Auguste Vestris


Critiques de livre / Book Reviews

Dans la même rubrique
In the same section

Alexander Pushkin, Master Teacher of Dance
Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus
’Reconstruction of the Stylistic Features of Carlo Blasis’
Mime in Ballet
Mind over Body
Henning Kronstam : Portrait of a Danish Dancer
Danser avec le Troisième Reich

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Danser avec le Troisième Reich
(by Laure Guilbert, Editions Complexe, Bruxelles, 2000)

July 2002

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Rudolf von Laban
and the Thousand Year Reich

 As we write, the fortieth anniversary of the death of that intimate of Arno Breker, Jean Cocteau, is being marked by celebratory fireworks, while both "left" and "right" wax lyrical at the passing of Leni Riefenstahl and Lady Diana Mosley. In the masterful book reviewed below, this corruption informing the age is given serious and thought-provoking treatment by Laure Guilbert.

Although the very devil to read, coming in as it does at just under five hundred poorly-bound pages, Danser avec le IIIème Reich [1] is amongst the few books on dance published since the Second World War worth reading.

Since the latest World War, a far-flung industry of German-bashers has scrambled through the world’s archives, in the hope of pinning this or that "Nazi" crime on some miserable paper-pusher who had the misfortune to officiate over a lost Teutonic hamlet.

Mlle. Guilbert does NOT belong to that lucrative little industry, and she is not out to "bash the Germans". She has uncovered something far more general and universal

Her thesis, in Danser avec le IIIème Reich is that Modern Dance was from its very inception, a sizeable cog in the wheel of the last Century’s Modern Art Movement, the purpose of which was to turn human beings into slathering beasts.

Mlle. Laure Guilbert has guts.

Apart from that, who exactly is the lady ?

According to the book’s dust jacket, she is a French art historian, who teaches at the University of Metz, and has carried out research for the Cité de la Musique and the Centre national de la Danse. An Internet search reveals that she was recently appointed as an executive to the Publications Department of the Théâtre national de l’Opéra, the French National Theatre.

First, the scholarship.

One is simply staggered, and I do mean staggered, by the bone-grinding research that has gone into Danser avec le IIIème Reich. It represents ten year’s work in the libraries and archives of Europe and abroad, including, importantly, the ex-Soviet Bloc. The Index to Sources and Bibliography alone covers some thirty pages, and there are several hundred footnotes. Mlle. Guilbert has searched the Archives at Berlin, at Potsdam, at Dresden, Leipzig, Tel Aviv, Munich, Florence, Cologne, she has interviewed survivors worldwide, and dug up lost film footage. But this book is not boring. Oh no !

With a scientist’s integrity, Mlle. Guilbert has been at pains to back her claims chapter book and verse. Having made a study of German thought in the 19th and 20th Century, a thing unusual in France, and still more unusual in the dance world, she has the competency to judge certain things that may not be immediately apparent to the philosophically naïve.

Beyond her indisputable scientific bent, Mlle. Guilbert has, I believe, a moral purpose in writing. For this, I admire her, although some, in the heat of their choler, will no doubt beg to differ.

Modern Dance, "An art form, that served
to build the National Socialist myth [2]

In a nutshell, that is Mlle. Guilbert’s thesis.

And this is how she puts it, in the Introduction, entitled "Dance, and Forgetfulness" (La Danse et l’Oubli).

"Modern Dance has long enjoyed a respite from the suspicion with which the art world under Nazism has been regarded (...) the legend is of an avant-garde art form, humanist in inspiration, that was censored and exploited by the Hitlerian regime. The reality - as it appears to us - is that here we have an art form that served to edify the National Socialist myth." (emphasis added)

That there be such collective amnesia is only partly owing to a self-serving flaw in the dance community, that prefers to live in and for the present, while conveniently refusing to admit that historical events are real, and irreversible. There is, she says, another equally disturbing reason.

As the Centenaries of Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman have come and gone, many historians apparently subscribe to the Nietzschean view of the Demi-God artist, the "demented genius" dominating his epoch, for whom Good and Bad are empty conceits.

Some have thus been at great pains to whitewash them, even to the point of revisionism. Here is a typical example, from the Encyclopaedia entry on Von Laban and Mary Wigman:

"(Von Laban) Exiled in the 1930s, he immigrated to England, where he established (1946) the Art of Movement Studio in Manchester (...) Wigman (...) became the most influential German exponent of expressive movement and toured extensively. Although her school was closed by the Nazis, she reopened it in Berlin in 1948."

Others would claim that the Modern Dance current backed the Reich for purely institutional, logistical reasons, though quite foreign to it, ideologically. Yet others contend that this was an avant-garde, that fell victim to the Regime’s campaign against Entartete Kunst. Mlle. Guilbert buys none of it. She shews, step by measured step, how inextricably Wigman, von Laban et al. were entwined with the mind-set from which the NSDAP itself issued.

That intellectuals in the West have, since World War II, deliberately opted for legend, rather than for historical fact, in respect of the origins of Modern Dance, is, says Mlle. Guilbert, no different than our contemporaries’ attitude towards Martin Heidegger - one of philosophical complicity.

Moreover, says Mlle. Guilbert, although it now be fashionable to see Modern Dance as something highly individualistic, and of course democratic, in the 1930s "the concepts of the body (...) in Modern Dance were entirely moulded by the issue of the link between the individual, and the collectivity."

Sounds harmless enough. But Mlle. Guilbert intimates (page 52) that even Labanotation [3], originally called Cinetography (writing down movement) was developed in order to moblise mass choruses of hundreds, even thousands, of participants in rallies. Thanks to cinetography, Rudolf von Laban’s associate Martin Gleisner needed but a single rehearsal in the 1930s, before sending out one thousand chorists.

Rudolf von Laban and the Magi

The central figure in Mlle. Guilbert’s study is, of course, Rudolf von Laban.

