You were once wild here. Don't let them tame you. Isadora
August 13, 2012 2:11 PM   Subscribe

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 and here.

Since her death Isadora herself has been a muse for many very diverse musicians, including Elliot Murphy,Paul Mauriat, Tom Jones, Vic Chesnutt, Lucas Thanknos' opera, Isadora. and Robert Calvert of Hawkwind
posted by Isadorady (6 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
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.

What, no mention of Prince Edmond de Polignac, Isadora's Parisian patron? Also brother-in-law to PS, and at whose funeral she and PS first met.

The relationship was uppy-downy - he could not understand why she could not kick back and enjoy the leisure of the idle rich, she could not understand why he would throw inadequate food at their private chef. Eventually PS moved back to the US where he got involved in the Florida land boom of the twenties. Oh, an interesting crew to be sure.
posted by BWA at 4:26 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re: her death.
When I was an undergrad, at a school renowned for its dance program, it was the habit of one of the manlier-type dudes* to come up behind persons wearing long trailing scarves, grab the scarf and yell "ISADORA DUNCAN! ISADORA DUNCAN!" while lightly throttling them.

*a relative term, at any other school he'd probably be seen as an arty-farty type. Lest anyone think less of him for this story, however, he was and is a real mensch.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:56 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I did not know that about her death, good lord.
The automobile was going at full speed when [her] scarf of strong silk suddenly began winding around the wheel and with terrific force dragged Miss Duncan, around whom it was securely wrapped, bodily over the side of the car, precipitating her with violence against the cobblestone street.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:51 PM on August 13, 2012

that impromptu performance video is charming. They are clearly having a blast (as is the little girl in the pink tutu zipping about joining in)
posted by chapps at 11:05 PM on August 13, 2012

Great post, btw
posted by chapps at 11:06 PM on August 13, 2012

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