Witch's Kitchen
Witch's
Kitchen
Archive
Part 3: What They Said She Said
Shana Lutker


Preface

This is a compilation of things that Valeska Gert said.

Gert wrote four memoirs totaling 631 pages. These autobiographies tell the stories of her life's work, exiles, and encounters. She also published letters and editorials in the papers, and was interviewed on television, radio, and film.

This collective culling of Gert's defining utterances creates a portrait—one that embodies what the critics, historians, and fans want us (readers) to see. The bulk of the collection comes from her memoirs, but the attributions indicate the texts where the quotes were found. (Gert's quoted descriptions of specific dances, her poems, and performance scripts are excluded from this list.)

Conducting the research for Witch's Kitchen over the past year was limited: confined to my laptop and the internet, as archives and research libraries were both closed.

While not always entirely factual, Valeska's words express Valeska's truth—one of her signature characteristics. Her early Weimar dances are heralded (and despised) by critics and audiences for their deep "truthfulness," and it is this same type of bold, bald honesty that permeates the memoirs...from what I can gather. (My truth: I can't read German, and none of the memoirs have been translated in full. Thus, at this point, my access to the memoirs is limited to these bits and blabs translated and re-purposed by others, alongside the garbles I can get out of Google Translate.)

Despite that, this list of 73 quotes is a thrilling glimpse of Valeska Gert. Through the repetition, her most iconic utterances are revealed. In their variation, the subjective nature of translation is demonstrated. The list also illustrates the inherent incompleteness of research—both mine and theirs.

—Shana Lutker



CLASS and THE MASSES

"Because I did not love the bourgeoisie, I danced those whom they despised, prostitutes, matchmakers, those who had slipped and who had fallen down." (17)

"Since I didn't like the bourgeois, I danced those people dismissed by them, whores, procuresses, cast-offs, those who had slipped...It was from the beginning to the state of being 'broken.' In the beginning, energy and youth, and then more and more 'kaputt.'" (4)

"In theory I am democratic, practically aristocratic—I want to be sure that ordinary people are fine." (9)

"...into a family that never had anything to do with art." (13)

"I don't want to have anything to do with art...Maybe I'm just nothing but a chambermaid. Could be. I only want to be loved on stage; in real life I don't care much...I'm basically nothing more than just a child of the masses." (4)

"They have permitted neither individuality nor extravagance. They want everything to be right, as 'petit bourgeois' as possible." (4)

(17) "A Tribute to Valeska Gert." Arsenal, July 2017.

(4) De Keersmaeker, Anne Teresa. "Valeska Gert." The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 25, no. 3, 1981, p. 55. Cambridge University Press, doi:10.2307/1145360.

(9) Gympel, Jan. "In terms of Valeska Gert: Why I fell in love with a dead person." 1992.

(13) "Nur Zum Spaß — Nur Zum Spiel. Kaleidoskop Valeska Gert (1977)." Sammlung Volker Schlndorff, Deutsches Filminstitut Filmmuseum, 4 June 2021.

(4) De Keersmaeker, Anne Teresa. "Valeska Gert." The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 25, no. 3, 1981, p. 55. Cambridge University Press, doi:10.2307/1145360.

"And because I did not love the bourgeois, I danced those despised by him: prostitutes, matchmakers, the fallen and the outcast." (11)

"...has the task of frightening the hypocrite [bourgeois] and showing him his ugly face in a distorting mirror and to rouse those willing to collaborate and to vitalize them into action." (11)

(11) Kolb, Alexandra. "'There Was Never Anythin' like This!!!' Valeska Gert's Performances in the Context of Weimar Culture." The European Legacy, vol. 12, no. 3, 2007, pp. 293-309. Taylor & Francis, doi:10.1080/10848770701286976.

"I am not arrogant like most people. I don't despise garbage. What are we? Twenty-nine percent flesh and seventy-one percent water, a handful of garbage as soon as the spark of life is extinguished." (16)

(16) Soulié, Daniel. "Valeska Gert, Portrait d'Artiste." March, 2013.

