A WORLD IN A BOX: Dance and modern art

07/22/2015 09:47

Sometime during the autumn of 1968 I worked with two large drawings. At that time I could sit for hours and with Chinese ink sketch large, detailed   pictures, which I later coloured. As I drew directly, without any preparatory pencil drafts, the result did sometimes not become what I had hoped for. Accordingly, I had to cut out the parts I was satisfied with, glue them to a new sheet of paper and redraw those sections that had gone wrong.  The result was that some of my drawings consisted of several layers. I assume I drew as I write, it became a kind of adventure – I wanted the end result to remain fairly unknown, finding my way step by step. The two drawings I worked on depicted Che Guevara's death in Bolivia and some youngsters climbing onto Soviet tanks in Prague. I had recently turned fourteen and it was politically conscious times.

I lay on the floor in my big sister's apartment in Malmö and for a few days become experienced young man, while Nunno was away due to her work as a flight attendant, I had my own key, ate at a restaurant and when I came home I was free to take care of myself; listening to her records and draw. During week days I was busy with "practical work experience", meaning I had some weeks free from school work and was then entrusted with various minor jobs at the workshop of Malmö City Theatre. Among other things, I had been given the confidence to make and paint a throne that was going to be part of the set of an operetta of which I have forgotten the name, though I remember it included a male choir who dressed in eighteenth century costumes sang: "Courtiers often have to bend their backs, bend their backs, bend their backs."

The workshop was a fascinating place and I was allowed to move around freely within the entire theatre building. Among its curiosities was a long, narrow corridor lined with planks and other material, neatly placed on shelves. If the doors by the short ends were closed the passageway was transformed  into an elevator, which could move all the way up to an attic, which was placed above the main stage´s  upper stage house with its pulleys, curtains, grids, cat walks and light ramps. The attic was a vast, deserted and dark expanse. Once a set designer brought me up there to show me his stage models, which he kept in a corner.

Large boxes were arranged under plastic sheeting that he carefully lifted away and folded. Then he directed the flashlight beam towards the worlds he had constructed inside the boxes. There was a scene from Venice made for the Tales of Hoffmann and another that represented a wild forest in Der Freischütz. All around us was the darkness of the theatre attic and when I now remember the scene with me and the set designer in front of his fairytale boxes, I come to think about similar settings in Ingmar Bergman's movies. For example, the puppet theatre that to the sound of a piano quintet by Schumann initiates Fanny and Alexander, or when the demonic archivist Holger Lindhorst with the help of a similar, miniature theatre stage presents a scene from The Magic Flute in the Hour of the Wolf

The stage designer explained to me:

- Isn´t it fascinating to peer into these small worlds? Now I cannot imagine that it was I who created them. They have a life of their own. You can easily picture yourself how actors are moving among the scenery, which can also move and become a co-actor within the drama. Everything is moving, changing. To me, theatre is art come alive. All is combined into something wondrous ... the cast, the singing, the music, the scenery, the light, the movement.  Art's origins are to be found in movement and dance. Many of the great modern painters were also eminent set designers.  During the Stone Age tribal artists painted animals and humans on cave walls and then they danced in the flickering light from their torches. In any case, I would like to believe it was like that.

Now I don´t remember the name of the stage designer, only what he told me

Fairy tales and theatre are united. They carry a mystique beyond every-day existence. The reason may be that in order to be really impressive tales and theatre require presence and contact. Tales should be told, theatre performed, they need a room where you can be confronted with them. Yet, even when you are together, a distance remains between storyteller and listener, between actor and audience. Germans have called it Verfremdungseffekt, estrangement effect, a kind of magic that transforms something familiar into something strange and alluring. You look into an alien world. It may be pleasant, weird and sometimes even terrifying - a Twilight Zone, or as it says in the introduction to Bergman's scary movie:

The hour of the wolf, is the hour between night and dawn. The hour when most people die, when sleep is deepest, when nightmares are most real. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fears, when ghosts and demons are most powerful, the hour of the wolf is also the hour when most children are born.

