revival of the scenario on the stage therefore most likely depends upon a charismatic woman like Wiesenthal to drive it and suffuse the production with modernist scenic-performance elements that amplify rather than evade gendered tensions between performance and text.

            The following summer, in 1908, Wiesenthal collaborated again with Mell on a pantomime, Der silberne Schleier, which she performed at the garden theater in Meidling, Vienna, with music by Carl Lafite (1872-1944) and directed by the Werkstätte painter and graphic designer Bertold Löffler (1874-1960), who also designed the scenery. The scenario has never been published nor has a manuscript of it ever surfaced. Rudolf Huber-Wiesenthal (1884-1983), the husband of Elsa Wiesenthal, gave a brief description of the performance for his 1934 book about the Wiesenthal sisters. The two-part story told of three female elves, and while these three dance in the moonlight, one of them has a silver veil stolen from her by a male human. She becomes the instrument of his power and turns into a woman. She encounters a seductive poet and becomes a mother (Huber-Wiesenthal 1934: 157). In a program note, Mell says that the action takes place five years later. Her child helps her overcome life’s sorrows, “the ruthlessness of an unloving relative, the unfriendly impatience of her husband, the imprudence of her seducer.” But the poet, a “messenger from the unearthly,” brings light to her life, brings the silver veil, which is only a great longing that allows her to overcome the hostility of daily life. Her child covers her with the silver veil of longing (Vollmer 2011: 281). Huber-Wisesenthal believed that “the production belongs to the strongest performances ever given by the Wiesenthal sisters.” Elsa played the elf-woman, Grete was the young poet, and Erwin Lang performed the role of the veil-snatcher. “Unforgettable for me is the moment in which [Elsa], in silent sorrow, lays her child to bed, upright and simple in movement and all the more gripping.” Grete, as the young, seductive poet, gave such a deeply touching performance of “bright wistfulness that magically invoked the feeling of an entire world, the [waltz] world of [Joseph] Lanner’s Vienna” [Vienna in the 1830s] (Huber-Wiesenthal 1934: 157). A reviewer for Bühne und Welt (1908 X, II: 919), discussing this pantomime along with Die Tänzerin und die Marionette and Der Geburtstag der Infantin, which Wiesenthal had presented on separate days in the garden theater, remarked that “These young Viennese girls, with their pretty, big, and wise eyes, are able to make credible all the scales of the emotional life. They dance poems. As they float, move, sway their hips, that is mimed grace, the poetry of dance.” But the reviewer believed that the Wiesenthal concert performances of Lanner waltzes were superior to their pantomime productions, which suggests some kind of opaque and unfortunately unexamined tension between pantomiming nostalgia or longing for a vanished era using contemporary music and dancing the nostalgia with the music of that era. Mell never wrote another pantomime, and Der silberne Schleier never had another performance. For the theater he wanted to write works that were overtly religious, intensely Catholic, and performable by amateur communities. Pantomime for him was inimical to that goal. Religious communication requires the Word, a voice, as do amateur actors, who always find speech such a relief from anxiety about what to do with their bodies in performance. Das Apostelspiel (1923) became one of the most successful plays in European theater history, in part because of so many amateur productions, and it remains fairly popular. Pantomime for Mell represented a wayward path, a repression of faith in Catholicism. 

            Whereas Mell did not believe that pantomime could reconcile modernity with Catholicism, Reinhardt, with Das Mirakel, soon showed that this was possible to the extent that the reconciliation depended on the “miraculous” use of scenic technology in relation to an otherwise non-modernistic, interchangeable pantomimic performance meant to signify, if anything, the “eternally human” conditions of bodily action. However, the most modernistic treatment of religious themes in any pantomime came from the German art historian Carl Einstein (1885-1940), with his Nuronihar (1913). As a communist and anarchist sympathizer, his perspective on religion was by no means that of a believer. Vollmer contends, after surveying Paul Raabe’s vast, 18-volume Index Expressionismus (1972), that Nuronihar is the only expressionist literary pantomime ever published: in an expressionist mode, pantomime favored film (Vollmer 2011: 432-433). Proto-expressionist effects appeared in earlier pantomimes, such as Scheerbart’s Kometentanz and Hofmannsthal’s Der Schüler, but Vollmer seems to mean that self-consciously expressionist authors avoided pantomime, even though in drama especially they experimented with a highly abbreviated, “telegraphic” language to construct “rich, unusually poetic metaphors for the unsayable, pre- and extra-linguistic” visions of profound estrangement “between subject and object worlds” (432). Yet expressionist writers tended to be skeptical of religious feeling as a domain of experience “beyond words” or as a path to the realm of the unsayable. Einstein was Jewish, but Judaic theology was not a subject on which he cared to write. In Nuronihar, religious themes, the conflict between Islam and Christianity, provided a metaphor or analogy for exploring the power dynamics of erotic desire. Einstein dedicated his pantomime to the Franco-Polish dancer Stacia Napierkowska (1886-1945), who began her career as a dancer for the Paris Opera and music halls before appearing, from 1908, as an actor and dancer in numerous French and Italian silent films. In 1910, she performed an exotic dance before the king in Louis Feuillade’s film Le Festin de Bathazar, which was a reprise of a dance she performed in Andre Capellani’s film Salome(1908) (Shepherd 2013: 102; cf. “Stacia Napierkowska on film” 2016). In 1911, she created in Paris a three-part piece, Pas de l’Abeille, a “dance of the bee,” and then had poses from it photographed and published in a magazine called The Sketch. The piece took place in an Arabian desert oasis, where a captive and bound Moroccan princess begs her sheik captor to release her; he agrees if she will dance for him, which she does by performing a dance of the bee: A girl picking flowers discovers a bee in her dress and writhes and wriggles to free it, discarding some clothing in the process. The sheik makes love to her but refuses to restore her freedom. She seizes a sword and stabs him to death, but realizes she can only be free in death. She then performs a “dance of fire,” in which death engulfs her upon an “altar of fire” (Brandstetter 2015: 172-174). Between 1912 and 1913, Napierkowska toured with the piece, including New York City, where her “Arab pantomime,” there titled The Captive, encountered a failed effort by the city administration to prosecute her for indecency; Ruth St. Denis joined her in the vaudeville program (New York Times April 27, 1913: C5; Slide 2012: 120). In 1911, Einstein published an open letter to Napierkowska in the journal Die Gegenwart, in which he described her movements in a manner very similar to those of the dancer Nuronihar; a French translation of the letter appeared in the January 1912 issue of the Parisian journal La Phalange, but it is not known if he actually knew her. She was clearly the model for the character Nuronihar, and Einstein sought the assistance of the theater producer Jacques Rouché (1862-1957), soon to be the director of the Opera, to bring his pantomime to the stage with Napierkowska in the title role. The pantomime itself first appeared in French translation in La Phalange a month before the German version appeared in the October 1913 edition of the radical expressionist journal Die Aktion (Meffre 2002: 47). But the idea of a Parisian production never materialized, and Nuonihar has never been performed anywhere. To some extent, then, the piece represents expressionistically the turbulent erotic feelings that Napierkowska awakened in the author. 

