Cabaret Voltaire’s story begins at the start of World War I. Hugo Ball, a German actor, tried to enlist in the army but was refused entry. Any sense of patriotism that existed within him is said to have vanished after the invasion of Belgium, which he witnessed. “The war is founded on a glaring mistake, men have been confused with machines,” Ball said.
Ball fled to Switzerland – which remained neutral throughout World War I -, with Emmy Hennings, a fellow actress and poet who he would later marry. They both settled in Zurich.
Ball’s experience of the War and his penchant towards anarchist philosophy became the foundation for the Dadaist movement, which Ball launched in July 1916 – just four months before Cabaret Voltaire first opened its doors on February 5, 1916.
Hugo Ball reading “Karawane” at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 | Public Domain/ WikiCommons
Along with a host of other disillusioned artists and political agitators, Ball and Hennings were looking for a place to express their ideas and frustration. They found it at Spiegelgasse 1, which was already home to a cabaret at the time.
Ball and his fellow artists announced in a press release: “The Cabaret Voltaire. Under this name a group of young artists and writers has formed with the object of becoming a centre for artistic entertainment.”
So Cabaret Voltaire opened and nights there were filled with the bizarre and the wonderful, performances that sought to go to the extremes of art and push boundaries. These were artists who had seen the madness of War tearing Europe apart at the seams, and they expressed this madness through their art.
“Dada is anti-Dada”
On July 28, 1916, Dadaism was born. Ball read his Dada Manifesto in the Cabaret Voltaire, allegedly saying he did not want it to become an artistic movement (his followers agreed, supposedly crying “Dada is anti-Dada” on occasion). It’s said that the name Dada was chosen after one of the founders plunged a knife into a dictionary and picked the word that the point happened to strike.
www.ftn-books.com has on all the artists that were participating in Cabaret Voltaire publications available.