The Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer is a symphonic dance of threeness, divided into three sections, performed by three dancers. The costumes and choreography are based on the triadic correlations of costumes, music sound, and movement as well as on space, form, and colour.
The sculptural costumes reduce the human figures to geometric shapes and forms, constraining the spatial movements of the three performative artists, one female and two males. The three sections evolve from the humorous to the serious. There is no underlying story. The first section, on a lemon-yellow stage set, is serene-burlesque. The theme of the second section, on a pink stage set, is ceremonious and solemn, while the theme of the third section, on a black stage set, is mystical-fantastic. The three performers dance twelve dances alternately.
Schlemmer attributed special significance to the number three in which the monomaniac ego and the dualistic opposite are overcome and the collective originates. His concept is based on the elementary theory of geometry and stereometry, originating in classical antiquity and translated into contemporary materials, techniques and movements.
In The Triadic Ballet, it is the costume and not the mobility of the dancer that determines the dance movement. The static, sculptural costumes and masks inhibit the dancer in the range of movements. In a synthesis of body and costume, it introduces, encourages and intensifies the movements of the performer. Schlemmer’s triadic costumes are ambulant architectures.
The Triadic Ballet holds a central significance in the œuvre of Oskar Schlemmer. With no other creation did the artist and dancer engage so intensively, time and again, from 1912 up to 1941 and did he always associate great plans and expectations.
The Triadic Ballet became the most widely performed avant-garde artistic dance and is an icon of modernism. It is a manifestation of a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, a central tenet to Schlemmer and the Bauhaus. Originally it was performed in 1922 to three centuries of classical and contemporary music. For a 1926 performance, Paul Hindemith composed the music, which ranges from the cheerfully grotesque to pathos while adding a spiritual dimension to the performance.
The artist’s title of the work is based on the music term triad, reflecting that on all levels, it is conceived as a trilogy. Although the title includes ‘ballet’, it was the intention of the artist to explore and propose new forms of dance performance, in contrast and to differentiate from the conventional classical ballet of the period, as well as from the story ballets of the Ballet Russes.
Envisaging a future as a dancer, the young artist wrote the first concepts of a dance performance in 1912, entitled Dance Vision. Parts of his vision, with first triadic costumes, were performed during World War I in 1916 and the complete trilogy had its world premiere in Stuttgart on the 22nd of September 1922. Schlemmer performed under a pseudonym as one of the three dancers. Created and completed before Schlemmer joined the Bauhaus Weimar in 1921, it was finally in Weimar, during the first exhibition of the Bauhaus, The Bauhaus Week, where The Triadic Ballet experienced possibly its most appreciative and enthusiastic audience in August 1923. Further sporadic performances followed in Dresden, at the musical festival of Donaueschingen in 1926, with the music composed by Hindemith, in Frankfurt a. M. and Berlin. Some of the triadic costumes he combined in dance and pantomime programmes on the Bauhaus Stage in Dessau, in Jena and in Frankfurt a. M.
In 1932, Fernand Léger invited Schlemmer to participate with The Triadic Ballet at an international dance competition in Paris. It was to be the last performance of The Triadic Ballet during the lifetime of Oskar Schlemmer. Plans for a relaunch at the Corso Theater in Zurich in 1936 failed due to a lack of funding.
In 1938, Schlemmer sent the costumes for a Bauhaus exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, to shield these and other works from destruction by the Nazis in Germany. His dream to follow the Triads and to migrate with his wife and three children to the US, were not fulfilled. He never learned from his former Bauhaus colleagues, who had emigrated to the US, that a philanthropist had plans to stage The Triadic Ballet in the US at the end of the 1930s.
Oskar Schlemmer passed away, disillusioned, on 13 April 1943 in Baden-Baden.
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