            But a second inspiration was the fantastic novel Vathek (1786) by the English super-aesthete William Beckford (1760-1844); Einstein published in Die Aktion in 1913, under the pseudonym Sabine Ree, a review of Franz Blei’s 1907 translation of the novel, which he described as a “book of inexhaustible desire […] concluding with infernal boredom and desperate banality,” “a work of stylized rationality that is alien to the organic” and comparable to works by Mallarme, Baudelaire, and Flaubert (Weisstein 1973: 94; Die Aktion 1913: 300). The novel chronicles the adventures of a caliph, Vathek, who encounters a grotesque man bearing swords containing undecipherable inscriptions. As a result of the encounter, Vathek repudiates Islam and begins, with the help of his mother, an extravagant quest to acquire supernatural powers that will give him godlike control over life. This project ends in disaster, as Vathek commits numerous crimes and sins to achieve his goal. He and those with whom he has colluded end up in the domain of Eblis, which is the eternal fire of hell. At one point in his journey to the source of supernatural power, Vathek visits a mountain kingdom populated by dwarves and ruled by the emir Fakreddin, whose beautiful daughter Nouronihar has an intense romantic relationship with her cousin, the beautiful, androgynous Gulchenrouz: “when Gulchenrouz appeared in the dress of his cousin, he seemed to be more feminine than even herself” (Beckford 1966: 155). But Vathek eventually seduces her, and she becomes his partner in his degeneration, while Gulchenrouz “passed whole ages in undisturbed tranquility” (194). The caliph’s success in achieving supernatural powers depends on his contract with the grotesque man who brought him the swords and who becomes the monstrous, demonic Giaour, a derogatory term for “infidel.”

Einstein borrowed much from Vathek, including these characters, but his pantomime placed the focus on Nuronihar and made the female dancer a source of supernatural disturbance. He somewhat follows the three-part structure of Napierkowska’s Pas de l’Abeille. The action unfolds in an “unnatural,” desolate landscape that includes a grassy hill, a great abyss or ravine, and a large red tent inhabited by Vateck. Einstein pays close attention to color effects: Vateck wears a green cloak, his eunuch an orange tunic; his guards wear yellow cloaks and carry blue shields. Nuronihar wears a peacock blue costume. “Vateck’s movements indicate that he has never experienced any resistance, a word or look from him indicates unimpeded actions.” Nuronihar is “completely preoccupied with her own body” and responds to everything she sees with “rhythmic movements”; dancing makes her “forget her environment,” yet she “would do nothing that causes her shame.” No one in the pantomime performs with either mimicking or “realistic gestures,” and Nuronihar provokes the “rhythmization” or “rhythmic excitement” of all others in the piece and even of the scenic environment. In the first part of the pantomime, Vateck remains motionless as he watches a dance performed by a muezzin and two Koran students in sky-blue, purple, and sea-green garments—a “classical” dance, “like a stupid sylph dance.” The caliph and his attendants respond with pantomimic gestures and commands. As the dance becomes more frenetic, Nuronihar appears on top of the hill, watches the dance, then rather shyly begins dancing herself. Her dance disrupts the dance of the Koran students, who become both excited and frightened by Nuronihar. It is a long and complicated dance, and Einstein describes in great detail various movements, responses, and emotions circulating within the performance space, such as: “The dance is in the pantomime the only permitted representation of passion, which cannot be externalized in fragmentary gestures or even facial expressions. The head stays quiet and does not steer the whole body. Nuronihar uses the ornamental advantages of the hill curve, which gives the utmost movement, but Vateck is always calm, though excited, without mimic or tenor gestures. His green coat burns more and more of passion, Nuronihar interests only physically, the folds of her dress order and clarify the movements.” One of the Koran students, dancing wildly toward Nuronihar, falls into the abyss. Nuronihar’s movements keep changing, “the aria after the recitative,” but Vateck remains still as he watches her body become increasingly “free and lascivious”: she does not dance for the caliph, she dances to display the power of her body over others. She dances to the edge of the abyss, then suddenly disappears behind the hill. Vateck finally moves, grabbing a sword and lunging toward the hill. But Nuronihar has vanished. Vateck and his eunuch stand together astounded, then soundlessly leave the stage, with his court retinue lying prostrate on the ground. The second part occurs at night in the same place. A white cloud hovers over the abyss as two stargazers appear, “armed” with immense telescopes, which they swing while dancing. Nuronihar joins them in the dance, although her movements are dreamier and more seductive. As she dances toward the abyss, she casts a great shadow over the white cloud. The dancing awakens the “dark and huge” Giaur from the abyss; he holds a large crystal ball that possesses all the qualities of a constellation. Nuronihar becomes enraptured by the “immense jewel,” tries to embrace it, and the constellation within it transforms her: the young girl disappears and she becomes a “frightfully demanding woman, […] and from now on the caliph has to deal with a woman who is greater than he is.” The glowing jewel hovers above and around Nuronihar in the arms of the Giaur, who never leaves the abyss. As Nuronihar dances more wildly, the jewel rises higher, and she seeks to become engulfed by the radiance of the sphere. The stargazers indicate they have discovered a new constellation; the laughter and thunder of the Giaur draws the constellation into the abyss, as Nuronihar’s shadow grows longer. An intense brightness overwhelms the scene. Nuronihar sleeps on the edge of the abyss, while the stargazers “comically” attempt to imitate her dancing shadow. But then they run off to announce the new constellation. Gulchencruz, described by Einstein as an “elegant, helpless insect,” then appears with “two female playmates,” looking for Nuronihar. They dance in a manner similar to the early movements of Nuronihar, but “sadder, more torn, and fearful.” When Gulchenkruz discovers Nuronihar, he becomes both stormy and delicate in his effort to embrace her, but Nuronihar mocks the trio’s gamboling with “caricatured movements,” and he then acts likes a scolded puppy. Vateck appears, and with a gesture scatters the trio; he grabs Nuronihar, and they stride “in a corresponding dance rhythm” across the landscape. The third and final part takes place at twilight, in Vateck’s tent, illuminated by a warm, subdued, colored light. Vateck remains largely in the shadows, but Nuronihar moves in and out of the glow in a ghostly manner. As night deepens, the tent gradually disappears, replaced by an immense cathedral, the dimensions of which far exceed the capacity of the performance space to contain all of it—this is a gigantic architectural magnification of the crystalline jewel in the previous scene; it glitters with a multitude of reflecting surfaces and “light panes.” The light drives Nuronihar to “ever more passionate unfolding of her powers”; she strives for the “maximum intensification of her entire erotic capacity,” which exceeds all “human constraints.” Her ecstatic dancing awakens the caliph, and he tries to restrain her, but he is no match for her. The huge Giaur lies on the steps of the cathedral, accompanied by guards with “long, dark shields.” Vateck studies her from the shadows until he hears a powerful horn signal, which urges him to perform a sword dance in competition with Nuronihar, who responds by performing a dance-striptease, but she performs the dance “without coquetry,” as if she were alone and completely enraptured by her own body. He drags her into the tent, where her dance becomes even more lascivious yet oblivious. The Giaur glows in the background as pillars of light encircle Nuronihar and swell to form a great ball that vanquishes the tent. Nuronihar dances on the steps of the cathedral before the Giaur, who blocks the entrance to Eblis, the dark hell beyond him. Vateck, blinded, struggles to restrain Nuronihar, but she resists, draws his sword, and stabs him to death. He falls into the arms of the Giaur, while she leaps over them to reach the “always glowing star.” She succeeds in “touching the circle of light, which pours over her and encloses her.” She burns within in it consumed by an “entirely ecstatic, torturous dance” (Vollmer 2012a: 217-227; Die Aktion 1913: 1006-1017).

