The dancers in this painting were members of a Black American dance troupe that toured Europe in the early 20th century. (The name Panama capitalizes on the contemporary celebrity of the Panama Canal.) The dancers perform a cakewalk, a popular dance routine with origins in pre-Civil War dances by enslaved Blacks that mocked the strutting pretensions of the plantation owners. Here same-sex couples prance arm-in-arm, the ladies squired by dapper “gents.” The artist, who was attracted to the sensuality and wildness of dance, clearly relished the scandalous performance. In his painting, he flouts all rules of harmony and refinement to produce an picture of raw vitality. One can almost hear the jaunty rhythms of the ragtime band.
Tags: German Expressionism, modern art