Hanns Gerard

Hanns Gerard

One of Germany’s leading exponents of dance in the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 1930s, alongside Mary Wigman, Harald Kreutzberg and Rudolf von Laban, was Hanns Gerard who created his touring company the Ballett Gerard out of Berlin. His performance style was totally distinctive, unique and different. Although described as ballet it was also more akin to pantomime and revue with themed ‘stories’ supported by distinctive costumes and décor.

A portrait of Hanns Gerard 1920s
A portrait of Hanns Gerard 1920s

Hanns Gerard (also named Hans) was born Johannes Kurt Wilhelm Gerard on the 17th March 1897 in Charlottenburg, Berlin. He was part of a seemingly extended and complicated family. His mother Ottilie Slandina Clara Gerard was born on 31st January 1867. It would appear she had her first child Josefine Cordula Blandine Gerard on 27th November 1891. And so there was a big gap between her first child – Josefine – and her second – Johannes – in 1897. The father of both children was not disclosed at the time. But later, in April 1906, both birth documents were amended identifying the father as Heinrich Frederick Konrad Johann Schroder.

Portrait of Hanns Gerard, 1920s (taken from the internet)
Portrait of Hanns Gerard, 1920s (taken from the internet)

Heinrick Schroder was born on the 17th January 1870 in Eldagsen, south of Hanover but there is no clue as to when or why he moved to Berlin or what his profession was. Significantly on 4th April 1899 Heinrick and Ottilie married in Charlottenberg. Thereafter, the couple had several further children: Klara Brünchilde Hildegard Helene (5/6/1900), Herbert Viktor Lambert (3/6/1901), Rolf Lothar Karl Georg Schröder (11/8/1902), Marie (1903, died 1903), Friedrich Georg (1904, died 1904) and Ruth Irma Pia Seela (31/10/06).

Sadly, Ottilie Schroder died in Chalrottenburg on 10th August 1922 aged 55. Two years later in 1924, Johannes (Hans Gerard) decided to abandon the family name of Schroder and officially adopted the surname of Gerard, his mother’s maiden name.

Hanns Gerard, Munich, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube's photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)
Hanns Gerard, Munich, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube’s photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)

Clearly, the family lived in Charlottenburg, and Hanns must have grown up and gone to school there. Given his later profession as a dancer and choreographer, he must have attended some form of dance classes in his youth before or during the First World War.

The first confirmed solo credit for Hanns Gerard was in January 1918 dancing in a small touring company out of Berlin that performed at the Sieglehaus in Stuttgart. The lead dancing star was Mary Zimmermann born 1889, who was the ballet and dance mistress at the Deutsches Opernhaus Berlin, which was located on the western side of Charlottenburg off Bismarckstraße. As part of her dancing corps, Hanns Gerard was described as being ‘the famous solo dancer’ and ‘the artistic director’ and this association confirms that it was at the Deutsches Opernhaus Berlin that Gerard first made his mark prior to 1918 under Zimmermann’s instruction.

Portrait of Hanns Gerard, in costume, 1920s (taken from the internet)
Portrait of Hanns Gerard, in costume, 1920s (taken from the internet)

A few days after their debut in Stuttgart, the dancing event suffered a set-back when Hanns Gerard, was unable to take part for military reasons. Presumably he had been called up for military service.  However, it was a short break because in March 1918 he was once again dancing with the Zimmerman company in the town of Bielefeld and was recognised in his artistic dance called an ‘Ancient Roman Fratzentanz (or Grotesque Dance) that was described as having ‘extraordinary character’.

Gerard continued to dance with Mary Zimmermann for the next few years, both at the Deutschen Opernhauses and perhaps at other places, although at the same time he also danced with other partners. So, for example, in early 1919 he was dancing with Lucy Kieselhausen, first at the Köln Lesesaal in February 1919 and then at the Central Theatre in Leipzig in March and April 1919. Born in Vienna in 1897, Kieselhausen had been a student of Grete Wiesenthal and her artistic modern approach had evolved out of ballet culture. She had already been seen in two silent films: Deutsche Modenschau auf der Deutschen Werkbundausstellung zu Bern (1917) and Tausend und eine Frau (1918) and appeared in two more films in 1919 and 1923. Since Kieselhausen also performed in Berlin at the Bluthersaal in February 1919 it is likely that Gerard was her accomplice.

In early 1920 there were notices in Sport im Bild that Zimmerman and Gerard were performing at the Deutschen Opernhauses. But, it was also in late 1920, that the Ballett Gerard made its debut and at first, the ballett was linked to the Scala Theatre in Berlin.