             The scenario makes seemingly exorbitant demands on scenic technology to produce spectacular visual effects. But none of these effects was beyond the talents of imaginative scenic designers even in the nineteenth century; they’re just expensive. Presumably, in Einstein’s mind at least, the physically exhausting role of Nuronihar was within reach of Stacia Napierkowska’s talents, although she excelled much more in film pantomime than in dance. It is the violent expressionism of the piece that has condemned it to remain a startling literary curiosity rather than a visionary performance. Unlike Beckford’s novel, Nuronihar does not deal with an arrogant, criminal quest for supernatural powers. The spectacular scenic effects do not function to simulate the presence of “magic” or unearthly intimations of secret, inhuman knowledge. Rather, the expressionistic scenic and dance-pantomimic effects represent, allegorically or metaphorically, a male sexual-religious world-view. The uninhibited female dancer brings about the destruction of the caliph, the representative of measureless male power sanctified by Islam. Dance releases Nuronihar from any attachment to men; it drives her to a masturbatory reveling in her own body and its power to destroy all desire for anything other than the “infidel” radiance of a light that causes her to “burn” with pleasure or “passion” for her own being. Dance urges her to become a blazing “star” in the vast firmament that otherwise remains hidden in the afternoon blue sky above the desert. Vateck embodies a static, immobile idea of power that “moves” only to restrain others from falling into the abyss of the infidel, the Giaur. While the monstrous Giaur does not embody qualities specific to any “other” religion, the use of the cathedral imagery links him to Christianity, which, in the scenario’s understanding of Islam, is the “portal” to Eblis, a hell of infinite and absolute darkness. But though she dances at the edge of the abyss, Nuronihar does not fall into it, as do the caliph and the Koran students. Spatially and psychologically, she seems to dance between the caliph and the Giaur, but while the Giaur seduces and excites her with the glowing jewel-sphere, her dancing transfigures her into a fiery cosmic being that no religion, no maleness can possess. Nuronihar embodies the idea of power as transformation and metamorphosis, the discovery of a new star, a new light, a new “passion,” a new realm of ecstasy, a new way of moving from life into death. The pantomime is not so much a critique of Islam or Christianity as it is a critique of male anxiety regarding the female body. Religions function as immense projections of that anxiety. With Nuronihar, pantomime reaches an astonishingly sophisticated level of philosophical discourse that would achieve its greatest authority through wordless performance. It is difficult to imagine any philosophical, theological or even sexual discourse being any “deeper” or perhaps more controversial than a well-produced performance of this violent, cosmic conflict between male pantomime (the commanding gesture) and female dance (the ecstatic movement), although a performance now would probably provoke greater controversy than when Einstein wrote the scenario (cf. Vollmer 2011: 432-446). But as with other Austro-German pantomime authors, the writing of a powerful pantomime scenario seemed to exhaust his imagination in the medium, and he never wrote another one. It is as if Einstein saw pantomime as a way to compress into a single, orgasmic, and final crescendo of insight the relation of the body to sexuality, after which pantomime had done all that it existed to do and did not need to do anything more. But that is the limitation of a writer dominated by the anxiety that motivated him to write his pantomime. Writing Nuronihar probably did not end his anxiety, which might explain further why he felt no desire to write another pantomime: it didn’t free to him to see the body in relation to another theme, to a new insight. 

