Geometrical shapes in motion: Schlemmer’s Path-breaking Triadic ballet
By Namrata Gulati Sapra

One always associates ballet with soft, graceful movements. However, when Oskar Schlemmer stepped into the scene, he gave the dance form a rare modern spin with characteristics of the avant garde. The form was widely staged in the 20th Century and went down in history as The Triadic Ballet (Das Triadiche Ballet). The artist-choreographer whose affiliation with the Bauhaus theatre is considered remarkable, expressed himself through abstract paintings that came extremely close to reality. This article takes a closer look at Schlemmer’s works that were shaped by his imagination.

Brush with Design at a Young Age

Design caught the fancy of Schlemmer when he was a young boy. He first got a taste of design as an apprentice in a marquetry workshop. Following this brush with art, Schlemmer pursued his love for art rather passionately. He went on to study the subject at The Stuttgart Academy of Fine Arts in 1906. Thereafter, he spent a year in Berlin, which gave wings to his imagination as he delved keenly into the new styles of art. He returned to Stuttgart with renewed vigour. It was here that he found a mentor in German artist Adolf Hölzel, known for his abstract style in art. Schlemmer’s mastery over this form earned him a place in the Hölzel Circle that included other genius students from Stuttgart Academy. Soon afterwards, in 1919, Schlemmer became the flag-bearer for a movement that sought to modernise the curriculum followed at the academy. Stuttgart got ample exposure to modern art, thanks to Schlemmer, who played a key role in facilitating modern art exhibitions in the city.

However, the turning point of his career, or even life, was close on the heels of his joining the Bauhus School- an art school that had a major bearing on modernist art of the twentieth century.

Triadic Ballet is Born

Schlemmer made considerable contributions in the spheres of sculpture, painting and others at Bauhus School, but he left an indelible mark on the world by conceiving the “Das Triadiche Ballet” or The Traidic Ballet. This form of ballet was nothing like the conventional ballet. Infact, it was an attempt by the choreographer to break the mould of classic ballet by infusing it with the ideas of modernism, expressionism and the avant-garde that were gaining momentum in the twentieth century. The term ‘triadic’ was reflective of the three acts, the three colours and the three costumes. The latter took inspiration from geometrical shapes, such as the sphere or the cone, and were a revolution of sorts.

The Triadic Ballet debuted in the year 1922 and was nothing short of a spectacle that featured as many as three dancers, eighteen costumes and twelve choreographies, as opposed to the principle of dualism or soloism often associated with traditional ballet. In the Triadic Ballet, the first act was all about joyful dances dominated by the hues of yellow, progressing to the second act that featured ceremonial movement against the backdrop of the shades of rose, while the third act witnessed mystical dances accentuated by black. Courtly dance assumed a new meaning in conjunction with the infernal world in one of the models of the Triadic Ballet. The other models too managed to shock the onlookers by presenting for instance, the stick dance that transfigured a dancer into a changing pattern of geometric lines. Other themes that found expression in the ballet were sci-fi , the human body as a mechanical object and others that confounded the human mind.

How Schlemmer’s ballet found its ways into his paintings

The dance form that Schlemmer founded seeped into his art to say the least. His captured his experiences with dance on the canvas in the form of abstract paintings. Such experiences lent greater depth to his paintings, such as ‘The Dancer’ and ‘The Gesture, Dancer’. All through the 1920s, Schlemmer painted a few murals in the public as well as the private spaces. However, during the Nazi regime, he was compelled to quit Bauhaus since his works were tagged as degenerate.

The Triadic Ballet

The concept of the ‘Das Triadische Ballet’ was revived by the Joyce Theater in New York in 1985, when the costumes in geometrical shapes came to life once again on the stage. German choreographer Gerhard Bohner also showed loyalty to the main thought behind Triadic Ballet, while also offering his own interpretation of the form from 1977 onward.

It is believed that English singer David Bowie’s iconic Ziggy Stardust jumpsuit was also inspired from the costumes from the Triadic Ballet.

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