Non-dancers should know that he enjoys a reputation, world-wide, as the man "to whom contemporary dance owes virtually all its theoretical apparatus" (à qui la danse contemporaine doit la quasi-totalité de ses outils théoriques), to cite, amongst hundreds of admirers, Laurence Louppe of the IRCAM at the Pompidou Centre. He invented a system of dance notation, now in widespread use internationally under the name "Labanotation", and there can be little doubt but that he was central to everything that has happened in dance since the early Twentieth Century.

In the summer of 2003, the Laban Centre opened a spectacular new building at Creekside in South London, just shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in Architecture. Everyone who is anyone in the British art world seems to be involved in the Laban hub of activity in some way. It really is terribly impressive. And so one turns to Rudolf Von Laban’s biography on the official Website, to read, inter alia:

"Laban was appointed director of movement and choreographer to the Prussian State Theatres in Berlin in 1930. In 1934, in a Nazi Germany, he was appointed director of the Deutsche Tanzbühne. Falling foul of Nazism in 1936 while at the height of his career, his name and work was (sic) destroyed by the Government Propaganda Ministry. Many of his followers emigrated, especially to the United States, and in 1938 he took refuge in Britain."

There is nonetheless one sentence in the official biography with which one cannot disagree:

"Many people are unaware that what they do is influenced by the vision, energy and creative boldness of Laban"

That one be bold, and energetic, and on the inside track first with the Reich, and then with the movers and shapers of the British Empire, does not necessarily mean, however, that one have morals. Indeed, Rudolf von Laban’s actual history, as presented by Mlle. Guilbert, is not, perhaps, quite so candy-cane pink as the Laban Centre would have it.

Von Laban, she shews, never did it "fall foul of Nazism".

The Regime made him Director of the Deutsche Tanzbühne in 1934, one year after the Reichstag Fire, for its own reasons. As Modern Dance factions fought for control over the Regime’s artistic policy, Von Laban plunged headlong into the scrim. Outmanoeuvred, he got out while the going was good. Over several chapters, one observes that the reason for his departure could not have been ideology - that was one thing von Laban never changed. And what that ideology was, was not nice.

Who was this fellow?

Rudolf von Laban de Varalja was born in 1879 at Bratislava, to a father who was Military Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There, Rudolf became fascinated by what he was to call "festive culture", and pantheism, that "universal cosmic rhythm". He seems to have converted to Islam in Bosnia, or rather, to a minority current in Islam, taken as he was with sword dances and dervishes. He had observed that the mad spinning served to immunise the entranced against pain, and also became enraptured with military formations: "all this eventually tarnished the image of civilian things to my eyes, and art alone met my expectations".

In 1900, Von Laban quit military academy, and began a decade’s trawl through Bohemia at Vienna, Munich and Paris, in the latter city under the wing of a mysterious and anonymous protectress.

As World War I loomed, he declared himself a Pacifist, and left for Switzerland, to Zurich and then Ascona, to the Monte Verita artists’ colony peopled by carefree, gilded youth, whose Queen Bee was Carl Gustav Jung, architect of Twentieth Century ideology.

Millions died in the trenches, but von Laban and Jung’s hippy colony at Monte Verita flopped about in the nude, eating fruit and flowers, worshipping Sex and the Sun God. Von Laban, like his mentor Jung, considered the World War a necessary apocalypse: "the sole hope is that, after this purge (...) instead of our artificial civilisation’s idols, there would once again surface positive instincts".

The post-War period was to be a "temps zéro de l’histoire", a post-cataclysm cataclysm, recalling Francis Fukuyama’s End of History thesis.

By 1910, Rudolf von Laban had developed a keen interest not only in psychoanalysis, but in sacred numbers, symbolic forms, black magic, free masonry, Rosicrucianism and oriental rites. According to Mlle. Guilbert, it was in 1917 that he entered a Masonic Order known as the Ordo Templis Orientalis -Verita Mystica Lodge - at Monte Verita, climbing its ninety Degrees to become a Master before the end of WWI.

In that same year, 1917, Rudolf von Laban founded a new Lodge within the OTO, Libertas et Fraternitas, from which there grew his Orchestischen Bund, a "new festive art" (nouvel art de la fête), that "can be compared to a form of transgression", in Mlle. Guilbert’s words.

No surprise then, that Laban came to define dance as an "initiatic" art form.

Be that as it may, the Monte Verita Artists’ Colony was founded in 1900, by Henri Oedenkoven and Ida Hoffmann, on an idea, it seems, of the founder of German Rosicrucianism (1899). Rather like the Laban Centre today, everyone who was anyone in "art" or "thought" at the time, from James Joyce to Hermann Hesse, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hans Arp and so on endlessly, seems to have been involved. By 1909, the Colony had two hundred members, structured round an ideology hostile to the State and religion, but very much in favour of Free Love and other forms of "transgression".

Fanning out from Monte Verita, garden cities and artists’ communities on the same pattern sprang up all over Germany during the 1920s, peopled, in the main, by socially-prominent, privileged individuals, who could afford to give vent to an aristocratic disdain for science, industry, and progress generally. As Mlle. Guilbert explains, this deep pessimism, the putting into practice of the ideas of Schopenhauer, Spengler and Nietzsche, paved the way to the putsch of 1933, by melting down the brains of Germany’s élite.

At Zurich during WWI, Rudolf von Laban set up a School with two studios, as well as a Laban Garden where children were taught, not mathematics, geometry, physics, or classical music, but rather crafts, gardening, sewing and what he called "dancing". The complete mental equipment of a feudal serf.

In this context, one should point out that Carl Gustav Jung, who appears to have been von Laban’s mentor or perhaps even, his controller, stated on countless occasions that his own spiritual and psychoanalytical self-ideal was a vision (thoroughly idiosyncratic and unscientific) of the Middle Ages, and the quest for the Holy Grail. One of Jung’s "forms" (like the much-lesser Jean Cocteau) was Merlin, the Magus of the Round Table.

At the end of the day, one cannot but wonder where the money came from for the conniptions on Monte Verita. Europe was prostrate in a deep economic depression. There was a War on. Whoever was financing all this ?