The Scala Palast was a large music hall of modern construction with ballrooms, restaurants and cafes along with the main auditorium that opened at Lutherstraße 22-24 on the corner of Augsburgerstraße (now Martin-Luther Straße 12-14 at the corner of Fuggerstraße) on 2nd November 1920. The venue, previously an ice-skating palast, was created by nine mostly Jewish businessmen – including the owner of the publishing house Lichtbild-Bühne, Karl Wolffsohn and the aircraft industrialist Anton Fokker and was under the direction of the banker Jules Marx.  Hanns Gerard was appointed as dance director and clearly was responsible for creating some of the main tableaux amidst the variety acts and this is where Ballett Gerard made its debut. The composition of the first ‘show’ is not known but in the December programme Ballett Gerard featured the well-known fashion pantomime The Eastern Goddess.

A scene from the Ballett Gerard, the Scala, Berlin, 1921 (taken from the internet)
A scene from the Ballett Gerard, the Scala, Berlin, 1921 (taken from the internet)

In a later interview for the Chicago Tribune Hanns Gerard was described as being ‘a thoroughly interesting artist’ and it was acknowledged that ‘he can write music, though he has never studied music; he can sing; he designs his own sets frequently, his poetry has been published in magazines, but his greatest passion is the dance.’  In particular he was very fond of the art of pantomime and began organising his own ballets to present ballet pantomimes with as many as 35 people. The first of these ‘shows’ must have been at the Scala and it is possible that Gerard continued creating shows for the Scala throughout 1921. However, Hanns Gerard also did other things and for example on 3rd February 1921 there was a special performance with Anna Pallay, the prima donna of the Budapest National Opera at the Blüthner Hall. (Bluthnersaal) in Berlin. Both gave their own special dances and also danced together.  A little later on 21st February 1921 the Ballett Gerald were performing at Hans Gruss’s Deutsches Theater in Munchen (Munich) as part of a variety show that included a range of other acts. This may indicate that Ballett Gerard was also touring in Germany with the show created initially for the Scala.

In December 1921 Hanns Gerard took part in the Fasching or Carnival presented by Otto Ludwig Haas-Heye at the Kunstgewerbe museum (The museum of decorative arts) in Prinz-Albrecht-Straße 8. The wealthy and well-connected publisher and designer Haas-Heye, had become head of the fashion department at the Kunstgewerbe museum in 1920 and celebrated its first annual celebration with a sumptuous festival. Apart from the costumes for the attendees and students, Haas-Heye costumed the three main performers in a special dance show that included Maria Ley, Hanns Gerard and Carl Raimund from Vienna. It was thought that the ‘the strongest unity of body and costume was demonstrated by the dancer Hanns Gerard’ especially in his performance in the Hall of the Mountain King (that later became one of his key show-pieces).

The scene 'the Hall of the Mountain King, with Hanns Gerard, 1920s
The scene ‘the Hall of the Mountain King, with Hanns Gerard, 1920s

Perhaps the Ballett Gerard continued to perform in 1922 but no confirmed credits have surfaced so far. However, Hanns Gerald did dance with Mary Zimmermann again at the Bluthnersaal, Berlin and on his own at the Schwechten-Saal Berlin in January 1922. Later in the year, in December 1922 and January 1923, Hanns Gerard was also dancing with Madame Karoly and Anna Medwedewa (the latter was described as being from the Russian ballet in Moscow) at the Kunstlertheatre Apollo in Mannheim. This was a venue owned by Ben Tieber, the Austrian theatre director and owner of the Apollo Theatre in Vienna that was regarded as the most popular variety theatre in Vienna.

At some point Hanns Gerald met and fell in love with another dancer with the name of Dita Georgiewa and they married on 28th March 1923 in Charlottenburg. Dita was regularly described as being Russian and was born Edith Magdalena Von Semmer on 31st March 1894 in Tiflis (modern day Tbilis the capital of Georgia and part of Russia). Given her surname she may have had German ancestry. Perhaps Dita had been performing with Madame Karoly and Anna Medwedewa and that is how she met Gerard. After 1923 she became an integral part of the Ballett Gerard.

Hanns and Dita Gerard, Munich, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube's photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)
Hanns and Dita Gerard, Munich, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube’s photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)

Significantly the political and economic situation in Germany had become increasingly difficult by the early part of 1923. Inflation and strikes were causing problems for the entertainment industry and many performers moved to Vienna or other parts of Europe.  For example, by April 1923 Billboard announced that German Vaudeville was in crisis and ‘the edge is off the big business boom.’ The only benefit was that the escalating exchange rates brought an increase in foreign visitors. In June 1923 the dollar was worth 50,000 mark but by late 1923, the dollar was worth 4.2 trillion marks. Finally, in early 1924, the mark was stabilised with the issuance of the rentenmark of gold parity and the dollar returned to 25 cents to the mark.

