A Queer Love of Dix

aqueerloveofdixAletia Upstairs, brought us an exploration of Weill, Brecht, and Weimar cabaret songs like “Falling in Love Again”, “Alabama Song” and “I Am a Vamp”. Interspersed with the songs is an explanation of the cultural context of Weimar Germany which existed 1919 to 1933. For that short period, particularly in the Goldene Zwanziger (“Golden Twenties”)  – roughly only really a five year period – which ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, there was a cultural and artistic explosion.

Aletia describes Weimar as a Utopia. It’s certainly true that gays were more accepted. According to ‘Queer Identities and Politics in Germany, A History 1880-1945’ at the heyday of the Weimar Republic, there were between 90 and 100 gay bars in Berlin frequented by gay men and lesbians.

Compared to the Nazi period which followed it is easy to see why many view Weimar with rose-tinted glasses. There were anti-gay laws on the books, however, but the majority of German police officers turned a blind eye to the bars. There was a big difference between rural attitudes to those in Berlin. There were also dire economic conditions, which, as today, affected people unequally. Not everyone was enjoying the high life of Berlin! That’s one of the factors that led to the rise of the Nazis who portrayed Weimar culture as both decadent and under foreign influence. Indeed they sought to disrupt many events. When they gained power the music was derided and proscribed. Homosexuals were persecuted and killed by their State.

This show is not a history lesson though. It centres on the songs of the period which have a power, and sometimes, biting emotional edge. “Pirate Jenny” with its dream of class revenge and Spoliansky’s ”It’s All a Swindle” with its condemnation of the corruption of the Political Class and cynicism toward general society stood out for me. As the song says: “The left betrays, the right dismays, the country’s broke and guess who pays?”.

Accompanying the songs are the harsh, brutal images of the expressionist artist Otto Dix. Dix didn’t shy away from depicting distorted human forms to expose vanity or the horror of war. One of my favourites, ‘Girl in front of the mirror‘ from 1922 is used in the show.

Aletia gave a great performance full of passion and humour. The audience loved it. Full marks to the venue, Planet, for hosting it. It wasn’t an ideal venue in many ways but it worked.

The show ended with a performance of the “The Lavender Song” with the audience joining in. It was a song I had not been familiar with. It is a Cabaret song from 1920. It’s not a Weill or Brecht song. The music was composed by Mischa Spoliansky, and the lyrics were written by Kurt Schwabach. It is a song that accuses mainstream society and contains the great line: “they march in lockstep we prefer to dance”. A sentiment not just relevant to sexual freedom but freedom in general.

This Edinburgh premiere has now ended but it’s London-bound!

Queer Identities and Politics in Germany, A History 1880-1945, by Clayton J. Whisnant (Harrington Park Press; 2016).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=47&v=8tvnYLejhj0

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

five-stars

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