The New Stage Theatre Company (www.newstagetheatre.org) makes its La MaMa debut December 4 to 13 with a cabaret-style re-imagining of its 2008 production, "Oh, Those Beautiful Weimar Girls," an evening of the music and dance associated with Anita Berber, the iconic actor/dancer/poet who epitomized for many the decadence of Weimar era Berlin. The piece is conceived and directed by Ildiko Nemeth. Texts are written by Mark Altman. Choreography is by Julia Atlas Muz and Peter Schmitz.
Weimar cabaret goers pursued glamour and pleasure compulsively, as though excess might grant liberation from the perils of their time. Weimar show girls became iconic symbols of this escapism, representing both protest and surrender. Novelist Jerry Stahl described their effect in his introduction to "The Hot Girls of Weimar Berlin" by Barbara Stahl, writing, "Even as Death, smiling like a sadistic Domina, lowers her high-heeled boot on your face, you can smile, and grind, and know that, for one tragic and ecstatic moment, release is yours. And you can forget about the obliteration to come ... The Girls of Weimar Berlin could make anybody forget."
Anita Berber, Weimar's best-known showgirl, performed in the nightclubs and casinos, naked except for a sable wrap and a pet monkey hanging from her neck. Her body was thin and androgynous; her bright red hair was cut in a rebellious bob and a silver brooch filled with cocaine usually hung around her neck. A pioneer of modern expressive dance, using the music of Debussy, Strauss, Delibes, and Saint-Säens, she was at first taken seriously, but eventually her artistry was overshadowed by her scandalous personal and professional lifestyle, as performances grew increasingly macabre. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis while touring in Lebanon in 1928, and died shortly afterward, at age 29. With original and classical music, dance and striking stage design, "Oh, Those Beautiful Weimar Girls" recreates some of Anita Berber's cabaret-styled performances, including much of her "repertoire of the damned."
The La MaMa production of "Oh, Those Beautiful Weimar Girls" will be a cabaret distillation of a musical theater work which New Stage Theater Company presented in November, 2008 at Clemente Soto Velez. That production was inspired when Ildiko Nemeth, Artistic Director of New Stage Theater, read "The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber" by Mel Gordon. Nemeth was struck by parallels between the Weimar period and our own and found the figure of Berber particularly affecting. Nemeth explains, "Some may argue that inhabitants of every age feel themselves at a precipice. Whatever we feel about the singularity of our own time, Weimar was unique. Its prevailing desperation and euphoria make it a symbol of every human life, finite and urgent."
To adapt her play to a cabaret venue and a late-night time slot, Nemeth will completely restructure her work for La MaMa, refocusing the production onto its salient dances and imagery and reducing its running time to about an hour.
Reviewing last year's production, Time Out (Adam Feldman) wrote, "Ildiko Nemeth's stylishly morbid dance-theater piece is nostalgic for a time when sleaze was decked out in corsets and feathered masks. It is a world of arty death-dances and morphine hazes, of repressed baronesses and their nubile, sexually curious daughters. And in the middle of this costume orgy drifts Anita Berber (Sarah Lemp), the real-life scandal queen of 1920s Berlin, numb from years of shocking. The show is at its most effective when it gives itself over to the spirit of risqué fun."
Richmond Shepard, writing in Lively Arts, praised "Oh, Those Beautiful Weimar Girls" as a "powerfully engaging evening" with "the sexiest choreography in town by Julie Atlas Muz and Peter Schmitz." Lauren Wissot, writing in TheaterOnline.com, praised its "thrillingly inventive costumes" by Javier Boné-Carboné and its "dark, sparkling set" by Jason Strum. Lisa Ferber, writing in nytheatre.com, called it "one terrific show" and a "well produced, highly watchable night of indulgence."