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Ok, this is a quote I stumbled across on some random ballet site...I don't remember where. In case anyone doesn't know Isadora Duncan was an early ballerina, and while I don't know much about her I'm pretty sure she should have known what she was talking about. Here is a quote that goes to show fashions change!

"The real American type can never be a ballet dancer.

The legs are too long, the body too supple and the spirit too free for this school

of affected grace and toe walking."

---Isadora Duncan

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Blackbird Ballerina, Isadora would not be happy being called a "ballerina." She hated ballet, saying it was inexpressive (she hadn't seen very much of it) and is widely considered the Mother of Modern Dance, so you should take her remarks in that context :)

She was a fascinating woman -- you might be interested in readiing about her. She was the most famous dancer of her era, and one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century.

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Perfect Performer, yes. Isadora thought the dancing she saw (in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) was sterile, and wanted to go back to the beginning of Western civilization -- which she saw as the Greeks. She wore loose-fitting costumes -- which was considered scandalous at the time -- modeled on Greek dress and danced barefoot, because that was "more honest." She also danced to already composed, symphonic music -- another scandal. She danced solos. She was one of the most astounding performers ever.

She wrote an autobiography -- if you're young enough for your parents to check what you're reading, let them see it before you read it :( There's also a book about the early American modern dancers called "Where She Danced," by Elizabeth Kendall that I think is a good and easy read.

Isadora had taken ballet lessons, but there wasn't much ballet in America then, and what she saw probably wasn't very good. Her claims that ballet was inexpressive could be debated (and have been). When she went to Russia and saw Pavlova and Kschessinska, she could see that they were of a calibre of dancer that she had not seen before, and found that they were expressive. Some say she was a great influence on Fokine's choreography -- he said no, that he had been working along the same lines before Duncan, and saw her as a kindred spirit. She started a school and eventually had a company (the dancers were called The Isadorables). At the beginning of this century in America, girls took "free dancing" classes.

For a long time, she was regarded mostly as a dancer and social influence (she wrote editorials; there's a terrific one, saying that if men dressed in togas there wouldn't be any more crime!) rather than a choreographer, but that's been debated recently, too. She was such a powerful performer it LOOKED as though she was improvising, but many Duncanites feel that there was a strong structure there. I saw a reconstruction of a group dance last year, danced by college students, and I thought it was wonderful. Very simple, and very powerful. Wave after wave of women in red (tunics, of course) crossed the stage, carrying red flags. They all died, slowly, magnificently, and as they died, someone would rush on and take the flag. The dance continued until they were all dead, the flag down, and then they rose up and rushed to the front of the stage. Isadora believed in Lenin and the Russian Revolution, as did many intellectuals and artists of her day. She wanted everyone to be free, and to dance free. Her line "I see America dancing..." has become a mantra for American modern dance.

It's kinda hard not to love Isadora :) Read about her.

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Not that I've researched this too deeply, but I think your posting is the first indication I've ever had that ID was to be taken seriously as either choreographer or dancer.

Everthing I have read of her suggests that she was a prancer rather than a dancer (Tamara Karsavina, in her wonderful autobiography 'Theatre Street', referring to Duncan, said something like 'there's more to dancing than prancing about in a Greek costume').

The piece of Duncan choreography that you describe sounds serious, however. It must have been notated; are you aware if other pieces of her work are similarly recorded? And are they performed? It would be fascinating to get a glimpse of her work.

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There are now only students of students of Duncan, and many people feel that what Isadora had was unteachable, but they can still recreate things that she did with some accuracy. The historical works are being notated as they are reconstructed. Sir Frederick Ashton did a few of the Brahms op. 39 waltzes, "in the manner of Isadora Duncan" and was successful in creating the essence of what she did, if not the definitive record of movement.

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See the Edith Wharton quote in "Sticky: Quotable Quotes" for one nineteenth-century view of Duncan's dancing.

