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Modernisms Dancing Marionettes:

Oskar Schlemmer, Michel Fokine, and

Ito Michio
Carrie J. Preston

Marionettes have inspired dance productions for centuries. In the early
twentieth century, choreographers used the figure of the puppet to negotiate
tensions between modern mechanization, national folk traditions, and
expressive human movement. Modernisms dancing marionettes leap across
national borders and genres of dance to appear in Michel Fokines Petrouchka
(1911), the Marionette Dance (1916) of Japanese-born modern dancer Ito
Michio, and Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmers Das Triadische Ballett (Triadic
Ballet, 1922). All were influenced by modernist marionette theories that
referenced Heinrich von Kleist and Gordon Craig. Ballet, modern, and avant-
garde dance are often considered separate trajectories in modernism, but their
use of the dancing marionette demonstrates a common impulse to explore the
relation between machine and human movements.

Keywords: puppetry; Gordon Craig; Heinrich von Kleist; drama; machines;

Michel Fokine; Ito Michio; Oskar Schlemmer.

The marionette hanging from strings next to a miniature puppet

theater might invoke a childish image of play rather than a
modernist performance experiment. Yet, puppets were crucial players
in modernist reconstructions of the theater.1 Many innovators were
interested in the puppets antimodern, exotic associations and, in
seeming contradiction, its potential as a modern machine for the stage.
Gordon Craig famously demanded in 1908 that the theater do away
with the actor and cast the ber-marionette, appealing to an ancient,
transcultural tradition in which the puppet served as the symbol of

Modernist Cultures 9.1 (2014): 115133

DOI: 10.3366/mod.2014.0077
Edinburgh University Press
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the Divinity in Man.2 Craigs ber-marionette gestures toward his

famous dancer-lover Isadora Duncan and echoes Heinrich von Kleists
suggestion in ber das Marionettentheater (1810) that puppetry
teaches dancers about expressive movement.3 Dance extended an
overlooked influence on modernist marionette theorys combination
of ideas of mechanization and soulful human expression. In spite
of the apparent gulf between the breathless, fabricated matter of
puppets and the living bodies of dancers, choreographers across the
genres of avant-garde performance, ballet, and modern dance believed
marionettes would help them perfect human movement.
The idea of a dancing puppet or other inanimate figure coming
to life has motivated choreographies from Pygmalion (chor. Marie Sall,
1734) to The Nutcracker (chor. Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, 1892).
Modernisms dancing marionettes place this long history in a duet
with the machine age, as evident in works by Oskar Schlemmer of
the Bauhaus, the Ballets Russes Michel Fokine, and the Japanese-born
modern dancer Ito Michio. Schlemmers 1922 Das Triadische Ballett
(Triadic Ballet) is often considered a formulaic machine choreography;
Fokines Petrouchka (1911) is understood as a romantic, not-quite
modernist Russian folk ballet; and Itos Pizzicati or Marionette Dance
(1916) is described as a music visualization with orientalist tricks.
The dancing puppets in each establish an overlooked continuum
between diverse dance forms and national traditions and stretch the
bounds usually drawn around modernist performance. Modernisms
dancing marionettes stage the possibilities and limitations of dance
movement but also the limits of the human being, as puppets indicate
an ontological leap from imagining humanity as a primary, exceptional
presence to just another part of the material world.

I. Kleist, Craig, and Modernist Marionette Theory

Kleists ber das Marionettentheater appears as a famous document
of romanticism in many histories of modernist marionette theory
thanks to Paul de Mans influential reading.4 It is less frequently
recognized as a proto-modernist parable that uses dance performance
to clarify the paradoxes of romanticism and the fallen conditions
of humanity and language. Critics of Kleists work rarely comment
on the significance of dance not as a trope or symbol but as a
cultural practice.5 Yet practicing dancers as diverse as modern pioneer
Duncan and the Ballets Russes Bronislava Nijinska studied Kleists
essay.6 De Man reads the piece as three ironic narratives told by the
dance master, Herr C., all of which challenge languages aspirations

