Pantomime: The History and Metamorphosis of a Theatrical Ideology: Table of Contents
Kool’s retreat from composing music for pantomimes in 1926-1927 may have resulted from his fear of competition from composers more gifted than himself. In 1926, numerous modernist composers published a prodigious amount of dance music in Germany, including music for pantomimes and hybrid forms of speechless performance encouraged by a society that avoided clear distinctions between ballet and other forms of theatrical dance. In this environment, guided by composers rather than scenarists, composers could label works pantomime when they were not. For example, composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) achieved much success after 1924 with his two-scene “Tanzpantomime” Der Dämon (1922), using a scenario by the expressionist theater journalist Max Krell (1887-1962) that depicts, in about thirty minutes, the imprisonment of two sisters by a demon, whose poisons undermine their power to resist him. While he sits on a throne with one sister shackled behind him, the other sister attempts to seduce him so that she can free her sister. But the seduction fails, and the demon, now bored with his captives, abandons them in the prison he has made for them. The action, however, unfolds through thirteen short dances thematically labeled: “Dance of the Oppressed Swallows,” “Dance of the Poison,” “Dance of Pain,” “Dance of Sorrow and Longing,” “Dance of the Closed Orchid,” “Dance of Red Rage,” and so forth. The sisters do all of the dancing, while the demon, primarily a sadistic spectator of the sisters’ alternately tormented and seductive movements, does pantomime. Yet the premiere production of the piece in Darmstadt in December 1923 was the work of a director, not a choreographer, the young Albrecht Joseph (1901-1991), later to become a prolific screenwriter and film editor. In this atmosphere of genre ambiguity, productions become pantomimes when actors perform dances or directors choreograph dances. In mid-1920s Germany, when modern dance schools sought to produce ensemble pieces that moved away from story narratives and toward more formally abstract, anti-theatrical narrative structures, any speechless theatrical performance could be pantomime if the action followed a scenario, a story requiring characterization but not ballet technique. Universal Edition advertised Vittorio Rieti’s (1898-1994) Barabau (1925) as a “pantomime with chorus in one act,” even though the Ballet Russes had premiered this peasant farce in Paris as a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine. Numerous ballets appeared, but so, too, did some works explicitly designated as pantomimes or dance pantomimes about which information remains very difficult to extract, even though various German cities produced them: Der Spiegel (1925), by Albert Siklós (1878-1942), scenario by Mohácsi Jenő (1886-1944); Pierrots Sommernacht (1925), by Hermann Noetzel (1880-1951), Pantea (1921), “symphonic drama and dance pantomime” for female dancer, invisible chorus, and orchestra by Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973); Tahi (1926), pantomime in one-act by Felix Petyrek (1892-1951) with scenario by dancer Julian Algo (1899-1955); Prometheus (1927), “heroic dance pantomime,” by Hubert Pataky (1892-1953), with scenario by Max Terpis; Tragödietta (1927), pantomime by Austrian composer Max Brand (1896-1980), who the same year attempted to establish a “Mimoplastisches Theater für Ballett” in Venna; Der und Der (1928), pantomime by baritone Max Spilcker (1892-1954); Der Ozeanflug (1928), a “Tanzpantomime,” by American composer-conductor Antonio Modarelli (1894-1954), from a scenario by Dutch dancer and later film actress Ery Bos (1908-2005); Baby in der Bar (1928), a “Tanzspiel,” composed by Wilhelm Grosz (1894-1939), from a scenario by Béla Balázs (1884-1949), and choreography by Yvonne Georgi (1903-1975), produced in Braunschweig, featured a jazz band on stage in a comic story about a distraught woman who abandons her baby in a luxurious nightclub. Stirred by the jazz music, the baby suddenly grows big and starts dancing to the different dance tunes, causing others in the club to lose their inhibitions. In 1925, composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) composed a one-act opera, Der Protagonist, based on the 1920 expressionist play of the same name by Georg Kaiser (1878-1945); productions of it in Dresden (1926) and Berlin (1928) inspired much enthusiasm. Weill and Kaiser originally planned a three-act pantomime, but decided that so much “silence” was “wearisome.” Set in “Shakespeare’s England”, the opera depicts an acting troupe preparing a pantomime for presentation to a Duke. The actors at first rehearse a comic pantomime, about six minutes long, dealing with marital infidelity, “performed entirely balletically and unrealistically, with exaggerated gestures.” But when the actors learn that the Duke has invited a Bishop, they decide they must prepare a tragic pantomime, about seven minutes long, “performed with vivid expression and passionate movements,” depicting a woman deeply estranged from her oppressively affectionate husband and longing to be free of him. The protagonist of the opera and the pantomimes is an actor with an incestuous attachment to his sister. The actor’s life parallels that of the pantomimes insofar as he pursues an adulterous relation with a woman while struggling with jealousy over his wife’s infidelity. His emotions overwhelm him to the point that he cannot distinguish himself from the character he plays. While rehearsing the tragic pantomime, he stabs his sister to death when she declares her affection for another man (Hinton 2012: 70-77; Gilliam 1994: 7-8). As might be expected, the music for the first pantomime conveys a playful, rather mischievous quality, while the music for the second pantomime contains much more dramatic contrast and emotional intensity, but it is all music in an aggressively modernist style, determined to create a new sound for the representation of an old time that is actually not so remote from our own time in which violent emotions like jealousy destroy a person’s capacity to function as a protagonist of his own or another’s story. While some reviewers and scholars have asserted that the pantomimes in Der Protagonist show the influence of silent film and Caligari, the opera is actually a rare example of a modernist application of the Shakespearean dumb show.
Musikblätter des Anbruch regularly announced impending pantomimes that the composers never completed: Die Verfolgung (1926), a pantomime by Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), with a scenario by screenwriter Béla Balázs (cf. Hohmaier 2012: 53-64); Die Idee (1928), a six-scene pantomime, by Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996), presumably based on the 1920 wordless expressionist novel in woodcuts by the Flemish artist Frans Masereel (1889-1972), which eventually became a tragic, expressionist animated film (1932) by Berthold Bartosch (1893-1968), with music by Arthur Honegger that included the first use of an ondes martenot in a film soundtrack. But from the perspective of the German music press, the term “pantomime” described not only ballet, but any form of wordless theatrical performance that included dances or identified itself as a dance, as long as the dancers impersonated characters in a story and performed unique, “modern” movements—that is, movements specifically linked to the peculiar modernity of the music rather than to an academic technique imposed on the music. Pantomime thus applied, in critical discourse, to Egon Wellesz’s twenty-minute Persisches Ballett (1920), with a scenario by the original choreographer, dancer Ellen Tels (1885-1944) and dedicated to Arnold Schoenberg, and to his thirty-minute “dance symphony” in nine scenes Die Nächtlichen (1923), with a scenario by Max Terpis and a highly unusual opening scene accompanied exclusively by percussion instruments. Examination of the score for Persisches Ballett explains the semantic ambiguity. Tels’ scenario is a rather conventional “oriental” tale of intrigue, jealousy, and murder within a Shah’s royal tent. The action is clearly and primarily pantomimic, interrupted by two dances performed only by “the Shah’s favorite” female companion, Djamiljeh, who murders her jealous lover (Wellesz 1922). But while Persisches Ballett achieved some popularity in Germany, Die Nächtlichen, similarly pantomimic, was a great failure in Berlin under Terpis’s direction: reviewers and audiences found the music too harsh and intimidating. Wellesz discovered with these productions, and even with his music for Hofmannsthal’s properly designated ballet Achilles in Skyros (1921), that, in this theatrical environment, appreciation for the modernity of his music depended on an equivalent modernity of the scenario. He subsequently focused his love of theater music on operas using his own libretti.