Bergman was fascinated by "magic rooms" where you, as in several of E. T. A.  Hoffmann's tales, could step in and lose yourself. Incidentally, the archivist Lindhorst who figures in Bergman's Hour of the Wolf is also the name of the uncanny alchemist and magician appearing in Hoffmann's curious novella The Golden Pot from 1814, in which he like a demon director controls the life of the naïve student Anselmus. The romantic dreamer Anselmus gets a job as a copier by the controlling archivist who lived in a labyrinthine house filled with strange furnishings and decorations, which all serve a specific purpose:

The Archivist strode through many rooms with exotic decorations, so fast that the student, following him, had scarcely time even to glance at the gleaming strange furniture and other unfamiliar objects with which they were all filled.

Anselmus is attracted and frightened by the demonic archivist. When I as a young man read the story, I could without difficulties identify myself with the adventurous dreamer who believed he was endowed with unique qualities and special talents. For his first visit to the archivist's house, when he is about to assume his new post, Anselmus has brought with him different work samples that he with ill-concealed pride presented to Lindhorst:

Anselmus now took courage and produced his drawings and calligraphic exercizes from his pocket, feeling rather pleased with himself and certain of delighting the Archivist by his remarkable talent

Unsurprisingly the archivist found Anselmus´ drawings and calligraphy to be extremely amateurish. However, he has taken a liking to the awkward lad and while he alternately teaches and punishes him he leads him step by step into his magical world until he finds him worthy enough to marry his lovely daughter Serpentina. But the path is thorny and full of unexpected and unpleasant surprises.

The reader of Hoffmann´s novella gets a feeling that s/he, like Anselmus who is completely at the mercy Lindhorst, is controlled by the narrator. The intentions of the storyteller are unclear, the structure and meaning of his tale are dreamlike, in the best sense of the word. Reading The Golden Pot is like having been lured into narcotic intoxication, where everything is distorted, fantastic and unexpected. As in a mirror maze the reader is brought into one Chinese box after the other; rooms, walls and dimensions are shifting and distorted.

Then I studied Theatre Knowledge at the University, it happened that someone contemptuously spoke of "peep-show theatre”.  Some lecturers argued that directors and set designers should strive to blow up the stage space in order to bring the theatre closer to the audience, engaging and provoking viewers through direct confrontation. I experienced some impressive performances that really managed to do just that, for example the Stockholm Pistol Theatre's production of Macbeth. Nevertheless, to me what so contemptuously was called “peep-show” was far more alluring – when the lights went out, the curtain was raised and warm stage successively flooded an alien world.

In Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Travels from 1807, which tells the story of how a young merchant escapes from his unimaginative life to the theatre world, there is a fairy tale incorporated - The New Melusine. It is the tale about a young man falling in love with some sort of fairy who inhabits two different worlds, our world and a Lilliputian reality. Although he did not know enough about her, the naïve, young man marries his coveted woman. In order to follow her husband on his travels, the mysterious lady stays within a trunk, which she has strictly instructed her husband to take utmost care of. The young man marvels at the fact that his beautiful wife occasionally disappears, but since she furnishes him with money and is very loving he tries to ignore the mystery and he cannot fathom the trunk´s secret - not until he in a dark night travels inside his covered carriage:

But if I had hitherto paid little heed to the mysteries of my adventure, expecting a natural solution of the whole, there now occurred something which threw me into astonishment, into anxiety, nay into fear. Being wont in my impatience for change in place, to hurry forward day and night, it was often my hap to be travelling in the dark; and when the lamps, by any chance, went out, to be left in utter obscurity. Once in the dead of such a night, I had fallen asleep; and on awakening I observed the glimmer of a light on the covering of my carriage. I examined this more strictly, and found that it was issuing from the Box; in which there seemed to be a chink, as if it had been chapped by the warm and dry weather of summer, which was now coming on. My thoughts of jewels again came into my head; I supposed there must be some carbuncle laying in the Box, and this point I forwith set about investigating. I postured myself as well as might be, so that my eye was in immediate contact with the chink. But great was my surprise when a fair apartment, well-lighted, and furnished with much taste and even costliness met my inspection, just as I had been looking down through the opening of a dome into a royal saloon! A fire was burning in the grate; and before it stood an arm-chair. I held my breath and continued to observe. And now there entered from the other side of the apartment a lady with a book in her hand, whom I at once recognized for my wife. though her figure was contracted into the extreme of diminution. She sat down in the chair by the fire to read; she trimmed the coals with the most dainty pair of tongs; and in the course of her movements, I could clearly perceive that this fairest little creature was also in the family way. But now I was obliged to shift my constrained posture a little; and the next moment, when I bent down to look in again, and convince myself that it was not a dream, the light had vanished, and my eyes rested on empty darkness.

