Category Archives: Dance

Songs about light

Arlita‘ (Chanson Lumineuse – Het Lied van het Licht) by Daniel J. A. Van de Vyver, published by Le Reveil Artistique (s.d. Brussels). Illustration attributed to Marcel-Louis Baugniet.

This superb geometrical cover suggests the song is about a beautiful girl named Arlita. Far from it though, it prosaically sings the technological praise of a light bulb! The glass lamp is represented here by large discs in shades of purple around the fleshy rose face of a girl. The design is attributed to Marcel-Louis Baugniet (1896-1995) a Belgian painter, furniture designer and decorator. The drawing certainly reflects his style which was influenced by Bauhaus, cubism, De Stijl and Russian constructivism.
In the girl’s 
traits many like to recognise the portrait of the Brussels dancer and artist Akarova (born Marguerite Acarin, 1904-1999). 

Portrait of Akarova, in A-Z Hebdomadaire Illustré (No 16, 9 Juillet 1933).

Akarova was an emancipated garçonne. Her fame as a dancer earned her the unofficial title ‘the Belgian Isadora Duncan’.  In 1922 she married Marcel-Louis Baugniet. Both designed the avant-garde costumes and decors for her stage performances and continued to do so after their rather brief marriage. They stayed friends though, and both lived well into their nineties.

Left: ‘Lettres Dansantes’ costume design for Akarova by Marcel Baugniet, 1923. Right: ‘Akarova dansant’ by Marcel Baugniet, 1924.

Philips, the producer of the Arlita light bulb, is a Dutch company founded at the end of the 19th century. Immediately after WWI a Belgian branch was established. From there the Arlita lamp was manufactured and launched in 1929. A massive advertising campaign —including press articles, brochures, publicity folders, albums and posters— heralded the birth of the frosted lamp. 

Adverts for the Philips Arlita light bulb (Source: Kunst in de Philips Reclame)

It is in this marketing storm that one has to situate the sheet music above. The song and the publicity celebrated Arlita as a wonder of technology and cost cutting. To deliver this last message the marketeers even introduced a nasty Gollum-like figure: the current devourer (or stroomvreter in Dutch).

The current devourer or ‘stroomvreter’ in Philips’ campaign for the Arlita light bulb.

The marketing strategy led to a commercial success. The Arlita sales soon accounted for 80% of the turnover. The Arlita bulb was  followed by the super Arlita, and then came the bi-Arlita with a double filament. One man was at the heart of the marketing operations: Jacques Vink. He had been involved with the international advertising department of the Philips house in the Netherlands, before becoming head of the Belgian branch. From his beginnings in 1907 Vink regularly gave artists assignments to create publicity. And once in Belgium it was but a further step to ask avant-garde Belgian artists to design merchandising in order to promote the Philips light bulbs. In this way he ordered this silverware salt shaker from Oskar Wiskemann…

Oscar Wiskemann: silver-ware salt shaker for Philips.

… and a set of playing cards with various instances of the lamp, hidden in the pictures.

Advertising playing cards in art deco style, manufactured by Etabl. Mesmaekers Frères S.A., Turnhout, Belgium. (Source: The World of Playing Cards)

The Arlita campaign coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Alva Edison. To anticipate this event Philips supported a series of school lectures throughout Belgium. Moreover, Jacques Vink also devised a delicate attention for the parents who’s baby was born on October 29, 1929. They received a luxury box with an Arlita lamp. He even sent one to Edison himself who replied with a friendly letter.

Edison‘ (Grande Valse Electrique) by Albert de la Gravelière, published by Léopold Cerf (s.d. Paris) and illustrated by Buval.

We discovered in our collection another publicity for light bulbs. It is more than a decade older and is for Osram, the German competitor of Philips. The name of the light bulb holds an oriental flavour: Osram Pacha.

Osram Pacha‘ by Emile Doloire, published by Delormel (Paris, 1913) and illustrated by Pousthomis.

The illustration is by Pousthomis who got his inspiration from a 1911 poster by D. Vasquez Dial. The composer fantasised about the brand name Osram, which is derived from osmium and wolfram (German for tungsten). Both these elements were commonly used for lighting filaments. Maybe the name Osram, in its resemblance to Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman empire, inspired Pousthomis to draw this oriental dance setting for the German light bulb. This consonance can also explain why the lamp was christened Pacha, ‘pasha’ being an honorary title in the Ottoman empire.

Osram publicity poster by D. Vasquez Dial, 1911.

We will end with a documentary as a tribute to Thomas Edison, who is granted the invention of the incandescent bulb although it is the work of many inventors, rather than his lone genius. A pity he didn’t invent a hearing aid.