The idea that wordless theatrical performance in a modernist vein required new forms urged composers, rather than scenarists, to invent new names for projects that critical discourse still called pantomimes, such as the term “mimodrama,” as if this term would escape whatever negative associations audiences held in relation to the words “pantomime,” “dance,” or “ballet.” Composer Wilhelm Mauke (1867-1930) introduced the idea of “mimodrama” in 1917 with the premiere in Karlsruhe of his two-act pantomime Die letzte Maske, which had productions in at least a dozen German cities into the late 1920s. Novelist Kurt Münzer (1879-1944) wrote the scenario, which tells “the touching story of the traditional lovers, Pierrot and Columbine. Columbine, amidst a gay, masked assemblage, is haunted by the spectral visions of approaching death and finally falls a victim to her own dire apprehensions. Pierrot in the wild ecstasy of pain and dolorous exaltation, takes his own life” (Musical Courier May 6, 1920: 48). However, Hans Schorn, a critic for Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, reviewing the premiere in Karlsruhe, complained that “mimodrama” merely meant the transformation of a banal story into a vulgar movie on stage. Every aspect of the production—the music, the scenario, the scenic design, the acting, and the costumes—was hopelessly conventional and boring (Vol. 84, No. 21: 175-176). Yet German composer Albert Noelte (1885-1946), writing for the American journal Musical Courier (May 6, 1920: 48), described the Munich production, directed by the ballet master Heinrich Kröller (1880-1930), as “fascinating from first to last,” with “music of a rather eruptive nature.” But he referred to the piece as a pantomime, not a mimodrama or a ballet, even though an “unknown dancer” and eventual film actress, Charlotte Krüger, played Columbine. Reviewing the 1918 Frankfurt production, Karl Holl praised the “pantomimic action” and the “lyrically and religiously sublime expressiveness of the music” supporting a gripping Doppelgänger story culminating in “a modern dance of death with the bitter color-strength and sublimity of old master paintings.” But he warned that the “musical mimodrama,” in seeking to liberate musical theater, had to develop a new style (“Eigenleben”) of music that moved bodily expression away from “old types of dance” and “the jargon of naturalistic music dramas.” The implication is that music, not the scenario, is the key to establishing the power of mimodrama and pantomime … but Wellesz discovered that powerful, modernist music with its “own life” will only make a conventional or not especially modern scenario seem weak (Holl 1919:309-310).
In 1918, a musicologist, Max Steinitzer (1864-1936), used the term “mimodrama” to describe contemporary non-singing dramas that used (mostly orchestral) musical accompaniment. He saw mimodrama as supplanting the older concept of melodrama as it had evolved since the eighteen century, but he mentioned pantomime only as a category of mimodrama, which encompassed spoken drama requiring actors to move in relation to music as well as the language of the text. Mimodrama as he understood it included pantomime, “Tanzspiel,” plays with orchestral accompaniment and no singing, and film dramas (Steinitzer 1918: 50-58). A more precise idea of “mimodrama” soon appeared with Todes-Tarantella (La Tarantelle de la Mort) (1920), by the Austrian composer-lawyer Julius Bittner (1874-1939), from a scenario by the Austrian songwriters and librettists Bruno Warden (1883-1954) and Ignaz Michael Welleminsky (1882-1942). This is an unusual work insofar as it combines singing, dance, and pantomime on behalf of a dark, expressionistic treatment of the relation between music and death. A “black Pierrot,” played by a female soprano, sings ballad-like songs about the main character, Ninon, from a visible position on a wing of the stage but does not participate in any of the action, somewhat like a singer in ancient Roman pantomime, except that the songs here do not accompany any action on the stage. The action takes place in Paris at the time of the Revolution, beginning with a scene in a catacomb containing the sarcophagus of Ninon, presided over by the tomb guardian, Der Kastellan, a spidery, demonic figure. One of Ninon’s lovers, the Bohemian, visits the tomb to grieve and sink into an alcoholic stupor. In his trance-like state, Ninon emerges from the sarcophagus to the sound of a sinister tarantella performed on the violin by Der Kastellan. The scenario, aided by Pierrot’s songs, then narrates the life of Ninon, as she changes from being a simple country girl to a sophisticated cosmopolite through her encounters with different men, her lovers, beginning with the Bohemian, followed by the Dandy, the Old Man, and the Young Duke. But her ascending relations with these men result from the help of another set of men: Der Kapellan, the Street Musician, the Ballet Master, the Clown, the Jacobin, and the Executioner. These men are all figures of Death. One actor plays all the lovers, and one actor plays all the figures of Death. The relations between Ninon, her lovers, and Death, unfold through separate scenes of pantomimic action, while Pierrot describes her motives and emotions through songs. Pantomime: “Ninon bows, the Young Duke lifts the diadem, crowns her, draws her up, and kisses her hand. The Clown accompanies this with exaggerated gestures. Ninon cannot look enough at herself in the mirror. She wonders how she can repay him. The Young Duke wishes to see once more the famous dance on pointe. The Clown hastens with grotesque leaps to grab the wreath, place it on his head, take a violin from the wall, and begin to play. Ninon dances on pointe for the Young Duke [waltz]. Now the art that was merely indicated in its first image has fully matured.” Dance: eighty bars long, concluding with Ninon standing triumphant, the Duke sinking to his knees before her, and the Clown “creeping” behind them with “cutting grimaces. Song: forty-five bars long, describing Ninon’s now luxurious life and concluding with the curtain drawn on Ninon asleep in her opulent bedroom, with baldachin, illuminated with a “magical” pink glow. Pantomimic action reveals that the Duke enjoys a submissive relation to Ninon, now dressed in a negligee. But a Jacobin interrupts the erotic interlude to arrest the aristocrat. Ninon stabs the Jacobin, which outrages the crowd of revolutionaries, who seize the pair. After a lamentation song from Pierrot, Ninon prepares for execution on a scaffold, and she performs a “wild dance,” a tarantella, that concludes, in silhouette, with the swing of an axe that separates her head from her body as a blood-red curtain falls. In the final scene, all is as it was at the opening scene: the Bohemian sleeps, and then awakes from his dream. He leaves the tomb in the grey morning light. The spidery Kastellan returns, performing a macabre dance, “the Triumph of the Annihilator.” Ninon appears at the entrance of the catacomb; her movements are “stiff and marionette-like,” and blood circles her neck. The Bohemian follows her, as if hypnotized. Ninon lies down in the sarcophagus, the Bohemian prays before it, and the Kastellan stands above them. When the sounds of morning bells shift to the rumble of thunder, the Bohemian flees, the lid of the sarcophagus closes, and the Kastellan disappears (Bittner 1920). Todes-Tarantella was fairly popular through the mid-1920s in Germany and even received productions in Sweden and Slovenia, though perhaps it did not achieve the popularity of Die letzte Maske. Yet with this thirty-minute piece the concept of mimodrama came to an end. Bittner, Warden, and Welleminsky never worked again on a pantomime, and no one used the term “mimodrama,” despite the imaginative formal qualities of Todes-Tarantella. Bittner longed to achieve success in large-scale musical forms—the symphony, opera, and grandiose religious works. Todes-Tarantella was perhaps too strange, too perverse, for the concert public to believe him a master of conventional forms: a reviewer of the 1924 Bremen production complained that the scenario was a species of “unnatural morbidity,” utterly unworthy of Bittner’s orchestral music, and one “very much hopes that this decadence is not a symptom but only an anomaly” (Fehling 2007: 154-155). But in the postwar cultural environment, pantomime, whether embedded in “mimodrama” or not, upset conventional forms, undermined stable distinctions between formal categories. A pantomime exerted power to the extent that it was indeed an “anomaly,” a thing that resisted becoming a convention, a model of representation: every pantomime must somehow achieve such a level of compelling singularity that authors find it extremely difficult to come up with another, surpassingly or even equally compelling manifestation of the art.