After her secret has been revealed, the fairy forces the young man to marry her, but in order to do that he must become part of the elf kingdom, something that meant he had to thread a magic ring on a finger and thereby be transformed into a tiny creature. However, he does not feel at ease with his life as a Lilliputian and rasps off his ring, leaving his wife behind and once more becomes a member of the human world, though living in constant fear of the revenge of the elves.

At the entrance to the Dance Museum, located next to the opera house in Stockholm there is a huge box containing a model of Fernand Léger´s costumes and backdrops for the Swedish Ballet´s set of La création du monde, The Creation of the World, which was staged in Paris in 1923, with music by Darius Milhaud. Like the magic boxes I had seen in the attic of the Malmö Town Theatre this box contained a story, a fairly long and convoluted one.

Rolf de Maré was in many respects a remarkable person. Born in 1888, as the darling grandson of Sweden's richest woman, Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, sole heiress to William Kempe, determined entrepreneur and in his time Sweden's wealthiest “wood squire”, i.e. millionaire due to the control of wood and paper pulp from Sweden´s vast forests. Rolf de Maré was owner of a castle in the Swedish countryside, but was rarely at home. Maré´s passion was art and handsome, young men.

In the 1910s, he became acquainted with the artist Nils von Dardel, who was the same age as he. They had much in common, including roots in the Swedish upper class. Both were of German-Swiss descent, had in their childhood been sickly due to tuberculosis and did afterwards suffer from recurrent heart failure. They shared a passion for art, especially extravagant oeuvres, both were dandies and blatantly gay, though Nils also had a weakness for beautiful women. The extremely wealthy Rolf de Maré invited Nils to extensive travels abroad, including a trip around the world and bought his art work. Through his enthusiasm and great knowledge Nils von Dardel succeeded in interesting his friend for the latest and boldest Parisian art.

The Swedish Club in Paris had some paintings by Dardel and a club member once told me that one of them could be a portrait of Thora Klinckowström, who had been married to the artist. According to the lady who told me about the portrait, Thora had written an excellent book about her time in Paris. She had much to tell after finding herself in the storm center of modern art, no less than the great Amadeo Modigliani had painted her portrait. Unfortunately, I later on discovered that the portrait at the Swedish Club did not at all represent Dardel's wife, but a famous artist model from Montparnasse named Claudia Loiseaux.

I did not think more about all that until Janna, my oldest daughter, told me that she in Rome had become friends with the daughter of a certain Henry Unger, who was the grandson of Nils and Thora Dardel. This made me read Thora Dardel´s book about her Paris sojourn and it turned out to be quite fascinating. The Dardel couple had a large circle of friends and an exciting life they shared with a vast amount of celebrities. Between the lines it is possible to deduce how frivolous life was in the Parisian artistic circles of the time. Dardel´s bisexuality was probably one of the reasons to why he became good friends with the influential Jean Cocteau, who introduced Rolf de Maré and Nils von Dardel to such renowned men as composers Erik Satie and Darius Milhaud, the writer Blaise Cendrars, photographer Man Ray and artists like Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia and Pablo Picasso.

In Paris, Thora and Nils met the young poet and novelist Raymond Radiguet, who was regarded as a literary prodigy, but was under such a strong dependence of the homosexual Jean Cocteau that he was generally called Monsieur Bébé. Raymond Radiguet was like Dardel bisexual and fell violently in love with Thora Dardel, who wrote:

He [Radiguet] probably did not really know if it was Nils or me he loved the most. Or he dared not show it, worried that his dream would be shattered? Most of all, he wanted to free himself from Cocteau's despotic influence. He annoyed me by always looking sad.

Radiguet died of typhus in 1923, only 20 years old. It is alleged that his book Count d'Orgel´s Ball could be a key novel about his relationship with Thora Dardel.

It was in this strange and enclosed hothouse atmosphere that avant-garde artists flocked around the wealthy Rolf de Maré and his friend Nils von Dardel. During drinking binges, in bars and in restaurants, they discussed what Maré´s money could do for them, and the arts. A recurring theme was dance.

