Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Olga Desmond

Olga Desmond was a Prussian dancer and actress born in 1891, infamous in her day for being one of the first to promote nudity onstage in theatre and dance.

In 1908 she caused a scandal in St. Petersburg, Russia with her fully nude performances entitled Olga Desmond’s Evenings of Beauty. In the Russian press, Desmond defended her right to appear naked:

"Call it daring or bold, or however you want to describe my appearance on the stage, but this requires art, and it (art) is my only deity, before whom I bow and for which I am prepared to make all possible sacrifices. I decided to break the centuries-old heavy chains, created by people themselves. When I go out on stage completely naked, I am not ashamed, I am not embarrassed, because I come out before the public just as I am, loving all that is beautiful and graceful. There was never a case when my appearance before the public evoked any cynical observations or dirty ideas."

When asked by a St. Petersburg reporter whether a dance costume would interfere with her expressions of her art onstage, Olga replied: "To be completely graceful in a costume or even in a tricot is unthinkable. And I decided to throw off this needless yoke."

Male nudity was even rarer in nude dance routines in those days, but early in her career she would often perform nude with a man named Adolf Salge, one of many men in her life over the years.

She appeared in a handful of German motion pictures, including 1915's Seifenblasen(Soap Bubbles), 1918's Der Mut zur S√ľnde (The Courage for sin), and 1919's Maria's Sonntagsgewand (Maria’s Sunday clothes).

By 1922 she was a successful and respected University ballet teacher in Berlin, who pushed the envelope of the school's rules by conducting classes with her students in the tiniest bikinis possible. Her most prodigious student was Hertha Feist, who went on to become a member of Rudolf von Laban's dance ensemble.

In 1937, for reasons not clear, Olga attempted suicide. She survived, however, and lived on until 1964. Although her illustrious and brave stage career is all but forgotten, her book Rhythmographik is still studied by many European dance enthusiasts even today.

1 comment:

  1. We need more people with courage like hers today.