Hanns Gerard appears to have weathered the storm and in May 1923 he was in Innsbruck, Austria with the Ballett Gerard at the Colosseum, a circus and variety venue run by August Bolher jr. It looks likely that his ballet troupe was part of a touring variety group with Sylvester Schaffer as the headliner. Schaffer was German but had been touring and living in America before returning to Germany after the war. He was a heartthrob, strongman, juggler, magician, quick-change artist and had become a film star appearing in several films released in 1922. It would appear that Schaffer had been touring Italy before stopping off at Innsbruck enroute back to Germany. Schaffer was described as ‘unique in his highly artistic performances.’ It is therefore likely that the Ballet Gerard had been touring with Schaffer in Italy before returning to Germany.

Hanns Gerard, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube's photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)
Hanns Gerard, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube’s photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)
Hanns Gerard, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube's photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)
Hanns Gerard, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube’s photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)

Hanns Gerard was once again described as being from the opera house in Berlin and ‘a young, extremely talented dancer whose name reaches far beyond Germany’s borders and who is a highly artistic designer.’  The ladies of his ballett ensemble included Lilly Krüger, (Schaffer married her in 1930) a principal dancer of the Berlin Opera, and Deta Georgiewa (Gerard’s newly married wife), described as being a ‘character dancer of the Russian Ballet in Petersburg.’

Back in Berlin, Hanns Gerald and his Ballett Gerard headlined at the Scala once again in September 1923 in a series of six numbers. The dancing was thought to be ‘impeccable’ and the costumes and decor by Haas-Heye from the Kunstgewerbe museum (The museum of decorative arts) and the Theater Kunstgewerbehaus (Koniggratzer str 8) were greatly admired. It was also announced at this time that William L. Passport (the Foreign German booking agent) was now representing the Hanns Gerard Ballet that was thought to be of the ‘more modern school.’ From Berlin, the Ballett Gerard may have toured because in November 1923, the troupe was performing at the Central Theatre in Dresden again with six numbers.

In 1924 there appears to have been a ‘new show’ to the one presented by Ballett Gerard in 1923 and it may have been launched in April 1924 in Berlin.  It is documented that Ballett Gerard performed at the Walhalla in Berlin at this time. The Walhalla theatre was at 19 Weinbergsweg in Mitte and had been taken over by the manager Weise-Sachse in February 1924. His tenure did not last long and by mid-May he declared his inability to pay salaries and then disappeared. It is not known if Hanns Gerard was one of the casualties of non-payment.

Hanns Gerard and his ballet troupe, Munich, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube's photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)
Hanns Gerard and his ballet troupe, Munich, 1924 (taken from Fidy Grube’s photographic album, courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)

Immediately, the Ballet Gerard changed venue and began a run at the Alhambra Theater Kurfustendamm from mid-May 1925. Described as ‘one of the best ballets of recent times’ Hanns Gerald and Dita Georgiewa were mentioned for their lively dancing and jumping and their humour. The magnificently coloured costumes and décor by Haas-Hebe were also greatly admired.

Thankfully, one of the members of Hanns Gerard’s ballet in 1924 and 1925 was the dancer Fidi Grube. His photographic albums spanning this period have proven most instructive and illuminating. It would appear that the troupe Gerard assembled for the 1924-1925 tour included not just Hans Gerard’s wife Dita, but also Fidi Grube, Kitty Zammit, Kira Gurskaja, Rita Mitschiner, Erika Lenz, Arnold Surkow (or Surkov), Mady Charles, Ruth Wille and a Herr Willi.  It is more than likely that this line up was featured at the Walhalla and Alhambra Theatre in Berlin in April and May 1924.

Hanns Gerard and his ballet troupe in Rehearsals in Leipzig, 1924
Hanns Gerard and his ballet troupe in Rehearsals in Leipzig, 1924

It is documented that the Hans Gerard Ballett toured through Germany through 1924 and 1925 visitingHamburg (July 1924), Munich (August 1924), Nuremberg, Leipzig, Cologne and Stuttgart (February 1925). The group also visited Budapest (October 1924), San Remo, Lugano (March 1925), Alassio and Innsbruck (May 1925) but there may have been other stops on the tour in other European cities.