Through the centuries art has been depicting dancing and contributed to its development. Every time, every country, have had its favorite dances. By the turn of the century, Nietzsche adoration spread like a veritable plague among European intellectuals. His release of philosophy from God and the strict rules of logic were perceived as gushes of healthy air and Nietzsche tributes to art and uninhibited expression were specifically appreciated. As a meticulous classicist Nietzsche did in his writings often praise dance, pointing out that ancient philosophers might have hailed it as a form of liberation. He wrote that where there is joy there is enthusiasm, a word central to the Dionysian faith which leads man towards Theos, closer to God, the exact meaning of the word "enthusiasm". “I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance” wrote the mad philosopher and added “We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.” “Only in the dance do I know how to tell the parable of the highest things “, asserted Nietzsche. In his tribute to the Gay Science and its expression through dance, he stresses that dancing requires both learning and discipline. It is only when you have learned the proper step, that dancing may become an integrated part of your nature, when you really can be able to rejoice. To dance means manifesting in a “conscious” fashion what actually is an “acquired instinct”, and instincts are free from inhibiting thoughts:

The dance is learned, practiced, translated into flesh and reality, even into common sense […] Whereby a spirit could bid farewell to every belief, to every wish for certainty, accustomed as it would bid farewell to every belief, to every wish for certainty, accustomed as it would be to support itself on slender cords and possibilities, and to dance even on the verge of abysses. Such a spirit would be the free spirit par excellence.

Individual and artistic liberation was accentuated by the end of the last century. New worlds opened up, new ways of thinking emerged. Nietzsche had indeed declared that God was dead, but nevertheless he, along with several other philosophers, opened up gates to rituals and religion, to "primitive thinking", to the expressive and emotional, creating an atmosphere within which contemporary dance started an explosive growth. Suddenly there was a freedom within the boundaries of what was considered acceptable, within the area of art and creation.

Women's liberation eventually reached the stage, tiptoe dancing and corsets were discarded and replaced by sheer textiles and bare feet. Loie Fuller enchanted audiences and artists with her advanced veil dances and Isadora Duncan preached liberation and personal expressiveness as the root of all dance and wanted through her performances illustrate Nietzsche's ideas about the dance´s liberating effect on mind and body.

Within certain noncomformist factions, art was considered to be "free", unfettered by national boundaries, cultural traditions, rules and formulas. Their rule was L'art pour l'art, art for art's sake, or as the motto was written during Antiquity Ars gratia artis. The viewer was invited to peer into a wonderland where uninhibited art performances were allowed to dazzle all senses. Gesamtkunstwerke, total works of art, in which music, movement and colors were blended in a way never experienced before.

For more than twenty years, the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev struck the world with awe and amazement with his Ballets Russe. His spectacles began in 1909, when he in Paris staged lavish performances making use of stage designers like Leon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, Pablo Picasso, Natilia Goncharova and Matisse, sovereign dancers and choreographers like Fokine and Nijinsky and innovative composers like Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. The overwhelming modernism of some performances caused tumultuous scenes and was even capable of changing and making a lasting imprint on subsequent artistic expressions - like the legendary first performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, on the twenty-ninth of May 1913.

Jean Cocteau experienced all this and wanted nothing more than becoming part of Diaghilev´s entourage and world. In his memoirs, Cocteau describes how he did everything to approach the great impresario. One inroad was the homosexual clique which Diaghilev surrounded himself with and Cocteau sought out. Cocteau, who consciously tried to behave in a provocative manner and dressed accordingly, occasionally succeeded in approaching the great Russian while he amused himself in Paris. Cocteau tells of how his life changed one evening in 1909:


The first chimes of the bell of destiny that would forever change my life and whose impact will follow me to my death, I heard from Diaghilev one night in Paris, more specifically - on the Place de la Concorde. Our party was after a performance on its way to a dinner. Nijinsky was as usual in a bad mood and walked far ahead of us. Diaghilev was amused by my ridiculous behavior, and when I asked him about the reason for his aversion towards me (otherwise I used to flatter him), he stopped walking, adjusted his monocle, looked at me and said: "Etonnez-moi" [astonish/marvel me]. This request assured me of a brilliant career. The idea to marvel someone had never appeared to me before. My goal would be to astonish Diaghilev. From that moment I decided to die and live again. The work was arduous and detestable.