"I danced all of the people that the upright citizen despised: whores, pimps, depraved souls—the ones who slipped through the cracks." (7)

"Because I despised the burgher, I danced all of the people that the upright citizen despised: whores, pimps, depraved souls—the ones who slipped through the cracks." (15)

(7) Goodman, Elyssa. "The Forgotten World of the Badass Valeska Gert." Tablet, 10 Jan. 2018.

(15) Norton, Sydney Jane. "'Dancing out of Bounds: Valeska Gert in Berlin and New York." Female Exiles in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Europe, edited by Maureen Tobin Stanely and Gesa Zinn, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

DANCE THEORIES

"Only the realistic artist is in truth the real one." (13)

"[...] modern dance satire was born, without my intention or knowledge. By suddenly putting sweet after cheeky and soft after hard, I created something that was very characteristic of this period, for the first time: imbalance." (6)

(13) "Nur Zum Spaß — Nur Zum Spiel. Kaleidoskop Valeska Gert (1977)." Sammlung Volker Schlndorff, Deutsches Filminstitut Filmmuseum, 4 June 2021.

(6) Frank-Manuel, Peter: "Valeska Gert. Tänzerin, Schauspielerin, Kabarettistin." (Valeska Gert. Dancer. Actress. Cabaret Artist.) Edition Hentrich Berlin, 1987

"My dances were short and clear, I didn't make any variations like the other dancers, for me only a run-up, tragic or comic climax, relaxation were important, nothing else." (9)

"I turned and lost all consciousness of myself. The movements came by themselves, they flowed out of my body. I got into ecstasy." (9)

"The songs have no text and only a primitive melody. You shout your grief, cheer your joy, his love moans. Natural sounds, swelling, decongesting, brought into a simple form." (9)

"For a moment I felt completely unconscious of what I was doing, like being drunk, and I thought: He will certainly notice that's a sign that I'm a genius." (4)

"Why not? Having so many different parts inside yourself, you should be able to express them all. Of course, only if you have the talent." (4)

(4) De Keersmaeker, Anne Teresa. "Valeska Gert." The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 25, no. 3, 1981, p. 55. Cambridge University Press, doi:10.2307/1145360.

"I don't want to dance these vague movements that have nothing to do with me nor with my time. I want to dance the people and the variegated mixture of gestures and movements of their daily life." (4)

"But that was only one part. The other part was Death, Birth, Love, Humility; it was abstract, but abstracted from life, not merely bloodless abstractions...Every type had his own rhythm within the succession of very simple movements that clearly expressed the essence and the dramatic development of their destiny." (4)

"The movements and the sounds both find their impulse in the center of the organism and have to be projected at the same time. I invented sound dances, unity of sound and movement. Again this kind of concentration has been adapted and misunderstood by other dancers. They accompany their dances with recitations. That is duality, not unity...
Sounds give birth to words. If grown out of the same dance impulse, words can skip, jump and balance, glittering like bright colors. I dance words." (4)

(4) De Keersmaeker, Anne Teresa. "Valeska Gert." The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 25, no. 3, 1981, p. 55. Cambridge University Press, doi:10.2307/1145360.

"I was dancing in 1920 with flickering movements like a film." (8)

"My main intention for my dances is shortness and simpleness of form. Clear. Short and simple." (8)

(8) Griffin, Chloé. "Pause Between Pauses." The Bodies That Remain, by Emmy Beber, Punctum Books, 2018, pp. 63–76.

"I performed theater, I longed for the dance; I danced, I longed for the theater. I was in conflict until the idea occurred to me to combine them: I wanted to dance human characters." (7)

"...physical things from these sentimentalities mistakenly called love." (11)

"My rhythm became pounding until I stamped like an engine." (11)

"The nervousness and hurry of the passersby" (11)

"so fast that they looked like a convulsion, like the mad essence of nervousness." (11)

(7) Goodman, Elyssa. "The Forgotten World of the Badass Valeska Gert." Tablet, 10 Jan. 2018.

(11) Kolb, Alexandra. "'There Was Never Anythin' like This!!!' Valeska Gert's Performances in the Context of Weimar Culture." The European Legacy, vol. 12, no. 3, 2007, pp. 293-309. Taylor & Francis, doi:10.1080/10848770701286976.