Hanns Gerard and his ballet troupe in Rehearsals in Leipzig, 1924
Hanns Gerard and his ballet troupe in Rehearsals in Leipzig, 1924

There were two detailed accounts of the performance of the Ballett Gerard from Stuttgart in February 1925 and in Innsbruck in May 1925. There were thirteen scenes:  a Prologue by Pierrot, (Grube), “In the wardrobe” set in the 18th century (with Zammit and three others), “Flames” (Gerard), “Youth”, “Shadow of Death” (full of dramatic force and uncanny horror), “Powderpuff” (with Zammit), “Night Spook” (with Zammit and four others), “Russian Dances”, “Vojarentanz”, “Pas de Deux” (with  Zammit and Gerard), “Grotesque” (with Zammit and Grube and four others), “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (in which Gerard showed his great art of dancing), “Japanese Fairy Tale” (with Zammit and Grube and one other), “Dolls” (with Zammit and four others representing the big doll, fashions dolls and music boxes) and finally, the Pierrot (Grube) closed the performance.

There was stunning scenery and costumes and the ‘show’ was thought to be technically refined, stylish, and highly artistic with excellent ensemble performances and outstanding soloists. The cast gave gifted characterizations with unusual, yet convincing acting. Overall, it was a ‘sensational dance evening’.

It is more than likely that the show as described originated in Berlin in April and May 1924 and carried on being performed through 1925. It is likely that Fidi Grube and Kitty Zammit continued dancing with Hanns Gerard’s company through the early part of 1926 but then formed their own dancing partnership and were a huge success through to 1935. Later they re-united under Hanns Gerard’s banner in 1930 in Paris and Amsterdam.

Ballett Gerard was back in Berlin in June 1925 and began performing at the world-famous Luna Park for the summer. Luna Park was one of Berlin’s most important summer amusement resorts at the end of the Kurferstendamm in Hallensee. It was regarded as having a classy, upper-class audience and held a range of attractions such as water slides, mountain train, cafe terraces, theater, dance hall, concert area and a Bavarian themed village. At one point, before the First World War, it could count on 50,000 visitors in a day and the cafe could serve in excess of 10,000. But by the 1920s its appeal had declined a little but bounced back under new management in 1924.

In early July 1925, Hanns Gerard began an interesting association with the German movie company UFA. Gerard created a stage prolog or opera featuring dramatic dancing entitled Schatten des Todes (Shadow of Death) as part of the programme for a screening of Dr Mabuse der Spieler at UFA Turmstrasse, Berlin. Dita Georglewa played the sick girl with Gerard (as death), first vision (Kyra Gurakaje), second vision (Rita Mitschiner), third vision (Mady Charles) and the fourth vision (Ruth Wille).

This trend of a stage prolog before a film screening in a picture palace came from America and had been pioneered by Samuel Rothafel at the Capitol theatre in New York from 1920. It spread to Europe but did not make a significant impact until 1925 although some attempts had been made before.  One of the first picture palaces to do some form of stage presentation in Berlin was at the Alhambra picture palace on the Kurfürstendamm, where a range of variety acts were offered ten-week contract with two show’s nightly from October 1924.

Hanns Gerard and colleague in a typical pantomime pose, 1920s (taken from the internet)
Hanns Gerard and colleague in a typical pantomime pose, 1920s (taken from the internet)

The idea swiftly took hold and UFA, the biggest film concern began to participate. By early 1925 UFA owned 120 theatres with 19 of them located in Berlin with the group rapidly expanding.  A ‘circuit’ was established with 19 of the UFA picture houses that played a mixed programme of vaudeville acts with a four-week tour. The next phase, in late 1925, was the implementation of a mini-show, ballet or opera as the prolog as an alternative to simply providing variety acts as demonstrated by the Ballett Gerard prolog.

Of course, since the First World War, the Americans had infiltrated Berlin theatrical and film life and exerted an increasing influence. One of the important figures in these proceedings was the German born Samuel Rachmann. He had variously been a theatrical director, a promoter, financier, agent, businessman and film executive and had criss-crossed the Atlantic numerous times and had lived in America during the war. Because of his background he became a ‘fixer’ for American film interests in Germany. Rachmann had been involved with the abortive attempt by Famous Players Lasky (later Paramount) to establish a film studio as the European Film Alliance in 1921-1922 in opposition to UFA. Thereafter, he became an arbiter between American movie companies and UFA and had his fingers in numerous other pies.

