Press reviews

Vom Januar 1936 an erschienen im Tagesrhythmus Ankündigungen, Vorberichte und Rezensionen zu den Aufführungen des Menaka-Balletts in den lokalen und überregionalen Zeitungen entlang der Spielorte der Tournee in Deutschland. Allein im Jahr 1936 waren das bei etwa 150 verschiedenen Spielstätten mehrere hundert Texte.

From January 1936 onward, announcements, preliminary reports and reviews of the performances of the Menaka Ballet in the local and national newspapers along the venues of the tour in Germany were published on a daily basis. In 1936 alone, these were several hundred texts in about 150 different venues.

“One could see the words “Indian ballet” on all billboards, one saw the foreign, the strange and that was enough to unleash a feverish activity to have seen such a thing at all costs. Also here, all seats were sold out well before the event and on the evening of the performance, the square in front of our small theater resembled a fashionable seaside resort, which invited its guests to a great open air – concert.”
(Ammergauer-Zeitung, 25.08.1936)

The tour’s impresario, Ernst Krauss, had been doing meticulous public relations in advance of all the events, thus setting a specific framework for the reception of the Indian ballet in Germany. In turn, the press review that Krauss compiled and continuously updated for his Menaka portfolio draws a consistently euphoric picture of the audience’s reactions. In the archive of the Konzertdirektion Krauss, however, only these reviews of Menaka’s performances have been collected, which were of particular interest to Krauss’s PR work. The complete spectrum of these reviews actually draws a much more differentiated image. The comments of the German critics were indeed contradictory and ranged from exotistic speculations, detailed descriptions of aesthetic transcendential experiences to sensitive ethnographic descriptions. The reports also contain some detailed observations on the actual circumstances of the performances and thus complete the picture of these two years in which Menaka traveled with her dancers and accompanying musicians through Germany and performed virtually every evening her program before a “applauding and sometimes dumb laughing audience “[1].

Nonetheless, from today’s point of view, of course, an affirmative reading of these texts as immediate representations of the performative events is hardly possible. Much too obvious is the ideological rhetoric of many reviews, much too clearly they reveal their partly racist foundation, much too outdated are the metaphors of the writing style of the 1930s. Obviously the observations of the audience – were framed by a vast number of discourses rather than by the actual happening on the stage. In many respects, the texts are a proof for the impossibility of an adequate medial representation of the ephemeral performance. The descriptions are mediated on many levels and are to be regarded as complex intertextual objects. They deal not only with their respective ideological disposition, but also, for example, with the relationships between authors and readership, media-politics of the newspapers themselves, current political references, regional dynamics and the relationship between province and metropolis – etc..
Undoubtedly, the descriptions of Menaka’s Indian ballet served as a basis for a cultural self-assurance of the Germans under the auspices of NS-regime. This is illustrated by the various approaches with which the reviewers tried to frame the Indian ballet in the context of a folk-based cultural theory. However, it also turns out that the texts can  be read as documents of a “reorganization of anthropological knowledge stocks”, as Hannelore Bublitz puts it, which went hand in hand with the “discovery” of the body as a cultural archive, a body that resembles always an “already symbolically meaningful,> spoken body < which refers
to “cultural and social body codes” that make the body a projection screen for “historically changing inscriptions.”

The many readings of the Menaka performances as folklore, make it easy to forget, that the interest in folklore was a feature of all European modernism at the beginning of the 20th century. Inge Baxmann has pointed out that the connection of the folk movement with the nationalist movement in Germany was virtually inevitable.  According to her, even in France in the 1920s, within a left-liberal political context, the understanding of the cultural body was adressed in much the same way as in Germany. The appropriation of the Indian ballets for a theory of NS-aesthetics is only one of the various readings that the observers of Menakas performances developed in 1936. Rather, there was a broad discursive trend in Germany in 1936, which, with a certain “ethnopathos” (Hannelore Bublitz), was in search of a contemporary understanding of culture. Thus, the Menaka performances, in their apparent authenticity, provided evidence for a multitude of anthropological considerations, which were mediated by the re-enactment character of the program as well as by its claim to artistic validity.

Finally, the reports also generate evidence as a genre of literature in its own right – in the format of the two-column Feuilleton-review. The specific aesthetical, political, and scientifical discourses of these reports are expressed in an average of 500 words, and the authors often make skillful use of writing techniques to condense their perceptions of the Indian ballet as a hub,”where structures of experience, emotions and knowledge converge, but also as a battleground, where the construction of tradition and the redefinition of the popular was fought.”

[1] Hav., „Indiens mystisches Lächeln, Menaka mit Tanzgruppe und Hinduorchester im Stadttheater“, Westfälische Neueste Nachrichten, 7. März 1936, Stadtarchiv Bielefeld.

[2] Hannelore Bublitz, Das Archiv des Körpers : Konstruktionsapparate, Materialitäten und Phantasmen, Sozialtheorie (Bielefeld: transcript, 2018).

[3] Die Verquickung von Folklore und Nationalpolitik hatte in ganz Europa kontinuierliche Entsprechungen. Ähnliche Muster einer „soziokulturellen Anti-Modernisierung“ hat beispielsweise Cecile Stehrenberger in „Francos Tänzerinnen“ anhand der Tourneen der folkloristischen Choros y Danzas-Gruppen im francistischen Spanien in den 1950er Jahren nachgezeichnet. Im Anschluss an McClintock spricht sie von der Herauskristallisierung einer  „janusköpfige Idee von Nation“ […], deren eines Gesicht in Richtung einer nebulösen Vergangenheit und deren anderes in eine unbestimmte Zukunft gerichtet war.“ Anne McClintock, „‚No longer in a future heaven‘: nationalism, gender, and race“, Becoming national : a reader, 1996, 260–84.

[4] Siehe dazu Simon Frisch, Elisabeth Fritz, und Rita Rieger, Hrsg., Spektakel als ästhetische Kategorie: Theorien und Praktiken, Bd. Band 5, Inter-media, Band 5 (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink, Brill Deutschland, 2018).

[5] Der Tourneeplan aus dem Nachlass des Impresarios Ernst Krauss für das Jahr 1936 hat sich weitestgehend als korrekt erwiesen. 186 Spielorte enthält der Plan für das Jahr 1936, 109 davon liegen in Deutschland. Krauss‘ Planung reicht aber lediglich bis in den Januar 1937. Der weitere Verlauf der Tour im Jahr 1937 ließ sich aus dem Krauss-Nachlass bisher nicht rekonstruieren. Möglicherweise übernahm ab 1937 auch die Mannheimer Konzertdirektion, die mit Krauss offenbar kooperierte, die weitere Organisation der Tournee.

[6] Baxmann?