Together with some of his friends - artists Pablo Picasso and Giacomo Balla, composer Erik Satie, poet Guillaume Appolinaire and the coreographer Léonide Massine (Diaghilev´s new lover after Nijinsky had abandoned him and married one of Diaghilev´s female star performers) - Cocteau did during World War I create an entirely new form of art performance, it could probably not be called a ballet, particularly since some of the dancers could hardly move in the peculiar constructions that Picasso had created for them. When they had finished the preparations for their unique work of art, the artists talked to their mutual friend Misia Sert and asked her insistently to convince Sergei Diaghilev to stage their masterpiece, which they called Parade. Diaghilev was by that time well aware of Jean Cocteau being a radiantly wild man and he understood that if his work could marvel no less than Sergei Diaghilev it would cause a stir in Paris and accordingly gave his go-ahead. The scandal was almost as great and transformative as the staging of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

The authors happily fueled the negative reactions and infected debate that followed. For example, Erik Satie answered a music critic´s scathing condemnation by sending him a postcard with the wording: "Sir and dear friend – you are an arse, an arse without music! Signed, Erik Satie." Satie was sued for libel and the following trial was transformed into a great show with witty exchange of abuse and violent fights.

When Rolf de Maré and Nils von Dardel appeared in Paris, Ballets Russes was still a success with the public, but Cocteau and several of the younger artists had began to believe that the performances had become far too "intellectual" and "sophisticated". They lacked the wilder, earlier years, when they and other avant-gardists had been looking forward to every performance and its promise of surprises, artistic stimulation and scandal. Some of the fresh air and joy had vanished from the dance scene in Paris. Thora Dardel writes in her book how the sadly down at heel Isadora Duncan could pop up in hers and Nils´ apartment: "Wine, vodka and nightly vigils now had to help her to gain a little joy and action, it was quite distressing to watch."

Michel Fokine who had been a star choreographer for the Russian Ballet's most celebrated performances up until The Rite of Spring, which was choreographed by Nijinsky, left Paris and in1913 became director of Stockholm's Royal Theatre Ballet School where he discovered the twenty-year-old dancer Jean Börlin and gave him private lessons in choreography. Together they launched a collaboration with the artist John Bauer and composer Hugo Alfvén to put up a show called Bergakungen, The Mountain King, an initiative which, however, was canceled in 1916, only to be resurrected many years later.

Rolf de Maré became excited upon hearing that the famous Michel Fokine had ended up in Stockholm. Furthermore, he fell in love with Jean Börlin and realized that the smart and energetic student to Fokine, the man who had brought the Ballets Russes to such artistic heights, could help him to initiate an artistic competition with Diaghelev´s ballet company and renew the artistic enthusiasm among the Paris avant-garde. He took Börlin to Paris and established there in 1919 Ballets Suédois at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, the same theatre where the scandalous premiere of The Rite of Spring had taken place. For five years Rolf de Maré organized 24 major productions, all with choreography by Ulf Börlin.

Ballets Suédois became a competitor to be reckoned with for the Ballets Russes. While the Russian ballet company focused on a modernism harmonized with folk- and classical music, the Swedes increasingly chose to adapt their repertoire to truly innovative means of expression reflecting the "very latest" in art - jazz, movies, primitive art, abstraction, mechanics. Notably did a ground-breaking rapprochement with jazz and African art become a hallmark of many of the Ballets Suédois presentations.

Shortly after Rolf de Marés takeover of the Théâtre des Champs Elysées had art magnate Paul Guillaume organized a fête Nègre, a kind of festive celebration with African themes in the same theatre, in order to pay homage to the recently deceased Guillaume Appolinaire and to introduce the first exhibition of African - and Pacific Art at Guillaume's own gallery, Devambez. Colonialism and ethnological expeditions had for some time created an ever growing interest in African art. Many artists had already vast collections of “tribal art”, which they had acquired at Parisian flea markets and antique shops. Enthusiasts like Maurice de Vlaminck and André Derain had interested Picasso, Braque, Delaunay and many other fellow artists for the opportunities for renewal of Western art inherent in African expressionism. Picasso told the author, critic and politician André Malraux that a visit he in 1907 had made to the Anthropological Museum in the Trocadero Palace had transformed his view of art:

Those masks weren´t not just pieces of sculpture like the rest, not in  the least, they were magic things …  these negroes were intercessors, that´s a word I´ve known in French ever  since then. They were against everything, against unknown threatening spirits … I kept on staring at the fetishes. Then it came to me.  I too was against everything … I to felt that everything was unknown, hostile!

