"One can see why virgins went astray."
November 11, 2013 7:50 AM   Subscribe

To The Great God Pan
There is only one piece of film that shows Isadora Duncan dancing. It is four seconds long, the very end of a performance, and it is followed by eight seconds in which Duncan accepts applause. This small celluloid footprint – light-struck in the manner of Eugène Atget – contains quite a bit of information. It is an afternoon recital, early in the 20th century, and it takes place en plein air, trees in the background, like so much of the painting of the day. Duncan enters the frame turning, her arms positioned in an upward reach not unlike ballet’s codified fourth position, but more naturally placed. ... Because of her thrown back upper body it seems as if she is running, but she is actually slow and steady, offering herself to something so large she doesn’t need to move fast. The dance over, she stands simply and acknowledges her audience with a Christ-like proffering of her palms. In fact, her classical garb is as much that of the sandalled shepherd of men as it is a barefoot goddess of Greek mythology. ‘I have come,’ she once said, ‘to bring about a great renaissance of religion through the dance, to bring the knowledge of the beauty and holiness of the human body through its expression of movements.’ Thus spake Isadora.
posted by the man of twists and turns (5 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
This is nice. I like hearing about people who filled the role of a baseball crashing through the glass of accepted norms and society, even if it's just one small pane among many. The short bit of film is very intriguing.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:04 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with Dorothy Parker about My Life, which I've always loved even though my critical faculties want to roll their eyes at it. That lush, ridiculous line Jacobs quotes from somewhere near the end of the book -- "I live in my body like a spirit in a cloud – a cloud of rose fire and voluptuous response" -- never fails to make me tear up.
posted by tangerine at 10:26 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fun Fact: one of her students was a very young Elsa Lancaster. That's a video I would almost pay to see.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:14 AM on November 11, 2013

Especially as Elsa didn't like her. In her autobiography, Elsa describes her entire training as practicing running toward or away from something, and when she was supposed to kiss Duncan's hand each morning, she'd fake it. I can't watch the attached video at work, but will when I get home, as Elsa complains so entertainingly.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:01 PM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this - I didn't know about Duncan before. The NYbooks article contextualization of duncan and Diaghilev within their contemporary dance world was new to me as well. It is always surprising to me how young the contemporary dance tradition is.

Just for reference, the video clip linked in the LRB article, while the same, is much easier to watch than the one in the FPP. Also, there is another essay about Duncan on the dance heritage site (direct link to pdf) that is worth reading - I particularly liked the author's discussion about teaching about Duncan to young dancers.
posted by ianhattwick at 2:37 PM on November 11, 2013

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