Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Sensational Isadora Duncan

I finished Isadora: A Sensational Life by Peter Kurth on the train ride home on Monday. I loved this book, and have suddenly become very interested in learning more about Isadora, the pioneer of modern dance. Even reduced to still photos and the remains of her letters and autobiography, she has an amazing charismatic, hypnotic presence.

The dancer began her life in San Francisco, but after a brief career touring as a dancer/pantomime actor in the US, she left with her family for England, and then Paris where she became recognized for her progressive work in natural movement dance. She was inspired by Neo-Classicism, and created a great controversy when she began dancing to concert music--music not written for dance, such as Chopin, Liszt, and Beethoven.

The descriptions of her dancing by her contemporaries are fantastic. They hailed her for her lightness of movement, the way she floated over the stage. The pictures that were taken of her during her life do not do her justice, I am sure, but they do capture some of the magnetic qualities of her appearance.

While Isadora was quite talented as a dancer and artist, in her personal affairs she was eccentric, and toward the end, quite self-destructive. She had many, many lovers in her lifetime, a few long-term attachments, and two of them produced children. When her children died in a freak car accident, Isadora suffered a severe breakdown, and she never truly recovered. She often descended into drinking binges, spent money she didn't have, and lived recklessly.

In reading the story of her life, I pitied the way that she ended her life, with her disastrous marriage to a Soviet poet and the ruin of her school in Moscow. Isadora experienced quite a lot of misery, and the fact that she was able to continue her art nearly until the end is a triumph of her amazing will. I was completely fascinated by her personality, her determination, and her Art; in the beginning, Isadora was an amazing entrepreneur, and I think today she would be fully capable of manipulating New Media into a self-marketing machine.

Sadly, Isadora died in 1927 without ever being filmed dancing. She did leave a legacy of students who carried on her dancing, and today exists a foundation of dancers dedicated to honoring her art.

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