The Sonnenfest of August 18th 1917

Who the moneybags might have been, will have to be sought elsewhere than in Danser avec le IIIème Reich, but, at page 42, we do find Mlle. Guilbert’s interesting report on the closing ceremony of the Ordo Templis Orientalis World Congress, a Feast of the Sun (Sonnenfest), held on August 18th 1917 and given the name "Choral Drama" [4].

Though the Nazi Period is, ostensibly, over, the goings-on described below, are very like what happens at the mass gatherings known as Techno-Raves, or at certain night-clubs.

On that August day of 1917, as World War I raged, von Laban and Friends summoned a worldwide "drop-in" of free masons, anthroposophs and theosophs, to converge on Monte Verita and dance themselves into a stupor over a twenty-four hour period. Here is our author’s summary of the "festive" goings-on:

"It unfolds in three Reigen (rounds). The Dance of the Setting Sun has the participants gather about a fire lighted in a clearing. A man, followed by a line of dancers, recites the Song of the Setting Sun of Otto Borngraeber. As the sun goes down, women and children emerge from the crowd to light torches, and follow the dancers in a round. Shortly before midnight, the Demons of the Night begins, a parade of dancers, flute and tam-tam players, decorated with flags and lanterns, drawing the spectators up towards the hilltop where five torches burn. After a dance by earth spirits, the personages with angular masks covered with twigs and branches are surrounded by sorcerers and ogres who tear off and burn their masks. This is followed by a long walk through the mountain. At dawn, a group of dancers in brightly-coloured silken mantels celebrate on the lawn the eternal return of the day with the Dance of the Triumphant Sun (...). During this night, Monte Verita is likened to a sacred mount, saved from the deluge of the War. The cult of the Sun recalls the pagan theology of Monte Verita (notably the ideas of Carl Gustav Jung on the Sun (...)".

What people might actually have got up to during such a night, under hundreds of watching eyes, is an area into which we shall not stray here. However, suffice it to say that there are certain things, that once you have done them, there is no going back.

The Thing was choreographed by Rudolf von Laban, and Mlle. Guilbert comments drily,

"the collective state of ecstasy brought on by the rounds danced by the participants is the sign of the coming of a "fresh world’ A great appeal to the myth of the unanimous collectivity (emphasis added), the Hymn to the Sun reinforces Rudolf von Laban’s idea that movement may play an active role in group identity, and help to bring forth a ’festive culture ’ [5]. First ’cathedral in movement’ of the choreographer, it prepared the Bewegungschöre (movement choirs) of the 1920s."

Here, manifestly, is where von Laban developed the concept of putting on vast dance events: hundreds of amateurs swaying together outwith the theatres in a giant Volkfest.

"Happenings", but why outwith the theatres?

The idea is to give the impression that "everyone is doing it", it’s "everywhere", you "can’t get away from it". Have you ever been unwilling caught up in the millions thronging to Gay Pride, or the Love Parade ? Just kinda sweeps you up, eh ? Relinquish your intellectual independence, your identity, go along with whatever it is everyone else is doing. A murder or two may occur along the way, a dissident may be crushed under the wheels of a colourful float, but hear dem Gongs, hear dat percussion, dat tam-tam. Not music, but sound, Dadaist Bruitages, lacking all intellectual structure and coherency. Then, the Nuremberg Rally. Now, the Love Parade, Techno-Rave, and mass sporting events.

A Brief Tour of von Laban’s "Private Life" and Thought

After the murder of Jean Jaurès in 1914, one would have thought that "progressive" European intellectuals might have had tasks rather more pressing, than playing the neo-pagan on Monte Verita while getting a "nice bit of ass" on the side.

Thoughtfully, Mlle. Guilbert has provided us with a photograph from that period, taken at Monte Verita in broad daylight. It shews Rudolf von Laban, draped in some sort of burlap and leering into the camera, surrounded by two beautiful naked young girls and a naked youth. Under the armpit and next to the pubis of the two maids, one finds von Laban’s concubines Maja Lederer and Suzanne Perottet, also clothed, grinning with anticipation.

Oddly enough, this photograph does not appear on the Laban Centre Website.

According to Mlle. Guilbert, von Laban fathered nine children by various women, but farmed most of his offspring out to curious groups. In 1930, a sect known as the Mazdazneans, that took in only "Pure Aryans", was entrusted with his son Allar.

On the Laban Centre Website, however, we read that "his family life ceased when his career took off in 1919".

At Zurich, Rudolf von Laban kept close company with the Galerie Dada and the Cabaret Voltaire.

Who were these people?

In the words of Heinz Richter, one of the founders of Dadaism:

"our celestial headquarters was Laban’s ballet school. Only at certain fixed times were we allowed into this nunnery (...) these highly personal contacts - and Laban’s revolutionary contribution to choreography - finally involved the whole Laban school in the Dada movement. [6]

DADA was launched by a Swiss political journalist known as Hugo Ball, who wrote in 1917:

"The human figure is progressively disappearing from pictorial art, and no object is present except in fragmentary form. This is one more proof that the human countenance has become ugly and outworn, and the things which surround us have become objects of revulsion. The next step is for poetry to discard language as painting has discarded the object, and for similar reasons".

From La Revue DADA 2, here is an example of a "poem" by Tristan Tzara, a co-founder of DADA and a Cocteau crony:

"Pour Marcel Janco

"Cinq négresses dans une auto
ont explosés suivant les 5 directions de mes doigts (...)
l’aureole verte des saints autour des évasions cérébrales
qu’on voit maintenant crever dans les obus."

Again, dear reader, this is NOT a joke. The above syntax-free scribbling by Tzara, refers to the supposed "aesthetics" of an automobile being blown up and the killing of five African women. This is precisely the "festive culture" as a "form of transgression" that Mlle. Guilbert refers to. Transgression means "to step across", i.e. to step across the border of what is moral, into what is immoral, of what is decent, into what is indecent, of what is rational, into folly.