"I see only...that life is grotesque in every minute, even today, and because of that I can portray it in no other way." (5)

"exceed all bounds" (5)

(5) Elswitt, Kate. "Back again? Valeska Gert's exiles, in New German Dance Studies." Edited by Susann Manning and Lucia Ruprecht, University of Illinois Press, 2012.

AUDIENCES AND OTHER PEOPLE

"The greatest scandals broke out every evening, huge noise when I took my crazy steps. The people roared, were uninhibited, and threw objects at us. The delicate Sidi [her dance partner] fell half unconscious into the scenery, the noise was an element of life for me, I wanted to get people moving, the more they roared, the bolder I became.
I wanted to go beyond all limits, my face turned into masks, my rhythm pounded until I pounded like an engine." (9)

"A terribly rich woman invited me to a party. Suddenly my apple-green pants, I don't know how it came about, opened, slipped down and I was standing in the open because I had nothing under them. No one seemed to have a sense of humor. People say, 'You have so many relationships.' But in a week, I was rid of them all." (9)

"Extraordinary people usually have extremely ordinary children." (9)

"I called the place Beggar Bar, since everything had been funded by begging." (1)

"Oh these cabaret bars are so boring." (8)

"He was cheating me with money so I kicked him out." (8)

"picture postcards and not humans!" (7)

"too sloppy" (2)

"so sloppy" (18)

"pseudo-classical movements" (12)

"The guests are milked and complain." (12)

"The guests are like goats! They bleat and get milked." (3)

"Woe betide the dancer whose mind dares to cut capers. Mind is taken here for intellectualism, intellectualism for mind. A dance performance must smell like sour sweat, be ethical, confused and boring...Because the average German does not have self-confidence, they only deem art grand which they do not understand and which bores them. Mary Wigman is the only dancer who fulfills all the needs of the German educated middle class and has therefore become the national dancer." (11)

"yelled, clapped, were disinhibited, threw objects at us" (11)

(1) Arts in Exile. "Valeska Gert's Beggar Bar in New York, Advertisement (1942)." Arts In Exile, Deutsche Nationalbibliothek.

(8) Griffin, Chloé. "Pause Between Pauses." The Bodies That Remain, by Emmy Beber, Punctum Books, 2018, pp. 63–76.

(7) Goodman, Elyssa. "The Forgotten World of the Badass Valeska Gert." Tablet, 10 Jan. 2018.

(2) Blackburn, Gavin "Germany's Forgotten Performer Valeska Gert Helped Inspire Punks." DW, Edited by Kate Bowen, September 17, 2010.

(18) "Valeska Gert - Biography." JewAge.

(12) Mohr, Christina. "Wolfgang Müller:Valeska Gert. Ästhetik Der Präsenzen." Wolfgang Müller: Valeska Gert. Ästhetik Der Präsenzen.

(3) Conway, James J. "The Grotesque Burlesque of Valeska Gert." Strange Flowers, 23 Mar. 2015.

(11) Kolb, Alexandra. "'There Was Never Anythin' like This!!!' Valeska Gert's Performances in the Context of Weimar Culture." The European Legacy, vol. 12, no. 3, 2007, pp. 293-309. Taylor & Francis, doi:10.1080/10848770701286976.

"The audience was crazy and colorful, you couldn't find it anywhere else, you will never find it again." (16)

(16) Soulié, Daniel. "Valeska Gert, Portrait d'Artiste." March, 2013.

"The Ghetto with all its ancient restrictions has been revived in Germany...No Christian in any capacity is allowed to enter a Jewish theater." (5)

(5) Elswitt, Kate. "Back again? Valeska Gert's exiles, in New German Dance Studies." Edited by Susann Manning and Lucia Ruprecht, University of Illinois Press, 2012.

"Full of exuberance, I popped like a bomb out of the backdrop, I stormed across the podium with giant strides, my arms dangling like a large pendulum, my hands spread apart, my face twisted into cheeky grimaces. The audience exploded, screamed, whistled, cheered. I pulled away, grinning cheekily. The modern dance satire was born without my wanting or knowing it." (14)

(14) Neuberg, Sophie. "Tanzen in Orange." Jüdische Allgemeine, 18 Dec. 2012.

