Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 November 2022
Dada was a literary and artistic movement that emerged during the First World WAR and came to an end around 1922–3. It originated in neutral Switzerland, where a considerable number of writers and artists from various nationalities found refuge and banded together in loosely knit groups, usually centred on a LITTLE MAGAZINE, a cafe, a gallery or a theatre venue. One such venue was the Cabaret Voltaire, which opened on 5 February 1916 and gave local artists opportunities for presenting their music and poetry. The nightspot was located in a small room of the bar ‘Holländische Meierei’ and had some fifteen to twenty tables, offering seating for no more than fifty guests per night. Performances were given daily except Fridays, and instead of an entrance fee a slightly raised cloakroom fee was charged.
The audience consisted mainly of young people, often students, who had spent a raunchy night in other amusement venues and dropped in to have a late night drink. There was always a motley crew of emigré artists, writers, dancers and musicians who felt attracted to the CABARET because of its international ambience. Occasionally, members of the petty-bourgeoisie or ‘visitors in evening dress who seem to have descended to the lower depths after a classy dinner’, as Kurt Guggenheim described them, showed up, felt scandalised by the performances and helped to establish the venue's reputation as an outré anti-art venue.
The cabaret had been founded by Hugo Ball, a man with considerable theatre experience, and Emmy Hennings, a singer and entertainer. They were joined by Tristan Tzara, a young poet from Romania, the painters Marcel Janco and Hans Arp, and Ball's old friend Richard Huelsenbeck. Initially, the performances were quite tame and very much in the tradition of German literary cabaret. A new note was introduced by Huelsenbeck when he recited his own poems accompanied by a big drum. In March 1916, they presented some short futurist plays and FUTURIST noise music, and on 30 March 1916, during a DANCE soirée, Huelsenbeck, Tzara and Janco performed the simultaneous poem, L’amiral cherche une maison à louer [The Admiral Looks for a House to Rent], which is generally considered to have been the first DADA EVENT.
- The Edinburgh Dictionary of Modernism , pp. 96 - 115Publisher: Edinburgh University PressPrint publication year: 2018