The USPS issued new stamps
commemorating four American dancers, including Isadora Duncan, for Dance Day last week. A group of Duncan dancers gave an impromptu performance
at Dupont Circle In DC in honor of the event. The 135 anniversary of Duncan's birth and the 85th anniversary of her death are both being commemorated this year. Although Isadora has been called the Mother of Modern Dance, she is often remembered for her unconventional life and death
as much as her art.
Duncan was born and grew up in the Bay Area
in an unconventional family. She left for Chicago and then New York, accompanied by her siblings Elizabeth and Raymond and her mother, dancing in Augustin Daly
's theatrical troupe in the US and London. After leaving Daly's company she set out developing her own dance style, influenced by Delsarte
movement,which combined body, mind and spirit in movement.
After moving to Europe in 1899 she danced with "skirt dancer" Loie Fuller
and in the next 6 years performed and lived in London,Athens, Paris and Berlin before meeting the father of her first child, British theatre designer, Gordon Craig
, the son of actress Ellen Terry. She traveled with Craig to Russia in 1905 where she performed and gave lectures on "free love" and the right of women to be mothers , notwithsanding marital status. On her return she started the first of her several dance schools in Berlin,where she gathered the daughter/dancers who would become known as the Isadorables
.Six of these girls would stay with her for several years and legally take her surname. After leaving Craig she fell in love with millionaire sewing machine heir Paris Singer, the father of her son , who remained a friend and financial support the rest of her life. Both of her children were drowned, along with their nurse , in the Seine in a tragic automobile accident in 1913.
Her grief helped drive deeper performances and by 1921 she had moved to Russia, where she formed a school with the help of the Soviet government and legally married the great Russian poet, Sergei Essenin
, who later committed suicide after their separation.
An amusing discussion of life as a pupil at Duncan's school by the British actress Elsa Lanchester here
Her life has been filmed twice, first in the Ken Russell 1966 BBC "documentary" biopic Isadora Duncan, The Biggest Dancer in the World
starring Vivian Pickles, and in the Karel Reisz 1968 film Isadora
, which garnered an Oscar nomination for Vanessa Redgrave. Actual authenticated footage of Isadora dancing consists of only a few minutes of her performing at a garden party in 1912.
Although she thought ballet barboruous to the body, she inspired many classical dancers,including Sir Frederick Ashton who choreographed Five Dances in the Manner of Isadora
. A 1981 Royal Ballet production of Kenneth MacMillan's D'Isadora received decidedly mixed reviews, and a revised version in 2009
did not fare better.
For those interested in her choreography, several dances have been written in Sutton notation
. Duncan dancing practitioners continue to recreate her major pieces.Here
Since her death Isadora herself has been a muse for many very diverse musicians, including Elliot Murphy
, Tom Jones
, Vic Chesnutt
, Lucas Thanknos' opera, Isadora
. and Robert Calver
t of Hawkwind