The Man Who Loved Women

‘Ombre et Lumière’ by Pokrass, published by Salabert (Paris, 1927) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

This beautiful art deco cover by Roger de Valerio represents the Rowe Sisters. The twins Pauline & Betty Rowe started their career in France around 1924. They were one of the several twin-sister acts emulating the immensely successful Dolly Sisters.

Poster of the Rowe Sisters by Gesmar, 1925

They were known to their fans as ‘the Greyhounds of Paris’. But unlike the popular Dolly Sisters almost nothing is known about their personal lives, not even their nationality. According to newspapers of that time they were either American or English.

As stated by La Vie Parisienne in 1927, le tout Paris was “eagerly awaiting the return of the Rowe Sisters at the Casino de Paris after their success at the Alhambra in Brussels transformed them into stars.” But the leggy Rowe Sisters never became top of the bill and they stopped dancing when Betty married a hot actor and singer, Henri Garat in 1932. They met by chance in a train returning to Paris from the French Riviera and married shortly after. But she married the wrong guy.

‘C’est Malheureux d’être amoureux’, song from the ‘Rive Gauche’ Paramount film. Music by Ray Noble & lyrics by Marc Hély, sheet music published by Chappell (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by Kramer. It prominently shows the picture of a smoking Henri Garat.

Henri Garrat was known as “France’s most glittering matinee idol and film star” and was according to a then newspaper “the coqueluche of France, meaning that all the midinettes got whooping cough over him”.

Mon Amour quand je danse avec toi‘ waltz by Werner R. Heymann with French words byJean Boyer, published by Salabert (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by H. Cerutti.

A leading film actor in light romances during the 1930’s, Garat became a big star as the partner of Lilian Harvey. The cinema made him rich, very rich. He got more money than sense and led an opulent life with a yacht, several cars, a castle and too many friends who ate caviar by the spoonful at his table.

Chicago Tribune, April 1933

In the 1934 film Prince de Minuit, Betty Rowe got to play a small part together with her husband. He plays the role of a clerk in a shop selling records.

Interestingly the clip above shows —apart from a few stupefying film montages— that these shops offered a technical studio where you could cut your own record. In the next fragment of the same film Henri Garat sings Caricouli, a foxtrot composed by Maurice Yvain.

We also see Betty Rowe’s cameo: she’s a customer in the shop listening to him crooning. The clip ends with both dancing together on top of a giant revolving 78 rpm.
Betty’s career in film was short. She only appeared in minor roles in two other films. It is thanks to two stills of these other films that I was able to recognise her in the clip above. Makes me feel a top-noch archival sleuth, ahum.

Left: Betty Rowe in ‘Le Messager’, 1937. Right: Betty Rowe in ‘La souris bleue’ with her husband Henry Garat and Monique Rolland, 1936.

Betty and Henri’s marital bliss was short-lived. Just as he sang in the film ‘Un Soir de Réveilllon‘:

J’aime les femmes, j’aime les femmes
Voilà mon vice, ma faiblesse et mon défaut.

in real life our handsome jeune premier also loved women.  And these in turn found it hard to resist his charms…

Even while Betty was pregnant there were continuous rumours of affairs with other women. No wonder that five years later their marriage was over.

Henri Garat would marry four times. And ultimately his extravagant lifestyle, his consumption of cocaine, his philandering, his marriages including one with a ‘Russian countess’, his divorces and also fraud brought him ruin. His stardom started to wane. As a result he suffered from depression and had to follow a detox. He opened a restaurant and a toy store, but it didn’t work out. At the end of his life he was discreetly assisted by La Rou Tourne, a charity for the unfortunates from the world of theatre. Supported by this association Henri Garat became a pathetic attraction in theatres. He even toured with a circus. Alas too often, the public didn’t recognise the big film star anymore. Henri Garat died in poverty aged 57.

Still from the film ‘Il est charmant’ with Henri Garat and Meg Lemonnier.

Pilou-Pilou

‘Le Pilou-Pilou’ by Justin Clérice published by Auguste Bosc (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by Clérice Frères.

The cover for ‘Le Pilou-Pilou‘ shows an elegant Parisienne in smart safari clothes complete with a pith helmet. She joyously dances face to face with a Kanak man in tribal attire. In the background they are cheered on by wildly moving warriors. The serpentine curve of their bodies emphasizes the movement of the dance. It also accentuates her round contours: shake your booty baby!
This 1907 cover is yet another cartoonish illustration by Clérice Frères, probably from the hand of Victor, one of the sons of Charles Clérice.

Maybe Clérice studied the publicity postcard of Pilou-Pilou dancers offered by Café Jouve from the Compagnie Française des Cafés Calédoniens. His drawing of the Kanak warrior’s costume is quite accurate including feathers and a casse-tête, a kind of war hammer. Judiciously or puritanically he omitted the penis gourd.