When the UFA flagship at UFA Palast Am Zoo was re-opened after renovation in October 1925 it was Rachmann who co-ordinated a fresh approach to the presentation as manager.  He engaged Erno Rappe from America to lead a seventy-five-piece orchestra and the accomplished dancer Alexander Oumansky, also from America to stage a large ballet. Oumansky had devised shows for the Metropolitan Grauman Theaters in Los Angeles and the Capitol Theatre in New York. The American press were effusive about the opening and Variety in an arrogant and disparaging tone declared that ‘for the first time Berlin had the chance to see an American Picture presentation as it really is.’ And then added that for years the Germans had been making feeble efforts to imitate the style of entertainment given in New York but they had never come anywhere near it.  Whether these shows were ‘better’ than the German ones is an interesting point. Given the volume of overseas visitors to Berlin at the time, including many Americans, the shows would have found favour with them.  And yet were they liked by native Berliners and was a more German style show preferred?

The ’Americanised’ presentations continued at the UFA Palast am Zoo through 1926 and presumably at some other UFA movie palaces. At the same time some of the UFA picture palaces were running stage presentations entirely in the German style and usually built around a German made picture. For example, in early March 1926 at the Gloria Palast there was a ‘ballet pantomime’ called ‘The Flees’ that served to introduce Lil Dagover one of the featured players in the film Herr Tartuffe. A few weeks later also at the Gloria Palast was a ballet entitled A Florentine Phantasy staged by S. Vermel.

At the same time UFA was increasing its film production at its studios at Templehof and Neubabelsberg. This had been encouraged by the positive news of the reciprocal deal with financial benefits between UFA and four of America’s biggest film companies (Famous Players Lasky or Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn, Warner and First National) signed in late 1925. The deal, possibly orchestrated by Samuel Rachmann, meant that UFA gave the big four first call on their facilities and the American firms agreed to handle UFA films in the USA. However, UFA continued to be in dire financial crisis.

Much later in 1930, it was reported that Hanns Gerard had in fact staged all the ballets as prolongs in UFA’s big Berlin cinemas for two years. It was noted that Hanns Gerard’s type of ballet was regarded as unique and that according to the UFA system, these prologues, given in advance to their big pictures, were presented by the actual artists who appeared in the screen. Gerard directed them in these sequences and offered pantomimes in the spirit of each film. At the same time Hanns Gerard also directed all of the ballets and dance numbers in many of UFA’s film productions. We are not told exactly when this happened but clearly it was during the period 1925-1929.

There are few confirmed credits for the stage prolongs that Hanns Gerard staged. Other than the one in July 1925, it is known that Ballett Gerard appeared at the UFA Palast in Dresden in December 1926 and the Atrium Beba Palast in Berlin in November 1927 and October 1929. The Beba-Palast (Atrium) was located in the southwest Berlin district of Wilmersdorf, at the corner of Bundesallé (ex Kaiserallé) and Berlinerstrasse. It had opened in 1926 and had a magnificent curved façade, with the Colisseum in Rome as inspiration.

Equally, there are no indications of the films that Hans Gerard choreographed for UFA. However, one credit does survive where he was director of the dance sequences in the comedy film Der Veilchenfresser (the Violet Eater). Filmed in August and September 1926 in the Staaken studio, the stars were Lil Dagover and Harry Liedtke for the production company of Friedrich Zelnick Film. Released via the Deutsches Lichtspiel Syndicate, the premiere in late September 1926 was at the Marmorhaus in Berlin.

Chorus line in the film Der Veilchenfresser 1926 (taken from the internet)
Chorus line in the film Der Veilchenfresser 1926 (taken from the internet)

The next big credit surfaces with Hanns Gerard and the Ballett Gerard performing in the Nelson Theatre (Kurfurstendamm theatre) within the Rudolf Nelson’s show called Es geht schon besser (It’s getting Better) in a segment called the Parkett-Tanz revue in September 1926. The show starred Harald Paulsen, Dora Aldor, Emma Sturm, Martin Kettner, Max Adalbert, Charlotte Ander, Elisabeth Claassen and a Russian dance couple called Parts-Oginsky and was directed by Heinz Saltenburg. The Gerard Ballet segment was allegedly designed to make the dancing at the Nelson Theater more stimulating after the performance. Under the ‘technically excellent’ direction of Hanns Gerard there was a dance ‘Parquet Dance Revue’ with the Nelson girls and some Russian dancers who gracefully hopped and jumped around in clever costumes on the stage and the hall.

The Ballett Gerard must have toured with the revue from the Nelson Theater in late 1926 because at the beginning of 1927, it was noted that they had been performing in Breslau and were due to appear in Leipzig at the Association of German press charity festival to be staged in the Great Festival Hall of the Zoological Gardens. A few days later, Ballet Gerard were part of another charity festival held in the Zoological Gardens in Berlin along with Else Knepel and KarlIöken from the State Opera.

