A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down at Flicker Bar and being transported one hundred years back in time to Switzerland, to the Cabaret Voltaire. It was part of ICE’s (Ideas for Creative Exploration) commemoration for the centennial of Dada, which had its start in 1916 in Zurich. It featured a collection of bizarre performances, all trying to recapture the idea of Dada, which is no easy task.
The night opened up with composer Luciano Chessa reading “futuristic noise poetry” through a loud speaker, all in Italian. I looked around the room to find everyone just as confused as me, and I began to realize that that might be the point of the whole thing. So I settled in for a ride I knew would be strange. Following Chessa’s reading was a Dada performance of the nativity, in which the actors from the theatre department made strange noises and played with flashlights from behind a tarp that stretched completely across the stage. It featured a Joseph and Mary that spoke entirely in gibberish, and three wise men, who spoke entirely in French. All of the action could only be seen in the shadows reflected on the tarp. Later in the night a man read, and then ate, his completely incompressible poem before throwing the spit wads at another man doing interpretative dance next to him on stage. Also of note was a piano performance composed entirely by pulling out the same number of notes from a hat as there are letters in the definition of ‘academic.’ If that doesn’t make much sense to you, it really shouldn’t, but trust me, it was surprisingly good.
Despite not being truly Dada, the highlight of the night came with a performance by a traditional Balalaika orchestra out of Atlanta (a similar one once preformed at the original Cabaret Voltaire). The three peace set was comprised of a tiny guitar, a gigantic bass (the musician’s pick was the size of his hand), and an absolutely beautiful accordion. The sound was beautiful and hard to describe, and I’d recommend giving it a listen.
What I realized as the night unfolded was the importance of the Dada movement, which sprung up in New York and Switzerland around the same time as a response to the chaos of World War I. As the poetry editor for this year’s issue, I appreciated just how unstructured the whole concept of Dada is and how it pushed artistic expression further than it had ever gone before. It created a landscape in which structure did not have to be apparent, or even there at all. The influence of the movement can be seen wide and far in more avant-garde artists like Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Boroughs, to more popular names like the Beatles and Monty Python. Dada allowed art to become something completely different than it had been before, and I for one am glad of that.
(For those interested more in Dadaism, I’d recommend reading the book Destruction Was My Beatrice: Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century by Jed Rasula, who helped put on the show at Flicker Bar)
Dada Centennial (part 3) will be on February 25th at the Flicker Bar at 8pm. The event is free. This is the last installation.