Modernisms Dancing Marionettes

to intelligibility: The first claims that puppets supersede the grace

of dancers, the second describes a young ephebe who becomes
self-conscious and loses his natural grace while mimicking a famous
statue, and the third presents a bear who unconsciously parries
Herr C.s expert fencing strikes. For de Man, these stories serve
as allegories of the wavering status of narrative when compared to
the epistemologically sound persuasion of proof.7 They reveal that
storytelling is an unreliable way of teaching and persuading and that
Herr C. offers a dangerous aesthetic education, one that demands
his interlocutor derive conceptual understanding from unstable,
incoherent narratives.8
De Mans reading of Kleist conflates dance and puppetry and
turns both into figures for writing and figures in a narrative in spite
of the fact that Kleist parodies overblown romantic figuration. De Man
seems to claim un-ironically that the aesthetic power of a puppets
movement is located neither in the puppet nor in the puppeteer but in
the text that spins itself between them; then he uses the puppets lack
of self-consciousness and imitation to offer general, inaccurate claims
about dance: Unlike drama, the dance is truly aesthetic because it is
not expressive: the laws of its motion are not determined by desire
but by numerical and geometric laws or topoi that never threaten
the balance of grace.9 Even the most abstract, geometric postmodern
choreographers realize that when a human body steps onstage, it
is extremely difficult to void that body of expression and desire so
as to depict a pure mathematics of movement. De Man does not
consider dance practice, certainly not the romantic ballet of Kleists
period, which was stymied by dramas desires or narratives, as Kleists
Herr C. recognizes. He criticizes the dancer F. because, When he
dances Paris and stands among the three goddesses and hands the
apple to Venus, his soul is located precisely in his elbow, and it is a
frightful thing to behold.10 Based on the Judgment of Paris myth,
this ballet features expression and desire, and, as danced by F. an
affectation that destroys grace.11 For Herr C., affectation occurs when
the soul (vis motrix) locates itself at any point other than the center
of gravity of the movement.12 Herr C. suggests that the moving force
or soul of a puppet can never be placed outside the center of the
motion because the puppeteer controls only the string that moves
one point on a limb of the puppet, while the rest follows according
to the natural force of gravity. The puppet theater avoids affectation,
along with the self-consciousness Herr C. associates with the Biblical
Fall and the force of gravity that causes puppets, dancers, and other
objects to fall. Kleist, unlike de Man, uses puppet theater and dance to

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offer an aesthetic lesson without ignoring that they are also cultural
performance practices that often rely on the forms of narrative he
Kleists 1810 essay is protomodernist in that it exaggerates
German romantic idealism to present a satire of romanticism that
also reveals the limitations of human physical and spiritual capacities.
Lifeless puppets, prosthetic limbs, and unconscious animals paradox-
ically achieve more perfect gestures than can human beings. Trained
dancers self-consciously contort their centers of gravity and souls
primarily to appeal to audiences; the ephebe who mimics the grace
of an often-replicated statue destroys his own natural charm when
his audience refuses to acknowledge the actual resemblance. Kleists
parables reveal the inadequacy of training in classical art and aesthet-
ics and the way trained performers damage themselves to appeal to
duplicitous audiences. The seeming paradoxes of Kleists claims about
bodily movement and gesture are reinforced by the writing style. Just
as the ephebe mimics the classical statue, Kleist writes in the form of
a classical dialogue on aesthetics and anticipates modernisms many
ostensible rejections of classicism that appear in classical genres.13
Kleists self-consciously paradoxical argument that grace inheres only
in a God or a puppet, preferably one controlled by a mechanical han-
dle rather than a self-conscious human puppeteer, anticipates those
modernist celebrations of machine aesthetics that simultaneously
invoke the metaphysical discourses of soul and godliness.
Gordon Craig took up Kleists marionette and lines of argument
a century later in a puppet play, Scene (1914), which dramatizes
Kleists ironical conclusions. One of the puppets in the dialogue
claims he has a soul and is equal to the God who made him. The
other argues that he is artificial, without soul, and man-made but in
the Image of a God; his demonstration of all possible marionette
movements celebrates that none are useful or realistic.14 Craigs
controversial claim that the actor must be replaced by the ber-
marionette influenced antihumanist strands of modernist drama, as
critics have recognized, but they overlook the claims foundation in
modern dance, a form often assumed to be unabashedly humanist.
Craig met Isadora Duncan in Berlin in 1904, when she was already
becoming famous in Europe, and shortly thereafter began work
on an essay influenced by her dance. He wrote, The Art of the
Theatre has sprung from action movement dance, and his central
claim that the stage-manager must rule over actors, designers,
and even playwrights also appears to idealize the modern dancer-
choreographers ability to control all aspects of her performance

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without a director or corps de ballet sharing her stage.15 Duncans

letters to Craig from 19051906 indicate that they corresponded
frequently about his ber-marionette projects.16 In March 1907, Craig
sent Duncan an early copy of The Actor and the ber-Marionette.
She promised financial support for his unrealized International ber-
marionette Theater, and they planned to collaborate in joint dance
recitals and puppet performances.17 For Craig, ideal motion on the
stage was a rhythmic movement with unearthly simplicity, and he
located these features in both Duncans dance and ber-marionette
movement (AUM 5556). Recalling his description of puppets as
descendants of a great and noble family of Images, Images which
were made in the likeness of God (AUM 55), he presented Duncan
as a descendant of That Conquering Race and The courageous
Giants part of the lovely family of ber-marionettes dancing with
Calmness Joy Harmony / Rhythm.18
Craigs ber-marionette is a figure for that stage material which
could achieve perfect movement. Duncan approximated his ideal
far better than the actor, that recalcitrant, egotistic, and personality-
ridden creature. While Craig describes the ber-marionette as a
descendant of the stone images of the old Temples, he provides a
very different although equally orientalist origin myth for the actor
(AUM 55). Two women saw the Divine Puppet at a ceremony in the
East and, in their foolish vanity, attempted to mimic him, a parody
that proved profitable and destroyed the theater (AUM 55, 5657).
In over a century of debates fueled by the fact that Craig offered
disparate descriptions of the ber-marionette throughout his career,
most critics believe his ideal stage material was not actually a puppet.
Instead, they argue it was a human being trained to become a bundle
of technique who might do the bidding of the director-designer, fig-
ured as grand puppeteer, a dream common in the theaters of Bertolt
Brecht and Samuel Beckett. Christopher Innes claims that Craigs
ber-marionette was an argument for a new kind of actor, a Western
equivalent to the highly trained actors of the No drama.19 When Craig
republished The Actor and the ber-Marionette in 1924, he wrote
a preface claiming that when he told actors to go to the Devil! he
actually meant get a little of his fire and come back cured; he defined
the ber-marionette as the actor, plus fire, minus egoism.20 Perhaps
a retraction of the earlier epigraph claiming the actors and actresses
must all die of the plague, Craigs comment leads some critics to sug-
gest that the ber-marionette was always a rhetorical and imaginative
device (AUM 37). Mark Franko claims it was a theoretical construct
for the perfectibility [and repeatability] of the theatrical act.21

