Dada Divas unearths, reanimates, and celebrates the stories, legacy, and creative work of the Dada movement’s female pioneers: Mina Loy, Baroness Elsa von Freytag­-Loringhoven, Emmy Hennings, and others. Overshadowed historically by their male counterparts, these women are illuminated by the (re)discovery of mementos and artifacts from their lives and works. Dada Divas draws on the concept of archives to (re)collect artistic works, auto/biographies, and issues important to these Dada instigators, weaving together art and biography through vignettes based on themes, life events, and artistic exploits important to these interdisciplinary artists while commenting on the status of women, émigré life, drug addiction, war, and other concerns that are as pressing 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 (A synopsis, including comments about historical references behind the music or staging, may be found here.)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 also reflects a process of discovery, since one of its characters is a modern scholar who opens and rummages through boxes—alluding to archival collections in libraries, or forgotten paraphernalia in dusty attics—and examines the paradoxical relationship between the ephemerality of performance and society’s tendency to record and itemize cultural artifacts, as well as the irony of anthologizing an artistic movement that sought to abolish such consecration. 

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 was previewed initially 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 presented new stagings 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 that November, the cast of Dada Divas presented excerpts from the larger work in a concert featuring renowned vocalist Jaap Blonk at the performance space Automata in Los Angeles. Compositional work continues toward making the piece a full-fledged opera scheduled for presentation in Mexico City in late 2018. 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.


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