Today I’m going to speak to you about Gertrud Kraus—a very small, very special woman. Born in Vienna on May 5, 1901, - Died in Tel Aviv Nov. 23, 1977. You wouldn’t expect someone so petit to have such a big influence but that is the truth. I’m so honored that Henia has asked me to speak about her, something of her life.
I’ll consider What influenced her and what did she influence in Israel? She was a huge personality, as I said, and it’s fitting that she won the Israel Prize in 1968, the first dancer to do so.
I had the privilege of knowing her in her later years – we made an odd pair because I was in my early ‘30s and she was in her ‘70s, and though I’m not so tall myself, it seemed that I was bigger than she. From the outside, when we’d go to do errands together—the bank, the kupat holim, shopping-- people just assumed that I was her daughter.
Her yahrzeit was last week, at the end of November so I am dedicating today to her memory—
Some of what I say will be in her own words. How I bring them to you is through my memory-- She forbid me ever to write anything down so I would try to memorize what she was saying and run back to my apartment and sit down and type up our Tuesday morning breakfast conversations. She always had a very strong coffee, and a very soft boiled egg, almost raw.
We would meet at Café Ditza near the old Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv, it was close to both our apartments. Tuesdays she would be in Tel Aviv because she also taught in Haifa and in Jerusalem, and weekends she generally went to her house in the mountains in the artists’ village of Ein Hod.
Conversations with Gertrud were thrilling—and so must it have been to work with her artistically. She never took what things seemed to be and wanted to get to the bottom of what you felt and why, and artists were always always drawn to her insights. She was a confidant and a critic of artists in theatre and dance up to the top when I knew her.
So who was she?
I first saw her at a Batsheva dance concert surrounded by people and I surmised from what my NY teacher (Fred Berk who had danced with her in Vienna) had told me because of her petite size that it must be Gertrud Kraus. She agreed to meet me the next Tuesday at Café Ditza and from then on, for all the Tuesdays of the five years I lived in Israel, we met for breakfast there. She lived on Frug St in Tel Aviv when I knew her and she would walk in her teetery way to the café which had chess boards and chess and German newspapers to accommodate the old actors who were German and Russian…no matter what hour of the day you could find elders playing chess or reading the latest issues of newspapers and magazines from Germany. There at Ditza I met many of the elderly artists from Habima. In the beginning it was a mystery to me that Gertrud would be greeted with great reverence. That was before I understood all that she had done.
Let’s begin with the city of Gertrud’s birth: Vienna She inherited the effect of FIN-De SIECLE—the end of a millennium. You did that in the change 13 years ago to 2000. So what happened in those 100 years? She lived through the change from a kingdom to a new kind of political freedom—it was an optimistic time, after the emperor or king, Franz Yosef, was deposed. It was the end of the Hapsburg Empire but there was hope—until World War I,
VIENNA on the Danube, was the cosmopolitan city of change, of modernity. It was elegant there, the Waltz was its glorious trademark…Who lived and worked there? It was an amazing time: just look at one Viennese--Sigmund Freud who was treating women for hysteria, inventing his science of behavior and emotions and what is bodily expression and what are the meanings of dreams, revolutionizing how we think about ourselves—he thought that most of our mental life, including most of our emotional life is unconscious and only a small component is conscious. We have instincts for aggression and for sexual strivings like we do for eating and drinking…instinctual drives are evident from the beginning…what is the conscious and the unconscious, what is the mind, what is our sexual drive and repression, and what is psychology all about. We all were affected by his revolutionary thinking but artists would have been at the forefront. Gertrud had adventurous ideas about sexuality and she often went into that on stage…(though I don’t go into her personal life choices…).
Vienna pioneered modernism. It was the cultural capital of Europe when she was a child. The Habsburg dynasty was 400 years old, compromised not only German speaking states but also Bohemia and it was a mosaic of nations second only to the Russian Empire. Her family was middle class (though I don’t know about her father’s professor or if her mother worked or what was their education. I did meet her sister and brother-in-law who escaped WWII by living in the Belgian Congo, but more than that I don’t know)…The middle class was energized, forcing reforms and Austria became a constitutional monary and it had a free market economy, kept negotiating with the emperor. Jews had legal standing from 1848; almost 100 years of freedom until the Nazis invaded…Vienna had 2 million people, lively architects, music, and a Baroque style that architecturally changed to modernism, that paved the way for the Bauhaus in Germany,which in turn influenced the look of Tel Aviv…
Science, literature, changes in music and painting—from the waltz to the 12 tone composers…
It was an amazing time.
That’s what Gertrud grew up in….reexamining everything
And that was Gertrud to a T—making you reexamine your thinking.