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The puppet was a theoretical figure for a number of modernists,

including Federico Garca Lorca and Craigs collaborator W. B. Yeats,
while Alfred Jarry and Maurice Maeterlinck wrote plays for puppets
that were ultimately performed by human actors. Craig experimented
with different stage materials throughout his career, building large
puppets and silhouettes and sketching other forms. Patrick Le Boeuf,
curator of the Edward Gordon Craig Collection at the National Library
of France, recently discovered manuscripts and interviews offering
more detail about Craigs ber-marionette experiments: Craig built
an oversized marionette theater with screens on castors and then
an even larger stage to accommodate human performers encased in
a sort of armour; these were full-body puppets with trained human
operators who would be paid, according to his budgets, less than
his mask makers and scene designers.22 Le Boeuf concludes that
the ber-marionette was ultimately a full-body puppet covering a
human actor. Yet, throughout Craigs long career, the ber-marionette
construct was as mobile and fluid as his ideal stage gesture: a full-
body puppet, string marionette, large figure manipulated by several
actors, human performer trained to materialize the directors vision,
as well as moveable screens, masks, and architectural features that is,
all the perfected moving matter of performance. Craigs theories and
experiments shaped the choreography of Schlemmer and Ito and most
likely Fokine as well, thereby drawing together avant-garde, ballet, and
modern dance as forms exploring the relation between human bodies
and other stage matter.

II. Schlemmers Avant-Garde Soul

Craig would have experimented with fully mechanized ber-
marionettes, like Kleists imagined handle-cranked puppets: . . . might
it not perhaps be possible that at a later date we may have these
little figures brought to so great a mechanical perfection that they
may not need the assistance of that human machine, man?23 Oskar
Schlemmer agreed: One might ask if the dancers should not be real
puppets, moved by strings, or better still, self-propelled by means of
a precision mechanism, almost free of human intervention, at most
directed by remote control? Yes! It is only a question of time and
money.24 A crucial innovator in the Bauhaus theater and avant-garde
dance, Schlemmer built full-body puppets for his Triadische Ballett,
first conceived in 1915 while he was recovering from his second
war wound.25 Schlemmer lists the costumes of the modern soldier,
precision machinery, and artificial limbs of amputees among the

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technological advancements that would renovate the theater.26 While

indicating the profound impact of the First World War, these influences
were also part of the long tradition of marionette theory. Kleist, as early
as 1810, had celebrated the dance enabled by those mechanical legs
that English craftsmen manufacture for unfortunate people who have
lost their limbs, thereby connecting prosthetics to puppets, injury to
godlike grace.27 In spite of Schlemmers protests that he never created
a mechanical ballet, primarily because he never had the funds (LDOS,
282), he was accused by a reviewer in 1923 of turning the dancer
into a soulless machine, an assessment still held by many critics.28
Schlemmers celebration of performing machines was combined with
a humanist commitment and metaphysical belief in souls not usually
associated with the Bauhaus but evident in the marionette theories of
Kleist, Craig, and others.
Schlemmer advanced a dialectic stage theory in which the
confrontation of machine and human produces an intensification
of their peculiar natures (MAF, 29). He wrote that mechanization is
an emblem of our time. . . Everything which can be mechanized is
mechanized. The result: our recognition of that which can not be
mechanized (MAF, 17). For Schlemmer, the mechanical human figure
(Kunstfigur), offers extraordinary potential on the metaphysical side as
well as in the material and technological aspects of stage art and will
be capable also of embodying symbolically a new faith (MAF, 29). Yet
Schlemmer, like Kleist and Craig, recognizes the apparent ironies in his
desire to combine the metaphysical, mechanical, and spiritual realms.
His Figural Cabinet (1922) jokingly references the incompatibility of his
metaphysical interests with Bauhaus tendencies to dissect the human
mind from body and isolate the machine world. Schlemmer describes
the scene as Half shooting gallery half metaphysicum abstractum, and
wrote that the character he called Meta was physically complete: head
and body disappear alternately (MAF, 40).29 He ironically figured
wholeness in modernity as a being in which the head and body never
appear together.
Schlemmer unequivocally celebrated the Tnzermensch (Man as
Dancer) who obeys the law of the body as well as the law of space, . . .
gives birth to an almost endless range of expression, and functions
as the medium of transition into the great world of theater (das grosse
theatralische Geschehen) (MAF, 25). As the medium or matter for the
stage, the Tnzermensch transforms the human body through costume,
and Schlemmer offered four designs to indicate the relationship
between the laws of the human body and its surrounding space and
possibilities of movement through space (MAF, 2627). The costume

