Step into the Judaica Suite when it is dark and quiet and you might see three apparitions locked forever in an endless dance of ecstasy and agony. Listen carefully and perhaps you will hear the haunting strains of the Albeniz Asturias in between flashes of color and light. Here are the ghosts of Gertrud Leistikow, exotic dancer, and Samuel Leser Schwarz and Else Berg – the Dutch expressionists who painted her for their calendar.
Gertrud Leistikow (1885-1948) was a German-born dancer who is regarded as the most “tragic and Dionysian of all German modern dancers.”* Leistikow’s body was supple and expressive, but she kept her ordinary-looking face hidden from view with veils, masks and bodily contortions that kept the focus on her limbs. Leistikow achieved great recognition in Weimar Germany and was best known for a grotesque form of expression, in which the dance movements swung rapidly between exuberance and despondency. These movements were enhanced by bizarre-looking costumes, or the pure lines Leistikow created with her naked form.
Leistikow often used dance to interpret folk songs, such as those written by the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz (as depicted above), but her attire did not reflect the cultural background represented by the music and instead created an unexpected tension between sight and sound. Following marriage to a Dutch merchant, her international fame waned, and she confined herself to Holland where she opened three schools of dance. During her career, Leistikow was the subject of photographs and artwork, including the calendar in which she is immortalized by the Dutch Jewish artists, Schwarz and Berg.
Samuel Leser Schwarz, also known as Mommie Schwarz, was a painter and graphic artist born in Holland in 1876. Schwarz studied art, most notably Expressionism, in Berlin in the first decade of the twentieth century. While he was there, he encountered his cousin, Else Berg, an established painter from Upper Silesia in Germany. The two quickly became very close, not only physically and emotionally, but also through their art. Indeed, so great was their mutual influence, it later became difficult to tell their artwork apart. Both artists are associated with the bold colorful strokes of Expressionism and the stark lines of Cubist figuration.*
In 1914, Schwarz and Berg moved to Holland where they became members of the famous Bergen School of painters and well-recognized figures in the Amsterdam art scene. They were married in 1920. During this period, Gertrud Leistikow served as a muse for both painters: Berg copied her bodily form and Schwarz used images of her dance scenes for posters. The Gertrud Leistikow Kalendar was created in 1925. It is signed by Schwarz, but it was probably produced by both husband and wife. The only known copy in existence is held in the Judaica Suite in Smathers Library, University of Florida.*
Seventeen years after the creation of the Leistikow Kalendar, when the Second World War broke out, Schwarz and Berg refused to wear a Star of David or to go into hiding. In November 1942, both were deported to Auschwitz where they were murdered on arrival.
Ana Vidovic plays Isaac Albeniz’s Asturias
* Karl Toepfer, Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935, University of California Press, 1997 (http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft167nb0sp&chunk.id=d0e4869&toc.depth=1&toc.id=d0e4055&brand=ucpress).
* Else Berg and Mommie Schwarz: Artist Couple in the Dutch Avant Garde. An exhibition for the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam (http://www.jhm.nl/current/exhibitions/archive/else-berg-and-mommie-schwarz). See also, Linda Horn, Else Berg en Mommie Schwarz, Kunstenaarspaar in Amsterdam 1910-1942, Uitgeverij de Kunst, 2012.
* Top Image: “Dans Albeniz (Isaac Albeniz), May-June, 1925,” Gertrud Leistikow Kalendar, Amsterdam, 1925. The Gertrud Leistikow Kalendar comprises six folio leaves, 19 x 10.5 inches, each folio has one image of Leistikow performing a dance.