She was known for her impulsive personality, driven by strong emotional responses. She was a talented musician and a music graduate specializing in piano from the State Academy of Music. Then she worked there to accompany dance classes and also she accompanied silent movies, an art in itself. In the beginning, Kraus was ambivalent about dance as an art form. “My suspicion was that dance was only for cabarets” she told me. But eventually she saw something else.
“ My original decision to go into dance rather than music was not a question of my own talent, but a question of my desire and hunger for creation. Among my group of friends we would have many debates but I preferred actually to explore to find out, to break the windows of criticism to see inside. “ [from “The Gamin Speaks,” Dance Magazine, March 1976, p 45 ]
Franz Joseph was the last emperor of Austira and reigned for 68 years; he abdicated in 1916 during World War I. ( four years from 1914-1918 with all the great powers of the world…. At the end there were no longer imperial powers, no kingdomss of German, Russia, Austro-Hungary or the Ottoman empire; the map of the world was redrawn.
World War ONE can’t be emphasized enough, and the crushing changes affected artists too. The whole idea of DADA in art developed—young artists were reconsidering what is art and what it could be. Convention was to be undermined, starting with how war undermined everything that people held dear. Performance and visual art were affected. The non-beautiful was looked at, imagery was challenged; sometimes meaning was expanded and sometimes it was obliterated. It emerged first in Switzerland and then spread to all the capitols of Europe. It wasn’t a style but a practice to undermine expectations and to shock the viewer into questioning what had been accepted. Cabaret Voltaire opened in Zurich in 1916. Did Gertrud hear of it when she was 15 or as DADA progressed and she progressed? Did she know of the radical performances there, the masks, the costumes, the scripts, the artists whom the Nazis later called Degenerate? I can’t know but its effects were completely clear in the way she questioned and thought.
Show Marcel JANCO ‘s painting about Café Voltaire.
later in Israel Janco and Kraus got to know each other very well. He created the artist Village EIN HOD which is where she had a weekend house for years. It was A stimulating amazing place of working artists in the ’40s when it really mattered to Gertrud, Today there is a museum to DADA, the only one in the world today, at Ein Hod and also a museum of Gertrud’s art work where she used to live.
But how did Gertrud decide to become a dancer? After graduating from the Academy, she continued there as a dance accompanist as I said. She especially played for Ellinor Torids
Gertrud too was moved by a solo dancer: “ I finally knew I had had a real meeting with dance when I started to accompany the soloist dancer Eleanor Tordis. Every step she made was something precious and serene—
One day Torids asked if any students were prepared to present a piece for the class? (Don’t know what was her assignment to the students unfortunately). After a brief pause, when no one offered an idea, Kraus jumped up from the piano, tossed off her shoes and improvised a piece, untrained except for what she had learned from watching the classes. Her performance was followed by a long silence which Kraus found so excruciating she grabbed her belongings and headed for the door. ‘Wait, we must talk about this, said Torids, but Kraus said, The Pause was too long and just left. That’s when she decided to be a dancer. She studied for a while with Gertrud Bodenwieser who was head of the dance department at the academy,--Bodenwieser had started out in classical ballet and became enamared of ‘free dance’ and even joined her co for a few months, but in 1925 she rented one of the largest theatrical spaces in Vienna and presented her own concert of solo dances. In 1927 she formed a school and a dance co.
“I wasn’t in love with dance, No I saw that dance could be an art form and behind it, in golden letters is the word CREATION. After this realization, I went on to the next thing—creating and this changed my whole life and opened areal beautify to me.”
Quoting from Karl Toepfer:
“Modern dance in Europe established itself as a distinctive aesthetic experience in the early twentieth century primarily through solo dance. Audiences became aware of a new relation between body and movement as a result of seeing concerts featuring a lone woman performing a program of dances designed to reveal the power of physical movement to define or amplify her unique personality. Dance became ‘modern’ insofar as it presented a woman who moved alone in time and space and free of any membership in a communal or social context. …Audiences granted solo dancers permission to move and display themselves in seductive ways that were otherwise inappropriate anywhere in public except on stage…
Other dance of the 1920S ;
I can’t know who else besides Bodenweiser and Tordis Gertrud saw. But there was revolution everywhere even in the ballet. Picture of NIjinka’s Le Train Blue….also, Another famous dancer you perhaps heard about was ANNA PAVLOVA “Toepfer: 83: “One should not underestimate the impact on the evolution of solo dance of Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), the great Russian figure from the world of classical ballet. ..all of her pieces belonged to the 19th c ballet repertory and she felt no inclination to challenge any of the rules governing the identity of ballet…yet so powerful were her performances that a huge international audience saw her as beautifully ALONE insofar as she seemed so apart, not only from the glamorous entourage that surrounded her but from mainstream ballet culture…a tragic or melancholy aura was part of her beauiy…she was a wonderfully dramatic dancer, constructed an emotional architecture for dances, concerts, ballets, repertories and tours…
Other dancers of the Ballets Russes influenced audiences and fellow dancers. I have no evidence of what Gertrud saw on stage, but Bronislava Nijinska was an important choreographer: 1920s the flapper period, the jazz life, was also a big influence. Scheherazade by Fokine—the foreign, the exotic, the gorgeous, Nijinski could be androgenous—play a rose, as well as a slave lover, it was all happening at the time that Kraus was growing up as an artist.