As Richter explains:

" (...) we gradually made our way from representational to abstract art (...) a reaction to the general disintegration of the world around us, the process that Walter Serner [8] followed to its logical conclusion in his pamphlet advocating a Letzte Lockerung (Final Dissolution, 1918).

"this dissolution was the ultimate in everything that Dada represented, philosophically and morally; everything must be pulled apart, not a screw left in its customary place, the screw-holes wrenched out of shape, the screw, like man himself, set on its way towards new functions which could only be known after the total negation of everything that had existed before. Until then: riot, destruction, defiance, confusion. The role of chance, not as an extension of the scope of art, but as a principle of dissolution and anarchy. In art, anti-art." [9](emphasis added)

Mis au goût du jour, the Dadaist manifesto is none other than the Romantic philosophy of Hegel and Madame de Staël, viz., that Geisteswissenschaft and Naturwissenschaft are opposite poles, "art" being an arbitrary act by the naked Will, an act divorced to the laws, constraints and workings of metrics, the physical universe, or the human body for that matter.

The universe, however, exists. It is nature, and we are in it, and part of it. The human mind is a manifestation of nature. It is not outwith nature ! Therefore, the mind’s laws must necessarily be commensurable with those of the universe, no matter what Chateaubriand or E.T.A. Hoffmann might imagine.

Anyway, here we have the Alsatian painter Hans Arp on World War I, which he spent, of course, at Zurich:

"It was a wonderful period for us, in spite of the war, and in the next World War, while we are being turned into mince-meat and scattered to the four winds of heaven, we shall look back on it as an idyll."

Promptly after the War, this pack moved to take over Paris and Berlin. How vicious they were, already in their early youth, in their worship of the Meaningless Act, is conveyed by the following passage from Richter’s book:

"The young writer and poet Jacques Vaché acquires special importance through his influence on André Breton who, along with (Tristan) Tzara, was the dominant figure of Surrealism and Dada (...) Vaché wrote ’I shall die when I want to die, and then I shall die with somebody else. To die alone is boring. I should prefer to die with one of my best friends’

"Shortly after the Armistice he was indeed found lying dead with a friend, side by side (...) they had drunk the same poison. Vaché was twenty-three (...).

Festive culture at its finest - "to die alone is boring (...)" Richter notes that "Breton has written him a moving epitaph", and quotes from it at length:

"We are reproached with failing to admit that Jacques Vaché did not create anything. He always pushed the work of art to one side - the ball and chain that hold the soul back even after death (...) . All that we look at is false. I do not think that the nature of the finished product is more important than the choice between cake and cherries for dessert".

Whosoever be entertained by the transgressive act of self-murder, will find murder, mass murder, or euthanasia, for that matter, equally entertaining.

To destroy peoples and nations, one does not just march straight up to the Parliament, and announce that it has been replaced by a military dictatorship. One first establishes a dictatorship over the mind of the people, by short, sharp shocks, upping the ante on the level of vicious, immoral, destructive behaviour they will tolerate in an apparently liability-free area, namely "art".

Intrinsic to Serner’s hymn to Dissolution is the impetus towards terrorism, absolutism, and the shedding of blood as something aesthetic. The role assigned Von Laban and Wigman in the dance, was, through their acting out of the "collective unconscious" in their choral works, to instil in the population a new, and unnatural sense of identity and enjoyment. The human being was no longer a "private citizen". As part of the Monumental Chorus, he would learn to collectively contemplate, coolly and calmly, acts and behaviour that as a private citizen and individual conscience, he would have rejected forthwith as immoral.

On Februrary 6th 1919, DADA declared war on the Weimar Republic. This should NOT be taken as a joke.

"Dadaists against Weimar

We shall blow Weimar sky-high. Berlin is the place (...) da (...) da

Nobody and nothing will be spared.

Turn out in masses !

The Dadaist Headquarters of World Revolution.



And the Weimar Republic was blown sky-high, to be replaced by the reign of the NSDAP, while something like eighty million Europeans were to die something other than a natural death as a result.

At first sight, one might think that the Cabaret Voltaire, set up across the street at Zurich from Lenin’s flat, and the haunt of the Bolsheviks, was "left wing", and that Wigman, Von Laban and the rest, were "right-wing conservatives". But the more one looks into the hard-core of what they did, the more they partake of the same, nihilist essence.

None but a nihilist would discard classical dance, just as Hugo Ball states that "the next step is for poetry to discard language, as painting has discarded the object".

Fluffy tutus and pink satin pointe shoes are not essential to classical dance. What is fundamental, is its technique, that allows musical-intellectual activity to be expressed through dance in a clear, lucid and rational form. There was no objective, moral need to replace classical dance, with a morbid concentration on the Body and its functions. The more one focuses on the body, rather than on ideas, the more one attains the revulsion defined by Hugo Ball above: "the human countenance has become ugly and outworn, and the things which surround us have become objects of revulsion."

A morbid concentration on the Body and its functions

In September 1933, the Deutsche Kultur-Wacht published an article entitled "Spiritual foundations of physical education and dance in the National Socialist State", signed by Rudolf Bode and two high-ranking civil servants. According to Mlle. Guilbert, it was actually Bode’s work, and represents the "initial ideological thrust for physical education under the Third Reich".

Mlle. Guilbert writes:

"The first "law" Bode stresses here, is that of ’rhythmic movement’. He believed it urgent to ’develop, in bodily motion, the vital sense’. This means restoring the operation of the forces of unconscious pulsations in physical effort, and divesting oneself of learned responses (automatismes) that voluntary gymnastics and classical dance lend the body. Renewed access to fluid motion (motion that respects the polarity between impetus and relaxation) will bear witness to the end of rationality’s dominance over the body (...) ." [11]

Any reader who practises, or is familiar with the theory of "contemporary" or "modern" dance in our own time, will recognise the above as what is taught, world over, Anno Domini 2003, as professional Modern Dance.