There is another lapse in the record with regard what Hanns Gerard was doing in 1927 but in October 1927, Ballett Gerard were being featured at the Metropol Palast in Berlin in a variety show with other acts. The next known credits appear in the Spring of 1928 at the Mannheim Apollo (January 1928) and Dusseldorf Apollo (March 1928) that suggests another tour of variety theaters in German cities. Their programme consisted of the number ‘Puppets’, a play at midnight with Wladimir Smiernoff as a jumping jack, a delightful Rococo number called ‘Rendezvous’, ‘Marchen’ a fragrant play of flowers and fauna and ‘Alt-Wien’ a glorification of the Berlin Theater.

There are only two confirmed credits in 1928 showing that the Ballett Gerard appeared at the Tushinski Theatre, Amsterdam in May 1928 and the Central Theater, Dresden in August 1928. Then in April 1929, the Ballett Gerard made their debut in France at the Palais de la Méditerranée in Nice and a little later in September they were performing once again at the Scala in Berlin, but this time a new lead ballerina was named as Maryla Gremo. As we have noted previously, Ballet Gerald were also dancing at the Atrium Beba Palast Wilmersdorf in October 1929 and then at the Apollo Theater, Mannheim in December 1929. Maryla Gremo was a child actress and dancer allegedly born in in Lwóv, Poland, in October 1911. She had studied in Berlin under numerous ballet masters including Mary Zimmerman, performed all over Europe in the early 1920s and sought inspiration from the great German dancers Mary Wigman and Rudolf Laban before joining Hanns Gerard.

At some point in late 1929 or early 1930 Hanns Gerard accepted an offer to perform in Argentina and Brazil (Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro) with Gerard on his own earning about £400 a month. Maryla Gremo was noted as the prima ballerina amidst the Ballett Gerard troupe and was featured in 12 numbers. Presumably they danced in Buenos Aires for a while. But something untoward happened. Allegedly Gremo became ill during the tour thus breaking the contract. She left the company and went to Brazil. According to a report in Vorwärts it was ascertained that ‘acute illness’ was ruled out by a German consular doctor in Buenos Aires suggesting that the illness was not legitimate. Gremo’s sudden departure (for whatever reason) left Hanns Gerard high and dry and it would appear that this caused the impresario who booked them to not undertake any further engagements for the Ballet Gerard. Hanns Gerard was unable to sue Gremo for breach of contract, the premature ending of the tour and the loss of earnings for everyone and the company were forced to return to Germany. Hanns Gerard paid for everyone’s return passage.

On the return from South America, the Ballett Gerard was seen for two weeks at the Empire Theatre in Paris at the end of April to the beginning of May 1930. It was noted that Hanns Gerard was a ‘a powerful and graceful dancer’ and that ‘only artists of the highest grade’ appeared with him. It was reported that his repertory consisted of 40 different numbers, that there were 35 people in his ballet troupe but only 12 in his corps for the performance in Paris which included Dita Gerard and the acrobatic dancers Kitty Zammit and Fidy Grube who had performed with him in 1924-1926. They were both seen in one number called ‘Blond Fantasy’ but there were also other numbers:  a mechanical doll ballet, a lovely Viennese Waltz, a Farmyard dance with a set by Walter Trier and a number with just Hanns Gerard called Classical Jazz.

A scene from farmyard ballet by Hanns Gerard, 1920s
A scene from farmyard ballet by Hanns Gerard, 1920s

From Paris, the Ballett Gerard group went to Cologne and from 16th May 1930 were part of a stage presentation in the picture palace of the Capitol theatre, then the Metropol theatre in Bonn (at the end of May 1930) and the Apollo theatre, Dusseldorf (June 1930).  It would appear that the same group toured through the rest of 1930 and by November they were in Holland appearing first at the Theater Tuschinski, Amsterdam (in a stage presentation in advance of a film screening) and then at the City Theatre, the Hague.

Ballet Gerard were described as ‘a dancing ensemble of acceptable qualities, sparkling in presentation, sure in beat and rhythm and sensitive in the dancing form’ and ‘masterpieces of their kind.’ Some of the numbers had been performed in Paris and included: fairy tales, powder puffs, love in the chicken yard (a delicious parody that ends with the horrible death of the rooster), a waltz by Strauss and fantasy in blonde featuring Kitty Zammit and Fidi Grube in ‘amazing dance acrobatics of sometimes unimagined technique.’