            Einstein’s extravagant expressionism and aggressive modernism may have seemed too esoteric for many audiences, but it is not correct to assume that a more popular or “audience-friendly” approach to pantomime would have created a more welcoming attitude toward the art on the part of the established theater culture of Western Europe. A few months after Einstein published Nuronihar, the Austrian journalist and dramatist Felix Salten (1869-1945) published his pantomime in four scenes, Das lockende Licht (1914). As an editor for various journals and newspapers in Vienna and Berlin, Salten developed a keen interest in popular or “trivial” forms of culture, which he attempted to integrate into his ambition to build a career as a serious literary author. Like the other Austrian pantomime writers, he belonged to the Jung Wien circle of Jewish writers. By 1914, he had published numerous volumes of short stories, plays, and reportage, although his most enduring effort from that time was the grossly pornographic novel Josephine Mutzenbacher (1906), which he never publically acknowledged writing. In 1923, he published his most famous book, the globally beloved Bambi, the story of a deer’s life in a vast Alpine forest. Josephine Mutzenbacher was the most radical thing Salten ever wrote, and even that became more popular than anyone imagined, due perhaps to repeated attempts by governments to suppress or proscribe it. But while he always kept in mind a feuilleton audience’s theory of entertainment, his spirit was fundamentally modern, and his single pantomime, in trying to accommodate a “popular” audience, introduced modest (non-radical) innovations that, however, did not succeed in making the piece popular. Das lockende Licht reads like a film scenario and probably would have seemed more daring and popular as a film in 1914 than as a stage production, in large part because the scenic environment for the action requires naturalism. Indeed, in 1913, Salten began writing screenplays, which he continued to do until the 1930s. The story, compressed into four scenes, is melodramatic, full of pathos, yet neither sentimental nor cynical. In a Viennese tenement, the young Susanne lives with her brutal, alcoholic father, who steals money from her to pay for liquor and compels her to dance in public accompanied by a hurdy-gurdy. Salten dramatizes these details by showing the father waking up with a severe hangover, searching for a drink, finding his bottle empty, searching through Susanne’s clothes for some money, discovering that she doesn’t have enough to pay for quenching his thirst, looking for something of hers to pawn, and then leaving the apartment in disgust when he finds nothing of sufficient value. Susanne wakes up refreshed and inspired by the sparkling morning. She washes, dresses, discovers her father’s tampering with her clothes, and looks around for something to eat. Her neighbor, the violinist Theodor, knocks, and Susanne, dancing to the door, lets him in. He gives her a violin lesson, and dances while he plays. It is clear that he is deeply in love with her, while she seems hesitant in her fondness for him. Throughout the piece, Salten occasionally inserts brief pieces of spoken dialogue, somewhat in the manner of silent film intertitles, to construct relations between characters. The father returns suddenly and demands that Susanne go to the park and dance. In the park, crowded with different types of people, the father prods the resistant Susanne to dance on the park stage. At the same time, the impresario Philibert wrangles with the dancer Gobsy, who refuses to dance anymore because she plans to marry the man who accompanies her, Count Willi, who can make her a countess and buy her fine clothes. She tears up her contract with Philibert. The father finally gets Susanne to begin her dance, while he cranks the hurdy-gurdy; children gather around the pair. Philibert sees an opportunity. He gives the astonished Susanne a gold piece, which succeeds in getting the father to leave in search of drink. She decides to go off with Philibert. She sees Theodor, but does not acknowledge him. The father returns, wondering what has happened to Susanne, but when he discovers the money left for him on the hurdy-gurdy, he becomes proud, glad, and relaxed. Theodor, overwhelmed with indecision, is not sure whether to follow the father or follow Susanne. The third scene unfolds in an “elegant” nightclub. The conductor welcomes Theodor as a new member of the orchestra. The impresario gathers together the performers for “The Comedy of Aphrodite” as patrons enter the club. Gobsy and the Count appear, and Gobsy announces that she will not dance; she will marry the Count. The audience would prefer to see her dance, but the impresario announces he has something better. The father shows up, wearing gloves, an overcoat, and a top hat; he announces himself to the impresario, who finds him a seat, where he starts drinking. The curtain parts, the orchestra plays, the nightclub darkens, and a spotlight reveals a bizarre scene: Susanne re-enacts her life as a street dancer accompanied by an old man playing a hurdy-gurdy who prods her to dance. Her real father weeps, but then she disappears behind the curtain as the spotlight dims. Theodor rises from the orchestra and moves to the stage, where he encounters the father, who mocks him. Theodor wants to pursue Susanne, but the impresario and the conductor compel him to return to the orchestra. The scene becomes dark again for the performance of “The Comedy of Aphrodite.” This consists mostly of dialogue: Aphrodite, played by Susanne, dismisses the concern of her husband Hephaistos that she has been unfaithful, but he departs unconvinced. Her son Eros, played by a child, explains that he has been busy shooting arrows of love. Ares appears and swells Aphrodite’s heart. As Eros weaves around the pair, Aphrodite peels away her clothing until she becomes “nearly naked.” She and Ares dance a minuet. Theodor rises from his seat and enters the stage, disrupting the action with his “gestures of tragic jealousy.” While Eros and Ares leave the stage in confusion or dismay, the audience thinks it is watching a good clown act, as Theodor reproaches Susanne and declares his love for her. But Susanne responds scornfully: she has had “enough of your violin”; she wants an audience, success, wealth. She begins dancing, “full of longing, full of lust,” into the audience, which swarms around her, while Theodor, from the stage, watches her disappear from his life. The final scene occurs decades later. Late in the summer evening in a country restaurant, young people waltz to violin music played by the white-haired Theodor. When he finishes playing, the young people gather around him to praise his music, and he sips from all of their drinks. Girls huddle around him, but he dismisses them as false and disloyal. But they insist he play another tune for them. A beggar woman enters, stirred by the violin music: Susanne, utterly exhausted and hungry. The restaurant manager shows compassion, guides her to a seat, instructs a waitress to bring some food, and says she can stay until morning. He begins closing up the restaurant and invites Theodor to stay overnight, but Theodor wants to return to the city, and he asks the beggar woman if she wants to return to the city with him. “Then, with a large gesture, she recognizes him, becomes overwhelmed with dizziness, wants to return to her seat and sinks onto the floor in front of it.” The alarmed Theodor studies her face and, as if seeing Death, pulls back horrified. He recognizes her with an astonished: “You!” She reaches out to him, but he wraps his cloak around himself as if to leave her. But, kneeling, she asks him to forgive her. Theodor raises her and leads her to a couch, where she shivers and he covers her with his cloak. She lifts his violin, kisses it, and asks him to play it. But he says it is “too late, too late. Everything is over!” She wants to explain, but he says: “Quiet! Quiet! I know everything.” He takes the violin from her and plays a bit. Then they simply sit together, without holding hands, gazing at the morning light streaming through the restaurant window and revealing the city in the distance. A child appears and, with upraised arms, dancing lightly toward the rising sun (Vollmer 2012a: 228-244).