The purpose of the "learned response", i.e. apparently "automatic" or "reflex" action, in classical dance, is to free the mind of the dancer to stop thinkin’ about his cotton-pickin’ body, so as to give his full attention to the ideas he wishes to convey. That is why classical dance, both Indian and Western, places so great a stress on certain formal codes, rehearsed from early childhood until they become second nature.

Bode’s second "law" is economy of effort, for example, how to teach soldiers "the rules of marching as one rhythmically wends from side to side", and his third "law" is the principle of totality.

According to Bode,

"the individual’s organic totality is the necessary precondition to the totality of the State (...) the people gather to dance, in a circular movement of the whole, without the existence of the individual "I" being of any account (...) the individual exists solely in relation to the whole, just as he has no private existence, but rather is defined in relation to his civic responsibility."

And Mlle. Guilbert concludes her comment on Bode’s Spiritual foundations of physical education and dance in the National Socialist State:

"The German people shall thus regain its identity through movement. Through movement, in the form of a great ’merger’ demanding that all take part, the nation exalts its existence to the point of paroxysm. This Nazification of the principle of totality broke open the path for totalitarianism: the all-mighty sway of the mass over the individual."

Another close contact of von Laban’s at Monte Verita was Eugen Diederichs, the founder of Diederichs Verlag. Diederichs was a great admirer of von Laban, printed many of his articles in his magazine DIE TAT, and published von Laban’s first book, Choreography.

At the height of his collaboration with von Laban, in 1929, Diederichs wrote an article entitled Die geistigen Aufgabe von Heute, Morgen and Uebermorgen (the Spiritual Tasks of Today, Tomorrow and the Day After), expressing a belief in the irrational forces of man, the opposition of "organic form" to the Logos, and the need to create collective personalities [12].

DIE TAT, as one might expect, waved the flag for the early Romantics, Fichte, Herder and Hölderlin, and served as a forum for Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, Wagner, and Teutonic mythology. Through series such as Thule (1910-1930), Diederichs’ publishing house played a significant role in the emergence of extreme right-wing thought.

By 1930, Rudolf von Laban, at Munich, was declaring that the Chorus in Movement was destined to become the new "folkloric dance of the white Race" , the same year, as we have seen, that his son Allar was given to the Mazdazneans.

In the popular imagination today, the Weimar Republic was one seedy but terrific party, as depicted in films like "The Blue Angel", where leggy girls in seamed stockings sing hoarsely on table tops. In actual fact, cabaret theatre under the Weimar regime may have been, in the main, fairly cynical and degenerate, but it was chicken feed compared to what the Modern Art crowd was up to. As Mlle Guilbert puts it: "modern dance was no longer a mere Utopia. Its visionary dreams were gradually assimilated by the avant-garde, and helped to define the cultural environment under Weimar". As Jung’s little disciples "festively" let out the Innere Schweinhund, there was no longer anyone minding the shop. A power vacuum yawned, soon to be filled by the NSDAP.

Carl Gustav Jung was the Twentieth Century

"Lilies that fester, smell far worse than Weeds".

Speaking of festering lilies, we’ve got a whopper here. One name that recurs constantly in Mlle. Guilbert’s relation on Rudolf van Laban, is the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Gustav Jung.

Carl Jung did not "influence" the Twentieth Century. He WAS the Twentieth Century. It was he, and his côterie at Monte Verita, that created the Zeitgeist. There is not a thought, a trend, an appetite, an inclination, that man in the street in the Western world considers "normal" today, that has not been influenced very directly, by the work of Carl Jung [13].

I have never been big on psychoanalysis, but, as I waded through Danser avec le IIIème Reich, it became plain that the Jung/von Laban connection had to be looked into.

Amongst the first books I came across, was a fascinating little opus by Prince Charles’ late advisor, Laurens van der Post.

Van der Post was an Afrikaaner, who moved to England in the 1920s as diplomatic correspondent, joined the Intelligence Service, served in the British Army in WWII, and somehow or other rose to became advisor to Charles’ uncle Dicky Mountbatten in India, when Dicky was that country’s last Vice-Roy. Van der Post was thereafter "transferred over" to run Prince Charles.

For those of you who are too young, or too jejeune, to think about History, let me tell you that there is a thing called the British Empire, won partly by ruse, but mainly, by sadistic violence. Not, contrary to what van der Post would have us think, by being Nice to the Natives. Shortly after both van der Post and Mountbatten were thrown out of India, Mahatma Gandhi, the great architect of Independence, was murdered [14], and India partitioned.

Anyway, it so happens that this lover of mankind, Laurens Van der Post, was, from 1949 onwards, one of Carl Jung’s last and closest disciples; he even wrote a sort of "authorised" biography of the man [15]. Unlike his mentor Jung, Van der Post tends to be uncautious, even unguarded, about what goes on behind the scenes, and that makes him rather a valuable source.

To give one the flavour:

"Jung was more than a psychological scientist or phenomenon. He was to my mind one of the most momentous religious phenomena that the world has ever experienced." (emphasis added)


"2000 years of Christianity had to be replaced by something equivalent" [16]

You read that rightly. Although Van der Post’s use of the English language is absolutely bizarre, he is, plainly, comparing Jung to Jesus Christ.

Now, as a Jew, I might, just, be open to considering the arrival, perhaps not of a Messiah, but at least of another Prophet. I mean, why not ? One has got to be open-minded, just in case. But I draw the line somewhere. I draw the line at Satanism.

In conversations with his disciple van der Post, Jung said:

"If God were good, God could be better (...) Somewhere and somehow God was terrible, and also stood in a relationship with darkness and evil (...)" [17]

"the question of Good and Evil (...) has nothing to do with metaphysics; it is only a concern of psychology"

These are blind assertions. What proof does Jung have, apart from his own behaviour, that God is in a relationship with evil? What intellectual authority does he have for ignoring the work of men of the stature of Saint Augustine ? Jung’s "proof", is that he rejects metaphysics. When he says that Good and Evil are a matter for psychology alone, what he means is that the existence of the physical universe, its laws, and the fundamental role of cognition as an active force in the physical universe, are of no concern to him, Carl Gustav Jung. What concerns him, is the bottomless, fathomless pit of the Self. There lies madness, and there lies Devil Worship.