Postcard of the Exposition Coloniale near Paris in 1907, showing Kanak people from the Loyalty Islands (New Caledonia) in front of their hut.

On the other hand it is probable that in 1907, the same year the sheet music was published, Clérice joined the two million visitors of the Exposition Coloniale near Paris. There, in the Jardin Tropical of the Bois de Vincennes, exotic men and women from the former colonies were exhibited to the crowd. Many overseas natives were lured into joining the show, and among them also Kanak people from New Caledonia. Kanaks are the indigenous inhabitants of this Melanesian territory that was colonised by the French in 1853.

In the midst of the New Imperialism period these human zoo’s had become common. What an embarrassing and tragic chapter that was in Western history. Eighteen years earlier than the 1907 Exposition Coloniale, in 1889, the Parisian Exposition Universelle also had presented a Village Nègre (Negro Village) at the foot of the then brand-new Eiffel tower. The exhibition was visited by 28 million people.

Exposition Universelle, Paris 1889 – Kanak village.

As the major attraction it displayed 400 indigenous people from the French colonies. Ten Kanaks were ‘invited’ and put on display. In the Parisian show these men and women were directed to live ‘spontaneously’ all day long in a poor makeover of their huts. They  had to carry out their daily tasks under public scrutiny and perform ‘tribal rituals’.

‘Le Monde Illustré’, July 27, 1889. Kanak Village Esplanade des Invalides – illustrated by Louis Tinayre.

‘Civilised’ visitors, could get a glimpse of what was believed to be the true culture of these ‘savages’. One was even allowed to touch the Kanaks on display. Humiliatingly, these first Kanak people in France were considered as primitives, even cannibals — surely they were not French citizens.

As part of the show the Kanak men routinely performed the Pilou-Pilou, a traditional tribal dance. See the engraving on the cover of the exhibition’s weekly: the three man dance beneath banners and medallion of the French Republic. Colonial soldiers are standing guard to protect the sophisticated spectators against the barbarians who ferociously wave their war hammers. It is no surprise that popular imagery was soon invaded by the prejudice of cruel black warriors, gesticulating to the diabolic rhythm, whistles and strident cries of the Pilou-Pilou dance.

Have a look at this document, filmed by an amateur in 1943. 

The pilou-pilou dance has a deep-rooted ancestral tradition with a powerful symbolic significance. Each pilou-pilou tells a particular story, whether of a birth, marriage, great battle or even of the arrival of the French missionaries who are said to have given the dance its repetitive name. It traditionally involves many people moving together, sometimes for hours at a time so that the dancers occasionally reach a trance-like state. The French authorities and Catholic priests considered the dance as  indecent and at some point seemed fit to prohibit it.
Re-reading this, we somewhat fear that our attempt at sketching the original pilou dance and the complex history of the Kanak people is a simplified amalgam of what we’ve read, and probably also suffers from stereotype vision, but well, that is the price we pay when writing a blog instead of an ethnological essay.

In 1907, the Parisian Bal Tabarin created a white version of the Pilou-Pilou. At that time the Bal Tabarin was still owned by Auguste Bosc, yes the publisher of the sheet music above. He asked Justin Clérice, uncle of illustrator Victor, to write its music and a certain Eugenio to choreograph simple but cheery dance movements. Clérice’s music has nothing to do with the rhythm of the pilou percussion. It is a slow oom-pah march with a lot of brass. The dance also is but a feeble reflection from the original choreography. It has a risqué movement when the woman slaps the man slightly on the cheek (fig. 8) and a climax when all the dancers cry four times ‘Pilou Pilou‘ very fast and in unison (fig. 10). Great moment of merriment, indeed! However, Justin Clérice’s Pilou-Pilou is as far removed from the original as the Chicken Dance is disconnected from the Swan Lake.

Nowadays in New Caledonia, the pilou-pilou is danced to mark ceremonial occasions: births, weddings and funerals and mostly performed for tourists sake.

The Rugby Club from Toulon has its very own battle cry chanted by packed stadiums and also called Pilou-Pilou. The lyrics suggests that the song has its origin in the Kanak version: ‘The great white coconut trees’ hardly evokes a city in France, does it?

Ah! We the terrible warriors of Pilou-Pilou
Pilou-Pilou!
Who descend from the Mountain to the Sea
Pilou-Pilou!
With our dishevelled women nursing our children
In the shade of the great white coconut trees
Pilou-Pilou!
We terrible warriors push our terrible war cry
AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!
I said “OUR TERRIBLE CRY OF WAR”!
AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!
Because TOULON
RED!
Because TOULON
BLACK!
Because TOULON
RED AND BLACK ! 

Undoubtedly, you are now ready to hear the ceremonious singing battle between Haka and Pilou-Pilou.