RECONSTRUCTION

Triadisches Ballett von Oskar Schlemmer - 1970 reconstruction

The 1970s reconstructed performance that first introduced me to this ballet is a thirty minute film piece made for German television by Margarete Hasting, Franz Schombs and Georg Verden. The construction of this performance was pieced together from notes, mostly from the archive of Schlemmer’s 1938 costume design exhibition at MOMA, and fragments of recorded choreography. The score, which was composed by Paul Hindermith, has been mostly lost to time with only eight minutes of the original surviving. The costumes depicted in this video are also reconstructed copies of the original designs. 

Analysis & Experimentation 

I first came across this short film while diving into old archived footage as part of a personal project. I had no prior knowledge of this ballet or the works of Oskar Schlemmer. My first assumption was that the performance that I was watching on screen was the original conception of the ballet. I would soon discover its long overshadowed history within the Bauhaus. After researching and studying the origins, influences, destruction and resurrection of this performance, I began analyzing the designs of the costumes and choreography.

 

The Triadic Ballet is unique to analysis because its current form has been stitched together from the fragments left behind in history. The 1970 video production takes liberties with camera usage, exaggerating camera angles, zoom shots and jump cuts. Throughout my readings, research and rewatches of the film, I constantly reminded myself that I will never see the original iteration of the performance nor will I hear the original score paired with it.

Analyzing this production is made even more complicated by the fact that aspects of the ballet changed with each performance. 

“The transmission history of Das Triadische Ballett is complicated. It was performed only a few times under Schlemmer’s direction, and always in different versions. The sequence of the individual numbers, the length of the performance, the musical accompaniment, the number of dancers: all of this changed each time, so that it is difficult to speak of an original choreography of Das Triadische Ballett. In any case, Schlemmer wanted the dramatization of his visual ideas to be understood more as a space of possibilities”– Franz Anton Cramer  (Print Mag).

It is because of these multiple differing performances that reconstructing the ballet is so challenging. During my research I came across multiples of these sketches which plan the acts, their order and the corresponding costumes that will be used. The first of these two sketches was likely used in the production and planning of the 1970 reconstruction film.

The title of the ballet Das Triadisches Ballett (The Triadic Ballet) derives from the division of the three acts. Separated by costume design, tone, color, and choreography these segments of the ballet can be dissected individually as components of the entire performance. Schlemmer Theatre Estate describes the division of these acts:

 

“The first part, which takes place on a stage dressed in lemon yellow colors, is a comedic burlesque. The subject of the second part, on a stage dressed in pink, has a festival/ceremonial air. Finally, the third part is developed in a mystical/fantastical way before a totally black background. Three dancers, two men, and a woman perform twelve dances of alternating forms.” Bagtazo Collection

Costume Design

Above: Schlemmer, Oskar: Triadisches Ballett,, Figure planning for dance costumes, ca. 1924-1926 

Source - DailyArt Magazine

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Right: Plan of figurines for the Triadic Ballet, author: Oskar Schlemmer, 1927.

Source - Bauhaus Kooperation

The concept of threes is embedded into the core of the performance. There are never more than three dancers on the screen to perform the three acts consisting of twelve choreographies of 18 separately designed costumes.

The same application of threes can be used to deconstruct the costumes seen in the performance. The Triadic Ballet costume design begins with three geometrical objects. The sphere, cylinder and cone. These three dimensional shapes are at the core of each structure. For example, the cylinder typically is used to abstract the arms and legs of the figure while the sphere and cone capture the flow from torso to hip. In many of the costumes these shapes are molded or combined with each other to exaggerate joints, muscles and appendages. The costumes themselves even now seem futuristic in design. The clean geometric shapes, abstracted forms, and mechanical appearance harken to futuristic aesthetics. When something is unclear in its outward appearance, we do not inherently know or understand how it functions. Schlemmer's design plays on this understanding, abstracting the bodies to reference simple shapes. Removing natural imperfections, the costumes embrace a transformed and pure figure.  Futurism travels hand in hand with minimalism, simplifying the appearance of an object to abstracted and simplified geometric shapes. Minimalist design breaks down the unnecessary excess and visual decoration.

 

Separate from these three-dimensional shapes is the flat plane of the stage these dancers flow across. If we were to travel above the performers and look down on them, seeing them as if existing in some two-dimensional realm, we could map the geographical shapes that the choreography creates. Gracefully slow ballet dancers glide in smooth curved arches, mimicking imperfect circles or stopping to make sharp ninety-degree turns. The segmented acts fall into two distinct movements, curved and smooth or straight and rigid. If you have not done so already, go to the video above and observe the performer's movements on stage.

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Interestingly Schlemmer only began crafting the choreography and dance after he had created the outfits. Because of this, movements of the dancers correspond with the limitations and shapes of the costumes. My experiments with the video focused on the combination of choreography, costume design and shot framing. In order to accomplish this, I began attempting to capture the after images of the performer, illustrating their movements and how their costume created shapes in their environment.

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In some of these experiments the camera zooms in on the movement of specific limbs, highlighting the slow migration through space. Because this figure stays fixed to his post, the performer only moves his arms, highlighting the limitations of the costume by focusing directly on them. 

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In comparison to a conventional ballet, the choreography is quite plain. If not for the costumes, the dancer's movements would be conventional and unremarkable. But by engaging with the limitations imposed on their bodies, their movements become fascinating. Shapes wobble and rotate separate from our expectations of ballet. These tracking videos and images aim to highlight these movements. 

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The number of performances of the Triadic Ballet is relatively small in comparison to the massive interest reestablished by the German recreation film. The visuals, colors and clean geometric outlines even now harken to futuristic aesthetics. The abstracted figures mechanically move across the stage as if guided by predetermined geometric lines. These geometric three dimensional forms glide over their predetermined pathways, encased in yellow, pink and black environments. As I play and replay the video that has been etched into my brain, combing through archives, documents and articles to unravel the history of the ballet's first conception, I cannot help but wonder how true to the vision Oskar Schlemmer had hoped to manifest. The liberties that were taken with the usage of the camera and the piecing together of choreography and score all have me question if I will ever see Das Triadisches Ballett.