Feelings of hate, confusion and despair had seized many artists who had spent time in the hell of the blood soaked trenches during the First World War, men like Apollinaire, who had received a serious head injury and Blaise Cendrars, who had lost his right arm. Some of them, like those two, who previously had appreciated African art regarded it now as a way back to man's true origins. They believed that the African attitude to life mirrored a more natural human condition within each individual respected communal life, rites, myths and nature. Everything that once had been true and immaculate had now lost its innocence while serving chauvinism, industrialism, commercialism, being cowed to by a ridiculous cadaver discipline.

Blaise Cendrars embarked on a serious study of African myths, which he collected in a volume called Anthologie Nègre. Cendrars was an odd character, born in a wealthy Swiss family, he had fifteen years old left school and as an apprentice to a watchmaker ended up in Skt. Petersburg, where he inspired by a librarian at the Russian National Library started to write poems and short stories. He went east with the Trans-Siberian railway and experienced violence during the Russo-Japanese War, went to sea and worked for some time in China, before returning to Switzerland, where he studied medicine at the University, but left his studies to travel to New York and Latin America. When war broke out, he enrolled with the French Foreign Legion and lost an arm after a battle in Champagne.

After the war ended Cendrars befriended Jean Cocteau, drove around in an Alfa Romeo decorated by Georges Braque and won admirers especially within a circuit of American authors, which included Hemingway and Dos Passos, both of which became inspired by his writing style, which alternately has been called telegraphic style or assembly technique and been likened silent movies´ manner of telling a story. Cendrars was apparently an outgoing bon vivant who declared that he liked “legends, dialects, mistakes of language, detective novels, the flesh of girls, the sun, the Eiffel Tower."

Many years ago I read Cendrars's novel Moravagine, it has often been compared with Céline's Journey to the End of the Night, a novel I read recently, but was not at all impressed by. I found it to be mannered and repetitive. Maybe I would say the same about Moravagine if I had read it now, but as a young man I was impressed. I found that it in all its inflated fantasy was both funny and surprising, like Ilya Ehrenburg´s Julio Jurenitos a novel that also was written in the twenties and which I read at the same time as Moravagine. They were both cynical and occasionally nasty, dystopian digs, with downright crazy, not very sympathetic protagonists.

Along with the artist Fernand Léger and composer Darius Milhaud Cendrars created a ballet depicting the world´s creation in various tableaux where the gods Nzame, Medere and N'kava by dancing create the Earth's plants and animals.

Darius Milhaud was a classically trained composer, who during a visit to Amsterdam had become so obsessed with the jazz´ way of syncopating different rhythms and letting them overlap, something he already had experienced during his time as embassy employee in Brazil, that he immediately decided to make a trip to New York and Harlem to study African-American jazz bands´ techniques in situ.

The following year he met Cendrars and put music to his libretto. As I listened to Milhaud´s music to The Creation of the World it sounded fairly quiet and elegiac, flowing in a modest, contemplative trot, soothing and pleasant to listen to. On a couple of occasions the meditative flow was broken by a short melody played on the clarinet preceding a jazz inspired outburst, that soon petered out. The whole thing was not particularly brutal or upsetting, however, at the time it was by many critics perceived as unbearably raw and brutal. Milhaud came to be of great importance for contemporary "art music", jazz and light music. Among his students were Steve Reich, Allan Pettersson and Karlheinz Stockhausen, but also the jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, as well as the popular singer, songwriter, composer and record producer Burt Bacharach.