The most famous or lasting of the pantomimes produced in the Weimar Republic is The Miraculous Mandarin (Der wunderbare Mandarin) (1924), by the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (1881-1945), with a scenario based on a story by fellow Hungarian Melchior (Menyhért) Lengyel (1880-1974). The piece had its premiere in Cologne in November 1926. The composer had completed an earlier version in 1918, and in 1931, he did another revision that incorporated elements from both the 1918 and 1924 versions. In all three versions, Bartok labeled the piece as a “pantomime,” and in correspondence, he referred to the work always and only as a pantomime, but Lengyel called it a “pantomime grotesque.” The scenario explicitly indicates when dances occur, and the only female character in the story performs all of them. The music constantly changes time signature, sometimes from measure to measure, to create an atmosphere of continuous unsteadiness, imbalance, and failure of the body to maintain control of itself or over others. While productions of the piece still occur regularly throughout the world, the music enjoys a far more popular, independent life in the concert hall and in recordings. Although The Miraculous Mandarin has only seven roles, none of which requires virtuosity as a dancer, only ballet companies attached to opera houses have performed the piece because the complex musical accompaniment requires a large orchestra that only opera houses can afford. Bartok himself, while composing the first version, had in mind for the female role the actress Elsa Galafrés (1879-1977), the new wife of the composer Ernst von Dohnányi (1877-1960), whose own music for Schnitzler’s pantomime Der Schleier der Pierrette, produced in Budapest in 1910, was apparently influential in shaping Bartok’s much different approach to pantomime. For this 1918 version, Bartok gave the girl a name, Mimi, and made her somewhat more sympathetic than in the published version (Lebon 2012: 95-98). After the Berlin and Budapest opera houses had refused to produce it, The Miraculous Mandarin ended up at Cologne, where the conductor, the Hungarian Eugen Szenkar (1891-1977), was an advocate for modern music. The production took place under the direction of Hans Strohbach (1891-1949), who was a scene painter and costume designer and only infrequently directed plays. Rehearsals were stressful because the music was so difficult for the orchestra. The premiere caused a scandal, with spectators walking out, hissing, or hooting throughout the performance. The next day, the mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), who did not see the production, forbade further performances of the work on moral grounds, and it received no further performances in Germany until 1953, and until 1945 had productions only in Prague (1927) and Milan (1942) (Lempfrid 2018; Bauchhenss 2016: 70-76). The spare scenario was the cause of censure. Three men, “tramps,” and a young woman live together as a criminal gang in a tenement. One tramp finds no money in his pocket, the second finds no money in a drawer, and the third urges the girl to stand at the window to entice a man into the room, where the tramps can rob him. At first, she refuses, but the tramps insist, and she goes “unwillingly and hesitatingly” to the window. She soon lures a “shabby old rake” up to the room, which the score indicates as a “decoy game,” not a dance. In the room with the man, the woman inquires if he has money, but the man replies, through gesture: “Never mind money … What matters is love!” The tramps leap from their hiding places, seize the old rake, and throw him out. They angrily compel the girl to go to the window again. She begins another “decoy game,” which attracts a “confused” young man to the “door.” The woman “strokes” him for money, but finds “not a penny!” Nevertheless, she “draws him toward her” and begins to dance “shyly,” in 5/4 rhythm, although the scenario does not state if she dances with or for him. As the dance becomes more “passionate,” the tramps leap out and throw out the young man. The impatient tramps order the girl to get someone “suitable.” The third “decoy game” occurs, which soon attracts a “weird figure in the street” up the stairs. When the mandarin stands immobile in the doorway, the terrified girl runs to the other end of the room. The tramps in their hiding places urge the girl to approach the mandarin; she overcomes her “repugnance,” and invites him closer and closer, until she gets him to sit in a chair. But she remains frightened and indecisive. Finally, she begins a dance, which “gradually becomes livelier” and ends in “wild erotic” excitement, which the mandarin watches with a “fixed impassive stare.” The girl embraces him, and he trembles with “feverish excitement,” which causes her to shudder and break free of him. The mandarin chases her around the room; every time he stumbles, he jumps up quickly until he catches her. They fight. The tramps leap out, seize the mandarin, and strip him of his jewelry and money. They decide to kill him, first by smothering him with pillows and blankets on the bed. But when they pull the covers back, the mandarin continues to stare longingly at the girl. Horrified, the tramps drag him out of the bed, and one of the ramps stabs the mandarin three times with a “rusty old sword.” He “totters,” he “sways,” and then charges again at the girl. The tramps grab him and debate how to dispose of him. “They drag the resisting mandarin to the center of the room and hang him on the lamp hook.” But the lamp falls to the floor and “the body of the mandarin begins to glow with a greenish blue light.” The mandarin continues to gaze at the woman, while the gang stares in terror. The girl signals to take the mandarin off the lamp hook. But once he falls to the floor, he leaps again at the girl. She accepts his embrace. “The mandarin’s longing is now stilled, his wounds begin to bleed, he becomes weaker and dies after a short struggle” (Bartok 1999).
The Miraculous Mandarin dramatizes the difficulty of awakening “passion,” resisting it, killing it, or surviving it. The narrative links sexual passion to the affliction of violence and victimization. The “fulfillment” of passion is a kind of self-destruction insofar as it involves the desire for a complete stranger whose motive for making herself desirable is mercenary and dishonest. The girl/woman performs her “decoy games” and dances as a test of her power to stimulate passion in others rather than to express it. She overcomes her repugnance of the mandarin and her resistance to the gang’s insistence that she present herself as a prostitute because, evidently, she cannot survive independently of the gang. The passionate man is an “alien” creature of tenacious strength, yet he is a “mandarin” only in that he represents a person of higher status and prosperity than anyone else in the story—his passion makes him seem like a ferocious, predatory animal that counter-acts the predatory viciousness of the gang. Julie Brown sees the greenish-blue light emanating from the mandarin as he hangs from the lamp hook, not as symbolic of a powerful “life force” inherent within “love,” as previous commentators have somehow managed to suggest, but as evidence of the mandarin’s “electric body,” which she reads as a metaphor for big city electrification, modernity that turns the mandarin into a “grotesque” parody of “the tragic sacred body of Christ” combined with the “ambivalent spiritual sign of Buddha” (Brown 2007: 106; cf. Downes 2000). But it seems more likely that the light further reveals how alien the man of sexual passion is to those guided above all by mercenary goals. The old rake and the young man embody sexual desires that have no cash value, so these two may be “thrown out,” since the girl indicates no willingness to protect either of them. The mandarin doesn’t care that the girl is responsible for the theft of his money, for the attempts to kill him, and for his humiliation; he doesn’t care that she finds him repugnant and frightening. This is how sexual passion imposes a powerful, “alien” value on another person that is neither economic nor redemptive: it is self-destructive, like a monstrous disease, not only for the mandarin, but for the gang, whose turn to thievery and deception has suddenly plunged them deeper into an abyss of criminality. For theater and government administrators of the time, this disturbing story apparently lacked a sufficiently helpful moral “lesson” for audiences, but it inspired one of Bartok’s greatest and most complex scores. Yet the high status of the score since World War II has kept theatrical productions of it within ballet companies, who invariably transform the pantomime into a ballet in their never-ending ambition to “free” ballet from pantomime. To repeat again: the point of ballet is to show how an external system of movement subordinates narrative to dance and thus reveals a human beauty that “transcends” the power of narratives to make the body a sign of imperfection. Making The Miraculous Mandarin into a ballet “redeems” the supposedly morbid story. Allowing all the characters to dance diminishes the unique perversity of the two dances that Bartok specifically assigns to the girl and which differentiate her from all the other characters. His music does not create opportunities for the “flow” of movement generally expected of ballet performance; such a “flow” results from the application of movement tropes derived from the movement system defining ballet rather than from the music. But Bartok’s half-hour score contains numerous time signature changes, tempo changes, harmonic shifts, melodic and thematic changes, and elaborate orchestral effects. All of these musical choices function as cues that allow music and pantomime to combine to tell a disturbing, disillusioning story, to unveil a reality, rather than to provide opportunities to dance. But it is far easier for choreographers to come up with movement tropes than to imagine pantomimic actions unique especially to this story and to this music. The Miraculous Mandarin is perhaps the greatest pantomime produced during the Weimar Republic, yet since its ill-fated premiere, theater-ballet culture has never allowed it to be a pantomime. Quite deservedly, the music prospers independently of theatrical performance, but that music comes out of a dark understanding of humanity.
