Remembering Isadora Duncan

Isadora-duncan4 Ismene Brown in The Telegraph:

Fat, middle-aged, highly sexed women aren't supposed to dance. Or bare their breasts, or take lovers half their age. Nor were they when Isadora Duncan was leading her free-range, tragic, melodramatic life 90 years ago.

Could this woman really have been a dance genius? In 1921, when Duncan was 44, fat and notorious, a 17-year-old English boy bought a ticket for her performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. “I didn't think I'd like it but I was absolutely captivated,” he later recalled. “I suppose she was rather blowsy, and the first impact of her gave me a shock, but that soon passed. I find that people now stress this appalling life that she led, and the sexual side, but I didn't get that impression at all.

“She had the most extraordinary quality of repose. She would stand for what seemed quite a long time doing nothing, and then make a very small gesture that seemed full of meaning.”

That boy, Frederick Ashton, would grow up to become Britain's foremost ballet choreographer, and he was not the only creative figure to be enchanted by the alternative dancing Duncan proposed. Auguste Rodin, the sculptor, said she was his greatest inspiration; Konstantin Stanislavsky, Moscow's radical theatre director, was fascinated; George Bernard Shaw was impressed, despite himself; and the pivotal figures of 20th-century Russian ballet, Sergei Diaghilev, Anna Pavlova and Michel Fokine unreservedly admired her.

But while half the world marvelled at Duncan's magical ability to pluck dance from the air without apparent preparation or technique, the other half was dismissing her as a sensationalist.