Most people today only know the 1920s dance icon Anita Berber from the scandals associated with her, from Rosa von Praunheim’s film, or from the morbid portrait of her by Otto Dix. In the Golden Twenties, Berber’s stardom reached beyond German borders. Like no one else, she broke through contemporary perceptions and put her audiences to the test. Both loved and hated by the general public, the Sacchetto student presented her themes with technical perfection – and with an increasingly radical twist.
In ANITA BERBER – RETRO/PERSPECTIVE, MS Schrittmacher took up the dancer and choreographer’s lost trail. Berber’s work beyond the scandals was at the forefront of this comprehensive research and reconstruction project: MS Schrittmacher researched Berber’s world from a dance/choreography perspective, re-traced her artistic hallmark as well as her methods and thereby acquired a deeper understanding of who she really was.
In addition to biographical literature as well as contemporary written material from the 1920s, the research process also took the team to the German Dance Archive in Cologne as well as Lothar Fischer’s Anita Berber Archive in Berlin.
It was in Fischer’s archive that the choreographer Martin Stiefermann discovered the small volume Anita Berberová – Studie by the Czech choreographer and author Joe Jencík. In it, Jencík describes the dramaturgy and impact of Berber’s choreographies in a unique and emotional way. MS Schrittmacher published a German-language version of Jencík’s 1930 study for the first time as part of ANITA BERBER – RETRO/PERSPECTIVE. Extracts from Anita Berberová – Studie (translated from German into English) as well as information about how to order the book are available in the project documentation below.
Using Jencík’s study as a basis, Stiefermann, worked with the dancer Brit Rodemund to reconstruct a selection of Berber’s solos, the aim being to come as close as possible to her original work and her artistic radicalism from a contemporary perspective. Stiefermann and Rodemund presented the results of their research and reconstruction work in a lecture performance at Kunstquartier Bethanien, the former hospital where Berber died.
The results of the reconstruction were also used as the basis for MS Schrittmacher’s dance piece Anita Berber – Sie trägt die Nacktheit im Gesicht (Anita Berber – She Wears Her Nudity in the Face) with three dancers/actors. The piece focused on Berber’s oeuvre and working methods. Quotes from eyewitnesses, newspaper articles and reviews talk about Berber’s pulsating, restless existence that knew no limits and saw personal experiences translated directly into movement and dance.
RETRO/PERSPECTIVE also honoured Berber’s film work. MS Schrittmacher asked DJ D'dread, who is well-known for his innovative live sets for silent films, to provide sound for the very first episodic film Unheimliche Geschichten (Eerie Tales), in which Berber played all the female roles.
Finally, in a podium discussion, MS Schrittmacher asked itself and other creative minds about Berber’s legacy: how does artistic radicalism look today? Who are its protagonists?
A recording of the piece Anita Berber – Sie trägt die Nacktheit im Gesicht (Anita Berber – She Wears Nudity in the Face) can be seen here.
A selection of historical film footage of Anita Berber has been compiled by MS Schrittmacher and is available here.
Lothar Fischer is a proven Anita Berber expert and biographer and advised Martin Stiefermann as he worked on his Anita Berber project. In the interview, he talks about Berber’s significance, the enduring fascination with her, and about his Anita Berber archive.
Born in Freital near Dresden in 1932, he became an independent newspaper journalist in 1949 and an editor in Berlin (GDR) in 1951/52. From 1958–1963, he studied Art Education in Berlin, graduating with a Master of Arts in the USA. He was an art teacher in Berlin until 1994 before becoming a freelance author and journalist. He is a member of the International Association of Art Critics (aica). He has published artist biographies on Max Ernst, George Grosz, Heinrich Zille and Otto Dix. For many years, he has been especially interested in the life of Anita Berber. He has so far published Tanz zwischen Rausch und Tod (1984, filmed by Rosa von Praunheim) and Anita Berber – Göttin der Nacht (2006). His book Anita Berber – Tanz als Paradies und Hölle will be published by the Hendrik Bäßler publishing house in October 2014. Fischer lives in Berlin. www.anita-berber.de
Ten days and five formats about the work and impact of Anita Berber
Research, reconstruction, choreography – Martin Stiefermann
Reconstruction, dance – Cora Frost, Brit Rodemund and Maria Walser
Research, dramaturgy, text – Hartmut Schrewe
Artistic assistance – Efrat Stempler
Scenography – Anike Sedello
Music – Albrecht Ziepert
Pianist – David Schwarz
Lighting design – Max Wikström
Assistant – Antje Rose
Research assistant– Johanna Withelm and Karolina Keller
Production management – ehrliche arbeit
Press – k3 berlin
Socialmedia – Patrica Spies
Technical facilities – Fabian Bleisch
Work experience – Milen Zhelev
First publication in German of Joe Jencík’s dance work
Anita Berberová – Studie by the Czech choreographer, dancer and author Joe Jencík describes the dramaturgy and impact of Berber’s choreographies in a unique and emotional way. Jencík’s descriptions of Berber’s different dances and methods formed the basis ANITA BERBER – RETRO/PERSPECTIVE by MS Schrittmacher. As part of the project, MS Schrittmacher published Jencík’s 1930 study for the first time in German as well four current essays on Berber and the work MS Schrittmacher carried out for this TANZFONDS ERBE project. This unique book was illustrated with previously unpublished photos of Berber and supplemented with the first catalogue of her works.
To obtain a copy, write to: email@example.com, giving your invoice address in your e-mail. Dispatch within a week following successful transfer of payment: €10 + postage costs.
