Meet Anita Berber, the Cabaret Star Who Scandalized Weimar-Period Berlin

Meet Anita Berber, the Cabaret Star Who Scandalized Weimar-Period Berlin

Anita Berber, the taboo-busting, sexually omnivorous, trend ahead, regularly bare star of the Weimar Republic cabaret scene, tops our listing of performers we actually want we’d been in a position to see dwell. Whereas Berber acted in 27 movies, together with Prostitution, director Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, and Different from the Others, which movie

Anita Berber, the taboo-busting, sexually omnivorous, trend ahead, regularly bare star of the Weimar Republic cabaret scene, tops our listing of performers we actually want we’d been in a position to see dwell.

Whereas Berber acted in 27 movies, together with Prostitution, director Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, and Different from the Others, which movie critic Dennis Harvey describes as “the primary film to painting gay characters past the standard innuendo and mock,” we’ve got a robust hunch that none of those appearances can compete with the sheer audacity of her stage work.

Audiences at Berlin’s White Mouse cabaret (some sporting black or white masks to hide their identities) have been titillated by her Expressionistic nude solo choreography, in addition to the troupe of six teenaged dancers beneath her command.

As biographer Mel Gordon writes in The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar Berlin’s Priestess of Depravity, Berber, usually described as a “stripper”, displayed the eagerness of a critical artist, “reply(ing) to the viewers’s heckling with show-stopping obscenities and indecent provocations:”

Berber had been recognized to spit brandy on them or stand bare on their tables, dousing herself in wine while concurrently urinating… It was not lengthy earlier than all the cabaret one evening sank right into a groundswell of shouting, screams and laughter.  Anita jumped off the stage in fuming rage, grabbed the closest champagne bottle and smashed it over a businessman’s head.

Her collaborations along with her second husband, dancer Sebastian Droste, carried Berber into more and more transgressive territory, each onstage and off.

In line with translator Merrill Cole, within the introduction to the 2012 reissue of Dances of Vice, Horror and Ecstasy, a ebook of Expressionist poems, essays, images, and stage designs which Droste and Berber co-authored, “even the biographical particulars seduce:”

…a bisexual sometimes-prostitute and a shady determine from the male gay underworld, united in dependancy to cocaine and disdain for bourgeois respectability, each extremely proficient, Expressionist-educated dancers, each lovely exhibitionists, got down to present the Babylon on the Spree with the last word expertise of depravity, utilizing an artwork kind that they had helped to invent for this function. Their transient marriage and creative interplay ended when Droste grew to become determined for medicine and absconded with Berber’s jewel assortment.

This, and the outline of Berber’s penchant for “hang-out(ing) Weimar Berlin’s lodge lobbies, nightclubs and casinos, radiantly bare aside from a chic sable wrap, a pet monkey hanging from her neck, and a silver brooch filled with cocaine,” do a much more evocative job of resurrecting Berber, the Weimar sensation, than any wordy, blow-by-blow try to recreate her surprising performances, although we are able to’t fault creator Karl Toepfer, Professor Emeritus of Theater Arts at San Jose State College, for attempting.

In Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910–1935, Toepfer attracts closely on Czech choreographer Joe Jenčík’s eyewitness observations, to reconstruct Berber’s most infamous dance, Cocaine, starting with the “ominous surroundings by Harry Täuber that includes a tall lamp on a low, cloth-covered desk:”

This lamp was an expressionist sculpture with an ambiguous kind that one might learn as an indication of the phallus, an abstraction of the feminine dancer’s physique, or a monumental picture of a syringe, for an extended, shiny needle protruded from the highest of it…It isn’t clear how nude Berber was when she carried out the dance. Jenčík, writing in 1929, flatly acknowledged that she was nude, however the well-known Viennese photographer Madame D’Ora (Dora Kalmus) took an image entitled “Kokain” by which Berber seems in an extended black gown that exposes her breasts and whose lacing, up the entrance, reveals her flesh to under her navel.

In any case, in line with Jenčík, she displayed “a easy strategy of pure steps and unforced poses.” However although the method was easy, the dance itself, one in every of Berber’s most profitable creations, was apparently fairly advanced. Rising from an preliminary situation of paralysis on the ground (or probably from the desk, as indicated by Täuber’s scenographic notes), she adopted a primal motion involving a gradual, sculptured turning of her physique, a form of slow-motion impact. The turning represented the unraveling of a “knot of flesh.” However because the physique uncoiled, it convulsed into “separate elements,” producing a wide range of rhythms inside itself. Berber used all elements of her physique to assemble a “tragic” battle between the wholesome physique and the poisoned physique: she made distinct rhythms out of the motion of her muscular tissues; she used “sudden counter-movements” of her head to create an anguished sense of stability; her “porcelain-colored arms” made hypnotic, pendulumlike actions, like a marionette’s; inside the primal turning of her physique, there appeared contradictory turns of her wrists, torso, ankles; the rhythm of her respiration fluctuated with dramatic impact; her intense darkish eyes adopted one more, slower rhythm; and he or she launched the “most refined nuances of agility” in making spasms of sensation ripple by way of her fingers, nostrils, and lips. But, regardless of all this complexity, she was not afraid of seeming “ridiculous” or “painfully swollen.” The dance concluded when the convulsed dancer tried to cry out (with the “blood-red opening of the mouth”) and couldn’t. The dancer then hurled herself to the ground and assumed a pose of immobile, drugged sleep. Berber’s dance dramatized the extraordinary ambiguity concerned in linking the ecstatic liberation of the physique to nudity and rhythmic consciousness. The dance tied ecstatic expertise to an encounter with vice (dependancy) and horror (acute consciousness of loss of life).

A noble try, however forgive us if we are able to’t fairly image it…

And what little proof has been preserved of her display screen appearances exists at the same take away from  the darkish material she explicitly referenced in her choreographed work – Morphine, SuicideThe Corpse on the Dissecting Desk…

Cole opines:

There are a variety of narrative accounts of her dances, some pinned by skilled critics, and virtually all commending her expertise, finesse, and mesmerizing stage presence. We even have movie photos from the assorted silent movies by which she performed bit elements. There exist, too, many nonetheless images of Berber and Droste, in addition to renditions of Berber by different artists, most prominently the Dadaist Otto Dix’s well-known scarlet-saturated portrait. In regard to the bare dances, sadly, we’ve got no shifting photos, no method to watch immediately how they have been carried out.

For a dishy overview of Anita Berber’s private life, together with her alleged dalliances with actress Marlene Dietrich, creator Lawrence Durrell, and the King of Yugoslavia, her influential impact on director Leni Riefenstahl, and her unhappy demise on the age of 29, a “carrion soul that even the hyenas ignored,” take a peek at Victoria Linchong’s biographical essay for Messy Nessy Chic, or higher but, Iron Spike’s Twitter thread.

via Messy Nessy

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and creator, most not too long ago, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Observe her @AyunHalliday.

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