A couple of Finnish composers also ventured into the realm of pantomime. In 1913, Poul Knudsen (1889-1974), a Danish screenwriter for the Nordisk Film Company, invited Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) to compose orchestral music for a two-act “tragic pantomime” he had written, Scaramouche, which he planned to stage in Copenhagen. Sibelius agreed, but then became dismayed by the amount of music he had to compose, about seventy minutes. He completed the music according to contract in December 1913, but the production never took place. The first production of the piece occurred nearly a decade later, in 1922, at the Royal Theater (Det Kongelige Teater) in Copenhagen, directed by Emilie Walbom (1858-1932), a choreographer for the Royal Danish Ballet. The Norwegian dancer and film actress Lillibil Ibsen (1899-1989) played the lead female role, Blondelaine, and choreographed her own dances. Georg Hoeberg (1872-1950) conducted the orchestra. The production was quite successful, inspiring much critical acclaim, as did subsequent productions in Helsinki (1923), Oslo (1924), and Paris (1927) (Caron 1997: 205-207). Scaramouche is not entirely a pantomime. The scenario contains brief passages of dialogue that do not always seem necessary, but nevertheless possess charm when spoken over Sibelius’s continuous orchestral score. The effect feels like watching a silent film with spoken rather than written intertitles, as if the characters speak in a dream. Despite its title, the pantomime bears almost no affinity with commedia dell’arte and seems much closer to Austro-German inclinations toward “dark” or demonic pantomime. All the action occurs between evening and dawn at the country home of Leilon, “a tall, slender, somewhat decadent young man.” As a feast unfolds, Leilon resists dancing with his beautiful wife Blondelaine because he feels that “dancing is only for those whose soul is in the dance.” Blondelaine dances solo, inspired by the music. The guests, curious about the music that animates Blondelaine, summon the musicians, whose leader is Scaramouche, “a little hunchbacked dwarf dressed in black.” Leilon asks Scaramouche to play a bolero. Blondelaine continues dancing, but now it is evident that Scaramouche stares at the woman obsessively; he plays fanatically and Blondelaine dances wildly until Leilon, alarmed, orders Scaramouche to stop playing. He throws gold coins on the floor, but Scaramouche tells a boy not to pick them up, and the musicians leave the scene. Mezzetin, inflamed by Blondelaine’s dance, declares his desire for her, for “a woman dances thus only for one—for him she loves” and it is “cruel to dance so for the others.” Leilon approaches with the flowers she dropped during her dance, but she remains remote, self-absorbed. Tired from the dance, she asks to be alone for a moment while everyone else leaves for supper. Scaramouche’s seductive music returns and carries Blondelaine into a trance, compelling her to throw away the flowers and leave the room into the garden. When Leilon and the guests return, the empty room overwhelms them with astonishment. Act 2 begins with Leilon sitting depressed in the same room. His friend Gigolo reminds him that the carriage taking them away “to the South” arrives in an hour. Blondelaine, he says, will never return; the trip will lead him to a happier life. The scene exudes a vaguely homoerotic aura. But Leilon dismisses him and instead, alone, sits, rises, pours himself a glass of wine, sits again, takes out a small portrait, “looks at it long, then bowing his head in his hands, he sits bent forward, without moving,” all of this occurring, dolce espressivo, with music in 6/4, 7/4, and 3/2 time signatures. Blondelaine enters, her hair wild and wet. When Leilon, drawing his dagger, demands to know where she went, she says she does not know. The music cast a spell over her and she had to follow it. Leilon kneels before her, and she kisses him. He tells her she makes him happy, and he wants to honor this sentiment with a glass of wine. But the bottle is empty, and he leaves to get a new one, after she presses the flowers to her breast and kisses his hand. Alone, Blondelaine sits as the lights go out and moonlight fills the room. She hears a sound, gets up, goes to the door to the garden, looks for a candle, finds none, returns to where she sat, passes before a mirror, looks at herself in the mirror, “laughs nervously,” looks “long and earnestly at her face, then passes her hand over it.” While she tries to arrange her hair, the face of Scaramouche appears behind the door leading to the garden. Blondelaine sees him in the mirror, but thinks it is a hallucination. Scaramouche approaches, grasps her hand. She presses him to leave, but he reminds her “Have you forgotten how you lay warm in my arms, how you cried, have you forgotten, what you whispered to me as we met?” Blondelaine insists that he leave, but he won’t go without her. Scaramouche forces a choice, leave with him now or he will wait for Leilon to return. Blondelaine agrees to go with him, but she grabs the dagger, and as he bends down to pick up a gold coin, she stabs him in the neck. Terrified, she pulls herself together to hide the body behind the drapery and hurls the knife into the garden. Leilon returns, in merry spirits, but discovers he needs his dagger to open the bottles. Blondelaine says she threw it into the garden, and she won’t let him leave to find it: she’s cold, and he leads her to the armchair, wraps her in a cloak. Leilon wants to open the curtain, after Blondelaine sees it moving, but she persuades him instead to play on the spinet “all the old melodies.” The first melody compels her to recall “walking one summer evening with you under the jasmine,” but a second melody urges her to dance. As she dances, she slips, and discovers blood streaming from under the curtain, but she urges Leilon to play on. The melody shifts to the tune to which she danced so wildly in the first act. But she doesn’t move, then points to the curtain. Leilon goes to the curtain, draws it, and reveals the body of Scaramouche in the “yellow daylight.” As the dance music comes nearer, Leilon stands paralyzed. Blondelaine says: “Yes, I will dance for you, I will do all you ask—I am yours!” She dances wildly while Leilon tries to catch her and stop her, but she pushes him away. He cries for help. Blondelaine dances up to the corpse, where she suddenly stops and falls down beside it. Leilon rushes to her, kisses her, “then suddenly realizes that she is dead, and with a mad laugh he throws his arms about her.” The flutist enters, as the “feast is at its height,” sees the corpse of Scaramouche, crosses himself and exits (Sibelius 1919).