            Salten excels at describing pantomimic actions filled with emotion. The actions are simple, familiar, and naturalistic; their emotional weight derives from their peculiar concatenation within a naturalistically presented milieu and the narrative that issues “naturally” from that milieu. For example, when Susanne enters the restaurant: “At some tables, someone gives her a coin; at some she is impatiently dismissed. She bears it quietly; she is used to nothing else. She falters. The violin playing grips her, as if she knows it. She takes a couple of feeble steps; lifts a pained face and feels: where are the times when I, too, was happy. The manager notices her, wants to send her away” (Vollmer 2012a: 242). These actions are moving when performed “naturalistically”—that is, when performed with restraint, as if the body resists some pressure within itself to release a greater feeling than the environment “allows.” Das lockende Licht is pantomime in a naturalistic mode. The carefully described settings for the tenement apartment, the park, the nightclub, and the restaurant prescribe both the narrative and the pantomimic action. The environment overwhelms the main characters, who are too weak or too deprived to overcome given circumstances; they act out of necessity rather than out of desire. The environment is an inescapable fate that prevents love from redeeming or transforming it. But the pantomime is not a critique of the society that inhabits the environment, for it presumes, in melodramatic fashion, that a tragic relation to the environment, to the world, results from a helpless succumbing to a pathological hunger—for drink, for money, or for the love or possession of another. This type of melodramatic naturalism was “popular” especially in pre-war Europe to a degree that audiences today seem reluctant to acknowledge, even though performances in this style, particularly in some Scandinavian, German, and Russian silent films, remain persuasive and moving dramatizations of a fundamental understanding that life is inescapably sad, a crushing failure of love to release people from the deprivation into which they were born. But Salten’s pantomime was not popular. The piece had a single production, in February 1914 at the Dresden Opera, with music composed by the Russian Wladimir Metzl (1882-1938), a cousin of Salten’s wife Ottilie who had attracted attention for his large-scale symphonic works. Frida Hess (1886-1972), a star dancer in the Dresden Opera ballet corps, played Susanne, while Waldemar Staegemann (1879-1958), a baritone in the opera company was Theodor and Josef Pauli (1867-1928), a tenor in the company, took the role of the father. The Dresden ballet master Jan Trojanowski directed the show. Reviewers in Dresden and Berlin praised the production for its “radiant” performances, its “warm-blooded” music, and the emotional, “dreamlike” logic of the narrative, which seemed to open up a “new direction” for pantomime, although they observed that the production resembled a film performance (Vollmer 2011: 452-454). But Das lockende Licht never had another production and Salten did not write another pantomime. The piece requires large resources to achieve the appropriate naturalistic scenic environment, which includes many supernumeraries for the park, nightclub, and restaurant scenes. Only a large, well-funded repertory theater, such as the Dresden Opera, could produce the work with the attention to commanding environmental details required by the scenario. A film production of the scenario was much more likely to recover the costs of creating the familiar, “natural” world that doomed Theodor, Susanne, and her father. Consequently, Salten channeled his distinctive pantomimic imagination into the writing (and occasionally the directing) of scenarios for silent films. None of the silent films he wrote seem to have survived, so it is difficult to know how his approach to pantomime evolved in the medium. However, in 2016, a print of “the last and perhaps most beautiful Austrian silent film” turned up in France. This was Die kleine Veronika (aka Unschuld) (1930), based on a 1902 novel of the same name by Salten and directed by the mysterious Robert Land (1887-1942), with a screenplay by the prolific Austrian screenwriter Max Jungk (1872-1937). The story bears much similarity with Das lockende Licht: “Veronika is a girl from a small mountain village in Tyrol. Since her parents are poor, her aunt pays for her Confirmation and invites her to the vibrant city of Vienna. What no one knows is that the aunt is working in a brothel. For the innocent young girl, the dodgy ambience and the customers turn out to be a great danger” (Film Archiv Austria 2017). The aristocratic Hungarian actress Käthe von Nagy (1904-1973) played Veronika. The film has elicited much praise for its naturalistic settings in Tyrol and Vienna and for the sophistication of its pantomimic acting. But the story of an innocent girl’s corruption by the big city has always seemed “natural” to the popular imagination and often brings out its best qualities.

Scene from Die kleine Veronika (1930), directed by Robert Land, with Käthe von Nagy (center) in the title role; based on the 1902 novel of the same name by Felix Salten. Photo: Filmarchiv Austria.