Toefer says that : “Associating the dancer with exceptional power to transcend the moral codes or constraints imposed on the movement of the female body…audiences sought an intensified insight into women as sexual beings and solo dancers attempted to differentiate themselves by developing erotic brands so to speak,…what made early solo dance modern then, was its critique of mythic images of femininity, its ambivalent attitude toward mythic images as models of female sexuality…”
SLIDE OF GERTRUD in the ‘20s,
SLIDE of her solos to Bach
Let’s go back to Kraus’s European solo dances--they were known as intensely dramatic and she often felt as a stranger, an alien image of feminine beauty. An eeriness pervaded all her European dances which favored the melancholy, a wispy, delimitative woman with black hair, she exaggerated the strangeness of her beauty…Expressionist, suited her temperament. She loved rocking and swaying movements, inventive use of head, hand and torso, borrowed undulating movements from the Mid East—in her “Fire Dance” to De Falla she used shaking, trembling, throbbing,
She Wasn’t afraid to dance with eyes closed, arms spiraling over her breasts and head…
Guignol in 1929 was strange, impersonating a bizarre puppet on a pedestal, face painted white, brass fingernails like in Javanese dances, she never smiled, her body trapped in space but also free,
In 1929 she assisted Laban in the creation of a festival procession of trade unions in Vienna, dance instruction was by Kraus and someone named Gisa Gert; in Vienna which I’ve never been able to find out much about.
But this meant that Gertrud was chosen by one of the master creators of Expressionist Dance in Europe. Van Laban is a very big puzzle to me, his influence before WWII is profound. He is known until today for his method of writing dance down—Labanotation, he influenced a whole generation of dancers and audiences and people in cities with his idea of dance choirs. Those who studied with him and his protégé Wigman also influenced all the folk dance festivals, the creation of the idea of a healthy way to express the new nation through dancing new dances, the whole idea of how to reform the body in Israel through phsycial education. But in my mind he was corrupted by the Nazis.
PLEASE NOTE THAT MANY IN ISRAEL misunderstand WHEN she worked with Laban (often wrongly stated it was at the Olympics in 1936. She was absolutely by then living in Eretz Yisrael).
Here’s what a dancer writer said about him:
Von Laban had a network of movement institutes in numerous European cities between 1919-1923 that promoted solo dancers…
Wigman (19886-1973) created her famous “Hexentanz in 1926;
Gertrud Kraus (1901-1977) did her eerie Guignol in 1929 “PAGE 97): “ clad in a long black dress but with her face painted white and her fingers attached to long brass fingernails, she performed a mysterious rocking or swaying dance without ever leaving the pedestal on which she perched, like an ominous macabre puppet.” Valeska Gert began in 1919 with Canaille to build her solo repertory of grotesque parodies of degenerate women and then of damaged states of being such as her sobbing dance “Kummerlied” in 1928
Many others were important, for example…Gret Palucca though she had a school in Dresden she opened in 1925 and performed almost entirely in the solo mode throughout the 1920s and 1930s touring relentlessly performing over the years hundreds of solo dances across Germany and eastern Europe.. P 109: “Group movement evolved with the growth of schools and companies established by charismatic or ambitious modern dance personalities.
BUT Let’s go back to the three years before the Nazis were voted into power:
“All were affected by Death from W W I;
Show HER PHOTO -- In “Tired Death” in 1930 she was a robotized female great purple cape, her head covered in a white skullcap to look bald, her eyes heavily made up, sweeping into death all humanity in her path…
In “Jewish Boy,” 1929 she experimented with a mysterious seductive image of androgymny.
She wanted to estrange the spectator from normal narrative or anything erotic.
She had as many as 8 women in her group, in 1928 tried to persuade Baruch Agadati to join her but he was exclusively a solo dancer; she portrayed Hasidic tales sometimes the women dressed as men, she had also tango but you couldn’t tell which was the man and which the women… She also created “Songs of the Ghetto’ which was a group piece.