She wore loose-fitting costumes -- which was considered scandalous at the time -- modeled on Greek dress and danced barefoot, because that was "more honest."
That is a very nineteenth-century idea--applying a moral code or ethics to art. (I know it was Duncan's idea, not Alexandra's.) I don't think it's a very logical idea, as part of what makes art art is that it uses symbols, illusions, etc. instead of conveying an idea directly so as to express it more forcefully. That's not the same as lying to the audience. As far as I know, Duncan didn't use literal imagery extensively in her dancing. She could dance barefoot all she wanted, but she wasn't being "more honest." More clearly human, perhaps, instead of otherworldly, but not more or less honest.
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In her autobiography, Mathilde Kchessinska -- I KNOW I haven't spelled that right -- who was a dazzling performer, the tsar's favorite, the ballerina assoluta in St Petersburg, wrote about how exciting SHE found Isadora - -if I remember right, Kchessinska said she stod on her chair and cheered when she first saw Isadora....

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Hans, I think Isadora's use of barefoot was part of the going back to nature, shedding as much clothing as possible, feeling the earth; that was what I meant by being more honest. (I just read what Bonfanti thought of Isadora, and it wasn't pretty :( )

Ann, in America, Isadora is a Goddess, the First Mother. At American colleges and universities, a two-semester dance history course dispenses with ballet during the first semester; it takes dance from whenever to the death of Diaghilev. Then in the second semester, it begins with Isadora, and goes through the Moderns. So your view of her may have been colored by geography, as has mine. There is one Duncan scholar who has her classes notated; can't get them published (she called me once, to see if I knew a publisher who would be interested). I believe the reconstruction that I saw was from notes of one of the Isadorables, but whether they were contemporary or from memory, I don't know. I agree with Mel, though, that there are Duncanites who can reconstruct some of her works with some accuracy, and it's done periodically. There are also several solo performers who specialize in Duncan dancing.

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There are several dancers who perform Isadora's works. The beautiful Annabelle Gamson has been recorded in an hour-long dance in America doing some of the softer, more haunting dances in a truly magical way -- her phrasing is like breathing, her movement has gravitas -- the dance MEANS something.... I'd really recommend it.

Isadora came from San Francisco and she had an important colony of disciples here in the Bay Area -- from which another performer emerged, Lori Bellilove, who excels at Isadora's later constructivist era dances -- About ten years ago she performed as a guest artist with the Oakland Ballet here, and few who saw that program will ever forget it -- the great events of that evening were Isadora's "Revolutionary Etude," which is loosely based on Delacroix's painting "Liberty leading the People" --and the "Mother." It's been a long time, and it's like remembering a dream – it almost feels like they are the same dance, but some of the imagery is SO vivid still – the music I think was Chopin and Scriabin.

These are works in a less Art Nouveau, a more angular style – “Mother” actually has work movements in it, it's from the era of communist idealism, and it's "about" a universal theme -- maternal sacrifice, drudging work, selfless devotion -- and, sappy though this may sound, its rhetoric is tremendously powerful -- maybe because its imagery has been copied so many times -- the woman on her hands and knees soaking and wringing some rag, washing the stairs, is all suggested in her dance, which is nevertheless NOT literal-minded.... She falls to the floor from a high releve in second-position attitude, and from there she bends her elbows at right angles, plunges her hands, and pulls "something" up, several times -- the movement is like that in Nijinsky's "Afternoon of a Faun," very stylized and particular, with a great deal of muscular tension.... It's a fantastic piece, and Bellilove (who's built rather like Wendy Whelan, not at ALL like Isadora) has the physique and temperament to make it seem a powerful abstraction.....

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in response to ann's post

...I think your posting is the first indication I've ever had that ID was to be taken seriously as either choreographer or dancer.
i am a bit amazed. i haven't thought of her as a choreographer - but then i haven't done MY research, either. but "taken seriously" as a dancer? - yes, of course. i've never, before now, heard anyone suggest otherwise...
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After Isadora established her schools, she branched out into work for groups, largely, but not entirely women. She was a real topic during the twenties, and even after, with Fannie Brice doing a famous parody, with or without corps de ballet, gallumphing about the stage in a red tunic and shouting "REWOLT!" When you make it into topical comedy, you know you've made it!