Scaramouche is another of those pantomimes in a Germanic vein in which female dancing represents a fatal, “forbidden” sexual desire. The by now familiar German trope of the hunchback dwarf is also here. The piece may be understood as an expressionist representation of marriage from the wife’s perspective: despite claiming to love her husband, she yields to an impulse, stirred by a demonic music, to experience some sort of orgasmic wildness that leads her outside of the cozy room, outside of marriage, and into death. Her attraction is not to the dwarf, but to the music. The “decadent” husband, refusing to dance himself, is unable to subdue the power of the music to control her, even when he plays it. The demonic music goes on, although the dwarf is dead. The scene before the mirror suggests that her own image drives Blondelaine toward an ecstatic apotheosis of herself through dance. Her dance draws men (Leilon, Scaramouche, Mezzetin) toward her, yet it frees her from them. It also releases her capacity for degradation and murder, and this fundamental paradox of her identity kills her. The scenario embeds the idea that music can be “too much” for the (female) body—it is a male fantasy of anxiety toward female masturbation. Sibelius’ music achieves a dark-hued, melancholy, shimmering charm, but it is not “wild” or “demonic” in any conventional sense, as if he wished rather to invoke trembling shadows playing across a dappled surface. Scaramouche is unusual in combing pantomime with dialogue, and Sibelius may have wanted music that interacted precisely and effectively with dialogue without obscuring it. As in The Miraculous Mandarin, the scenario clearly differentiates pantomime from dance and includes haunting pantomimic actions involving sitting, standing, moving about a room, handling wine glasses and bottles, staring at the mirror, standing still, holding flowers, kneeling, and hand kissing. The dialogue, spare as it is, seems to intrude upon pantomimic action and would probably be more effective if there were even less of it. Sibelius found the process of writing the music a torment, probably because of the difficulty of weaving melodic and instrumental motifs with the words rather than simply settling for pedal points or vamps (Barnett 2007: 234). After the Paris performances, both the music and the scenario disappeared for decades, even after Sibelius arranged a concert suite of the music. While the score has since the 1970s enjoyed some popularity through recordings of both the concert suit and the complete incidental music, revivals of the pantomime with the music have occurred only occasionally, the first in 1954, by the Ballet Cuevas, at the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt in Paris, with choreography by American ballerina Rosella Hightower (1920-2008). In 1955, the Finnish National Ballet performed the work with choreography by prima ballerina Irja Kostinen (1911-1978). Both of these productions severely cut the scenario from seventy to about thirty-five or forty minutes to accommodate other works on the program. As happened with The Miraculous Mandarin, ballet companies have treated the scenario as a ballet rather than as a pantomime with two dances performed only by Blondelaine. But a postmodern attitude toward the material is probably not any more exciting than whatever seems sufficient reason to discard Knudsen’s story: in 2015, the Tapiola Sinfonietta in Espoo, Finland, celebrating the 150thanniversary of Sibelius’s birth, performed forty minutes of the music accompanied by video images showing Sibelius’ composition desk, a Finnish wheat field, Scaramouche’s viola, and various shots of fire. Instead, of Knudsen’s text, spectators heard “dialogue inspired by letters between Jean Sibelius and his wife Aino Sibelius, and excerpts from the diaries of Jean Sibelius” (Kroma Productions 2015). But this sentimental, biographical, nationalistic use of the music undermines its own objective—to honor the composer—by completely rejecting the international pantomime scenario that, despite its many limitations, inspired one of the composer’s most fascinating scores.
Poul Knudsen continued as a screenwriter for Danish silent films until 1928, and for a while he was married to another screenwriter, Johanne Skram Knudsen (1889-1972). But he always had ambitions to write for the theater. He published plays from at least 1919 on but without achieving any notable success in the theater. As a result of Scaramouche’s success, he completed in 1925 the scenario for a ballet pantomime, Okon Fuoko, which attempted to go beyond Scaramouche by combining pantomime, dance, singing, and dialogue over a somewhat larger span of time and with a much larger cast. The scenario is set in ancient Japan and tells the story of a doll maker, Okon Fuoko, who brings to life one of his beautiful dolls and then falls in love with her, inflaming the jealousy of his wife. The piece ends tragically with the doll, Umegava, performing a “demonic” sword dance during a storm and killing her creator. Knudsen invited Sibelius to write the music for the scenario, but the composer was so unhappy working with Knudsen’s previous scenario and with the long delay in its production that he turned down the opportunity. Sibelius’s publisher, Edition Wilhelm Hansen, invited another Finnish composer to take on the project, Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947), who accepted and completed in 1927 an orchestral score comprising 35 separate scenes. However, Knudsen’s plan to get the work performed in Copenhagen failed, despite strong support from Georg Hoeberg, who had conducted the premiere of Scaramouche. Eventually the work had its premiere at the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki in February 1930. The production was a failure, cancelled after only three performances. Finnish reviewers blamed Knudsen’s scenario, which ineffectively combined too many elements and went on too long. But they praised Madetoja’s music, which contained numerous innovative instrumental effects to produce the eerie, “Japanese” atmosphere of the story (Salmenhaara 1987: 246-260). The music seemed resolutely “modern,” while the story belonged to an old-fashioned art nouveau taste for Japonisme, even though it does explore the theme of robotic identity. After many years of neglect, the music now enjoys very high esteem within the Finnish music world as one of its greatest masterpieces. But the scenario has fallen into oblivion. In 2015, the Finnish choreographer Alpo Aaltokoski (b.1958) staged the scenario with his own dance company in Helsinki using a 2005 recording of the music by the Oulu Sinfonia. This was not a ballet but a modern dance production, which, on the evidence of video clips, does include some pantomime. Aaltokoski “modernized” the scenario by discarding the alien culture theme and focusing instead on the theme of technological transformation of human identity: “The internet is the [cornucopia] of wishes in which we can build the ideal partner for ourselves or try ourselves to become one. This is not, however, a phenomenon only characteristic to our time: since [for] centuries people have projected their dreams to various images and artificial constructions” (Okon Fuoko –see me 2015). Meanwhile, as sound movies replaced silent films, Knudsen became a prolific writer of plays and opera libretti. He wrote ballet scenarios, Hybris (1930) and Asra (1932), which received performances at Det kongelige Teater. His collaboration with Emil Reznicek on a one-act opera (1930) led to several more collaborations with German composers as well as numerous plays written in German or translated into German. He found many friends in the Third Reich, and his political drama, Blut und Feuer, 9 Bilder aus dem Leben des Volkes (1936), was apparently an attempt to ingratiate himself with the regime. He also wrote in German, sometime around 1935-1936, another pantomime, the three-act Der rote Tänzer, which, like Okon Fuoko, contained singing and dances. But this piece never got beyond being a manuscript, the only copy of which is deposited in the Danish National Library, so it is very difficult to determine what he planned to do with pantomime in the Third Reich, which otherwise was utterly barren of anything resembling interesting pantomime. Knudsen’s congenial relations with German theater people of the 1930s help explain why he became one of the screenwriters for the great Danish film Vredens Dag (Day of Wrath ), directed by Carl Dreyer (1889-1968): he could make sure the film didn’t contain anything that would disturb the Nazi administration running Denmark. But he produced his own film scenarios that did not get made, including the curious Amleth (1939), an adaptation of the Hamlet story as inscribed in the twelfth century Gesta Danorum. After the war, he turned his attention to writing novels, film aesthetics, and literary history. Yet Scaramouche and Okon Fuoko were the only works that gave him any distinction as an author, and it was the music for these works that allowed for that distinction. Knudsen’s limitations as a pantomime scenarist perhaps clarify why he could not achieve much distinction in the entertainment industry. He never committed himself to pantomime: he always had to combine pantomime with dance, speech, song, and ballet with orchestral music, for pantomime needs “help” in attaining its mysterious charm. He never trusted pantomime to drive the narrative, which meant, in the case of outstanding composers, that the music could thrive independently of the scenarios. This does not mean that pantomime must exclude speech, dance, or song, only that pantomime must “say” what these media do not and make these media dependent on pantomimic action to tell the story that includes them. Throughout his career, Knudsen shifted easily from one medium to another—film, plays, translations of plays, ballets, pantomime, opera, novels, literary history—because he had opportunities to do so, not because he had a special gift or aesthetic vision for integrating these media. He could move across media with ease without exerting serious power over any of them. The stories he conjured as “pantomimes” may not have been strong examples of modernism, but that was not the problem with his scenarios. The problem was that, instead of developing a modern way of thinking about pantomime, he believed that modernity entailed a freedom to move from one medium to another to supplement the “weaknesses” of pantomime rather than to show how pantomime subordinates these media to the freedom of the body to tell his story.