And, no sooner said, than done. Or, to make a Jungian pun, no sooner Dead, than Son ! Up pops the Devil, lashing his forked tail:

Van der Post informs us that Jung’s mother (Blake) "was of the Devil’s party without knowing it" [18]

"It was Jung’s mother whose unconscious interest and sympathy for the aspects of reality as symbolised by the Devil, prompted her to give the boy Jung Faust to read"

"The New Testament exhorted us to resist evil (...) the answer as Jung saw it, was to enthrone the two opposites side by side in the service of the master pattern (...)putting the light of the superior functions at the service of the dark (...) the individual could grow on to a greater realisation of himself (emphasis added)."

So, we are to put the "light" (God) at the service of the "dark" (the Devil), simply to "grow to a better realisation" of oneself. We are to stop resisting evil, and place God at the Devil’s service, so as to "feel better" about ourselves !

Now, might I be allowed to give a very current example of what this leads to ? This summer, in a Baltic State, a film actress, mother to four children, was battered to death by her rock-star boyfriend. The latter was arrested and charged with murder. Shortly afterwards, a full page advertisement was taken out by friends of the rock-star in a "quality" daily, defending his charm, personality, down-beat appeal, and so forth. Friends of his turned up near the foreign gaol where the murderer is being held, to throw a fest (get that culture festive workin’), in solidarity.

That is where Jungian thought has dragged the Twentieth Century [19], and that, inter alia, is why Charles Manson has, and I am not joking, a fan club.

And all concerned feel very much better about themselves.

Jung, generally the most debonair and charming of men, dixit van der Post, was wont to turn into a snarling beast when faced with the Privatio Boni (Evil as the Absence of Good) argument.

"Jung never wavered in his acceptance of Christianity as the West’s greatest symbol of the self. But he could not accept that the coming of Christianity, or any blind imitation of his being, had abolished the reality of the shadow, whether in man or God." [20]

First, I would dispute that Christianity can be tossed off as a "symbol of the self". Indeed, it is not a symbolic form of thought at all. Jesus Christ is not a "symbol" of anything. He is not a Sun Symbol like the Swastika, a Symbol for the Egyptian Youth-God Osiris, or a representation of the resurrected Phoenix. Sorry. Christ is not a symbol.

In any event, generically, van der Post says, the shadow is the evil spirit, the devil, which brings us to Jung’s drama on the biblical figure of Job. Van der Post comments:

"the man made whole through endurance in love of the shadow, is made so much more honourable and meaningful in his estate that he could ultimately surpass his Creator (...) nothing made Jung (...) angrier than the (...) stubborn religious insistence that evil was only the absence of good, a fault in man alone (...) his language (...) when he was roused in this profound regard, was worthy of an inspired peasant, and words like ’shitbags’ and ’pisspots’ would roll from his lips (...)" [21] (emphasis added)

Endurance in love of the shadow?

In Jung’s own autobiography, he concludes from Russian and German history the following:

"it has thus become plain, and irrefutably so, the degree to which the 20th Century’s Christianity has been undermined and voided of its substance (...) Evil has become a decisive reality. It can no longer be got rid of simply by changing its name. We shall have to make our peace with it. Because evil wishes to have its share in life." (Jung’s own emphasis) [220]

The thrust of Augustinian theology is that Evil is the absence (privatio) of Good, and has no self-subsisting existence. It is not a substance. This happens to be the mainstream theological view of Islam and Judaism as well. More recently, that point of view has been defended by Gottfried Leibniz, one of the foremost scientists of modern times.

For the Devil to exist as a self-subsisting force, first, he would have to be possessed of cognition, and second, he would have to be a material force, as cognition is, in the universe. In which case, it might be wise for man to worship him, just for caution’s sake, eh ?

Let us look at a great force in the Universe, for example, an earthquake. Some would see this as proof that God is indifferent to man’s suffering. The Augustinian school would, however, reason as follows:

"- Can earthquakes be prevented ? _ In the present state of science, no. - Can they never be prevented ? _ In a future state of science, very probably. - Can they be forecast ? _ In the present state of science, yes. - If they can be forecast, can we build so as to minimise loss of life in the event of earthquakes ? _ Yes. - Can we evacuate the population in imperilled areas ? _ Yes. - If we do nothing, will people die ? _ Yes. - Are earthquakes thus a proof that Nature is Evil ? _ No."

Let us now apply this to the subject matter of Laure Guilbert’s book. As is well known, following WWII many of my fellow-Jews, and others as well, turned away from religion, arguing that if God were Good, He would not have allowed the War to happen. A frivolous argument, seen from the Augustinian standpoint.

"- Was Hitler God? _ No. - Therefore, was his rise to power inevitable? _ No. - How could it have been prevented? _ By building up political forces sufficient to stop him. - Why was that not done? _ Because the great mass of the population failed to mobilise the willpower to support and vote for the right people. - Why did they fail to mobilise the willpower? _ Because they were under the influence of quietist, pessimist forms of ideology. - Did God develop those ideologies? _ No. - Did mortal men develop them? _ Yes. - Who were those mortal men? _ Well, Laure Guilbert has given some names! - If Hitler was a mere man, could he not have been stopped by other men? _ Yes."

Von Laban’s main disciple was Mary Wigman, who worked with him from 1913 to 1919. She had left Eugène Dalcroze’s circles, because she believed, following Rudolf Bode, that dance had to leave music behind, eschew "metrics", and return to a "Golden" "pre-logical" age.

Of course, there never was a pre-logical Age, not for so long as Homo Sapiens has existed - again, see the aforementioned Grotte Chauvet ! Nor can man live without metrics: if one cannot measure, one cannot distinguish one concept from another, and therefore, one cannot think.

But, Mary Wigman was on a crusade against "metrics ". Surrounded by bevies of lovely young girls, scantily clad, she sought to induce trance-like states, "based on psycho-biological techniques of Oriental mysticism" , close to the expressionism that Mlle. Guilbert describes as "états élémentaires ou larvaires" (elemental, or larval, states).

