Decadent Historicism on Stage: Trans History and Alexander Sacharoff’s Renaissance Dances


  • Franke Dytor


This article looks at the Renaissance dances of the largely forgotten modernist performer Alexander Sacharoff. It reconstructs the controversies surrounding these dances starting from his debut in Munich in 1910, asking why the Italian Renaissance appeared in contemporary criticism as a vehicle for articulating ideas about gender non-conformity. The first half of the article shows how performers like Sacharoff, as well as viewers and critics, drew inspiration from a Renaissance conceived by decadent thought of the late nineteenth century. The second half of the article moves to the murkier territory of historical experience, considering the transhuman possibilities of Sacharoff’s historicism, as many spectators reported experiencing Sacharoff’s dance as an uncanny blurring between human and artwork. The article suggests that Sacharoff’s work not only speaks to the archival body theorized by performance studies, but also offers an alternative paradigm for a more expansive understanding of historical genders that centres performance as an important site for negotiating gender in the past. The article ultimately underlines the role played by material and visual pasts for trans embodiment in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century.