The long, strained tension between ballet and pantomime collapsed, in the 1920s, into a grand muddle of uncertainty about the difference between the two genres, and the point of this uncertainty, presumably, was to drive innovation in each that would clarify the difference. Ballets could contain pantomime; pantomime could contain dance; ballet companies could perform pantomimes as if they were ballets, although the great majority of pantomimes were never performed as ballets; but no one seems to have imagined that ballet scenarios could be performed as pantomimes. Most unusual is the case of a Dutch ballet about ancient Roman pantomime, Irail Gadescov’s Bathyllus (1927). Ancient Rome has inspired an enormous amount of entertainment—plays, operas, ballets, films, novels—in which it is amazingly difficult to find any representation of pantomime as the Romans understood it, Richepin’s ballet scenario L’Imperatrice (1901), discussed earlier, being a lonely example. Gadescov’s ballet dramatized the conflict between Bathyllus and Pylades that initiated the centuries long public fascination with pantomime in the Roman Empire. Born in Leiden to a modest civil service family, Irail Gadescov, whose real name was Richard Vogelesang (1894-1970), from early childhood displayed a strong aptitude for music, dance, and drawing. But he faced enormous obstacles in developing this aptitude. His father rigidly objected to his pursuit of an artistic career; then Gadescov suffered severely from tuberculosis, which prevented him from studying anything for several years. A dance concert in The Hague in 1912 featuring the ballet dancer Andreas Pavley (1892-1931) and his partner, the modern dancer Lili Green (1885-1977), deeply impressed him, and he decided to abandon his job as a postal clerk and pursue a career in dance. Financed by his aunt, Gadescov attended classes, in 1913, at the Dalcroze-Duncan school in The Hague run by two sisters, Helena and Jacoba van der Pas. While at the school, Gadescov befriended another young man with theatrical aspirations, an English textile heir, Edgar Franken (1894-1971). When the war broke out, Franken and Gadescov traveled to England on a five-day family pass. There, in December 1914, Gadescov (under this name) and Franken each performed two solo dances on a lengthy program of songs and dances to raise money for gifts to send to British troops. These two dances, created while he was studying with the van der Pas sisters, were Gadescov’s debut as a performer. In these dances, Funeral March (Chopin), and Spring (Grieg), he wore the costume of an imperial Roman aristocrat, although the program identified him as a “Russian dancer.” Franken and Gadescov traveled to New York, where Franken’s mother organized benefit concerts for Allied soldiers. When Gadescov returned to the Netherlands in 1918, he embarked on a long career of organizing his own dance concerts and became one of the very few men to pursue a performance career in modern dance (Fehling 2007: 13-20). In effect, Gadescov had very little formal education as a dancer and none in ballet. In the early 1920s, his concerts, many of which occurred in Germany, consisted mostly of short solo dances and pair dances constructed with one of his many female partners, including the Swiss dancer Ami Schwaninger, who played Ninon in the 1924 Bremen production of Bittner’s Todestarantella. His concerts received much praise wherever he performed. In Bremen in 1923, Gadescov and Schwaninger introduced their version of Schnitzler’s Der Schleier der Pierrette, directed by Max Semmler. Schwaninger had studied ballet, and Gadescov learned much from her. Thus, the two of them, with the help of Semmler, began (1924) performing their own versions of the Richard Strauss ballets Josephs Legende and Schlagobers in Gera and Rostock respectively. He continued to perform solo and pair dances with female partners as well as in theater productions until he became friends with Fritz Fleck (1880-1933), a music critic for the Rheinische Zeitung. Fleck had written a couple of expressionist pantomimes, Aischa (1920) and Die Nabya (1922), as well as an opera and a drama, none of which were published or performed (Fehling 2007: 192). He also had written (1926) a scenario and music for an “expressionist theater of pantomime and dance drama,” Bathyllus. Due to Fleck’s connections with the Cologne Opera, Bathyllus premiered there on March 16, 1927, after a performance of Flotow’s opera Alessandro Stradella (1844). Gadescov played Bathyllus and did the choreography, while Fritz Rémond (1864-1936), the artistic director for the opera and an advocate for modernist opera, did the staging. Gustav Zeiller, who assumed the title role in the 1926 Cologne production of The Miraculous Mandarin, played Pylades. The plot is cinematic melodrama and has little to do with the actual history of Bathyllus and Pylades. In the luxurious garden of his estate, the wealthy Maecenas sponsors a party in which Bathyllus and Pylades will compete against each other. Emperor Augustus’s daughter Julia and her husband Agrippa are spectators. Maecenas and Julia favor Bathyllus, while Agrippa supports Pylades. When Julia wants to give Bathyllus the golden wreath, Agrippa threatens to leave the party. Maecenas indicates that Bathyllus will dance without music. Agrippa agrees to stay. Dressed as Narcissus, Bathyllus dances before a magically illuminated mirror that causes him to move according to his unconscious desires: he falls into the arms of Julia, who knows the effect of the mirror. Inflamed with jealousy, Agrippa decides that Bathyllus should die, and he arranges for Pylades to hand Bathyllus a goblet of poisoned wine. During his dance, Bathyllus saw the poisoning of the wine; he strikes Pylades with the goblet, but then falls dead. A squad of Roman soldiers carries away the corpse and Julia collapses impotently (Fehling 2007: 91-93). Because neither the scenario nor the score ever reached publication, it is difficult to know what else was in the narrative besides what is in the summary, from the Cologne Stadt-Anzeiger, cited by Fehling. A brief review in Die Musik (XIX 9 June 1927: 675) remarks that Bathyllus appears as a favorite of the imperial court, while Pylades is the choice of “the people.” Production photos show luxurious costumes and a scene featuring an ensemble of eleven women. Fleck’s music, “full of southern, sensually warm melody,” was unusual in deploying both an oboe d’amour and a piano as solo instruments, as well as a mandolin and castagnetts for the female ensemble dance. It is unfortunate that more information is not available about this production or even about its performers: Hans Salomon (Maecenas), Rose Sinitsch (Julia), Hans Robert (Agrippa), and Wilma Aug, who played the girl in The Miraculous Mandarin. Aug and another female dancer, Ripelli, performed solos that apparently paralleled those of Bathyllus and Pylades. It would be good to know how Gadescov and Rémond differentiated the movements of Bathyllus and Pylades or the movements of the solo female dancers, especially if the movements embodied a political-erotic significance. Fleck introduces an exciting theme: the idea of physical movement as a competition for power and sexual attraction complicated by the treacherous actions of spectators for whom the performances are merely instruments of a larger, deadly power game. The concept of the mirror releasing an unconscious and self-destructive self is another provocative device in this adventurous work. Reviews of the production were quite favorable, and these reported that the audience in Cologne was also enthusiastic. Yet Bathyllus never had another production and never had a performance outside Cologne. But the production is an excellent example of how an extraordinary cultural era, the Weimar Republic, could create a work of fascinating artistic imagination that becomes buried in historical obscurity simply because those who made it could not rise out of obscurity in their own time.