There are few larval states about in Jean-Georges Noverre’s famous Lettres sur la Danse (1760). Readers will recall the emphasis Noverre places on selecting, as subjects for choreography, appropriate historical plays, tragedies, and so forth. In diametrical opposition, the von Laban/Wigman current eliminates story-telling, to avoid introducing reality, crisis, and the need to take decisions, in respect of moral values.

Hence, their insistence on Art for Art’s Sake, symbolism and abstraction.

Laure Guilbert argues, very effectively, that the Modern Dance movement, under the influence of Jung, first served to instil the idea (Create a Need) that industrial civilisation had "alienated" man, and then, once people had talked themselves into feeling "alienated", proposed to reconcile the individual by having him identify with the all-powerful group. The "Führer" is the representative of the universal idea of the mass. She explains how the Modern Dance movement saw the giant rallies of National Socialism as incarnating a "messianic dream of a ’culture of movement’". [23]

Rudolf von Laban and the Thousand Year Reich

In the summer of 1934, one year after the Reichstag Fire and the Putsch, Rudolf von Laban was appointed Director of the Deutsche Tanzbühne , in the Regime’s Theatre Division, a position much higher than that of a Theatre Director, even a Berlin Theatre. Mlle. Guilbert points to the opposite position on the Jewish question taken by von Laban, relative to the Berlin Philharmonic’s chief, Wilhelm Furtwängler [24]. Following the law dated April 7th 1933 on "Purging the Civil Service", von Laban’s troupe was, says Mlle. Guilbert, "purged", as were his schools, of Jews [25].

Marie-Luise Lieschke was von Laban’s Administrator, and "played a strategic role, integrating the Laban organisations into the regime. [26] She wrote enthuasiastically to Kurt Joos in September 1934: "we are in the very centre of the splendid task of building a fresh springboard for dance in Germany", and six months later: "we are receiving generous subsidies from the authorities".

Having read through thousands of pages of reports, letters, notes, memoranda, our author’s decided view is that von Laban’s "painstaking labour of seduction, had allowed him to achieve his dearest wish: to bring the Modern Movement within the institutions. (von Laban) was convinced that under Hitler’s Regime, his inventions of the 1920s would finally flourish." [27]

Indeed, it was in 1935 that the Dance Notation Bureau was opened, and, in 1936, the Reichsbund für Gemeinschaftstanz that, says Mlle. Guilbert,

"gave fresh momentum to Laban’s research on festive culture. The previous decade devoted to developing cinetography [dance notation] finally bore fruit, in the preparations for the Olympic Games, with the staging of the Choral Games entitled Vom Tauwind and der neuen Freude. Two thousand amateurs from sixty Laban Choirs rehearsed the choreography separately, with the help of scores drawn up by the Notation Bureau. Once the choruses had reached Berlin, a scant week’s rehearsal sufficed to solve the complex problems posed in staging so gigantic a spectacle" [28]

And she continues:

"Rudolf von Laban’s attitude at the head of the Deutsche Tanzbühne is identical to that he had held earlier (under Weimar - klk) (...) However, the opportunistic a-politicism that had characterised the man under Weimar had become inappropriate under the Third Reich. Since 1933, it had become clear to Rudolf von Laban that his movement’s rise would necessarily call for political commitment. His activities within the Reich’s Theaterkammer were not designed to create an area where dance might exist independently, so as to safeguard the original utopias. Rather, they point to the front-line role he intended to play, in elaborating the new Regime’s dance policy."

And so we find von Laban writing, in the Introduction to the Deutsche Tanzfestspiele:

"we must place our means of expression and the language of our strength, at the service of the great task with which our people is filled (sic), and of which our Führer, in his changeless (sic) clarity, knows the paths". [29]

Something like fifty pages of Danser avec le IIIème Reich are devoted to a brilliant study of Nazi cultural policy, its savage faction fights, how, within those struggles, Rudolf von Laban positioned himself and how, drunk with power, he was eventually led to overplay his hand, and quit Germany. She concludes the section thusly:

"(...) modern dance, in the hands of the Nazi apparatus and its ideologues, gradually became a means to have youth fall into step, through art. Although Rudolf von Laban may not have originated so radical a strategy, he nevertheless helped to make it happen". [30]

What happened to all these people after World War II?

An important question, and one that Mlle. Guilbert, with the thoroughness one has come to expect, has looked into. Inter alii, the Spenglerian Fritz Böhme, who plays a prominent role in Danser avec le IIIème Reich, was "denazified" in 1949, helped to found East Germany’s Akademie der Künste, and died in 1952 in the midst of drafting a book on Rudolf von Laban. Harald Kreutzberg toured worldwide before opening a school in Switzerland in 1955. Gret Palucca ran the only modern dance school recognised by the East German regime, and became an internationally renowned dance teacher from her base in the DDR. Mary Wigman moved to West Berlin, where she continued to teach until her death. And so on.

One of those "Crime Pays" sort of things, perhaps ?

Enter classical dance.

In the last thirty years, this ancient art form has, under the pervasive influence of Modern Art, degenerated to become increasingly faceless, and focused on the Body as a cult-object - the Body’s needs, its every centimetre of shape, its minutest sensations, its ’tension and release’, its very twitches, gasps and impulses. But this temporary corruption has not changed its eternal essence. Classical dance remains a branch of the science of metrics. It is neither an ideology, nor a belief structure. It is not a ’culture of movement’, where one moves one’s body about for the hell of it, nor does it induce trance-like or orgiastic states. It is very technical, very intellectual, and as such has objective, intelligible standards for Good and Bad. Rather than explore the pits of Jungian states, classical dance gives one the tools to convey to one’s fellow human beings, mind to mind, musical and dramatic ideas.

Thus, a contrario, and whether or not that were her original intent, Mlle. Guilbert’s Danser avec le IIIème Reich can be fairly described as a Defence and Illustration of classical dance, one of the best ever written.