Extracts (translated from German into English):
Boudoir or Atelier?
When talking about a dancer, it is also necessary to take into account certain privileges she has always enjoyed. Although her bourgeois life is wholly separate from her artistic life, and must have nothing in common with the current or later artistic work, we can at some point observe a certain influence: furthermore, with some dancers the bourgeois life is a priori a direct motivation for artistic expression. However in my view, the bourgeois life of a dancer being the sole basis for creativity in dance is unique and exclusive to Anita Berber.
The artistic expression of this woman – the dance – was literally unthinkable without the direct inclusion of her private life, bourgeois behaviour, habits and customs. Berber was one person in many terpsichorean divisions, the substance of bourgeois life being the underlying and indispensible element in her creative activities. She certainly needed this substance to transform her extreme experiences into even more extreme experiences, which inevitably formed part of the artwork.
Berber never needed a dance hall, by which I mean she never complied with the traditional convention of working on artistic dance outside of everyday life, in a room – far away from all banalities and trivialities – in which artists drop their bourgeois garb and dress in the fantasy costume of their second personality, their artistic personality. Berber was not familiar with the dance atelier. She didn’t need it and despised this obligatory room as a petty bourgeois shirt she never had to wear. She created her dances directly in the turmoil of daytime and night-time events. She then transferred them, with only a small amount of correction, to the open stage…
Curtain. A naked body lies on the floor in an empty room filled with the grey-blue light of dawn. Everything is dead. Up, down, left and right, probably the motionless figure too. Every detail is the same as when she once came into the room hand-in-hand with the old friend she happened to meet, when both had to climb over Droste’s agonised body as he lay in delirium under the influence of cocaine. Berber begins one of her best creations – cocaine – with this memory of an obscene scene, her second husband in the role of sad hero.
Death and heavy motionlessness! Probably the first heavy hit of the evil poison that paralyses the body. The barely visible twitching of individual body parts is a sign that somewhere the soul is attempting to regain its former reign over the body. The convulsions take possession of the porcelain-like limbs, and through the persistence of love for life the intoxicated unfortunate comes unconsciously to.
At least to the extent the muscles have to obey. With a few swings, reminiscent of the long pendulum à la Poe, the body sits up. Better said: it forms a strange knot of flesh with two indescribable slits for eyes, and a bloody wound for a mouth. The body unravels itself incredibly slowly, directed by a something that in this moment between thought and the swollen cerebral cortex is in charge. The dancer gets dispassionately to her feet. She is probably the marionette caught up in a terrible ceasefire between the poison and the pump of the heart. The blood, which nature drives through the veins, throbs through the body from one point to the next. The poison inhibits and disrupts in desperation on its way out of the human body:
With malicious force, it involves itself in affairs reserved for the great secret of life. The body looks dreadfully absurd and embarrassingly megalomaniacal. The poison seethes in it, even when it’s covered in hoarfrost. The imaginary shreds of an outcry around the mouth melt away in astonishment at sudden, hazy visions: these in turn melt away before the outcry, and this is how the dancer traces herself, and the excesses of her diseased imagination. The healthy body fights against the poisoned one, which in turn goes on the rampage in the healthy one. The pumping heart must ultimately tire and the ogre of the cocaine plague strangles its voluntary victim. The dancer’s body throws itself into an enormous cascade. Another agony – this time reminiscent of the sweet sleep of someone freed from the hell of nightmare images.
All of this is executed in a technique of natural steps and unsought poses. In this dance, the attitudes are tragically aborted, the arabesques demonically extended. The turns of the body around its own axis are outrageously slow, like slow motion. The impulsive jumps – like whip lashes – always end in a chiselled port de bras, the kind dreamed up by sculptors. The counter-movements of the head are unexpected, almost too much for poise to bear.
Positions of the legs: mainly the large fourth position, which turns out to be a unique feature of this original dancer. The entire technique is based on the dynamic of the dream, raised from the earthly planisphere, which coerces the dancer’s entire energy into finest nuances of lightness. Cocaine and morphine form Anita Berber’s basics, her own independent artistic expression, which in places borders on the pathological study of an outstanding actor – an actor who nonetheless sees herself as subordinate to the dance form to which she devoted herself, without becoming unfaithful to it.
- 17 & 18 January 2014 | Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin: lecture performance (preview)
- 18 – 29 June 2014 | Kunstquartier Bethanien: ANITA BERBER – RETRO/PERSPECTIVE (see below for detailed programme)
- 15 & 16 October 2015 + lecture performance on 17 October 2015 | Saarländisches Staatstheater (TANZFONDS ERBE funding for guest performances)
- 23 October 2022 | Schweizer Haus, Seelow: Lecture Performance
- 30 October 2022 | Kunstmuseum Stuttgart: Lecture Performance
ANITA BERBER – RETRO/PERSPECTIVE PROGRAMME
18 – 29 JUNE 2014
Anita Berber – Sie trägt die Nacktheit im Gesicht (She Wears Her Nudity in the Face) (dance performance)
- 18 June 2014 – premiere
- 20 & 21 June 2014
- 25 – 28 June 2014
Anita Berber – Reconstructions (lecture performance)
- 19 June 2014 – premiere
- 22 June 2014
- 29 June 2014
Unheimliche Geschichten (Eerie Tales) (film showing with live DJ set)
Anita’s Legacy – Discussion Forum on Artistic Radicalism Today with international performers
Anita Berberová – Studie (release of the first German-language version of Joe Jencík’s dance work)
- 19 June 2014 – as part of the premiere of the lecture performance