Greatest Ever Dada Show

Dada Gösterisi

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In addition to all traditions and morals that have existed in societies for ages, social rules imposed by the state and bureaucracy have been effective in shaping individuals intellectually and influential in their decisions. The promises of the public willpower concerning the “good, beautiful, fair and true” can, in the case of it not keeping its promises, turn into a distrust in this power and even a rebellion against it. As can be observed in many examples throughout the history, war strategies of an oppressive force can be quite diverse, and it seems to have completely changed its appearance today – to such an extent that, weapons used in recent times have been replaced with enforcements that intend to restructure the economic-cultural-social and political power at a national and sometimes a global level. Similar to how non-democratic behaviors of the authoritarian regime, its insistence on holding power and its greed thereof can result in masses filling the streets in a riot of reaction; about a hundred years ago people had –with almost the same concerns– stood up against a war, the goal of which was looting. Among these groups defending equality and freedom against the unjust and materialistic manner of the First World War, with a nihilistic attitude not giving in to the power of the authority, was the “Dada”… They were without a doubt the most unusual group among the opponent groups of the period. And thanks to this characteristic, they triggered a global revolution in the fields of culture and arts.

Creating their poems by utilizing interesting allegories, word derivations and syllabic repetitions, the Dada artists mocked the rules of the system in their theatrical shows, cruelly making fun of these rules. They challenged the known principles of literary fiction with new practical jokes and a sense of humor; they depicted a world which feeds off dark humor, morbid dreams and reasonable flips; they were unexpectedly mad; and they were completely against the authorities of literature, possessing an absurd and grotesque style. They preferred to differ from the classical forms of art in their visual “works”, wanting to be almost free of the well-known traditional rules of art. The Dada movement had started in 1916, in the café “Cabaret Voltaire” in Zurich; and maybe the best known event of the movement is the one titled “Greatest-Ever-Dada-Show”:

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One of the founders of the Dada movement, the Romanian poet Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) organized the event “Greatest-Ever-Dada-Show” in the Hall of the Chamber of Merchants (Saal zur Kaufleuten) on the evening of April 9th, 1919. Just as Tzara expected, the event triggered major reaction among the viewers. This is what happened: Featuring a group of traditional Cabaret Voltaire artists, the evening began with a speech by Wiking Eggeling (1880-1925) about design and abstract art. Then followed a dance performance directed by Hans (jean) Arp (1887-1966) and Hans Richter (1888-1976), which was performed by the Laban school students Suzanne Perottet (1889-1983) and Sophie Taeuber (1889-1943) wearing masks by Marcel Janco (1895-1984); the performance was accompanied by Hans Heusser’s (1892-1942) piano music.

These were relatively less provocative and didn’t disturb the audience. Then Kathe Wulf, a Laban dancer, read a few poems by Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1974) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), which was greeted with laughters and catcalls by a few people in the audience. Next followed the famous simultaneous poem (PoŽme simultanŽ) by Tristan Tzara, which was read simultaneously by twenty people in different languages; during which, finally, hell broke loose. This conflict was expected by the audience; especially the younger ones – and actually most of them had specifically come to experience this. After a while, because of shouts, whistles, chantings and laughters from the audience, Tristan Tzara had to interrupt the show.

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In the second part, Hans Richter made a speech titled “Against, Without, For Dada”. He also read the “Manifest of the Radical Artist” (Manifest Radikaler Künstler)[i]. The show continued with Suzanne Perottet’s dance show, Hans Arp’s “Cloud Pump” (Cloud p Pump) and Hans Heusser’s dissonant piece, despite the audience shouting “Rubbish”. Next, Walter Serner (1889-1942) was on the stage, dressed as a groom, with a headless tailor’s dummy on his lap. He made the dummy sniff the bouquet of artificial flowers in his hand, and left the bouquet at its feet, sat on a chair with his back turned to the audience and read the “Final Dissolution” chapter of his “Anarchist Credo”. This final act significantly increased the tension in the hall; scornful and furious catcalls drowned Serner’s voice. The audience was disturbed to such an extent that a young person run to the stage and smashed the flowers and the mannequin, broke Serner’s chair and began chasing him. It got totally chaotic, but Tristan Tzara was quite delighted: “the cretinization of the public”[ii] was accomplished. The show was interrupted and the lights went out. A twenty minute break called the audience down. Then Leban dancers got on the stage and presented the ballet called “Noir Kakadu”. Walter Serner returned to read his poem, Tristan Tzara made a short speech and the show came to a conclusion with atonal music from Hans Heusser. In his article “Dada Theatre”, John Harris Stevenson (1964) points out that; “The public was tamed. Dada had succeeded in establishing the circuit of absolute unconsciousness in the audience which forgot the frontiers of education, of prejudices, experienced the commotion of the New. Final victory of Dada”. Again, according to him, these victories where the audience riots, should be considered an anti-theatrical show outside its usual meaning, instead of a theatrical performance.”[iii]

Unable to stand these shows and the chaos thereof, the public went so far as to riot. Richard Huelsenbeck said “we now know, whom we’ve been dealing with”. He added that Dada is against the bourgeois and that the movement was a result of the war. “Dada was destruction! Dada was anarchy! Dada was a provocation of communism! Everybody thought of Dada as such. And the members of the group accepted it with pleasure.[iv]

“Greatest-Ever-Dada-Show” was the last performance of the Zurich Dada group. The end of the First World War brought Dada to an conclusion; and Zurich Dada was officially over when Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Walter Serner and Marcel Janco left Zurich and went to Paris in 1920.[v]

[i]       This manifest, which proposed a program including the whole society regarding a radical art reform to define the role of art in society, was not delivered to the press as planned, when Hans Richter suddenly left Munich. See:  http://www.dada-companion.com/richter/chronology.php

[ii]      Cretinism; A kind of idiocy. According to the Dictionary of Medical Terms; it’s a disease that results from the Thyroid gland not producing enough hormones, because of which physical, mental and emotional development is interrupted.

[iii]     Stevenson, J.H., (1986) “Dada Theatre”, From: http://www.tranquileye.com/theatre/dada_theatre.html Accessed: 03.19.2014.

[iv]    İpşiroğlu, N.- İpşiroğlu, M. (1993), Sanatta Devrim, p. 96. 3rd pressing.  Remzi Kitabevi: Istanbul

[v]     Kuenzli, R. (2006), Dada, s. 22. Phaidon Press Limited: New York.

[i] Kuenzli, R. (2006), Dada, s. 22. Phaidon Press Limited: New York.

[i] İpşiroğlu, N.- İpşiroğlu, M. (1993), Sanatta Devrim, s. 96. 3. Basım.  Remzi Kitabevi: İstanbul

[i] Sanatın toplumdaki rolünü tanımlayan radikal bir sanat reformuna ilişkin, tüm toplumu kapsayan bir programı öneren bu manifesto, Hans Richter’in aniden Münih’ten ayrılması sonucu basına planlandığı şekilde ulaştırılamaz. Bkz: http://www.dada-companion.com/richter/chronology.php Erişim tarihi: 19.03.2014.

[ii] Kretinizm (İng. Cretinism, Fr. Crétinisme); Bir tür zekâ geriliği. Tıp terimleri sözlüğüne göre; Tiroit bezinin kana yeterince salgı vermemesi sonucu oluşan, fiziksel, ruhsal ve duygusal gelişimin duraklamasıyla beliren hastalık.

[iii] Stevenson, J.H., (1986) “Dada Theatre”, Aktaran: http://www.tranquileye.com/theatre/dada_theatre.html Erişim Tarihi: 19.03.2014.

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