Fernand Léger set design for The Creation of the World was admired and is still striking through its strong, bright colors and allusions to a variety of African art expressions. However, at the premiere Léger was not at all happy with his contribution. He found the costumes and backdrops to be far too bright and glossy. Disappointed he shook his head and muttered "jolie jolie", pretty, pretty. According to Léger, everything should have been heavier and darker, more scary and ominous. The dancers found it difficult to move in the complicated structures, the choreographer Jean Börlin was very pleased, He often strived for what he called a "mechanical" expression in its choreography. For other ballets, he could make use of various paraphernalia, as stilts and ropes, to manipulate the movements of the dancers. The decorations, scene costumes and use of of African masque make me think of the famous London show of Disney's The Lion King.

Creation of the World after a pause followed by another ballet called Within the Quota, written by Gerald Murphy, a wealthy member of the American exile group that included personalities like Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and Dos Passos. The music was written by Murphy's friend from his time at Yale University - Cole Porter. Within the Quota may be characterized as history's first jazz ballet and if The Creation of the World takes place in mythical times, Within the Quota is about US in the twenties. However, it is a generalized and abstract reality that is staged, with stereotypical characters Among the roles we find a rich heiress, a cowboy, a vaudeville artist, a flapper girl, a Puritan, an agitator, a sheriff, an insurance agent, etc. The main protagonist is a poor immigrant who ends up being an admired movie star and married to The Sweetheart of the World.

The Swedish Ballet hit the bull's-eye, succeeding to be deep and mysterious in Creation of the World and light and ultra-modern with Within the Quota, while both performances found themselves at the centre of what was considered to be in vogue in Paris at the moment - Africa and jazz. The success continued and was completed when Rolf de Maré two years later opened the Théâtre des Champs Elysées for new, dizzying spectacle, which also would come to have a profound impact on modern art.

Taken by the success of The World Creation and Within the Quota Carol Dudely, wife of a wealthy American diplomat, suggested to Rolf de Maré that he ought to bring over a genuine, coloured vaudeville group directly from the United States and with its help orchestrate a spectacular jazz show in Paris. It was a gamble. Théâtre des Champs Elysées was known to be highly cultivated establishments that served both Paris upper classes and the cream of its vanguard, lowering itself to sponsoring a vulgar cabaret might put its reputation on the line. However, Rolf de Maré was a risk taker and Carol Dudely managed to engage a troupe of excellent coloured artists fresh from Harlem, among them the composer and clarinet virtuoso Sidney Becchet, with his roots deep down in New Orleans and the sprightly vaudeville artist, dancer and singer Josephine Baker. La Revue Negre became a tremendous success and Josephine Baker soon had Paris´ art world at her feet; Picasso, Foujita, Laurens, Picabia, Kees van Dongen, Aragon, Calder, Le Courbisier, Alfred Loos and many more celebrated her in their work, Baker became a phenomenon and concept throughout Europe.

It was not only a craze for jazz and African exoticism which spread out from the magic box I encountered  at the Dance Museum in Stockholm. The movable scenery which transformed dancers to set pieces came to affect an art form in which would become a form of mechanical theatre, partly influenced by silent movies. Italian futurists like Giacomo Balla and Fortunato Depero developed this technology even further, as did the Bauhaus artist Oscar Schlemmer, the traces of their activities may still be appreciated in music videos, such as the ingenious Around the World by Michel Gondry.

A year after featuring The Ceration of the World Rolf de Maré staged a revolutionary mixture of live dance and movie projection - Relâche, a collaboration between René Clair, Francis Picabia, Erik Satie, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Börlin and several other members of Paris' unequivocal avant-garde. It was a senseless spectacle where a whimsical movie about a chase after a runaway hearse was mixed up with a dance performance, all to the live accompaniment of an orchestra. The increasing tempo in terms of bizarre incidents and outrageous innovations became exorbitant, until it all culminated with the Swedish Ballet´s premiere of a Ballet Mécanique by the young American composer George Antheil, a composition written for several mechanical pianos, percussion, xylophon, alarm clocks watches and aircraft engines, accompanying a movie made by Man Ray, Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy.

