Annie Arnoult Beserra, head of Striding Lion Performance Group, fell in love with Valeska Gert in 2005, when, as a grad school student, she saw recently released archival footage of Gert's dance solos. "She was so raw and riddled and vibrant," Beserra says. "There was such life in her embodiment of horrors." Born in 1892 in Berlin, dancer-writer-composer-singer-actress
Gert was blacklisted by the early 1930s, for the crime of being a Jew making avant-garde art. That was far from the end of her colorful career, but Beserra chose the Weimar era as the setting of her new, promenade-style, hour-long Dada Gert.
Captivated by Gert's "100 percent blend of dance and theater," Beserra created a piece that isn't always easy to watch—the seven performers make faces, scream, and strike grotesque poses. But Dada Gert vividly portrays both the artist and the forces that worked against her. Projections of archival photos and videos set the scene, as does the music, featuring Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, and Gert herself. Repeated movements—a bounding Charleston, or hips thrust forward with hands splayed near the crotch—knit the piece together. Thirty-five years after this self-declared witch died, Beserra brings her vibrantly to life.