1930 she went to the Munich Dance Congress with her dance Songs of the Ghetto and it apparently was a huge success.
CAFÉ LIFE was big, she was friends of Elias Canetti, used drama of Karl Kraus, (no relation). Her last big work was The City Waits in 1933 to a story by Maxim Gorky “A boy goes to a town and hears how the town suffers, a woman spoke words from the story, music composed for the piece by Marcel Rubin. Kraus played the boy though Fred Berk or Fritz Berger was in her group. But she preferred to have female bodies dance male creating a strange, alien image of female beauty, liked shifting sexual identities, like she shifted from music to dance…(REBECCA ROSSEN IN HER NEW BOOK BY OXFORD PRESS INTERRUPTS THIS> I HAVEN”T SEEN THE BOOK YET BUT ROSSEN AND I CORRESPONDED ABOUT THIS).
LIKE THOSE WHO GREW UP AFTERWWI: DEATH was one of Gertrud’s themes, “Tired Death” was one of her first solos, then she did a group piece to Saint Saens music in the late ‘30s in Eretz Yisrael she called Danse Macabre; Death and the Maiden to Schubert.
SHOW SLIDE OF THIS
Back to 1933: With the advent of the Third Reich, group dancing and group movement became an important feature of Nazi educational efforts to inspire communal feeling in young people and a unifying concept of German community although the Nazis displayed little appreciation for the spectacular achievements of group dancing during the Weimar Republic. After about 1934 it was quite difficult for a dancer to develop a career independent of official institutions and their ideologically oriented goals.”
Toepfer: p 73
From Giora’s Bio:
June 20, 1930 she went to international Dance congress in Munich, Germany;
Dance as an art form; Dance in Opera; Dance in Drama; performances of groups from all over Europe—Wigman was supposed to do “Totenmal, Monument for the Dead” ”When I began to work on Totenmal, I was unaware of how to pose a choric creation—I failed to recognize howt o advance the idea of a protagonist and the group, Loving women who in the torment of their loneliness advance to the threshold of death, obsessed by the notion the could obliterate separation from their dead beloved. There would be a phantomlike male chorus symbolizing the dead of war, finally a rebellion against the women’s loneliness…fear, horror, terror, pain, despair of death—the experience of the women burdened with images of war, the men forlorn, and forgotten,, unreachable…the dance wasn’t finished in time for the conference… (from Walter Sorell’s translation of Wigman”s Mary Wigman: The Language of Dance, Conn: Wesleyaa University: 1966, p 94-95.]
WIGMAN based her dance on the Swiss poet Albert Talhoff’s poem, but it was only seen in open rehearsal; instead Mary Wigman’s pupil Margarete Wallmann, SHOW PHOTO OF HER WORK WITH OPERA
showed “Orpheus Dionysos” (most European dancers worked in opera as she did in Berlin); Ted Shawn from America performed along with man others..
Gertrud and company performed “Ghetto Song cycle,” “Lullaby.” In the Berlin “Germania” newspaper it was said “Kraus’s dances gain substantial content through their close connection with Jewish tradition. They easily attained a much higher level than the free fantasy creations of other choreographers. Newspaper man Fred Hildenbrandt of “Berliner Tageblatt” said “all the followers of pure Expressionist dance and its various combination of abstract and expressionism were unsure of themselves, weak and pedestrian. Everyone was expecting Wigman to create a synthesis of the different approaches but this hope remained unproved. However after seeing “Songs of the Ghetto,” he wrote: “Gertrud Kraus and her group which performed “Song of the Ghetto” had to be brave to present such a subject in the atmosphere then prevalent in Bavaria…”
Songs of the Ghetto to music suite of J. Achron had four dances,
a. for whom?
c: Song of Songs,
d Hasidic dance
With 8 dancers including Gertrud, Gerda Clementis, Trude Godwin, Rosl Iron, Jula Isenburger, Hanna Joch, Stella Mann and Bertl Reidinger.
In Lullaby, three mothers sat on low stools with the “boys” at their feet, mostly the mothers remained seated, movement based on Hasidic dances
Maybe she learned them from the Vilne Troupe?
Gertrud’s student Manon Chaufour, then 15, did a dance in the Young Dancers section. Later this gifted dancer changed her name to Erfurt which sounded Germanic enough for her to become the leading ballerina of the Berlin Opera during the Nazi regime.