Portrait of Hanns Gerard, in costume, and framed by a set of a Jazz band, 1920s
Portrait of Hanns Gerard, in costume, and framed by a set of a Jazz band, 1920s

Others in the cast were Genia Bruno and Rudi Lingner (as the hilarious duck couple), Marussja Popper, Marcelle Haleine, Dita Georgiewa (Hans Gerard’s wife), Hilde Dahn, Paolo Misslitz and Heinz von Paquet. One report said that ‘the soul of the whole thing’ was Hanns Gerard, who was also responsible for direction and chorography. In addition, there was ‘a little, bobbed-headed whirlwind’ called Beate Bradna who emerged from a bursting giant balloon and did an acrobatic and contortionist dance.

In 1931 only two confirmed credits for Ballett Gerard can be found. The first was in May 1931 where they appeared at the Plaza (Die Plaza) variety theatre located in the former Ostbahnhof (Küstriner Bahnhof) in Friedrichshain, Küstriner Platz 11, today’s Franz-Mehring-Platz 1. It had opened in 1929 and at the time was one of Berlin’s biggest variety theaters alongside the Scala and Wintergarten. The second credit was from the Ronacher variety Theatre in Vienna in August 1931. Here, one of the admired scenes (designed by Walter Trier) was the ‘Drama of the Chicken Yard’ that had been seen earlier in Paris with Hanns Gerard as the rooster. Presumably, Ballett Gerard was once again on tour in Europe and there were a lot more places that they visited.  This may have included some stops in Scandinavia since in January 1932 there was a dramatic story in Copenhagen relating to Hanns Gerard’s wife Dita.

Seemingly, Dita, described as an ‘attractive Russian dancer’, twice attempted suicide and had been in a serious condition. She had swallowed poison and an antidote had been given but then she had slashed both wrists. The suicide was reported to be the result of a love affair. Apparently she had been having medical from a prominent physician called Fritz Lassen for two weeks. Oddly, his wife is Ella Lessen, who had been a prima ballerina in the Royal Danish Opera, shot and killed herself in 1930. He denied there had been any affair.

Presumably this was the reason that Dita and Hanns Gerard parted company because at some point he married another dancer called Ruth von Srbincki. Dita appears to continue performing as part of Ballett Gerard but it looks as if in the late 1930s Dita ran her own troupe called Dita Gerard Ballett that was separate from the Hanns Gerard Ballett.

However, despite this unfortunate incident the troupe continued to tour. They were at the Apollo Theater, Dusseldorf in May 1932, the Scala in Berlin in August 1933 and in February 1934 back at the Apollo Theater, Dusseldorf where it was noted that overall direction was by Dita Gerard. Directed and choreography by Hanns Gérard. By March 1934 they were at the Roxy Palast, Berlin (a streamlined art deco styled cinema that had opened in 1929) and then in April 1934 they were at the Metropol Theatre in Bonn. Both of these shows were a stage presentation in advance of a movie screening. The five sets were described as being captivating and brightly colored and included Porcelain (a rococo scene set to Mozart’s music); a ghostly and grotesque scene with a masquerade of the laundry items in a Biedermeier Viennese suburb; a scene of gracefully agile bees fighting the clumsy, obtrusive drones; a finely stylized masked dance and finally an exotic portrayal of “1895” in a brilliant parody of fashion and customs around the turn of the century.

The same scenes were probably being shown as part of an extensive programme at the Sarrasani circus in Dresden as part of special fund- raising event by film actor Harry Peil in November 1934, at the Scala Theatre in Berlin in December 1934 and in Baden Baden in April 1935.  At the end of 1935, Ballett Gerard were featured in the annual visit to Berlin of the Circus Krone and immediately afterward at the Scala where they gave a Christmas pantomime.

Given the gradual lack of credits for the Ballet Gerard toward the mid-1930s one cannot help wondering if the advent of Hitler and the Nazis had some effect on their performance. Hanns Gerard appears to have changed his emphasis and began to act as a choreographer for stage and screen rather than staging Ballett Gerard shows.

At the same time, in late 1935 and in Berlin, Hanns Gerard became the choreographer for a short film called Karneval. Produced as a result of the quota system it was directed by F.B. Nier for producer Robert Neppach. Listed as being released by Neppach’’s production company it was also listed as an Ufa film and was in colour. Some press reports even claim that it was first German colour film.  The film was based on the piano music of the same name by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) who had been inspired by Carnival or Fasching, the festive season that occurs in the Christian calendar before Lent. Schumann’s music evoked a world of masked revelers in 21 short pieces.