Funny tricks life plays.

The Kinesphere

Outwith the London Laban Centre, the keenest interest in Laban’s Kinesphere today seems to be found amongst systems analysts [31]. In particular, the reader is referred to a paper by the self-avowed Darwinian and follower of the zoologist Richard Dawkins [32], Anthony Judge, entitled Patterns of N-foldness: comparison of integrated multi-set concept schemes as forms of presentation. The latter paper, which deals with Von Laban’s kinesphere, was prepared for a sub-project meeting of the Forms of Presentation Group in a United Nations University project known as of "Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development" [33].

Judge runs the Brussels-based Union of International Associations, that appears to engage in mass social engineering projects, for the "altruistic" aim of World Government.

Be that as it may, for space reasons, the question of the kinesphere and the icosahedron cannot be dealt with in sufficient depth here. At this stage, I would simply say that Rudolf von Laban decided, quite arbitrarily, that human movement operates on the same principles as inorganic, crystalline structures. On that flawed basis, he developed the Icosahedron, independently of classical music. A formal geometric construct, the icosahedron boils down to "connecting the dots". At the end of the day, it is every bit as artificial and esoteric as the Big Bang Theory, or the views of those who would persuade us that the Golden Section in mathematics holds the Answer to Everything.

Plastique in classical dance does not "connect the dots", but is a continuum that emerges from musical thought. Classical music generates certain geometrical forms, in ways that remain mysterious to this writer at the present time; in any event, the school figures, such as arabesque, or attitude, cannot be understood silently. They can be grasped only in musical terms, within the classical tonal/modal system as developed by Bach.

In the article What is wrong with Balanchine (September 2001), as an alternative to the kinesphere, I made an attempt to figure out the underlying notion behind the Vestris school in the early 19th Century, as follows:


Just as the fundamental technical issue is the turn-out, which is a three-fold rotation, as an art-form ballet is based on one single geometrical-spatial notion, the rotation from effacé to croisé.

Today, effacé and croisé are taught as two discrete species of positions on a diagonal, the one with the body in more shade, the other, with the body in more light.

This does not correspond to reality. You do not dance along straight lines, switching between effacé and croisé as though you were turning on and off a light.

Stand in tendu devant, arms in third position, croisé. Look at the raised hand (Cecchetti or Bournonville ’look under’). Now begin a slow promenade through a full circle. Keep the ’look-under’. You pass through every shade of croisé, to a "pale" effacé, to a more "luminous" effacé, to full effacé, and onto a pale croisé, something like the phases of the moon. Note how the ’look-under’ forces you to use épaulement.

Now back to the turn-out. Why three-fold rotation ? The head of the femur rotates out, to give the turn-out, the leg is rotated outwards. First degree of rotation. Second, owing to the rotation of the leg, the dancer creates two semi-circles, one before, and one behind him (180 + 180 degrees), or, seen otherwise, one to his left, one to his right, whether à terre or en l’air. Second degree of rotation. Next, owing to the stability afforded by degrees one and two of rotation, the torso itself can rotate independently from the legs. Third degree of rotation. This last degree of rotation, is what produces the tremendous artistic weight of classical ballet, by freeing up the torso for expressive purposes. That is épaulement.

The inter-relation between the effacé-croisé procession, and the three-fold rotation described just above, is the technical hard-core of classical ballet, and has, in point of fact, been the technical hard-core of every classical dance form for several thousand years, as ancient Indian sculpture attests. It is a concept, a thought-object."

The paragraph above does not solve the problem of dance notation, but I suspect we may be on to something, and therefore throw it into the debate.

K.L. Kanter


1. In print in the French language only, it begs for translating into the main European and Asian tongues.

2. "Un art qui a servie l’édification du mythe national-socialiste".

3. Labanotation, a system for recording choreography in written form, has outstripped Benesh notation to become the most widely-used system of dance notation in the world today.

4. Drame Choral.

5. Read the "culture" pages of newspapers like the Paris daily Libération, a living-out of precisely this brand of "culture festive". Today, entire towns and villages are expected to Put Up and Shut Up, as the main square is stormed by a Techno, Rock or Folk Fest and inundated with amplified noise.

6. Hans Richter, DADA, McGraw Hill Publishers, New York, undated (probably mid 1960s) p. 69.

7. idem. p.54.

8. Elsewhere, Richter refers admiringly to Serner’s use of "cavemen tactics towards women".

9. idem., p. 48.

10. idem. p. 126, Extracts from the Manifesto of Dadaists against Weimar.

11. Guilbert, p. 152.

12. Cf. Guilbert page 54-55.

13. There are several studies in print of Carl Gustav Jung and National Socialist thinking. On the Internet, see for example L. Wolfe’s 1990 essay in The American Almanach.

14. Mahatma Gandhi had said: "There is only one India, and they will partition her over my dead body."

15. "Jung and the Story of our Time" by Laurens van der Post, Hogarth Press, London 1976.

16. Van der Post, page 141, op.cit.

17. idem page 84.

18 idem page 158.

19.The prevalence of Satanic themes in rock "music" is well-known.

20. Van der Post page 219.

21. idem page 220.

22. Carl Gustav Jung, Souvenirs, Rêves et Pensées, Ed. Gallimard, 1973, p. 372

23. Guilbert, p. 397.

24. Given serious treatment in the theatre, by Ronald Harwood in Taking Sides, Faber, 1995 (published in France under the title A torts et à raisons, Actes Sud, 1999)

25. Guilbert, p. 176.

26. idem. p. 177.

27. idem, p. 177.

28. idem p. 223.

29. idem. p. 228.

30. idem p. 263.

31. Put very coarsely, systems analysis is a branch of mathematical logic, organised around the persuasion that the human mind operates like a less-than-efficient computer. Cf. a study by Lyndon H. LaRouche, at

32. Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University.

33. The annexes published in Patterns of Conceptual Integration. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1984, pp 161-204. See also and Mr. Judge’s own Website,