Karawane Hugo Ball Analysis Essay


Naturally, the star
of Pointless’ dada
show “Hugo Ball” is a puppet with a red ball for a head. (Mike Laws)

When David Lloyd Olson was a teenager, his nerdy, niche extracurricular wasn’t Esperanto Club or playing Quidditch. He went for something weirder, creating the Modern Post Neo Dada Movement, a Facebook group.

“I’ve been obsessed with dada since high school,” says Olson, Pointless Theatre’s managing director. So he wrote a play, “Hugo Ball: A Dada puppet AdveNTurE!!/?1!!??,” about one of the anti-art movement’s originators.

Founded in 1916, dada was an absurdist reaction to World War I. Artists, writers, dancers and musicians gathered at Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire to create nonsensical spectacles, accompanied by equally incomprehensible poetry readings. In one notable performance, Ball dressed up as what looks like a paper-towel roll and recited his poem “Karawane.” The first line: “jolifanto bambla o falli bambla.”

Inspired by these storied happenings, Pointless Theatre’s “Hugo Ball” is a chaotic romp, integrating moments from Ball’s life into a spectacle of puppetry, dance and general absurdity.

“We’re embracing the madness,” says Pointless co-artistic director Matt Reckeweg.

The sort-of true story of Hugo Ball doesn’t make a lot of sense, which is the whole point. What plot there is traces the history of Western theater, starting out with classical music and, in verse, proceeding through Greek drama, Shakespeare, Wagnerian opera, expressionism, futurism, WWI, modernism and, finally, dada. Then the actors go nuts and destroy (almost) the set — along with the audience’s expectations of what theater is and can be, Olson says.

He isn’t the only company member infatuated with dada. While at the University of Maryland, College Park, Olson, Reckeweg and co-artistic director Patti Kalil created a dada piece for a class. They had such a great time that they started doing dada-inspired performances on their own.

“We wanted to do one in the bathroom, but the administration wouldn’t let us,” Olson says.

“Hugo Ball” was supposed to be their first as an official theater company, but they decided to take their time and do it as their second piece instead, premiering it at Capital Fringe in 2011.

Now, a hundred years after Hugo Ball wrote the Dada Manifesto, Pointless celebrates its fifth anniversary by returning to the troupe’s roots. “It wasn’t intentional,” Kalil says, “but it’s a wonderful coincidence.”

Olson, Reckeweg and Kalil say it’s a completely different experience this time around.

“We had to look back and really reconnect with the adolescent avant garde,” Olson says. They once saw dada as a chaotic mess of philosophy and aesthetics, Reckeweg says. These days, the show focuses more on dada as “a coping mechanism,” he says, for “when you realize how not perfect the world is and will always be.” Elena Goukassian (for Express)

Logan Fringe Arts Space, 1358 Florida Ave. NE; through May 14, $20-$25.

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The image above is Hugo Ball's 1916 Dada-ist nonsense poem, "Karawane." The Dada Movement was a cultural  movement to critique what the Dada-ists saw as meaninglessness in society. As it critiqued meaninglessness of certain aspects of society, the participants also invoked nonsense to poke fun at things that were considered serious, like art and poetry. One of my previous professors said that Dada-ism was a way to be able to comment on the chaos of WWI.

I think that Dadaism is particularly relevant in considering Liu's analysis of meaning and non-meaning of language and communication. I've included below Ball's Dada Manifesto as well, and it speaks to a rebellion of the basic and aiming for the complicated. A reclamation of the written word to be perceived as how they felt.


Dada is a new tendency in art. One can tell this from the fact that until now nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it. Dada comes from the dictionary. It is terribly simple. In French it means "hobby horse". In German it means "good-bye", "Get off my back", "Be seeing you sometime". In Romanian: "Yes, indeed, you are right, that's it. But of course, yes, definitely, right". And so forth.

An International word. Just a word, and the word a movement. Very easy to understand. Quite terribly simple. To make of it an artistic tendency must mean that one is anticipating complications. Dada psychology, dada Germany cum indigestion and fog paroxysm, dada literature, dada bourgeoisie, and yourselves, honoured poets, who are always writing with words but never writing the word itself, who are always writing around the actual point. Dada world war without end, dada revolution without beginning, dada, you friends and also-poets, esteemed sirs, manufacturers, and evangelists. Dada Tzara, dada Huelsenbeck, dada m'dada, dada m'dada dada mhm, dada dera dada, dada Hue, dada Tza.

How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the pawnshop. Dada is the world's best lily-milk soap. Dada Mr Rubiner, dada Mr Korrodi. Dada Mr Anastasius Lilienstein. In plain language: the hospitality of the Swiss is something to be profoundly appreciated. And in questions of aesthetics the key is quality.

I shall be reading poems that are meant to dispense with conventional language, no less, and to have done with it. Dada Johann Fuchsgang Goethe. Dada Stendhal. Dada Dalai Lama, Buddha, Bible, and Nietzsche. Dada m'dada. Dada mhm dada da. It's a question of connections, and of loosening them up a bit to start with. I don't want words that other people have invented. All the words are other people's inventions. I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own. If this pulsation is seven yards long, I want words for it that are seven yards long. Mr Schulz's words are only two and a half centimetres long.

It will serve to show how articulated language comes into being. I let the vowels fool around. I let the vowels quite simply occur, as a cat meows . . . Words emerge, shoulders of words, legs, arms, hands of words. Au, oi, uh. One shouldn't let too many words out. A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language, as if put there by stockbrokers' hands, hands worn smooth by coins. I want the word where it ends and begins. Dada is the heart of words.

Each thing has its word, but the word has become a thing by itself. Why shouldn't I find it? Why can't a tree be called Pluplusch, and Pluplubasch when it has been raining? The word, the word, the word outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence, your stupendous smugness, outside all the parrotry of your self-evident limitedness. The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.

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