In societies less turbulent and open to modernism than the Weimar Republic, cultural institutions regarded pantomime either as an archaic, obsolete art or as simply unimaginable. Hélène Beauchamp has published an article on pantomime in Spain between 1900 and 1930. She describes how Spanish literary authors, inspired by the Pierrot culture in late nineteenth century Paris, Maeterlinck’s “theater of silence,” and the clown acrobatics of the Hanlon-Lees, published encouraging theoretical articles on the possibilities of pantomime for their own culture. But the actual writing and production of pantomimes remained almost non-existent. Beauchamp focuses on the use of pantomime in spoken dramas by famous Spanish authors, such as Ramón del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) and Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) (2009: 179-195), although Vega (2015) has a great deal to say about Lorca’s interest in the Pierrot archetype. Or rather, assuming an influence of pantomime, Beauchamp observes how these authors describe physical actions performed by speaking characters in their plays: these descriptions are more like stage directions in German or English language dramatic texts. Spanish literary authors followed the classical tradition of dramatic writing by confining themselves to the inscription of dialogue and the indication of entrances and exits. The Symbolist influence of pantomime on the writing of plays was innovative insofar as it granted literary authors permission to inscribe physical actions performed on stage that conventionally were decisions left to actors and directors. But these are not manifestations of pantomimic imagination. Emilio Vega (2008) has written at greater length on the history of pantomime in Spain from 1890 to 1939, but most of the book describes the influence of Pierrot, Symbolism, and silent film on a Spanish literary imagination that hesitated to compose actual pantomimes. Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1888-1963) published in 1911 what he called a “pantomime in one act and two scenes,” La Bailarina. But this is not really a pantomime scenario. Rather, it is a kind poetic meditation on how the narrator sees, interprets, and fantasizes the lives of performers he sees backstage, where it is “forbidden to speak,” preparing for a production of an opera about Hamlet; the narrator tries to enter the minds and emotions of performers who do not speak to him or say anything he can hear. It is a prose poem or present tense short story that allows the narrator to speculate on the attitudes, emotions, motives, and circumstances of strangers performing behind the scenes before they perform what they are not on stage (Gómez de la Serna 1911). Another member of the Spanish literary “avant-garde,” Tomás Borrás (1891-1976), wrote a pantomime, El Sapo enamorado (1916), which the Teatro Eslava, in Madrid, staged in December 1916, with music composed for it by Pablo Luna (1879-1942), a prolific composer of zarzuelas. Dramatist-director Gregorio Martínez Sierra (1881-1947) staged the production, while opera singer María Ros (1891-1970) choreographed Bella’s dance. Actors employed by the Teatro Eslava performed the eight roles in the scenario, although Borrás dedicated the piece to the immensely popular Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova (1892-1981). The scenario resembles a fairy tale; as a prologue speaker informs the spectator, the goal of the pantomime is to “enter a watery land of dreams” that will “intoxicate you with unreal visions.” In a great forest, the beautiful Bella lives in a little house. A “grotesque, inflated” Toad has fallen in love with Bella, but she directs her affections toward a beautiful, mandolin playing adolescent. Toad consults with his only friend, the water god or “genie,” Neptune, who advises him to win Bella’s affection through treasure. But Bella spurns the spectacular jewels and gold Toad offers her, and she rejects also Toad’s efforts to impress her with military glory or proof of physical strength. Bella’s female friend, the plain Amiga, takes an interest in Toad’s treasure, but Bella becomes annoyed with her, and demands that Amiga ignore Toad, which leads to a quarrel between the women, as Amiga is willing to seduce Toad. Bella cannot stand for another woman to triumph over her in stimulating a man’s desire. The piece ends with Bella and Toad kissing in silhouette as the mandolin-playing adolescent enters to discover that Bella has replaced him with another. But Amiga consoles the weeping teenager under a “moon with the face of Pierrot” (Borrás 1921). The scenario hardly seems like a serious venture into modernism; as the prologue speaker says to the spectator, it is a piece in which “you will recognize friends who you have not seen since you stopped being children.” The fanciful art deco drawings accompanying the published text, by José Zamora (1882-1950), who designed the sets and costumes for the stage production, are more modern than the text.
Somewhat closer to the modernist spirit was Borrás’s fascinating book Tam-Tam. Pantomimas. Bailetes. Cuentos coreográficos. Mimodramas(1931) with its brilliant, cubist-art deco color illustrations by Uruguayan artist Rafael Barradas (1890-1929). It is a curious collection of texts. Borrás begins with a series of small essays about several female dancers who represent particular kinds of ballet, such as Anna Pavlova, who embodies the “literary ballet,” while Josephine Baker represents the “wild ballet” and Tortola Valencia the “oriental ballet.” The rest of the book consists of fifteen brief stories that Borrás imagines as pantomimes, ballets, choreographic tales, or mimodramas, but he never identifies any story according to any of these performance categories. It is therefore difficult to ascertain which of the stories are pantomimes. The texts seem like small, present tense short stories that describe scenes without any speech; Barradas’s illustrations show a stronger sense of theater than Borrás’s writing. Yet the stories strive to invoke a sense of performance. They wander across time and location. One piece (“Su Sombra”) depicts a man’s struggle aginst his own shadow (“What most exasperates him is that his shadow imitates him, converting all his gestures of harmony and joy into gestures dark and horribly blurred”) (36-37). “El romantico molinero” presents a melancholy Pierrot’s encounter with an astronomer to gaze at the moon, while “Nacimiento” is a kind of Spanish inflected nativity play. “El pintor cubista” satirizes the snobbery inspired by modernist art currents: in his studio, a cubist painter and his wife entertain a snobbish couple, his patrons, with his latest strange creation, but when they leave, he retrieves from behind the canvas a photograph of his wife, which he “contemplates ecstatically.” But when his wife reappears, she resembles the cubist sculpture admired by the snobbish pair. Jazz music accompanies the scene. “El Niaou” is a kind of travelogue depiction of scenes on a parched African veldt and jungle, a vast silence, interrupted by the sounds and movements of wild animals; a tribe of humans appears, performing a death dance: the tribe “beats the drum with an anguished call […]. But the jungle does not respond” (80). “La Botella Borracha” takes place in an American bar and depicts the interactions between a poet and a “fatal woman”; they enact gestures of tormented passion “in the style of 1830,” which leads to the projection on a mirror of “synthetic” poems composed of six words. Other pieces briefly depict scenes from Spanish life in times long ago or in places that seem not to have reached the twentieth century. Only one of the pieces, “Juerga,” actually achieved performance, in 1929, at the Opera Comique in Paris, with the flamenco-folkloric dancer Antonia Mercé y Luque, “La Argentina” (1890-1936), as the focus of a voiceless scene that evoked the atmosphere and mannerisms of a Madrid street in 1885, although the scenic décor for the Paris production, photo-documented in the book, is rather expressionistic. However, the piece most closely resembling a theatrically organized pantomime scenario is “Nueva Danza de la Muerte,” for which the book provides no accompanying Barradas illustrations. In twelve scenes, the piece envisions how, on a bright spring day in the countryside, Death, evidently a female figure, encounters various persons and leads them in various ways to extinction: the King, the Lovers, the Businessman, the Mother and Her Son, the Clown, the Alcoholic. Death gathers her victims in a flower boat; the boat sails down a river accompanied by her out of tune violin, which “calls desperately.” She follows behind the boat but does not catch up to it as it sails away with a dog barking “insolently.” A medieval aura pervades the piece, yet the idea of Death seducing different persons through various unusual, “delicate” gestures seems modern. All the pieces in the book might work well as pantomimes on the stage, even if some require complex scenic effects, but apparently the point of inserting the vivid illustrations was to create a kind of “performance” for the reader to compensate for the Spanish theater’s utter disinterest in performing such pieces, before or after the fascist takeover of Spain. Yet even since the end of the fascist regime, the Spanish have not shown an interest in performing Borrás’s eerie little speechless scenes, perhaps because of his ardent support of fascism, which of course always entails a compromised or deeply ambivalent attitude toward modernism.