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re: ID and MFK, as in Mathilde Felixovna Kshessinska

firstly i also have to pause to look up just how to spell this (in)famous prima ballerina assoluta's name, for the record here's how linc.cent.lib.for perf.arts lists her:

Kshessinska, Mathilde, 1872-1971

in any case re: MK's connection to ID, i recently read when doing some work on nijinsky that it was the assoluta, who, first seeing ID in berlin, invited her to russia for the first time, which was 1904.

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You can often find Kschessinska's autobiography, "Dancing in Petersburg" on Ebay. For those interested in the Romanovs, this book is a good one. There is a photo of her in town mansion. It is now a museum and darn it all, it was closed the day I walked by on my way to the Peter and Paul Fortress.

I've not read a bio on Duncan but I do own a video of the Vanessa Redgrave movie.

Any opinions of her portrayal and accuracy of the story telling?

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for what it's worth redgrave's ISADORA was highly regarded by lincoln kirstein, he must have written about it and maybe these are even collected in books of his writings.

sorry to be so vague. maybe other kirstein followers have more specific info.

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1.Laurie Bellilove is considered a current credible recreator of Duncan. 2. Also: in the current Goddess exhibition and catalogue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Fashion Institute, reference is made to Isadora. 3. I think it is interesting that she had a long relationship with the scene designer Gordon Craig. 4. Frederick Ashton made an Isadora-esque solo for Lynn Seymour which you can see on film (or maybe videotape).

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In response to Mel's post - I remeber hearing something on NPR (national public radio) in the last year about Isadora's heirs. I remember that there is a big fight about who owns the rights to her choreography...

Although I have never seen any of her choreography, many years ago (too many), I had to do a paper in college for a dance class I was taking. Please note I was a business major. I did it on her, and the most notable thing I remember from that is the way she died. You who know more about her, please correct me if I am wrong...but, I recall that she was strangled by a long flowing scarf she was wearing while riding in an automobile. Is that correct?


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That's correct. The coroner at the time even had a hard time explaining it.

In rem the film versions of Isadora: Ken Russell did an unusual and striking version of Duncan's life for BBC Ominibus starring Vivian Pickles. Many felt that she was "just prancing to music", but so many found the original so. Pickles was originally a dancer, and found much to mine in the Duncan movement repertory. It wasn't the best film bio of anybody I've ever seen, but it was very good, at the very least.

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THanks for the alert on that Ken Russell/Vivian Pickles film -- is it in circulation, do you know, Mel?

One point that should maybe be made for those who don't know much about Isadora is that she most certainly had a profound effect on hte choreography of Frederick Ashton -- if you knew that he did a solo for Lynn Seymour in the manner of Isadora Duncan, to Brahms waltzes, but you didn't know much about Seymour, it would be possible to think the piece was perhaps a parody, or a spoof -- It's in fact quite hte opposite, in fact it's SO absorbed in the intense mystique of Isadora's expressive soul that I've been at perfornmances where some in the audience laughed, they couldn't believe that this voluptuous barefoot woman running towards us, veils flying, like a ship in full sail, with hands full of rose petals dripping from her fingers scattering onto hte stage, was FOR REAL.....but it was, and it was both awesome and preposterous at the same time.

Pavlova and Isadora were two of the greatest influences on Ashton -- and all those tilts of hte torso he was constantly asking for, all that fluidity in the upper body, and the fast fast footwork were both features of Isadora's dancing..... He described memorably how Isadora ran -- "leaving herself behind" -- which is hte way most modern dancers run, esp those of Paul Taylor and Mark Morris -- but Ashton loved it and built it into his aesthetic.

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The Russell/Pickles Isadora is at least available in Britain, but even there is among the "hard to find" videos.

The "Five Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan" works astonishingly well, even when the dancer is less-well-known than Seymour. The Joffrey used to do it, and audiences loved it.

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