            The few Austro-German pantomimes in Vollmer’s anthology that followed Das lockende Licht bear the imprint of silent film aesthetics. None of them possess the emotional depth or imaginative scope of Salten’s scenario, and each was by a different author who never wrote a second scenario. Still, in their modest ways, these scenarios expanded the scope of the German pantomimic imagination even as it waned. In 1917, the German dramatist Carl Hauptmann (1858-1921) wrote Pantomime, a brief, four-scene scenario for the Berlin actor Fritz Ebers (1884-1941), who never performed it, and Hauptmann waited until 1922 to publish it in the Stuttgart socialist journal Die neue Zeit. He claimed that seeing Parisian pantomimes in 1907 inspired him to write his own (Vollmer 2011: 454). But the piece takes its subject matter from Silesian mythology, namely the figure of Rübezahl, a gnomic spirit, a kind of trickster, who inhabits the Silesian mountains and is responsible for storms, fogs, and other natural disturbances as well as tricks on people who insult him or harm poor people. In the boudoir of a castle in the Silesian mountains, a Duchess, attended to by a hairdresser, displays her boredom with her audience of sycophantic military officers. A knight then tells her about a mountain spirit, and she announces her desire to meet the spirit. In the following scene, the knight returns with the Trickster (Rübezahl), who brings a “deep, anxious silence” to the castle. He tells the Duchess that if he had known he was to meet her, he would have come sooner. “But the knight requested me very badly and crudely.” She invites him to show her his latest farces, but he says he cannot perform them without the help of people around her. The knight plays the mayor of a small mountain village; the maid plays Ethel, the wife of the Trickster. Rübezahl plays a poor farmer, dragging a harvest sack, panting, with a crooked back, weak eyes, and hunger. His wife enters, weeping. She explains that the mayor is pursuing her amorously. The mayor then appears with his subordinates; he puts his arm around the waist of the wife, while the subordinates drag away the helpless farmer, as the mayor’s laugh resonates across the mountains. In the final scene, the anguished farmer counts the days he has not eaten. The laughter of the mayor echoes through the mountains; he appears, snapping a whip, while the farmer, hiding, suddenly, in the form of a wolf, pounces on the mayor, a scene that impresses the Duchess and her companions. The wolf/Rübezahl disappears behind a pillar. But the knight, “he who had robbed so many poor tradesmen, lies strangled on the floor.” The audience cowers, stunned. Wind and laughter shudder through the castle park, “the judgmental voice of the mountain spirit” (Vollmer 2012a: 263-266). Vollmer regards the scenario as an example of Bahr’s assertion that “the home of pantomime is the phantasmal,” achieved here through the dissolution of borders between fiction and reality, theater and life, a dissolution that is fatal. “The unconditional confrontation with irrational action pushes the audience into speechlessness [Sprachlosigkeit]” (Vollmer 2011: 456-457, 459). Hauptmann had already published a collection of Rübezahl short stories in Rübezahlbuch (1915), a leisurely, picaresque exploration, in nine “adventures,” of the manifold facets of the mountain spirit’s simultaneously demonic and benevolent character. Apparently Hauptmann wrote the pantomime scenario because he wanted to compress a Rübezahl adventure into a performable scene, a theatrical form, that revealed more convincingly than any literary narrative the power of myth to collapse the difference between the imaginary and the real. The piece implies that the achievement of social justice entails a mystical disturbance of nature, which can only be understood through the “fatal” intersection of social, theatrical, and mythic roles. Yet the scenario resembles watching a film largely because the mystical dimension is much more credible if the scenic environment, which includes a view of the Silesian mountains through the windows of the duchess’s boudoir, displays detailed realism rather than expressionistic subjectivity. But the cost of producing realistic scenery for such a brief scenario is too high to justify production of the piece. A film production seems much more feasible, where an economy of scale allows the recovery of high production costs through multiple reproductions of the same performance. A film, however, would undermine the “fatal intersection” of theater and reality in the scenario and reinforce the perception that the mystical basis of social justice is an illusion, a matter of a seductive image. Nevertheless, the scenario exposes the economics of pantomime in relation to the aesthetic tension between naturalistic performance and terse, expressionistic actions. An Austro-German literary imagination freed pantomime from the moribund, stagnant Pierrot paradigm promoted by a decadent theatrical tradition, but the cost of materializing this imagination through performance was exorbitant and explains why, during World War I, pantomimic imagination migrated to film. Pantomimic imagination could not develop or expand without access to a new technology (film) that could establish the authority of naturalistic physical actions in naturalistic settings without the irrecoverable cost imposed by theater. But Hauptmann himself explained the migration of pantomimic imagination differently in an essay on “Film und Theater” he wrote for Die neue Schaubühne in 1919. Here he explained that film was not yet an art because, for commercial reasons, it copied theater and thus produced a stunted, immature form of performance. Film would become a unique art when it built its aesthetic around a “primal realm [Urbereich] of gesture,” in which bodily significations function for the creators of films the way musical tones function for composers and musicians or colors for painters. The gestures of humans will then become integrated with the gestures of plants, animals, stars, rocks, even houses and furniture, for “the realm of gestures is cosmic” and requires a way of seeing that is beyond the capacities of other arts (Hauptmann 1923: 11-20). But while he was exuberantly enthusiastic about the possibilities of what he obviously envisioned as an expressionistic cinema, Hauptmann did not live long enough to make any films, although in 1923, the Berlin studio Decla-Bioscop produced a film version of Hauptmann’s tragic chamber play Die Austreibung (1905), directed by F.W. Murnau (1888-1931) and involving numerous other illustrious figures of German expressionist cinema. This, too, was a story set in the Silesian mountains, but without a mystical dimension, dealing with the family of a woodsman, Steyer, whose second wife deceives him into thinking her lover, a hunter, is amorously involved with Steyer’s daughter; the piece ends with Steyer’s murder of the hunter and the destruction of the Steyer family. The film is “lost,” so it is difficult to say how Murnau and his actors transformed Hauptmann’s quite talky drama into pantomimic action. In a small preface to the published play, Hauptmann contends that his drama is a set of “rhythms,” for “rhythm is the secret division of all our living actions,” controlled by breath, the heartbeat, which is also always the intimation of death. He therefore writes the proto-expressionist dialogue of the play as a peculiar rhythmic concatenation of words, part prose, part verse, part pauses (cf. Seeliger 1905: 320). In his essay on film and theater, Hauptmann returns to the idea of speech as a matter of rhythm, breath, and heartbeat to distinguish theater, which is an “art of words,” from film, which is an art of gesture analogous to tones or colors of the psyche. Here Hauptmann intimated that speech and pantomime did not need to function exclusively from each other but that, in film, they could co-exist, like rhythm and tonality in music (by way of example, he refers to the compositions of Max Reger), and in Pantomime he did include some brief moments of dialogue, although by no means enough to clarify the aesthetic relation between speech and pantomime. Still, even if “speech” in silent films meant intertitles, Hauptmann seemed to see in film much greater potential to complement the “rhythms and gestures of the soul” than was possible in the theater. 

