Expressionist Dance Costumes from the 1920s, and the Tragic Story of Lavinia Schulz & Walter Holdt

The most fruit­ful cre­ative part­ner­ships, long or short, have often been tem­pes­tu­ous. On the short­er side, and among the stormi­est, we have a hus­band-and-wife team who real­ized visions hith­er­to unseen onstage, and who very near­ly fell into total obscu­ri­ty after a mur­der-sui­cide brought their part­ner­ship to an end. But in the Ham­burg of the late 1910s and ear­ly 1920s, writes Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Alli­son Meier, Lavinia Schulz and Wal­ter Holdt “cre­at­ed wild, Expres­sion­ist cos­tumes that looked like retro robots and Bauhaus knights,” twen­ty of them, for per­for­mances accom­pa­nied by avant-garde music. After their death in 1924, Schulz and Holdt’s work went into stor­age, nev­er to be found again until the late 1980s.

The cos­tumes had been gift­ed to the Muse­um für Kun­st und Gewerbe, which in 1925 “staged an evening in mem­o­ry of Lavinia Schulz and Wal­ter Holdt,” writes blog­ger Jan Reet­ze.

“After this, the masks, pho­tos and draw­ings” — includ­ing dances dia­grammed in a sys­tem of Schulz’s own inven­tion — “went into a cou­ple of ‘acro­bat’s bag­gage’ box­es and fell into obliv­ion on the muse­um’s attic. They were not even inven­to­ried. Which turned out to be a stroke of luck because this way the objects did­n’t fall into the hands of the Nazis, who, with­out any doubt, would have seen these works as ‘degen­er­ate art’ and in all prob­a­bil­i­ty would have destroyed them.”

You can see the cos­tumes in action in the video at the top of the post, and more of the pho­tos tak­en by Minya Diez-Dührkoop in the last year of Schulz and Holdt’s lives at Hyper­al­ler­gic. Their per­for­mances began in the expres­sion­ism with which the Berlin-edu­cat­ed Schultz had been asso­ci­at­ed and moved toward “the sup­posed puri­ty of pre-Judeo-Chris­t­ian, Aryan-Nordic cul­ture,” as Dan­ger­ous Minds’ Paul Gal­lagher writes.

“Between 1920–24, the cou­ple per­formed their dance rou­tines to the bewil­dered and often antag­o­nis­tic audi­ences of Ham­burg. Though some crit­ics appre­ci­at­ed the pair’s tal­ent and star­tling orig­i­nal­i­ty, this praise was nev­er enough to pay the rent.”

“Accord­ing to con­tem­po­rary crit­ics, Lavinia seemed to be the more cre­ative one,” writes Reet­ze. “Wal­ter, on the oth­er hand, was the bet­ter and more dis­ci­plined dancer, he exact­ly knew his for­mal means and how to use them.” The coun­ter­part to Holdt’s rig­or was Schulz’s more pri­mal genius, a sen­si­bil­i­ty that man­i­fest­ed aes­thet­i­cal­ly — seen in her high­ly uncon­ven­tion­al use of every­day mate­ri­als like “wire, gyp­sum, papi­er mâché and indus­tri­al garbage” — and emo­tion­al­ly.

Reet­ze quotes from the auto­bi­og­ra­phy of com­pos­er Hans Heinz Stuck­en­schmidt, who briefly lived with the cou­ple: Depri­va­tion, hunger, cold­ness, nordic land­scape with storm, ice, and cat­a­stro­phes: That was her world, and she had found her­self in it with Holdt.”

Schulz and Holdt also refused to be paid for their per­for­mances. “You can­not sell spir­i­tu­al ideas for mon­ey,” Schulz wrote. “Spir­it and mon­ey are two antag­o­nis­tic poles, and if you sell spir­i­tu­al ideas for mon­ey, you sold the spir­it to the mon­ey and lost the spir­it.” Even­tu­al­ly their pover­ty — as well as the unusu­al­ly volatile nature of their rela­tion­ship, said to spark phys­i­cal mar­i­tal spats on stage — reached a break­ing point. “Both were in their 20s, and had earned lit­tle mon­ey from their artis­tic work,” writes Meier. “In finan­cial ruin, on June 18, 1924, Schulz shot Holdt, and then turned the gun on her­self.” But against all odds, their still-star­tling cre­ativ­i­ty — the kind that can, per­haps, emerge only from the oppo­si­tion of two incom­pat­i­ble forces — lives on.

via Dan­ger­ous Mind

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kandin­sky, Klee & Oth­er Bauhaus Artists Designed Inge­nious Cos­tumes Like You’ve Nev­er Seen Before

Watch an Avant-Garde Bauhaus Bal­let in Bril­liant Col­or, the Tri­adic Bal­let, First Staged by Oskar Schlem­mer in 1922

1930s Fash­ion Design­ers Pre­dict How Peo­ple Would Dress in the Year 2000

An Online Trove of His­toric Sewing Pat­terns & Cos­tumes

Har­vard Puts Online a Huge Col­lec­tion of Bauhaus Art Objects

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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