"As I shot onto the stage, I was so high-spirited and so filled with the desire to shake up the audience that I exploded into the atmosphere of loveliness that the others created [...] and the same movements that I had previously danced gently and gracefully, I now exaggerated wildly. With mammoth steps I stormed across the podium. Hands splayed, my arms swung like a huge pendulum, and my face distorted itself into daring grimaces. [...] There was great turmoil in the audience. Some stamped with enthusiasm; others whistled with rage." (15)

"ordinary" (15)

(15) Norton, Sydney Jane. "'Dancing out of Bounds: Valeska Gert in Berlin and New York." Female Exiles in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Europe, edited by Maureen Tobin Stanely and Gesa Zinn, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

"If I couldn't convince the others of my ideas, I jumped across the table and hit [...]. I quickly got on board with Edith, Siegfried Jacobsohn's wife [...] and choked her because she didn't want to believe me. [...] Meckel, the best theater manager in Paris, also managed me. I threw him out of a moving car. It wasn't easy for me to get another manager, they were afraid of me." (9)

LEGACY

"The critics write I'm sparkling as champagne, fresh as a forest, clear as glass, poisonous as a toadstool and I rush to their head like heavy wine. I remind them of Rodin, Barlach, George Grosz, Baldung Grien, Toulouse-Lautrec, Daumier, Pascin, Felicien Rops, Thackeray, Balzac and Goya. They find me grotesque, bizarre, tragic, comic, vicious, classic, gothic, expressionistic, surrealistic, dadaistic, baroque. Ivy Litvinoff, the wife of the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, wrote that my dances are so primeval that they have the effect of the most extravagant Modern Art." (4)

(4) De Keersmaeker, Anne Teresa. "Valeska Gert." The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 25, no. 3, 1981, p. 55. Cambridge University Press, doi:10.2307/1145360.

"You write that Mary Wigman is the only living dancer of the 1920s. That's not true. Only: Wigman was an 'Aryan' with a hint of National Socialism and was therefore allowed to stay in Germany. But I am Jewish and had to emigrate. I created expressionist dance, the modern dance pantomime." (14)

(14) Neuberg, Sophie. "Tanzen in Orange." Jüdische Allgemeine, 18 Dec. 2012.

"Well, then I broke it off, like everything that I break off, like everything. I always have some excuse for breaking something off." (4)

(4) De Keersmaeker, Anne Teresa. "Valeska Gert." The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 25, no. 3, 1981, p. 55. Cambridge University Press, doi:10.2307/1145360.

"Not so well remembered? I was totally forgotten!" (2)

(2) Blackburn, Gavin "Germany's Forgotten Performer Valeska Gert Helped Inspire Punks." DW, Edited by Kate Bowen, September 17, 2010.

"If an artist penetrates deeply into his time he will uncover its underlying significance and he will also create something that is eternal and universal for all mankind. Our works...will appear timeless to future generations only if they are profound enough. They will deliver a message which passes from generation to generation and which reveals that we are all human, we all have to follow the same laws, we all have to fight, we all have to die." (7)

"To be honest, now yes! Especially when I think today I could work with Andy Warhol." (16)

"People attribute Ausdruckstanz to [Mary] Wigman. I was away for too long; people have forgotten what happened in dance back then. Ausdruckstanz comes from me, just like the modern contemporary dance pantomime." (5)

"At least to the Nazis, I was an enemy; to today's Germans, I am nothing. People know only that Mary Wigman created the new German dance, people know nothing of me." (5)

"The young people naturally don't know about me because I was hushed up during the Hitler period." (5)

(7) Goodman, Elyssa. "The Forgotten World of the Badass Valeska Gert." Tablet, 10 Jan. 2018.

(16) Soulié, Daniel. "Valeska Gert, Portrait d'Artiste." March, 2013.

(5) Elswitt, Kate. "Back again? Valeska Gert's exiles, in New German Dance Studies." Edited by Susann Manning and Lucia Ruprecht, University of Illinois Press, 2012.