            Somewhat less convoluted in its relation to cinema is the Galante Pantomime (1918) published by the journalist Arthur Sakheim (1889-1931) in Der Freihafen, the journal of the Hamburg Kammerspiele, where Sakheim worked at the time as a dramaturge. This pantomime, set in Würzburg on a summer day during the rococo period, unfolds in a single scene. The action takes place in the chateau of the Baroness Isabella, which attempts to emulate in many, many scenic details the decorative features of Parisian fashion, including a small library filled with French novels. The Baroness is a naïve provincial who struggles against boredom by immersing herself in the romantic fantasies of French novelists. Her husband, the Baron, devotes himself to hunting and cares nothing about her craving for romantic excitement. While he is away hunting, a traveler, Count Hubert, whose carriage has experienced a mishap, comes to the chateau and the Baroness allows him to stay the night while the carriage undergoes repairs. She realizes that he is a man of great sophistication and refinement returning from Paris, and she is eager to impress him with her knowledge of French culture, even though he makes gestures that indicate he regards her condescendingly as hopelessly provincial. They eat dinner, she shows him her French library, they dance, she is joyful, and then suddenly the clock strikes twelve, and the Baroness realizes, with a great sigh, that the time has come for her to go to bed. They separate graciously, he to his room upstairs and she to her bedroom in the ground floor alcove. The maid Nanette tucks her in bed and gives her a French novel to read by candlelight, while in his room the Count, assisted by his servant Dominique, prepares for bed, with Dominique leaving a copy of the scandalous novel Liaisons dangereuses for the Count’s nighttime reading. But neither the Baroness nor the Count can sleep. The Baroness churns in bed, a “mixture of restless sensuality and platonic purity.” The Count cannot stay in bed; he paces his room, amazed that such a modestly charming, superficially sophisticated woman can inflame him so passionately, so lustfully. He struggles to overcome his desires, but then decides to approach her room, despite the looming presence of portraits depicting the Baron and Baroness. When he rings the door entering the “shimmering alcove” to the main playing space, she startles, as if awakened from a dream. He sinks to her feet, reaches up to her, and divulges his passion for her. Confused, alarmed, and angered, she strikes him, and he collapses into unconsciousness, perhaps even death. Stunned, she summons Nanette, who takes command of the situation: they carry the Count to the Baroness’s bed, where Nanette shows her how to coax him back to consciousness. When he recovers consciousness, he zealously kisses the Baroness’s hands, bringing to her a “new expansion of knowledge and of pleasure,” while Nanette leaves the alcove “with a coquettish bow.” A morning rooster crows. The Baron returns from his hunting trip; full of energy and oblivious to Nanette, he heads for the alcove. But the “mephistophically amused” Nanette intercepts him and indicates that the Baroness still sleeps. The Baron then turns his attention to Nanette, wraps his arm around her waist. She accepts his attentions, partly to protect her mistress and largely out of “undiminished joy in the thing itself,” the joke, the impish game. The Baron kisses her “cheerfully, crudely, and extravagantly,” and they leave contentedly as the rooster crows again (Vollmer 2012a: 267-273). Like the Baroness herself, the charm of the scenario is greater than the superficiality of its narrative. Sakheim makes imaginative use of simultaneous actions occurring in separate rooms and on separate floors. More significantly, his sense of pantomimic action is delightfully lucid in that he describes actions that give momentum to the narrative, reveal character, indicate markers of socio-historical identity, and carry comic-emotional weight. For example: 

[The Count] puts on a new, select coat, fixes his hair before the dressing table mirror, dusts off his shoes and stockings, and finally richly douses himself with perfume. While this happens, Nanette performs her assignment. The Baroness is gladly surprised, commands the maid to cover the table. Nanette does it. The Baroness adopts the attitude of a concierge toward the impious library, sinks into an armchair, adjusts herself to an austere mood, and composes her hair and profile in the mirror. (This last happens while the Count upstairs straightens his hair.) As the Count perfumes himself, the Baroness sprays lavender water. Then she settles into the armchair at the window in as relaxed a pose as possible and reads, so to speak (Vollmer 2012a: 269).

The writing gives the feeling of watching an elegant silent film comedy, with a variety of small, naturalistic actions strung together to create a mood of expectation, a sense of desires emerging in separate spaces and about to converge. The delicate attention to surfaces makes the piece seem far from turbulent expressionist subjectivity. Yet a modernist spirit suffuses the piece in that it skillfully dramatizes how the “natural” (cine-documentary) performance of commonplace domestic actions both conceals and reveals large, repressed, even subversive (adulterous) desires. The rococo milieu amplifies the surface charms of an idealized domestic sphere and reinforces the impression that history is an illusion hiding repressed desires. But it is not evident that the Hamburg Kammerspiele saw the scenario in this way when it staged the work in March 1920 on a double bill with Wilhelm von Scholz’s “grotesque” marionette play Doppelkopf (1918), a truly bizarre piece in rhymed verse about a theater troupe or freak show whose members possess various physical “abnormalities.” The Kammerspiele staged Galante Pantomime as a dance, not a pantomime, with choreography by the Hamburg modern dancer Laura Oesterreich (1889-1975), who played Count Hubert. Jutta von Collande, the leader of the radical Hamburg dance ensemble Münchner Tanzgruppe, played the Baroness, while dancer Frieda Holst performed the role of Nanette. Yet another woman, the actress Else Kündiger, played the husband and apparently was the only performer who presented her role in pantomime. Orchestral music composed and conducted by the Austrian Arnold Winternitz (1872-1938) accompanied the performance. For reviewers in the Hamburg press, the music was perhaps the strongest element of the production: making a dance of the scenario trivialized the piece or at least obscured the thematic and emotional qualities of the narrative. Vollmer asserts that the production was an example of artists having no idea how to organize pantomimic performance (Vollmer 2011: 468-471). It may be that the theater supported a dance version of the scenario because it did not have the money to invest in the elegant scenic environment required to create the refined domestic “surface” in which the characters should perform their cine-documentary actions. A pantomime approach with an all-female cast most likely would have exposed a homosexual dimension to the performers that a dance approach occluded. A subsequent Hamburg performance of the scenario by the Münchner Tanzgruppe in February 1921 attracted criticism from Wilhelm Ehlers in Allgemeine Künstler-Zeitung (10, 6, March 15, 1921: 11), who complained that dance completely smothered the point of the scenario. For the 1921 performance, under the direction of the expressionist artist Andreas Scheller, Collande played the Count and the dancer Gertrud Falke (1890-1984) the Baroness, while another dancer, Elsbeth Baack, was the Baron, Anita Nessen was Nanette, and Grete Jung was Dominique (Polchinelle) (Fischer 1923: 255). The productions of Galante Pantomime may have served as opportunities for Collande to wrest control of the Tanzgruppe from its male founders, Scheller and Paul Etbauer (1892-1975), and form a completely female ensemble in which she could more freely develop her daring and even wild choreographic ideas (cf. Toepfer 1997: 238-240). A Hamburg journalist, Paul Wittko (1866-1958), claimed that the Kammerspiele production showed how music had greater importance in pantomime than in opera, for music and pantomime gave each other greater power than words or voices, and pantomime allowed the composer to compose more freely and expressively than in opera (Vollmer 2011: 469). Despite the failure of the productions to think pantomimically, audiences apparently responded favorably, which may have diluted Sakheim’s desire to continue in the medium. In 1920, he published his pamphlet Expressionismus, Futurismus, Aktivismus, wherein he proclaimed that Futurism and Expressionism spawned “activism,” which involved the transformation of “an egocentric time of tragic-grotesque high culture,” “the erotic-aesthetic Self,” into a “labor-intense, socialistic love, into a venomous, pain-tested redemption of fellow humans” (Sakheim 1920: 12-13). The back of the pamphlet announced an impending publication by Sakheim, Patmos und Kythera, which, in addition to numerous expressionistic poems, would include three pantomime scenarios: Galante PantomimeDer Prinz und die drei Orangen, and Monna Caterina Connio.  However, when Patmos und Kythera appeared, in 1920 (before the advertisement for it in the pamphlet!), it contained only poems; the other two pantomimes never achieved any publication at all. He continued to write plays, but pantomime was no longer part of the “activism” that motivated him to write. 