Despite fame and success, Rolf de Maré lost millions on his projects and he suddenly and unexpected shut down all activities of Ballets Suédois. Even before then, Jean Börlin´s health and great enthusiasm had started to deteriorate. He had during five extremely, intense years created 24 ballets in which he often danced the main role. Alcohol and pill addiction broke him down. He began gaining weight, became irritable, nervous and erratic. Maré abandoned him and for a time Börlin supported himself through a dance studio, which among others Nils and Thora Dardel´s daughter Ingrid attended. Then he left Paris with two female dancers from the former Swedish Ballet Company and toured hotels and casinos in Latin America, with little success. In the end, Börlin tried to sober up in New York,  wanting to start a new kind of  life, but cirrhosis and jaundice felled him and he died from a sudden heart failure only thirty-seven years old, in his hand he held a letter from Rolf de Maré.

In 1933, Rolf de Maré opened the world's first museum, archive and research institute for dance. After some conflicts with the French State and the Bibliothèque Nationale he decided to transfer his collections to Stockholm in 1953, where they now form the backbone of the Dance Museum, where Léger´s stage design box made me think about modern dance's great importance for the development of modern art.

Archer-Straw, Petrine (2000) Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s. London: Thames & Hudson. Carlyle, Thomas (1827) German Romance: Specimens of it´s Chief Authors. Vol. IV, containing Goethe. Edinburgh: William Tait. Cocteau, Jean (1965) La difficulté d´être. Monaco: Editions du Rocher. Daverio, Phillipe (2015) Museo Immaginato: Il Secolo Spezzato delle Avanguardie. Milano: Rizzoli. Hoffmann, E. T. A. (1992) The Golden Pot and Other Tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Nietzsche. Friedrich (1974) The Gay Science. New York: Vintage Books. Nietzsche. Friedrich (1961) Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A book for Everyone and No One. London: Penguin Classics.

Milhaud: La Création du monde


René Clair/Erik Satie: Entr´acte 1924


Fernand Léger/Georg Antheil: Ballet Mecanique 1924


Michel Gondry: Around the World



The attention paid to COVID and the disgusting war in Ukraine might become stifling. Of course, you must be vigilant and show solidarity, certainly quite valuable human qualities – in contrast to selfishness and propensity for violence, which also, unfortunately,  are an intricate part of...
Uppmärksamheten kring COVID och det vidriga kriget i Ukraina kan bli kvävande. Givetvis måste man vara vaksam och solidarisk, förvisso värdefulla mänskliga egenskaper – till skillnad från egoism och våldsbenägenhet som även de, dessvärre, hör mänskligheten till. Men så gör även fantasi och estetik,...
One of mine and my youngest daughter’s pleasures is to visit IKEA, a strange place where I cannot avoid being fascinated by the small, decorated rooms. They make me think of reconstructions of antique environments which are to be found in museums. The only difference is that at IKEA people move...
Ett av mina och min yngsta dotters nöjen är att besöka IKEA, där jag fascineras av de inredda rummen. De får mig att tänka på de rekonstruktioner av äldre miljöer som finns på flera muser. Skillnaden är att på IKEA rör sig människor bland möblerna. Annars är IKEAmiljön minst  lika livlös...
It became a lengthy blog post and a parable is at hand – it seems as if I had been seized by an octopuses’ sucker-covered tentacles and unable to offer any resistance was dragged down into the depths of a sea of stories. It was difficult to get out of it all. When I finally have surfaced again, I...
Det blev det längsta blogginlägg jag skrivit och en liknelse ligger väl till hands. Det tycks som jag blev gripen av bläckfiskarnas sugkoppsbetäckta tentakler och oförmögen att bjuda motstånd obevekligt tvingades ner i berättelsernas grumliga vatten. Det var svårt att ta sig ur det hela och då jag...
For me, who until now has been living in Rome for several years, a visit to Sweden - to meet friends and sisters there - is a time travel. For two years COVID-19 had isolated me in Italy, but now I was back in our house in Bjärnum where I invited former colleagues from my time in a school in nearby...
För mig, som nu sedan flera år tillbaka pendlat mellan Rom och Bjärnum  blir ett  återvändande till Sverige där jag möter vänner och systrar – en tidsresa. Under så gott som två år hade COVID-19 isolerat mig i Italien, men...
I am a voracious listener to music and encounter favorites within almost any genre. However, I am also a forlorn amateur. Not a musician and far from being an expert. I am even bad at discerning the difference between minor and major. However, when it comes to that disability, I find solace in...
Items: 11 - 20 of 326
<< 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 >>


In Spite Of It All, Trots Allt janelundius@gmail.com