Marcel Janco and the Dances at the Cabaret Voltaire

Rumanian artist Marcel Janco created masks for the performances at the Cabaret Voltaire.  Hugo Ball described the impact of these masks and the dances that they inspired in his diary:

   Janco has made a number of masks for the new show, which bear the marks of something more than talent.  They recall the Japanese or Ancient Greek theatre, and yet they are wholly modern.  They are designed to make their effect at a distance, and in a relatively small space of the cabaret the result is astonishing.  We were all there when Janco arrived with the masks, and each of us put one on.  The effect was strange.  Not only did each mask seem to demand the appropriate costume; it also called for a quite different set of gestures, melodramatic and even closer to madness.  Although five minutes earlier none of us had had the remotest idea of what was to happen, we were soon draped and festooned with the most unlikely objects, making the most outlandish movements, each out-inventing the other.  The dynamism of the masks was coirrestible.  In one moment we were aware of the great importance of such masks in mime and drama.  The masks simply demanded that their wearers should start up a tragico-absurd dance.

   We now took a closer look at the objects in question, which were cardboard cut-outs painted and glued.  Then, inspired by their Protean individuality, "we invented a number of dances, for each of which I improvised on the spot a short piece of music.  One of the dances we called `Flycatching'.  This particular mask went with clumsy, tentative steps, long-armed snatching gestures and nervous, shrill music.  The second dance we called ‘Cauchemar' [French for nightmare].  The dancer unfolds from a stooping posture, at the same time moving straight forward.  Her mask has a wide open mouth and a broad twisted nose.  The performer's arms, menacingly raised, are lengthened by means of special tubes. . . .

   What fascinates us about these masks is that they represent, not humanity, but characters and emotions that are larger than life.  The paralysing horror which is the backcloth of our age is visible.


     Quoted in Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 23.