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Fig. 1. The Marionette by Oskar Schlemmer from The Theater of the Bauhaus,
edited by Walter Gropius and translated by Aurther S. Wensinger, copyright 1961
by Wesleyan University. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University.

of dematerialization, indicates the metaphysical forms of expression which

are, he believed, written within the limbs of the body, as in the symbolic
infinity sign of the folded arms. Other designs are more readily
associated with Bauhaus aesthetics as they suggest that universal
truths become evident through the subordination of the human body
to abstract geometry.30 Ambulant architecture turns the body into a
sculpture of squares to reveal its relationship to cubical space, while
the laws of motion are displayed in a sphere-encased figure called
technical organism. In the design for the marionette, the functional
laws of the body are exaggerated through typification of the bodily
forms (MAF, 27) (fig. 1). The studies became the costume designs for
Triadische Ballett and shaped the floor geometry, the configurations
which determine the paths of the dancers; Schlemmer claimed these
paths were identical with the costumes/figurines (LDOS, 128).
Schlemmer described Triadische Ballett as consisting of three parts:
a gay burlesque with lemon-yellow drop curtains, a ceremonious
and solemn second part in rose, and finally a mystical fantasy on a
black stage. There were twelve different dances, eighteen costumes of
stiff papier-mch coated with paint, two male dancers and a woman
(MAF, 34) (fig. 2). For Schlemmer, three was the crucial number in
which egotistic one and dualistic contrast are transcended, giving way
to the collective (LDOS, 196). The female dancer in the Yellow piece
parodied a flaunting romantic ballerina, whose ubiquitous tutu also
demonstrates the spherical laws of motion of the human body in space as in
the ambulant architecture design. In Yellows humorous pas de deux, she

Modernisms Dancing Marionettes

Fig. 2. Abstract of the Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer from The Theater of the
Bauhaus, edited by Walter Gropius and translated by Aurther S. Wensinger,
copyright 1961 by Wesleyan University. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan

was partnered with an armless tentacle figure in striped pants.31 The

second Rose section was partially inspired by Schlemmers research
into Baroque dance with its geometrical patterns and choreography
shaped by court rituals of decorum.32 For the metaphysical Black
section, Schlemmer created partially-reflective costumes so that a leg,
arm, or half the face swelled into visible space while other aspects
of the body were hidden in darkness. Limbs were exaggerated or
dematerialized by costume, and stage light in this section also evoked
a material, puppet-like existence.
The full-body puppets Schlemmer built for Triadische Ballett
suggest that the body is animated matter with a metaphysical or soulful
nature that can be represented without displays of personality. The
dancers complained that these body puppets hindered movements,
and Schlemmer himself reported after the September 1922 debut:
. . . the performance was the first chance I had to try out some
costumes which so interfered with movement that they had to be

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completely revised (LDOS, 129).33 He worked on the costumes for

the 1923 Bauhaus Week at the Nationaltheater in Weimar and
incurred tremendous costs in building and maintaining them until
1932, when the piece received a prize at the International Dance
Congress in Paris (LDOS, 252). The costumes submerged personality
but emphasized by impeding the possibilities of human movement;
they concretized the articulation of joints into plastic form while
curtailing their articulation. As Matthew Smith claims, [t]he dances
fascinate in part because the dancers are not marionettes or robots,
so the thrill of mimesis as well as technical mastery is continually
present.34 That is, the full-body puppets forced the dancers to imitate
both human and automated movement in a manner that revealed the
continuities between them, particularly as the paint and papier-mch
cracked to expose the bodies inside. The dancer in Triadische Ballett
was a performing object humorous, decorous, or mystical, but not
degraded. Schlemmers body as object, when juxtaposed to other stage
matter like costumes, masks, and light, revealed the animated quality
of the material world.

III. Fokines Puppet Parody of Ballet

The year Schlemmer debuted Triadische Ballett (1922), he wrote:

Life has become so mechanized, thanks to machines and a technology

which our senses cannot possibly ignore, that we are intensely aware
of man as a machine and the body as a mechanism. . . Modern artists
long to recover the original, primordial impulses; on the one hand they
woke up to the unconscious, unanalysable elements in the art forms
of nonintellectuals: the Africans, peasants, children, and mad-men; on
the other hand, they have discovered the opposite extreme in the new
mathematics of relativity. (LDOS, 126127)

Primitivism/unconscious impulses and mathematics/mechanization are

often thought to distinguish modern dance and ballet from avant-
garde movement experiments like those of the Bauhaus and to define
distinct modes in modernist performance more generally. Schlemmer
differentiates his choreography from the antimodern cultic soul
dance of ballet and from modern dances eurhythmics and cult of
beauty and strength (LDOS, 126, 196). Yet, dancing marionettes link
ballet, modern, and avant-garde choreographies, always highlighting
the tension between the performing body as matter and a metaphysical
spirit or human soul that need not be reduced to displays of individual
personality. In both Fokines Petrouchka and Itos Pizzicatti, the dancing

