Dada Divas unearths and re-imagines the stories and creative works of important female artists and performers who were among the originators of the Dada movement: Emmy Hennings, Mina Loy, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Hannah Höch, and others. It illuminates historical and artistic contributions by women who were overshadowed by their male counterparts, and also comments on such larger issues as the status of women, emigrée life, war, and other concerns that are as relevant today as they were when Dada erupted a century ago.
All of these women were involved with poetry, performance, feminism, modeling, and visual art, often made with found objects or even junk picked up from the streets. They lived and worked in some of the same locales and shared many of the same experiences, including being regarded as accomplished peers by the many significant artists and writers with whom they associated. They were star performers, highly sought-after models, and brilliant poets, among their other interdisciplinary activities. At various low points in their lives, they all endured significant poverty and its consequences. Two suffered the loss of a child, all suffered from neurasthenia, and individually they experienced drug addiction or serious illness; braved prostitution out of necessity; and withstood imprisonment. All died in relative obscurity, largely overlooked by history despite their influential roles.
Dada Divas consists of musical and theatrical vignettes and interludes. (A representative list of vignettes, with comments about historical references behind their music or staging, may be found here.) All the work’s major aspects—compositional processes, scenic design, staging, costuming—are based on its protagonists’ lives, performances, artistic works, and movements in which they were involved. Every vignette illustrates and amplifies aspects of Dada, Futurism, and the creative processes that these women used in their own work, which are refreshed by incorporating aspects of today’s musical palette that are descendants of those processes. Both Dada and Futurism spouted anti-Art rhetoric; both flouted traditions and rules. Among ideas drawn from Dada are collage/montage, juxtaposition, non-linearity, found objects/ready-mades, simultaneity, indeterminacy, sound poetry, parody, and the fusion of “high” and “low” art. Among Futurist characteristics are noise (bruitism), dynamism, simultaneity, synthetic theater, parole in libertà, “assaulting” the audience, and exulting in technology. Dada Divas draws upon period traditions of cabaret, variety show, and opera/operetta, linking these to contemporary culture through such recent practices as noise, sound art, experimental music, extended vocal techniques, and performance art.
Dada Divas is modular, non-linear, and site-adaptive. Each performance can be unique in form, length, and personnel, ranging from versions suitable for concerts to fully-staged theatrical productions in a wide variety of spaces and settings. Dada Divas draws on the concept of archives to (re)collect artistic works, auto/ biographies, themes, and issues important to these Dada instigators. The work’s vignettes involve opening and rummaging through boxes—alluding to archival collections in libraries, or forgotten paraphernalia in dusty attics—and (re)discovering mementos and artifacts from these women’s lives and works. This staging examines the paradoxical relationship between the ephemerality of performance and society’s tendency to record and itemize cultural artifacts, and also the irony of anthologizing an artistic movement that sought to abolish such consecration.
Preview performances of Dada Divas were in November 2015 in Brno and Olomouc, Czech Republic, where Jacqueline Bobak was joined by fearless vocalist/artist Carmina Escobar, opera/noise artist Micaela Tobin, and composer Mark Bobak (sound design, incidental music, and electronics). This same group premiered a new staging by director Cordelia Istel in September 2016 in Monterrey, Mexico, at the XIII Festival Internacional Música Nueva, and in November 2016 at the Dada World Fair in San Francisco. Also in November, the cast of Dada Divas was joined by renowned vocalist Jaap Blonk in Los Angeles in a performance of excerpts from the larger work. The research component of Dada Divas will be presented in lectures and publications, and in 2015–2016 constituted a year-long course at the California Institute of the Arts.
A Sample Program
This sample program, performed on 26 November 2015 in Brno, Czech Republic, lasts approximately 70 minutes and may be expanded with additional scenes or contracted to suit variable lengths of time or types of venues. For a description of the vignettes in this program, click here.
Dada Divas in the news
read about Dada Divas at the Dada World Fair in San Francisco on CalArts' blog 24700
read about Dada Divas in this story from
the Modern Literature & Culture Research Centre at Ryerson University in Toronto