Valeska Gert (1892–1978) was a dancer, cabaret artist, actress, and even at times a nightclub owner. The terms chosen by contemporary critics to describe Gert’s art—“grotesque dance,” “dance pantomime,” or “danced temporal satire”—illustrate how her performances disrupted the conventional boundaries of the genre. Her short pieces, which usually only lasted a few minutes, were precise realizations of a sense of time influenced by pace and urbanity in the Weimar Republic.
The spectrum of her incarnations included bawds and whores, emotional states like tension in the big city, and pop-cultural persiflage: cinema, dance, sports. Her performances in self-designed costumes were of polarizing nature: while some saw her as a courageous boundary-crosser and avant-gardist, others considered her to be a tasteless provocateur. Under Nazi rule, her art was defamed as “degenerate,” and like many Jewish artists, Valeska Gert went into exile.
In the first film program devoted to this artist, as well as the accompanying exhibition at METRO Kinokulturhaus, the Filmarchiv Austria is presenting the work of this pioneer of modern dance, who turned body, face, and voice into instruments of her expressive art. In the process, she invented exemplary forms of expression for the upheaval and tumult of the twentieth century.