Modernisms Dancing Marionettes

marionette also became a figure for a presumed Russian and Japanese

nonintellectual or primitive personality.35
Fokine choreographed Petrouchka to Stravinskys score for the
Ballets Russes 1911 Paris season. It was his fourth collaboration with
the designer Alexandre Benois, whom Lynn Garafola describes as a
passiste pairing well with Fokine the romanticist.36 Adopting the
rhetoric of rupture commonly used to separate modernism from
earlier moments, Garafola claims that Fokine may have opened the
door to modernism but failed to cross its threshold; she attributes
that leap to Vaslav Nijinsky (DBR, 50). As Garafolas own discussion
demonstrates, however, Fokine was influenced by modernist perfor-
mance experiments, some of which he encountered at Konstantin
Stanislavskys Moscow Art Theater. Fokine was in the audience for the
first Moscow season in 1898, and Benois became the artistic director
in 1909 before designing Petrouchka. Stanislavskys focus on stylistic
reconstructions of place and time, his version of naturalistic acting
technique, and his staging of crowds influenced Fokine (DBR, 1920).
While dance historians have associated Petrouchka with romanticism,
contemporaries such as the painter Dorothy Georges Banks posi-
tioned it in relation to Craig and modern theatre: Conveyed by
puppets and visualized by the forms of the finest human material in
the theatre to-day, it suggests to one that the idea of Mr Gordon Craigs
ber-marionette is not a dream but a possibility of great meaning.37
Bankss review, published in the tellingly titled journal Rhythm, also
applauds Petrouchkas ability to express the line and colour of racial
temperament which can be both modern and ancient.38 For Banks,
Petrouchka was at the center of modernist performance experiments in
its exploration of puppets, movement, and the primitive.
Fokine and Benois reconstructed an 1830s folk festival, a
Shrovetide Fair in St. Petersburg.39 The crowd at the carnival is
realistic when compared to the formalized, geometric corps de ballet
in romantic works like those of Fokines mentor, Marius Petipa.
As in Ibsens dramatic realism, where Noras tarantella dance in A
Dolls House (1879) is explained as a rehearsal for a costume party,
the dancers at the carnival are contextualized as street performers
tricking for alms. Fokines memoir states his desire for the dance to
emerge as if spontaneously from an overabundance of emotion and
gaiety with nothing to suggest the existence of a choreographer
(DBR, 23). Dancing that appears to be choreographed, like the
mummers parade of the fourth tableau, is justified as a common
social performance. The marionette show featuring the traditional
Russian puppet Petrouchka is also a standard fair entertainment.

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The choreography gives bodily form to stock puppet types, as the

love-beleaguered Petrouchka dances knock-kneed with turned in legs,
the arrogant Moor is turned out, kicking with feet flexed, and
the Ballerina Columbine prances on her points. Departing from
traditional ballet technique, Fokines choreography was influenced
by symbolist ideas advanced by Diaghilevs journal, Mir iskusstva
(18981904), and Vsevolod Meyerholds symbolist staging of the stock
commedia dellarte figures in The Fairground Booth (1906).40 Fokine
cast Meyerhold as Pierrot in his Carnaval (1910), a previous puppet-
inspired work in a collaboration that influenced Fokines approach to
the body as stage material and Meyerholds theories of biomechanics
(DBR, pp. 2627).
Setting stage realism against romantic ballet and symbolism,
Petrouchka critically assesses various forms of stage art at the turn of the
century. The Columbine character, like the Ballerina in Schlemmers
Yellow scene, pokes fun at the romantic prima ballerina in a manner
that Kleist would approve. She echoes the street dancers who perform
their tricks for pennies from the crowd. The Moor is linked to the
rough men who interrupt the street ballet and drag the dancers off
their pointe shoes. He is performed in blackface with a costume and
lair that comments on dance exoticism, a style that Fokine himself
supplied for the Ballets Russes. The Moor parodies Western Europes
desires for the Russian dancers to be primitive, nearly oriental, a
dynamic Diaghilev recognized as part of the appeal of his company:
. . . for the Parisians, we were savages.41 Bankss review of Petrouchka
similarly suggests that the British public will fail to understand that
there is no need to imitate the Russians ideas or oriental setting
to participate in the new theatre movement.42 Only Petrouchka, the
folk puppet, seems to have no parallel in the fair crowd, and as such,
he represents the individualist and the expressive modern dancer who
fails to perform ballets courtship rituals in spite of his love for the
unworthy Ballerina. He is dominated by the Magician, whose picture
hangs over his room, and frustrated by his own physical weakness.
He uses his arms to forcibly turn his legs out in the balletic ideal but
immediately falls back to his in-toe stance. In his dance of longing,
his body seems to be wrenched up and dropped from the strings
attached to the marionette, as if a force outside his body propelled him,
perhaps his own excess of emotion or the power of the Magician. The
choreography suggests that falling in love is like being manipulated by
a sadistic puppeteer.
The distinction between the marionettes and the crowd,
symbolism and realism, is tenuous, for the Magician can control

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both with his flute. If Columbine represents stage romanticism, the

