Das Triadisches Ballett
Oskar Schlemmer was born in Swabia, Germany in 1888 and the youngest of six children. He studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Stuttgart, where he would later in his life perform the first iteration of Das Triadisches Ballett, and would go on to study as a painter under a number of artists. It was during this time that he moved away from the impressionist style towards cubism. In 1914, like many young men, enlisted to fight in the German army and fought on the western front in The Great War. After he was wounded in action he was positioned with the military cartography unit in Colmar where he stayed for the remainder of the war. In 1920 he was invited to run the mural painting and sculpture departments at the Bauhaus School before taking over the stagecraft workshop in 1923.
Oskar Schlemmer, Elsa Hotzel and her husband Abert Burger’s dance troupe first conceived the Triadic Ballet in Stuttgart, Germany in 1912. Segments of the ballet were first performed in 1915. In 1922 it was performed again except this time to music composed by Paul Hindemith and then finally in 1923 during the Bauhaus Week at the Nationaltheater, Weimar, and again at the Annual Exhibition of German Crafts, in Dresden.
There are only a handful of the original costumes and score that remain available today. The choreography that we see in modern iterations of the ballet have been pieced together from Schlemmer’s recovered notes and records.
“Due to the Bauhaus’ controversial and groundbreaking work, they became targets of the Nazi destruction and the school was closed in 1933. Schlemmer was forced to leave teaching and his work was deemed “degenerate art”, a lot of it destroyed during the war. He died of a heart attack at only age 54 in 1943.” DailyArt Magazine
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 score surviving.
Portrait of Oskar Schlemmer / Photo: unknown, 1928.
Source - Bauhaus Kooperation
Das Triadisches Ballett, 1970s reconstructed performance - view video
Bauhaus Theater of Human Dolls
Traditional sized dolls had also been created in the Bauhaus as well as marionettes which would be used in puppet theater. These performances would act as scale models for theater costumes and as miniature people. Marionetes designed by Kurt Schmidt for The Adventures of the Little Hunchback which were pictured in Die Buhne im Bauhaus (Fig 1) in 1925. Dolls, puppets and marionettes have long been part of German history as a platform for mock performances.
“Waxworks, dolls, marionettes, and puppets had long substituted for humans in the German literary imagination, famously appearing in the work of E. T. A. Hoffmann and Heinrich von Kleist in the early nineteenth century” (728). The Art Bulletin
Schlemmer and other artists in the Bauhaus, such as Paul Klee and Kurt Schmidt, took inspiration from dolls and saw them beyond a scaled down substitution for the human figure. The marionette is a doll controlled to simulate expression of emotion with body posture and movement. These dolls were crafted by the artists who manipulate them and become their maker's avatar while on stage. These puppets and performances “embodied the drive to unify art and craft that governed the Bauhaus in its early years.”
Fig. 1 - The Adventures of the Little Hunchback pictured in Die Buhne im Bauhaus 1925.
Source - The Art Bulletin
After 1923 technology would become the guiding influence and infatuation of the Bauhaus’s creativity. As the Bauhaus began to grapple with ideas of the human form’s reification and mechanization, we see these small playful dolls, puppets and marionettes grow in size. Instead of manipulating wooden manifestations of the artist with string, acting as substitutes to the body, the artist becomes the doll.
“The Bauhaus director was now more likely to perform as a doll than to hold its strings behind the scenes. Creator and performer became theoretically interchangeable, dissolving the fundamental distinction between them that the traditional theater maintained both physically and conceptually” (728). The Art Bulletin
The breakdown and abstraction of the performance as well as the body became the new evolution of the Bauhaus doll.
“Unlike the puppet or marionette, the automaton - a machine figure operating as if human, without need of human assistance - more closely approximates the model of the Bauhaus doll” (728 - 729). The Art Bulletin
With this understanding we can see how the development of Oskar Schlemmer's Das Triadisches Ballett formed and ultimately manifested.
Das Triadisches Ballett
In his ballet, Schlemmer experiments with the human body as a medium and canvas. Reducing the human form into geometric, formalist shapes that are designed to limit the performer’s freedom of movement. “They are walking architectural structures that move in a comic fashion, playful, sharp, and clumsy across the entire stage.” There is no linear narrative of the performance, each act explores the boundaries and limitations of the body through the interaction between dancer and costume. In some cases the design of the costume, not just limited movement, but dictated it. The costumes themselves, according to the Schlemmer Theatre Estate, took advantage of the new technologies of the era, “The scientific apparatus of glass and metal, the artificial members that are used in surgery, the fantastic military and diving uniform.” Experimenting with these new mediums previously unavailable, Schlemmer’s costume materials and design play with the modern themes of industrialization, machinery, and the relationship between the human and mechanized form.
However there is no existing original documentation of this production. The most well known iteration of this ballet comes from a 1970 made for TV German film which attempted to reconstruct Schlemmer's vision.