Trude Godwin and Stella Mann also were praised and also participated in the Young Dancers event. Mia Skavenska originally from Yugoslavia was interviewed in Dance Magazine in March 1973 and says though she stayed in the ballet world “With Gertrud Kraus I discovered the endless possibilities for expression and creative freedom in dance…she also encouraged my first attempts at choreography.”
Though the Nazis were not yet ruling the country, many felt the terrible future:
SHOW SLIDE OF “Green Table” . Kurt Jooss’s anti-war dance was created and those against mechanization included many… “The Triadic Ballet” by Schlemmer was at the Bauhaus.
But the idea of choreography passed into the hands of the architects of the Nazi mass meetings. “Dr.” Joesph Gpebbles became Minister of Propaganda and was about to become the dictator of the arts…
IN’31 Kraus made the Grand Tour of the Middle East…Her first tour started in Alexandria, Cairo, then Tel Aviv. When she came from Egypt, it was by boat to Jaffa and her manager Mr. Guriatchikow, (later Gillon), sweated profusely while he waited… in the old fashioned European way was waiting for her at the dock with flowers, but he couldn’t figure out which woman was The Gertrud Kraus because she was small and unassuming at first when you saw her. She went up to him and said :’Excuse me, perhaps you are,” and he wouldn’t answer, said “Sorry I am busy, I am waiting for the great Viennese dancer Gertrud Kraus,”
That is I,
I could see how disappointed he was, expecting a star, he thought he saw his investment going down the drain, but he didn’t need to worry, she was a huge success… (story relayed in Manor’s book).
Then she performed also in Jerusalem, in Haifa, in Kibbutzim of the Emek Jezreel Valley, then she took the train to Beirut.
She went back to Europe and was influenced by all she saw and in her work she made a change. (relate Fred Berk’s memory of her doing an improv on The Western Wall, stretching a sheet across the studio, cutting holes for their heads which she indicated were the stones)…
She and the company toured extensively.
During this time she also worked at the Viennese Institute for Popular Education to do a performance, performed for socialists.
March 5, 1933 the Nazis “won” in elections to take over the German government, outlawing Communists, Jews, all kinds of others including homosexuals, feeble minded, mentally ill, the lame…
In Marion Kant’s book with Lilian Karina, she writes: “the idols of German dance, exemplary paragons like Mary Wigman, Rudolf von Laban and Gret Palucca had written to the new potentates and saw the kinds of answers they received. The famous dancers were not moved by fear for their lives…they wrote full of hope that in the new Third Reich they would have the chance at last to achiever their artistic visions. The price that they paid for this betrayal of friends, people from their circles, of their own artistic credo was clear to them. They were prepared and even eager to pay it…” pg 5: “many artists, dancers, choreographers and dance pedagogues deny the connection between their personal creative activity and social conditions or politics. Awareness and understanding of how their artistic activity may be profoundly affected by the society in which they live and work is not very widely spoken of. Contemporary art forms which construct their own ideologies and publish them in manifestos, frequently declare that their work represents a closed system…similar attitudes prevailed in the period I am trying to describe. For most of them I think that the only thing that mattered was the pursuit of their own careers and to that end they tailored their own numinous vision of life and their art to fit the ideas of the Nazis. They were in the end prepared to support the dreadful policies of fascism with their work.
“ Dance history says nothing about what happened to the victims. They have been excluded from the traditional framework of historical writing. They have simply fallen out of the categories according to which existence and success and failure in work are measured…The Nazs wanted to eradicate their lives and silence and suppression of memory did just that. Who asks about them today, who remembers Sacha Leontieff, ballet master at the Vienna Opera who was murdered in Mauthausen…”
Kraus creates “The City Waits” in 10 scenes, a dance-drama depicting the gay and the cruel city, some danced in bars while others were unemployed on the street, based on a short story by Maxim Gorki called Songs of the City from his book “Fairytales of Reality.” Gertrud’s friend Marcel Rubin composed the music and it was played live by a chamber orchestra…
“A boy goes to town, he hears the sound of poverty and knows the city needs him”…
Text read by the poet Cannetti (THIS is amazing to me!) who was also a close friend of Gertrud ‘s from her artistic Viennese Circle…
“ She shows workers in a homelessness of a Machine Dance in a scene title the unfinished city, sorta Cubist and Futuristic style, the dancers’ bodies becoming pistons and cogwheels, everyone in grey overalls and the individual disappearing in the mass, part of the faceless machine, a mere cog in the process of the industrial production-line…common in the ‘20s and ‘30s and also in the Soviet Union and in Eretz Israel—both places where the building of the country was one of the ideals shared by all but in Europe the machine was the symbol of exploitation and the subduing of the individual rather than for progress and a communal effort (Giora, p 29).