The cast included Ursula Deint (Columbine), Rudolph Lingner (Pantalone, her guardian, an old miser), Enno Lingner (Capitano, a rich suitor for Colombine), Fred Becker (Florindo, his rival, who has nothing to offer), Kurt Lenz (Arlecchino, his accomplice) and Maria Tamara (Zerline, Colombia’s maid).  The world premiere was in Berlin on 5th March 1936 at a special event and it was given a screening at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo on 20thMarch 1936, Berlin.

In late 1936 Hanns Gerard also choregraphed the dance sequences in the film Es geht um mein Leben (My Life Is at Stake). A murder mystery, it was directed by Richard Eichberg, a well-established German film-maker and released 15th December 1936 through Tobis Europe (a German-French production). The stars were Kitty Jantzen and Karl Ludwig Diehl and the former had been discovered by Eichberg at a car show and this was her first leading role. She married Eichberg. Although a routinely made crime film, Jantzen played a famous movie actress and hence there were several elaborate stage sets and gorgeously gowned chorus girls in several dancing routines.

A scene from the film Es geht um mein Leben, 1936 (taken from the internet)
A scene from the film Es geht um mein Leben, 1936 (taken from the internet)
A scene from the film Es geht um mein Leben, 1936 (taken from the internet)
A scene from the film Es geht um mein Leben, 1936 (taken from the internet)

Hanns Gerard then worked with Richard Eichberg again in 1937 as choreographer for two films Der Tiger von Eschnapur or The Tiger of Eschnapur (released 6/1/38 and Das indische Grabmal or The Indian Tomb (released 28/1/38). Once again, the films were released through Tobis Europe and featured the German dancer La Jana, Fritz van Dongen and Kitty Jantzen. The cast and crew spent at least 3 months filming exteriors for both films in India in the Spring of 1937 and in the summer of 1937 filmed interiors at the Tobis Johannisthal Studios in Berlin. They also made French versions of both films. The films were stunning epics rich in exotic imagery and mysticism and the dances that Hanns Gerald devised would have reflected this.

A scene from The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb, 1938 (taken from the internet)
A scene from The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb, 1938 (taken from the internet)

In January 1938 as the two Eichberg films were being screened in Berlin, the Ballett Gerard were spending three weeks in Rome. In April 1938 the first known listing for the appearance of the Dita Gerard ballet took place at the Wintergarten in Berlin (another performance took pace at Kaiserhof in Berlin in January 1939). Then, in May 1938, Hanns Gerard was credited with the choreography for a revue or operetta called Heut bin ich verliebt (Today I’m in love) staged at the Dresden Central Theater, although it may have had a run beforehand at the Admirals Palast in Berlin.

The last known screen credit came in late 1939 when Hanns Gerard arranged the dances for the backstage musical called Wir tanzen um die Welt (We Danced Around the World). Directed by Karl Anton, once again for Tobis Films, it was released in 22nd December 1939 and featured Charlotte Thiele, Irene von Meyendorff, and Carola Höhn. Most of the filming took place in the Theater des Volkes in Berlin, and one report toungue in cheek reported that the theatre had been transformed into a film studio. The Volkes had been the Max Reinhardt’s palatial Friedrichstadt-Palast but had been converted and renamed by the Nazi’s in 1934.

Program for the film Wir Tanzen um die Welt, showing a chorus line, 1939
Program for the film Wir Tanzen um die Welt, showing a chorus line, 1939

Gerard, chose and trained 18 girls for the ‘ballet’ line that was featured in the film. One report detailed ‘their helmets with white plumes and their fanfares flash. In front of them, sunglasses on his eyes, in a training shirt and flannel pants, is the ballet master Hanns Gérard, who is also armed with a megaphone and who has devised the dances and figures of the troupe has to switch on the neon tubes of the “luminous stairs”.’ The film was also described ‘it’s not supposed to be a revue film, but a film for young people. Our film should show that life is difficult, but also beautiful thanks to the successes and great camaraderie of such a group.’

Given Hanns Gerard Gerard’s confirmed credit for several Tobis Films in the mid to late 1930s it might just be that he worked on many others but credit was simply omitted.

It is not known what Hanns Gerard did during the Second World War.  On 15th January 1946 Hanns first wife Dita Gerard died in Charlottenburg, Berlin. After the War, Hanns Gerard staged the choreography for two films Schwarzwaldmädel in 1950 and königin einer Nacht in 1951. He died in 1964.

All images (unless specified in the caption) and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent


Fidi Grube family photographic album in private collection (courtesy of Gabriele Zurn)
Dazzling Color and Mass Movement: Spectacle on the Presentation House Stage by Walter Zvonchenko
The UFA Story by Klaus Kreimeier
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