Moor is exoticism, and Petrouchka is the modernist individual and
folk hero, then the Magician is the tyrannical director. He tosses
the Ballerina into Petrouchkas room and then the Moors in a
performance experiment that exhibits little concern for the performers
or the audience. The conclusion of the ballet may echo revolutionary
politics as it shows the crowd becoming agitated and angered by the
destruction of Petrouchka. Fokine had been one of the leaders in
the 1905 strike against the Maryinsky Theater and Imperial Ballet,
which demanded both artistic freedom and better working conditions
as part of the artists contribution to the Russian Revolution (DBR,
45). Modernist aesthetic tendencies, including realism, symbolism,
and exoticism in Petrouchka, are staged alongside the potential for
revolutionary political upheaval as the crowds folky puppet hero is

IV. Itos Shadow Puppet in Modern Dance

A reading of Petrouchka as a figure for the modern dancer is supported
by choreography that departs significantly from ballet technique and
by Fokines admiration for Isadora Duncan and mile Jaques-Dalcroze
(DBR, 3944). Modernist marionette theory and performance might
seem least likely to have influenced modern dancers given their
emphasis on natural dancing, as evident in Duncans celebration
of the truly creative dancer, natural but not imitative.43 Ito blended
elements from his training in nihon buyo (Japanese traditional dance)
and eurhythmics (Dalcrozes approach to teaching musical expression)
and cited Duncan and Craig as influences.44 His choreography and
career in modern dance suggest that marionette choreography can
indicate the limits of the human as an unpuppet-like and fallible
stage apparatus and the racial limits that exclude some from modern
categories of the human. Ito is the most obscure of my three examples,
although modernist studies remembers him as the dancer who
collaborated with Ezra Pound on adaptations of Japanese literature
and dance-poem recitals and performed in W. B. Yeatss noh-inspired
dance play, At the Hawks Well (1916).45
Ito was famous in the American interwar dance scene, and his
signature piece was a ninety-five second solo, billed as Pizzicati or
Marionette Dance, to a famous selection from Delibess ballet Sylvia
(fig. 3). Ito introduced the choreography in December 1916 at his
first concert in the U.S., where he moved after realizing the war
would hinder future work with Yeats. The audience demanded an

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Fig. 3. Ito Michio in Pizzicatti or Marionette Dance, Toyo Miyatake Dance Collection
owned by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Reproduced by permission of Alan Miyatake.

encore, but the New York Sun reviewer complained that music by
Delibes and other Occidentals undermined the national peculiarities
of the Japanese Dancing advertised in publicity materials.46 The
choreography actually demonstrates few such peculiarities, and a
spectator not looking for the supposed Japaneseness might recognize
the dance as an example of the music visualizations common in the
period.47 The dancers feet remain planted in a wide second position
while arms and hands thrust diagonally forward and then circle the
body with flicking wrists to the vigorous and playful rhythms of the
pizzicato or plucked string violin technique. As the music shifts to a
more melodious and legato section, the arms sweep across the body,
seemingly twisting and lifting the torso. Itos student, Ryutani Kyoko,
reports that Ito taught dancers to imagine a marionette moved by
strings attached to fingers.48 The plucked strings of the pizzicato
figuratively control the body like a puppet that falls when the music
ends as if the lines are cut.

Modernisms Dancing Marionettes

When Ito performed Pizzicati in 1929 at the Rose Bowl, he was lit
from the floor so that his shadow fell on a large screen looming over
the stage like an enormous puppeteer controlling the body below. The
lighting design lent a power to shadow that, as in Schlemmers body-
puppets, emphasized the dancers body as manipulable stage material.
The shadow may also recall the black clad puppeteers in the Japanese
bunraku theater, an association reinforced by Itos orientalist publicity
materials and signature costume for this piece: a vaguely eastern
belted black jacket and cinched pants. The modernist staging and
lighting innovations of Craig and Adolphe Appia were also influences.
Craigs screen designs for Yeatss plays may have inspired Itos shadow
projection, and Appia worked with Dalcroze on the set and lighting for
the famous production of Glucks Orpheus and Eurydice in 1913 when
Ito was studying with Dalcroze.49 Itos memoir reveals he was aware
that these modernist innovations were influenced by Japanese theater
when he claims that his work with Pound and Yeats taught him that the
ideas of European stage-artists of that time such as Gordon Craig and
Max Reinhardt were really nothing but Noh.50 The orientalism of his
collaborators, even as it was driven by racism and cultural ignorance,
offered him a perspective at variance with his youthful rejection of
his nations art and taught him how to market himself as a Japanese
dancer to the great benefit of his career.
Unlike Schlemmers Triadische Ballett and Fokines Petrouchka, Itos
choreography does not include a parody of ballet. Yet, a widely
repeated, perhaps apocryphal myth of the origins of Itos famous
dance opposed his Eastern aesthetics and spirituality to Anna
Pavlovas Western balletics. Ito told reporters that when he met
Pavlova, she danced for him to Delibess Sylvia on her toes. She then
invited him to perform: Having no music, he asked the pianist to
play the same piece again and planting his feet firmly on the floor he
danced the entire dance using only his arms and hands.51 Advertising
the star power of Pavlova and the trope of improvisational genius,
the story also reinforces the assumed opposition between East and
West, a rhetoric that Ito used to advertise his performances and that
continues to shape interpretations of his dance.
Puppetry spans cultural divides, from the German marionette
traditions that influenced the Bauhaus to the Russian folk Petrouchka
and Japanese bunraku. In modernism, puppetry also spans dance
genres, inspiring innovations in ballet, modern, and avant-garde
dance. In each form, the marionette joins the antimodern, primitivist
impulse in modernism to technophilic experiments with stage
machines and multimedia performance. The dancer, whether encased