She went to Prague for a Zionist Congress performance. In some places this trip is dated as having occurred in 1934 and others 1933. So I’m not exactly sure…while performing in Prague a clandestine cell of Communists approached her and urged her to become an agent of the party because she was so powerful and could convince people. Though she had a vaguely left-humanitarian political view, she sensed that Central Europe she could no longer do anything wit her her art becoming a “placard.” “I felt I had no flag and I wanted to leave Europe behind. If I decide to use my art to help people, it will be my own, the Jewish people, not here in Europe.
Of this period she told me
“I don’t want to convince people with my dances to believe a certain way but I want my art to be convincing.” That’s when she decided to move to Eretz Yisrael.
The morning she returned to Vienna from Prague, she told Giora Manor, her biographer, she went to the Palestine Office, the unofficial consulate and asked for an immigration certificate. They weren’t easy to obtain since the British Mandatory government was discouraging Jewish immigration. But she persisted and arrived to settle in 1935, staying at first with Gurit Kadman.
When she gets to Israel, a few months after her arrival, there was the “Levant Fair” Yerid Hamizrach, an international exhibition for those times of huge dimensions in Tel Aviv with pavilions showing national products from England, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Lebanon and other places. The British High Commissioner inaugurated the fair with a grand spectacle that was an out-of-doors show prepared by Habima which was choreographed by Gertud accompanied by the Palestine Philharmonic (now the Isrel Philharmonic, organized by Huberman. THIS WAS its inaugural concert and was conducted by the Italian international star Toscanini with Huberman playing the violin. The pageant was based on a poem by Bialik called Megilat ha’esh, an allegory about Jerusalem and the Romans.
Gertrud used a large stairway down which she envisioned crowds of fleeing refugees cascaded…
READ ABOUT HER FALL ON P 32 (there was bad contact between the dancers and the music, she tried to get the dancers to start moving, backed up and then tumbled down all the stairs with the dancers following…)
She opened her studio and her Gertrud Kraus troupe; Mark Lavry was the pianist, also a newcomer to Eretz Israel who HAD WORKED WITH LABAN DANCE CO in BERLIN and became one of the conductors of the Palestine Orchestra. Since he was so interested in dance, he invited Gertrud’s group to perform at future concerts… For the Palestine Philharmonic she did a whole “Shubert’s Unfathomed Symphony, which depicted a vision of the composer’s life struggles. Into the story she inserted a duet “Death and the Maiden” which was thunderously powerful said Hilde Kesten. “At other times she could be hilarious.”
At the Levant Fair she impressed the directors of Habima who invited her to choreographed for other Habima productions including:
“Midsummer’s Night Dream,” “Peer Gynt,” “Shabtai Zvi,”
and Eugene Oneill’s “EMPEROR JONES,” where she was the Witch.
I’ll show you a clip at the end of this talk…
Her chief designer was artist Anatol Gurewitch, who became one of her steady collaborators…
Mark Lavry not only conducted for the Philharmonic but also conducted for the Palestine Folk Opera so again, Kraus collaborated there, too, doing “The Bartered Bride,” Schubert’s Dreimaederlhaus, She interpolated Death and the Maiden into that work.
Also for the Palestine Folk Opera she choreographed “La Belle Helen” which she said led to the start of her work with the Cameri Theater troupe…and then on their dark nights she used the stage for company dancing in her own works.
In 1946 she restaged her big work “City Waits.”
This was her first time incorporating jazz by George Gershwin, the American composer.
In 1948 she received a grant from American Jewish cultural funds to travel to the US –both Los Angeles and New York--and I believe she saw choreographed works at the Hollywood Bowl, and she also worked at the famous Jewish Brandeis summer camp, based on the Reconstructionist principles of Mordecai Kaplan. He believed in the importance of arts with Jewish themes to help vitalize the American Jewish community.
I understood from Claudia Vall Kaufman who had been in Kraus’s company in Vienna that this was a very hard trip for Kraus. Claudia was Kraus’s hostess in Los Angeles. Kraus met with Martha Graham and watched her company also. These close-up views of American modern dance challenged Kraus who began to see that her own work was without the finesse and technical prowess of the American modern dance style. Yonaton Karmon told me that after her return to Tel Aviv she would start improvisations and dance rehearsals and be so inconclusive that the dancers stood for long periods as she searched within herself what to do…
IN 1951 she created the Israel Ballet Theatre, her last effort, with Anatol Gurewitch, Her dancers Helde Kesten, Naomi Aleskovsky, Else Scharf continued from her previous group. The administrative head was C. Berger who also organized the Maccabia…
From Giora’s biography read out loud what were her hopes as stated in the program. page 39:
The first program included Talley Beatty’s “Fire In The Hills” and her group piece “Holiday.” Jerome Robbins said he would contribute and would co-direct with her. She was invigorated and had high hopes. In fact, he was running from squealing to Washington’s witch-hunt against Communists as he had given over names in the dance world of who were members of the Communist party. He himself had gone to meetings.