By contrast, the most famous piece of speechless performance to come out of Spain during this period was the one-act “ballet pantomímico” El amor brujo (1915/1924), by composer Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), from a scenario by Gregorio Martínez Sierra. But de Falla struggled for years with its composition. Originally the piece contained much spoken dialogue and a set of flamenco songs, but with the failure of the premiere, de Falla revised the work by eliminating all the dialogue and reducing the number of songs to three, scored for a mezzo-soprano. In 1924, he transformed the entire piece into a ballet, accompanied by a large orchestra, so that work shows how dance releases, contains, and overcomes supernatural powers. But pieces of pantomime were still necessary to tell what was left of the story. It is a folkloric, not a modern story. An Andalusian gypsy girl, Candela, dances nightly with the ghost of her husband, though she remains in love with the man she originally wanted to marry, Carmelo. Even though she learns that her husband had an affair with Lucia, the husband’s ghost still haunts her. Candela and Carmelo consult a sorcerer, who recommends that she perform a “Ritual Fire Dance” to exorcise the ghost, but this action fails. Candela then lures Lucia into a nocturnal rendezvous with Carmelo. The nightly dance with the ghost begins, with Lucia mistaking the ghost for Carmelo. Candela moves away from the ghost, and Lucia takes her place. The ghost and Lucia dance away into death, and, in the light of dawn, Candela and Carmelo begin new lives together. The ballet had its premiere in Paris at the Théâtre des Arts (Théâtre Hébertot) in 1925, and since then has enjoyed, along with de Falla’s other Andalusian ballet, El sombrero de tres picos (1919), a long life on stages around the world. El sombrero de tres picos was also originally a “ballet pantomímico” until Sergei Diaghilev told de Falla to rewrite it as a ballet. While de Falla’s orchestral music creates a modern sonic richness in both pieces, the narratives depict an emphatically non-modern mode of living, reinforced by choreography and musical devices that magnify the presumption of “flamenco dance” as an ahistorical form of movement. De Falla had to excise pantomime from the works, because pantomime would historicize the narrative too much, making the action seem either too archaic and old-fashioned or too modern, too incongruous with the theme of the mysterious power of dance to intersect with the realm of the supernatural. In effect, when compared with La Bailarina, El Sapo, and Tam-Tam, the composition history of El amor brujo dramatizes the defeat or suppression of pantomime in Spain during the early history of modernism, for pantomime would create an image of Spanish life that was too alien for audiences, too modern for what audiences assumed Spain, defined so narrowly through the folkloric flamenco, should be. For this reason, as Beauchamp phrases it, pantomime belonged to an “impossible theater.”
But even in a country as open to modernism as the United States, pantomime, at least in a modernist vein, did not thrive. In an article on “Recent American Pantomime” for The Drama, William Lee Sowers (1919: 21-37) surveyed the variety of pantomimes on American stages imported from Europe and described experiments in pantomime performed in American schools (Harvard, New England Conservatory) and “Little Theaters” dedicated to the performance of modernistic or at least new theatrical works. However, nearly all of the American pantomime activity Sowers mentions has fallen into oblivion because documentation of it is lacking. Only a few of these pantomimes reached publication. In addition to writing numerous one-act plays, Stuart Walker (1881-1941), later to become a successful producer and director of Hollywood films, produced a couple of pantomimes through the Portmanteau Theater he established in New York City in 1915. This theater traveled about the city performing without commercial motive for “the homeless … and the despairing” until Walker found a home at Madison Square (MacKay 1917: 39-40). There he produced his pantomime The Moon Lady, which he originally wrote in 1908. “It told how Pierrot met in the wood an old hag who sought his kisses, for she was a Moon Lady condemned to be ugly until she was kissed by one who had never kissed before. At Pierrot’s kiss she became so beautiful that he fell madly in love with her, but she eluded him. His love-making was cut short by the dawn, when the Moon Lady went away to her own land, leaving him disconsolate.” Walker produced a free, open air Christmas pantomime in Madison Square, The Seven Gifts (1915) in which an Emerald Queen receives gifts from seven persons of different social status, but finds only a doll given by a child to be acceptable (Sowers 1919: 29). But Walker went no further with pantomime. Founded in 1914, the Washington Square Players in New York City also experimented with pantomime, beginning with The Shepherd in the Distance (1915), by Holland Hudson. This was a Middle Eastern fantasy, “a romance in black and white […] somewhat in the manner of Aubrey Beardsley drawings” (27) about a shepherd and a princess who fall in love while overcoming the tyranny of a Wazir and his Vizier. It was “quaint” entertainment, as Sowers puts it, designed for performance by amateurs for an undemanding audience. The text synchronizes each gesture performed by a character with a sound made by one of a large array of percussion instruments (Holland 1921). But Hudson went no further with pantomime. The Washington Square Players produced another pantomime, The Red Cloak (1916), by Josephine Meyer and Lawrence Langner (1890-1962), a lawyer and co-founder of the theater company. This was “was an imitation of a marionette pantomime, the actors assumed the jerky movements of puppets in acting out an Italian story of fond lovers and irate parent.” But what impressed Sowers was the set design by Lee Simonson (1888-1967), which was “especially happy in bringing out the humor of the piece,” including “fantastic portraits of the simpering lovers, and above, a grotesque drawing of the assassination that formed a climax of the story” (28). But neither Meyer nor Langner went further with pantomime. The company attempted a third pantomime, Yum Chapab (1916), presented as a “Maya grotesque,” which “related in the spirit of broadest burlesque how the dwarf, Yum Chapab, prospered in seeking the princess and the throne,” creating a “caricaturing of the primitive” (28). But then the Washington Square Players went no further with pantomime. Sowers mentions other pantomimes, mostly by women, produced in the Little Theaters: Yoku-ti, by Florence Bernstein; The King of the Black Isles, by Sara Yarrow; The Myth of the Mirror and Pierrot in the Clear of the Moon, by Gretchen Riggs. But information about these works and their authors has vanished. In 1916, composer Charles Griffes (1884-1920) adapted an 1893 story by French occult novelist and dramatist Édouard Schuré (1841-1929), The Kairn of Koridwen, which he called both a dance drama and a pantomime. Here the story assumes a much more serious tone than the other American pantomimes mentioned by Sowers: “The tale is about druidesses who worship Koridwen, the goddess of the moon. One druidess, Carmelis, has to choose between her love, the Gallic warrior, Mordred, and her religion. According to her religion, Carmelis is supposed to kill Mordred for seeking a prophecy, but cannot. She reveals to Mordred the secret of his future, then sends him away. Carmelis wants to believe that she will find a happier life after death. The druidesses then find Carmelis dead” (Typaldos 1993). Griffes composed an impressionistic score for a chamber orchestra; it is ominous, sometimes sinister, and exceptionally beautiful music. The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City produced the pantomime in 1917. The prominent music critic Paul Rosenfeld (1890-1946) wrote a quite lengthy review of the production for The Seven Arts (1917: 673-675). Rosenfeld observed that the Neighborhood Playhouse had never “mounted anything more interesting” and that “one could return home with the sense of having undergone an experience,” even though the pantomimic acting, directed by the founders of the Playhouse, Alice (1883-1972) and Irene Lewisohn (1886-1944), was “unusually monotonous,” and the choreography, by Blanche Talmud, displayed a conspicuous “want of a single dynamic controlling intelligence.” The bulk of Rosenfeld’s review discussed the music in relation to each scene. The music was throughout on a much higher level than the performances on stage, which seemed to unfold without paying any attention to the manifold coloring and drama within the score. It is apparently another example of a pantomime scenario inspiring the composition of absorbing, innovative music, while neither the music nor the scenario inspire those responsible for the action on stage to match the level of engagement with the material achieved by the composer, even though the Lewisohn sisters had suggested the story to Griffes and may even have written part of the scenario. Part of the score was lost in 1917, which prevented the piece from having any further life until the missing parts turned up in 1965. Later in 1917, Griffes attempted a “Japanese pantomime,” Sho-Jo–The Spirit of Wine—A Symbol of Happiness. His friend, the Japanese dancer Michio Ito (1892-1961), performed the piece with Griffes’ music as a solo dance with much success in concerts (1918) along the East Coast (Caldwell 1977: 61-65). With his close connections to the New York experimental theater culture, Griffes might well have continued to explore pantomime, but in 1919 he succumbed to the worldwide influenza epidemic and never recovered. By 1920, though, theatrical pantomime had disappeared from the Little Theaters, and even within the Little Theaters it could never seem to rise above being anything more than a “quaint,” decorative exotic fantasy. As in England, pantomime on the stage was an entertainment for children, a matter for community theaters and civic pageants, not at all an unexplored region of modernist consciousness. In America, a vast film industry accommodated an enormous appetite for pantomimic performance. In spite of their quite serious approach toward spoken drama, the Little Theaters were simply unable to imagine pantomime with a seriousness or modernity that had eluded the film industry.