Modernist Cultures

in Schlemmers full-body puppets, transformed by Petrouchkas face-

paint and choreography into a marionette, or figuratively manipulated
by Itos shadow as puppeteer, becomes stage-material, an object
among other performing objects. Marionette choreographies and the
performance theories that inspired them invoke the machines of
modernity partially to disrupt the limiting focus on the speech and
gestures of actors and their tendency to exude personality. If they
dimmed the stage on personality and certain versions of humanism,
they highlighted a notion of the human as a body animated by what
Kleist, Craig, Schlemmer, Fokine, and Ito all called soul. Modernisms
dancing marionettes position a soul and godlike gestural power at the
interface between human and machine.

I am grateful to Gayle Rogers and Rishona Zimring for helpful comments on earlier
drafts of this essay.
1. See John Bell, American Puppet Modernism: Essays on the Material World in Performance
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), Kenneth Gross, Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny
Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), and the special issue of The Drama
Review edited by Bell, Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects, TDR 43. 3 (1999).
Martin Puchner presents the marionette as an indication of modernist suspicions
of the theater in Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama (Baltimore,
MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).
2. Gordon Craig, The Actor and the ber-Marionette [1908], reprinted in Gordon
Craig on Movement and Dance, ed. Arnold Rood (New York: Dance Horizons, 1977):
3757, pp. 50, 56. Subsequently cited parenthetically as AUM, followed by page
3. Heinrich von Kleist, ber das Marionettentheater (On the Marionette Theater)
[1810], trans. Thomas G. Neumiller, The Drama Review, 16. 3 (1972): 226.
4. Paul de Man, Aesthetic Formalization: Kleists ber das Marionettentheater, in The
Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984): 26390.
5. Martin Kley overlooks Kleists discussion of dancers (not actors) in German
Romanticism Goes to Hollywood: Heinrich von Kleists On the Puppet Theater
and Being John Malkovich, in South Central Review 24. 3 (2007): 2335, p. 23.
Lucia Ruprecht argues that the practice of dance is crucial to Kleists comments
on rhetoric and aesthetics, as de Man recognizes, but also to the style of the text
and depictions of subjectivity in Dances of the Self in Heinrich von Kleist, E. T. A.
Hoffmann, and Heinrich Heine (Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2006), p. 35.
6. Hanne Tierney, ber das Marionetten Theater: Partly Genius, Wholly Kleist,
Puppetry International 18 (2005): 267.
7. de Man, Aesthetic Formalization, p. 276.
8. Ibid. pp. 290, 287.
9. Ibid. pp. 2856.
10. Kleist, Marionetten Theater, p. 24.
11. Kleist may be referring to Pierre Gardels Le jugement de Paris, which was first
performed in Paris in 1793 and then staged in Berlin throughout the first decade
of the nineteenth century. Ruprecht, Dances of the Self, p. 26.

Modernisms Dancing Marionettes

12. Kleist, Marionetten Theater, p. 24.

13. Consider Ezra Pounds Homage to Sextus Propertius (1917) as one example.
14. Quoted in Christopher Innes, Edward Gordon Craig (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1983), pp. 1878.
15. Gordon Craig, Art of the Theatre (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1956), pp. 139,
16. Irne Eynat-Confino, Beyond the Mask: Gordon Craig, Movement, and the Actor
(Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987), p. 63.
17. Ibid. p. 61.
18. Gordon Craig, Isadora Duncan: Six Movement Designs. The Insel-Verlag, Leipzig,
1906, in Gordon Craig on Movement and Dance, ed. Arnold Rood (New York: Dance
Horizons, 1977): 21314. The language reflects Craig and Duncans shared interest
in Nietzsche.
19. Innes, Gordon Craig, p. 126.
20. Craig, Art of the Theatre, pp. ix-x.
21. Mark Franko, Repeatability, Reconstruction and Beyond, Theatre Journal 41. 1
(1989): 5674, p. 65.
22. Patrick Le Boeuf, On the Nature of Edward Gordon Craigs ber-Marionette, New
Theatre Quarterly 26. 2 (2010): 10214, pp. 1045.
23. Gordon Craig, A Note on Marionettes by Adolf Furst, in Gordon Craig on Movement
and Dance, ed. Arnold Rood (New York: Dance Horizons, 1977): 608, p. 61. First
published in The Mask, II. 46 (1909).
24. The Letters and Diaries of Oskar Schlemmer, ed. Tut Schlemmer, trans. Krishna
Winston (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1972), p. 197. Subsequently
cited parenthetically as LDOS, followed by page number.
25. Kate Elswit argues that Schlemmers costumes dissect the body into prosthetic limbs
at a time when injured soldiers comprised one of every sixteen German citizens
and two percent of those were amputees. The Some of the Parts: Prosthesis and
Function in Bertolt Brecht, Oskar Schlemmer, and Kurt Jooss, Modern Drama 51.
3 (2008): 389410, p. 398.
26. Oskar Schlemmer, Man and Art Figure [1925] in The Theater of the Bauhaus,
ed. Walter Gropius, trans. Arthur S. Wensinger (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan
University Press, 1961): 1546, pp. 289. Subsequently cited parenthetically as
MAF, followed by page number.
27. Kleist, Marionette Theatre, p. 23.
28. Elswit, The Some of the Parts, p. 400.
29. For a similar analysis, see Melissa Trimingham, The Theatre of the Bauhaus:
The Modern and Postmodern Stage of Oskar Schlemmer (New York: Routledge,
30. Matthew Wilson Smith, The Total Work of Art: From Bayreuth to Cyberspace (New York:
Routledge, 2007), p. 56.
31. My description is based on the 1970 reconstruction by Margarete Hasting, Franz
Schmbs, and Georg Verden with costumes by Margit Brdy. See the recording, Das
triadische Ballett: ein Film in drei Teilen nach den Tnzen von Oskar Schlemmer (Toronto,
ON: Bit Works, 2011).
32. Franko, Repeatability, pp. 623.
33. Schlemmer performed in the role he called Leib-geber (body-giver) with Albert
Burger and Elsa Htzel at Stuttgarts Landestheater in 1922 (LDOS, 130). Portions
of Triadische Ballett were first performed in 1916 at a charity party for Schlemmers
military regiment (LDOS, 4).