            From Vollmer’s perspective, the Austro-German literary pantomime ends in complete obscurity with Countess Louisemarie Schönborn’s Der weisse Papagei, which appeared in her privately printed little book Jussun der Holzkopf (1921). Hardly anything is known about the author. Vollmer does not even discuss her or her pantomime in his monumental treatise on the scenarios in his anthology. Der weisse Papagei has never received a performance, and Schönborn never published anything else. In addition to several prose fairy tales, the book contained 16 fanciful watercolor illustrations by the equally obscure Eleonore in Bayern. Perhaps the aristocratic women saw the book as a gift to their friends. Whatever the ambition behind the book, Der weisse Papagei retains until the end the belief of the Austro-German literary imagination that writing a pantomime is an act of modernist innovation. The piece takes place in a fantasyland of the “Orient,” but with reference to “geishas.” The action takes place between sunset and sunrise on a summer night in a lush garden with the sea in the background and yellow birds on the tree branches. Jim, the Stranger, sleeps at a table under a laburnum bush. A roguish figure in a kimono, Ruko, appears, studies Jim, sips his tea, and then disappears behind a magnolia tree, which is the signal for a group of juvenile geishas to enter bearing lamps. One of them, Cuva, a “sad, melancholy” girl, shows an attraction to Jim, even though she cannot see his face. A white parrot follows her everywhere. Her companions want to wake Jim, but Cuva deters them. She gathers flowers strewn across the stage and lies down under a lilac bush, where she, too, falls asleep. A cloud appears on the horizon, precipitating Jim’s dream, which intersects with Cuva’s dream and reminiscence: in the clown Jim she sees Prince Murko, her childhood love, whom her father has forbidden her to see; her father insists that she marry Kuru, a wealthy ship’s captain. A white light falls on the sleepers. In the background, the geishas enact the childhood romance of Murko and Cuva; Murko then transforms into the harlequin Jim and the geishas become harlequins, as Jim’s dream prevails. A “chaos of fools” ensues, with Jim playing a violin, but when the music turns “serious and sad,” he throws his instrument away and becomes overwhelmed with “horrible world sorrow.” The harlequins gather around Jim and the geishas dance around Cuva. With their fanning and tickling, the geishas and harlequins awaken the sleeping pair. Neither Cuva nor Jim is sure that what they see is a dream or reality. While the parrot squawks, Jim falls to his knees before Cuva and kisses her hands “ecstatically.” Cuva sees in him Prince Murko, to whom she bows deeply while at the same time holding back in terror of loving someone forbidden: Jim, “standing like a beggar,” reminds her of his clown hat and shell shoes. As Jim embraces her, Ruko peers from the bushes and disappears. Kuru’s ship appears on the horizon. Ruko waves Kuru onto the scene, pointing to the lovers. Kuru fires an arrow that kills the parrot. The harlequins attack Kuru with chutes and pebbles, while the geishas sprinkle flowers on the dead parrot and make garlands for the lovers. The sun rises, casting gold rays, but Cuva stills feels pursued by a phantom. Ruko bounces into the scene with a silk robe for Jim and a necklace for Cuva. The harlequins and the geishas gather together and bow before Prince Murko. The orchestra makes bird sounds (Vollmer 2012a: 274-278).  

            The piece abounds in decorative details and contains numerous music cues that continually shift the mood from sweet to melancholic. Neither a comic nor a tragic tone prevails; the difference between dream and reality is unclear, and one reads as if watching a color film of exquisite watercolor figures in an exotic locale. Perhaps the piece dramatizes the fantasy of a woman to whom men appear as strangers, utterly foreign creatures: it is difficult to tell if a man is a clown or a prince, for he is both. Yet Cuva’s father prefers that she marry a sailor rather than a prince, so the prince may simply be someone she has imagined since childhood. Jim, “the stranger,” is an inert, passive figure, asleep when he attracts Cuva, who does not even see his face and does not want her geisha friends to wake him. Ruko is a sort of comic figure who somehow causes things to happen to Jim: the appearance of the geishas and harlequins, the arrival of Kuru, the presentation of the silk robe and necklace. Kuru kills the parrot instead of Jim, as if the pet parrot had greater power over Cuva than any man, but the harlequins easily chase away Kuru. Presumably, however, the silk robe and the necklace are gifts from Kuru, as if these allow him to atone for the death of the parrot. The piece is a decorative dream in which a man never becomes more than a “phantom” who can replace a parrot as a young woman’s pet. Here for the first time pantomime and music collaborate to envision a female subjectivity in which maleness is an alluring phenomenon but utterly strange, “orientally” alien, and beyond the reach of any spoken word. Female subjectivity works to allow this “strange” maleness to fit into a remote, decorative land or dream world of its own making. The Austro-German literary pantomime era may end obscurely, but it ends with what had been missing from the pantomimic literary imagination for centuries: a pantomimic scenario by a woman, a published relation between a text and wordless performance controlled entirely by a woman. 

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