From Deborah Jowitt biography of Robbin’s:
“The FBI had not believed that Robbins was telling the truth about severing his connection with the Community Party and he was rightly still uneasy. …he would have paranoia attacks …an FBI report dated Ap 20, 1951 says that (attorney R. Lawrence Siegel) appeared at the NY office on behalf of Robbin, that he wanted to be re-interviewed by the FBI to furnish information about his Community Party activities that he had not mentioned on 4/25/50…he wnet to Europe and out of reach and had no reason to believe he would not be summoned before HUAC.
P 2111 “The trip to Israel had been an invigorating change of pace. Like Leonard Bernstein who had gone to Palestine in 1947 to work with what was then the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, Robbins continued to be enthralled by the spirit of the country, its sense of new beginnings, new possibilities. …this time, the American Fund for Israel Institutions sent him not only to meet with members of the Israel dance world and further assess the state of the art but to conduct a workshop. He taught (his ballet) “Interplay” to four ballet dancers from Mia Arbatova’s studio and four modern dancers. Photos show him immaculate in white shorts, a T shirt, socks and only slightly dingier ballet slippers, demonstrating to a rough and ready bunch, and in one shot he’s surrounded by a group from the studio with a happy grin on his face. There is some evidence that he seriously discussed with Gertrud Kraus the possibility of his settling in Israel and co-directing her struggling Israel Theatre Ballet. Kraus got the impression that he was frightened about returning to America. However, Jerry often made impulsive gestures to people he liked who were in need, only to draw back later. He flew to Paris, and the Israel Theatre Ballet disbanded.’ But his feelings toward the dance community in Israel were warm, almost paternal. A six-page letter he wrote in July to Judith Gottlieb in the fund’s Tel Aviv office was meant to be shared with teachers and dancers, many of whom had written him their ambitions and complaints. He praises them for what they have accomplished in a short time and tells them that “Of course there are problems and dissatisfactions,” but voicing them is healthy, provided they are then handled cooperatively. He divined both a prejudice against imported techniques and an undue impatience to see results. “There is no such thing as a foreign technique to a dancer. There are no dances which are alien. Everything you are being taught and particularly the modern and ballet technique, whether they come from Europe or Zululand, is a result of years of experimentation and development. You must learn these techniques to have mastered them…I found in Israel that there was too much desire to feel the like with Israeli culture and to feel an Israeli culture and absolutely no technique as to how to go about feeling it…Don’t be over nationalistic. Dance is an international art and the Israeli dance will emerge not so much because you consciously force it as it will emerge from the influence of the country and the way in which you wonderful people will dance it…
“I so want to come back and find you all more developed, more versatile, more professional, more disciplined and happy with each other and with what you have been doing; and it needs day to day constant work and effort.
“When he returned, he wanted to work only with those who had been laboring diligently and cooperatively…’I miss you and found it a terribly difficult adjustment when I returned to my company’.”
[then he recommended that Inbal get funding and Anna Sokolow come to work with them to improve their production values]…]. P. 213
Gertrud Kraus’s last grand scale choreography was for the fifth anniversary of the founding of Kibbutz Harel, to poetry by Pablo Neruda; perhaps that was 1955.
Basically she concentrated on her art work, painting with oil, prints and stone sculpture. She continued to teach at the Rubin Academy where today there is a competition for choreography in her name
In 1968 got the Israel Prize, first dancer,
She continued teaching not only in Jerusalem but also Haifa (I know not where though) and continued her composition classes in her Dizengoff studio which she ran until around 1974. Zvi Gotheiner was her last composition student, at the time he joined Batsheva.
She always went to Ein Hod on the weekend. She continued this travel schedule as she aged even when she was 75 (suffering from heart disease; had also undergone cancer).
