GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM THEMES: DANCE & LEISURE
Dance & LeisureBack to all Themes
Dance—along with the new pleasures of the booming city—was a potent theme for the Expressionists, embodying freedom from society’s social and sexual conventions. Cabaret and variety shows allowed them to show risqué flashes of skin. Performances by dancers from Africa and the South Pacific, meanwhile, suggested to them a joyful, instinctual emotion that offered an alternative to metropolitan decadence.
As World War I put an end to their most exuberant and optimistic hopes for renewing society and liberating it from the stiff bourgeois conventions of the day, the medieval motif of the Dance of Death returned as a reminder that, for everyone, there is a final partner who cannot be refused.
This illustration captures the glittering, champagne-and-cocktail-fueled atmosphere of the Viennese nightclub where this dancer performed. Her flowing gown suggests freedom of movement, in stark contrast to the constricted clothing and social mores of the day.
The closed-eyed flutist is totally given over to the raw power of the music, while the dancers move ecstatically to the beat of the drum, with their heads thrown back and feet pounding the earth. Pechstein saw Somali dancers at an ethnographic performance in Germany shortly before making this print.
(1911), dated 1910
A comparison of these two images depicting similarly raucous movements illustrates the shift in public morals before and after World War I. While Heckel’s dancer raises her skirt to flash the audience only momentarily, Beckmann’s nude dancers reflect the more liberal attitudes of the postwar period, following the 1918 cessation of stage censorship.
(1921, published 1924)
In this scene of Weimar nightlife, Grosz foregrounds the audience rather than the performers. Slumped in an exhausted, drunken reverie, a well-dressed man—a beneficiary of postwar economic chicanery—pays no attention to the musicians or other entertainment on offer.
(1922, executed 1920-21)
Two figures, holding hands, dance together for the last time, and a cloak shields them from the leers of a surrounding crowd. Barlach made this print as a means to cope with the loss of his mother.
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