Modernist Cultures

34. Wilson, Total Work, p. 58.

35. Felicia McCarren argues that images of puppets or animals establish a connection
between savages and machines in modernism. Dancing Machines: Choreographies of
the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Stanford CA, Stanford University Press: 2003),
p. 102.
36. Lynn Garafola, Diaghilevs Ballets Russes (New York, Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1989), p. 18. Subsequently cited parenthetically as DBR, followed by page
number. Karen Nelson similarly claims that Fokine did not treat modern subjects
with a modern sensibility in Bringing Fokine to Light, Dance Research Journal 16.
2 (1984): 312, p. 10.
37. Georges Banks, Petrouchka The Russian Ballet, in Rhythm 2. 2 (1912): 5763,
p. 58. Modernist Journals Project:
38. Ibid. p. 60.
39. Petrouchka in Return of the Firebird, dir. Andris Liepa, Universal Music Russia (2002).
40. Here I disagree with Garafola, who describes these performance styles as mimetic
in correspondence with Stanislavskys approach to character psychology (DBR, 23).
41. See McCarrens discussion of the Ballets Russes use of Puppets and Savages in
Dancing Machines, p. 109.
42. Banks, Petrouchka, pp. 603.
43. Isadora Duncan, The Philosophers Stone of Dancing [1920] in Art of the Dance,
ed. Sheldon Cheney (New York: Theatre Arts, 1969), p. 52.
44. According to Itos American student, Helen Caldwell, Ito saw Duncan dance and
met her in Berlin around 1911. He hoped to study with her or her sister Elizabeth
before he learned about the Dalcroze Institute, where he enrolled in 1912.
Caldwells biography contains many errors, but these details are probably accurate.
Michio Ito: The Dancer and His Dances (Los Angeles: University of California Press,
1977), pp. 389.
45. Ezra Pound, Sword-Dance and Spear-Dance: Texts of the Poems Used With Michio
Itows Dances. By Ezra Pound from Notes of Masirni Utchiyama, in Future 1. 2
(December 1916): 545; reprinted in Ezra Pounds Poetry and Prose: Contributions
to Periodicals Vol. II, ed. Lea Baechler, A. Walton Litz, and James Longenbach
(New York & London: Garland, 1991): 18283. W. B. Yeats, Four Plays for Dancers
(New York: Macmillan, 1921).
46. Japanese Dancing, New York Sun (11 December 1916), Michio Ito Clipping
File MGZR, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the
Performing Arts.
47. Ruth St. Denis defined music visualization as the translation into bodily action of
the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic structure of a musical composition. Music
Visualization, [1925], in Selma Jeanne Cohen, Dance as a Theatre Art, 2nd ed.
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton Book Company, 1992): 12934, p. 130.
48. Ryutani Kyoko, Repertory Class (3 July 2009), Repertory Dance Theatres
Summerdance, Salt Lake City, UT, Artistic Director Linda C. Smith. I studied
Itos technique and choreography with Ryutani and Komine Kumiko, both
representatives of the dance school Ito established in Tokyo. I am also grateful
to Mary-Jean Cowell who shared her historical insight and wealth of biographical
49. Naima Prevots suggests that Ito may have been involved in this production in
Dancing in the Sun (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1987), pp. 17980.

Modernisms Dancing Marionettes

50. Ian Carruthers, A Translation of Fifteen Pages of Ito Michios Autobiography

Utsukushiku Naru Kyoshitsu , The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 2. 1 (1976):
3243, p. 35.
51. One rendition of the story is provided by In the Spotlight, The American Dancer
(June 1929), in the personal collection of Michele Ito. I am grateful to Ito for
making her collection available.