In 1976 she had her first art exhibit in Tel Aviv at a proper gallery. Otherwise I believe she showed her work at Ein Hod. People were always visiting her home there with its sculpture garden, located up from the café where she could be seen often playing chess. Painter Avri Ohane_ (check spelling of last name) was often one of her chess partners at Ein Hod at the time. (he is now married to the dancer Ze’eva Cohen and they live in NYC). In Tel Aviv she lived in her Frug basement apartment—its livingroom had also served as a studio and it was sparsely furnished with her beloved grand piano, book shelves with art books along one wall and a small couch opposite with a big empty space for a Tel Aviv apartment. Her small bedroom had once been the changing room I believe and apart from the bed contained stacks of her notebooks in which she sketched ideas with a kind of shorthand of running stick figures, musical ideas and lists of words and phrases…
She died in Tel Aviv on Nov 23, 1977
She Always remained true to herself and her originality—she told me
“These sketches in my notebooks bring me into the action of dancing, it doesn’t matter if one dances on paper. What matters is that the sketches and dance phrases have a structure…I continued to renew my ideas in entirely different surrounds (from Vienna to Tel Aviv) and in a different light, you might say, the sunlight of Israel…”
I was told by one of the major theatre personalities that “there wasn’t an artist in theatre, dance or visual arts who didn’t consult with her in the 1970s.”
She also told me: watch how you step. Any one could be potentially lethal as she pushed me one day into with her hip into the street as I was standing on the curbside as we walked down Dizengoff…
She was an individual like I’d never met—uncompromising, kept her mind going no matter what. To remember words she would give herself strict exercises: on a “sherut” ride either to Jerusalem or to Haifa or to Ein Hod, her weekly route in order to teach or get a respite, She would decide on a letter, and then in her note book write down all the words that started with that letter until she got to the end of the page. Try it some time. Not so easy, Sometimes she would demand of herself a list from top to bottom of the page in German, a different day in French or English. I doubt she did it though in Ivrit which was not her strong suit…
Her meetings with people weren’t social gossip, they were about Issues of the Day: If I had an opinion about something I had to have tested it out before I talked to her about it, always based on an experience I had. Never speak about art unless you’ve thought about the issue and experienced the work youself. Once I made a mistake about giving an opinion about a certain dance and she asked me if I’d seen his latest work? And when I hadn’t she lashed out at me for making a comment.
She talked about how difficult it was to make a visual impression because there was no longer a divide between what people saw on stage and what they could see on the street, in life.
But she was still an eccentric:
her shoes she kept under her bed, so that she would pull out two from under the bed when I’d come to call on her to do errands—it only mattered to her that one was a left and the other a right shoe. She absolutely paid no mind if they weren’t a pair; that didn’t matter to her,
‘ART brings a clarify of where you are and who you are. It brings devotion and enthusiasm to your own colors, to your own landscape and it makes you a part of the rhythm of life., how you build a new art in a new country—you need to love the specific colors and rhythms of the place—like the golden sunset in Jerusalem or the violets and beiges of the Jerusalem mts and the certain dusty-silvery green of the countryside which give us a certain vision, we are just at the beginning adding levels and piles of culture onto the desert…our art comes from the vantage point of Necessity and Must, not from luxuries and leisure.”
“Sometimes I think that by looking at human beings—at all their evil even you could be a killer, but look, dance is the medium I chose instead of writing or speaking. It was my way to say what is deep. The stage was my pulpit, the nearest medium to me with which I could reach humanity. And in that way I could reach freedom…I think that art is not only the answer to talent, it is the answer to the totality of the human being. Art is the answer to convictions and it is the medium for the growth of humanity.”
* Gertrud Kraus for Henia,these are my research ideas I drew on for my talk on December 10, 2013, Western Galilee College dance program
Blythe, Sarah Ganz, Looking at Dada, New York:The Museum of Modelrn Art, 2006.
Brin Ingber, Judith, “The Gamin Speaks,” Dance Magazine, March 1974, 45-50.
Freeman, Judi, The Dada & surrealist Word-Image, California: Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
Jowitt, Deborah, Jerome Robbins, His life, His Theater, His Dance, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2204.
Karina, Lilian and Marion Kant, Hitler’s Dancers: German Modern Dance and the Third Reich , NY: Berghahn Books, 2003.
Manor, Giora, “A Kibbutz Childhood; on the social environments of Israel’s contemporary choreographers,” Ballet International or Tanz Aktuell, April, 1994, p 30-36.
Manor, Giora, The Life and Dance of Gertrud Kraus, Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing, Tel Aviv, 1978
Toepfer, Karl, The Empire of Ecstasy, Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, “Gertrud Kraus,” 190-194.
Toepfer, Karl, “Aesthetics of Early Modernist Solo Dance in Central Europe,” Barbara Palfy and Claudia Gitelman, eds, On Stage alone, Soloists and the Modern Dance Canon,” Gainesville, Fl: University Press of Florida, 2012, 73-119.
Wigman, Mary, The Language of Dance, Walter Sorell’s translation, Conn: Wesleyan University: 1966, 94-95.