Tuesday, 4 January 2011

DANCES IN THE NUDE ON TRIAL IN BERLIN

Judges Watch Films Depicting Them and Order a Private Performance Young Girls Defendants
Celly de Reydt, the Premiere, Her Husband and Photographers Also Accused

BERLIN, Jan. 10.-

Naked dancing went on trial in the Criminal Court today. The principal in the case is Celly de Rheydt¹, the pioneer in dancing of this type, and the codefendants are Celly's husband, Sewelch, a former First Lieutenant, who was originally her impresario and still acts as manager for his wife in her undraped dancing; Celly's ballet of five young girls, the youngest 14; the motion picture photographers who filmed the nude ballet and the “still” photographers who made picture postals of it, none of which would be permitted to pass through the American mails.

The case, which is a cause celebre for Berlin, opened in a fitting setting today. Five learned Judges were on the bench, with a battery of eight lawyers for, the defense entrenched in front of Celly and her dancing girls. The State's Attorney is supported by one lone, shocked witness so far –a certain Pastor Hoppe –and a flock of professors as experts in the morality of the art, including Professor Max von Schillins², one of the most distinguished living German composers, best known for his opera “Mona Lisa” and Director General of the Opera House. The general public was excluded, but reporters and representatives of children's welfare organizations were admitted.

The Presiding Judge first ordered a motion picture of the nude dances thrown on the screen which had been stretched in the courtroom, frequently stopping the reel for a closer examination, as well as to identify the defendants shown on the screen and to quiz them regarding exactly what articles of clothing, including beads, gauze streamers, &c., they had worn at each stage.

The questioning of the Court elicited the information that at first the dancers were relatively clad above the waist, but as the ballet went on their bodies were completely exposed. In the case of the last dance shown the Court's queries as to costume were superfluous, for Celly was flashed on the screen in the altogether.
On account of the heated atmosphere in the overcrowded courtroom the Court called it a day's work and decided to order a view, “in camera”, of the original live ballet production, with music, at a local theatre on Thursday.

What is alleged to be the most offensive dance is a pantomime in which Celly appears, first fully clad as a mediaeval nun, who suddenly goes mad before a crucifix, sheds her nun's clothing completely and proceeds to execute a dance symbolic of delirium. This dance was actually performed in public repeatedly in 1919, until the flood of protests, principally from Catholics, on the ground of profanation and sacrilege, caused Celly to withdraw it from her repertoire. |

American visitors who have since seen her modified “beauty dances” say they never saw anything like them before. Among these American art experts were pillars of the community, mostly with wives and families across the Atlantic.

(Source: Cyril Brown in The New York Times, January 11, 1922)

NOTES
¹ Celly de Rheydt (aka Cäcilie Schmidt), German nude ballet dancer. She stood trial in 1922 for her nude appearances on stage (1919-21).
² Max von Schillings (1868-1933), German composer and conductor, best known for his opera Mona Lisa (1915), also for his anti-Semitism.

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