"I was suddenly left to fend for myself since my three men remained in Europe. Each one of them had his reasons for remaining behind. I didn't know how one was supposed to earn money, nor how one made connections. In America making contacts is a part of making one's career. Of course there were many people in the U.S. who knew me from the stage, but I didn't know them. I also didn't know that there are many institutions like the New School of Social Research that give money to prominent artists [...] I never understood how to play up my 'prominence.'" (15)

(15) Norton, Sydney Jane. "'Dancing out of Bounds: Valeska Gert in Berlin and New York." Female Exiles in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Europe, edited by Maureen Tobin Stanely and Gesa Zinn, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

"I want to be myself, nobody else, I want to feel myself." (10)

"You ask me why I've returned from emigration. I was born in Berlin and I want to die in Berlin...I was here until 1938 and experienced that only some of the German people were National Socialists.
I perceived emigration as something temporary and wanted to return as soon as the specter was gone. I believed that the art world would be just as lively as it was after World War I, but I was mistaken...
It is...simply untrue when one writes the revival of contemporary pantomime originated in France. It comes from Germany. But, of course, the young people know nothing more of me, because I was silenced during the Hitler period. Only Wigman is honored as the pioneer of modern dance. This is only partially true. It is just that she was here the entire time. And the older people who watched me and loved me are dead, far away. Those who remain are tired, uninterested or cowardly...There should also be spiritual reparations for exiles, not just financial ones." (15)

(10) Gert, Valeska, Peter, Frank-Manuel: Bücher, Ich Bin Eine Hexe: Kaleidoskop Meines Lebens, Alexander; 1. Edition, September 5, 2019. Amazon listing, accessed May 30, 2021.

(15) Norton, Sydney Jane. "'Dancing out of Bounds: Valeska Gert in Berlin and New York." Female Exiles in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Europe, edited by Maureen Tobin Stanely and Gesa Zinn, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

"I only want to be loved on the stage, but in life I don't really care." (3)

(3) Conway, James J. "The Grotesque Burlesque of Valeska Gert." Strange Flowers, 23 Mar. 2015.

DEATH

"It would never have occurred to me that I was an old lady." (14)

"Maybe someone reads this when I've become dust, and maybe he understands me, and maybe he loves me?" (9)

"I will be gone, totally gone for all time, forever. Life is very short and the time after that is long, long, eternal, eternal, eternal. I had to think the thought further, because it makes you crazy. I roared like an animal in horror.
There is no mercy and no way out, one day I'll end. And if my corpse has become dust, then after billions of years a flower or a blade of grass will bloom from it, or I've become an earthworm. That's all. [...] If everything is over so quickly, then I have to experience a lot quickly, very close. That was clear to me." (9)

"The horror of eternity was the engine of my life, the basic melody. Perhaps someone reads it when I have become dusty, and perhaps he understands me, and perhaps they will love me?" (9)

(14) Neuberg, Sophie. "Tanzen in Orange." Jüdische Allgemeine, 18 Dec. 2012.

(9) Gympel, Jan. "In terms of Valeska Gert: Why I fell in love with a dead person." 1992.

"I probably came close...One night I realized I am a mortal who will die...It suddenly dawned on me: Eternity. That I will be gone for all eternity, and the very thought of eternity almost drove me crazy." (4)

"I want to live, even when I'm dead." (4)

(4) De Keersmaeker, Anne Teresa. "Valeska Gert." The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 25, no. 3, 1981, p. 55. Cambridge University Press, doi:10.2307/1145360.

"When I'm dead I want to be buried in a cornfield because then the corn grows into my flesh, takes my flesh, and I become bread, no longer dead." (8)

(8) Griffin, Chloé. "Pause Between Pauses." The Bodies That Remain, by Emmy Beber, Punctum Books, 2018, pp. 63–76.

"Only the eternal transformation is real." (12)

"I want to live, even if I'm dead." (12)

(12) Mohr, Christina. "Wolfgang Müller:Valeska Gert. Ästhetik Der Präsenzen." Wolfgang Müller: Valeska Gert. Ästhetik Der Präsenzen.