Done into Dance
Isadora Duncan in America
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Wesleyan University Press
Copyright and Title Pages
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Practically everybody knows at least something about Isadora Duncan. Probably not that she read Plato or that she considered her development of successive movement a significant artistic achievement. More likely, they know that she died in a sports car, her neck snapped by her own trailing scarf. ...
1. PROLOGUE: DONE INTO DANCE
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One of Isadora Duncan's earliest programs, performed in September 1898 in Newport, Rhode Island, was titled "Done into Dance." She had designed three such programs, each of which translated into a dance either a musical score (Ethelbert Nevin's "The Water Scenes" and "A Shepherd's Tale"; Felix Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream")...
2. THE DANCING BODY
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In turn-of-the-century America, Edith Wharton wrote in her autobiography, "Only two kinds of dancing were familiar...: waltzing in the ball-room and pirouetting on the stage."1 Wharton missed her earliest opportunity to see Duncan, in 1899, when a Boston philanthropist and Newport hostess featured the young dancer at a garden party: ...
3. THE NATURAL BODY
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Just as Duncan had narrativized the origin of her dance practice by recounting her childhood rejection of toe dancing, so she narrativized the origin of her identification with "Nature." She claimed "Nature" as her first and only teacher, guiding her always toward a body unfettered, undivided, uncorrupted: ...
4. THE EXPRESSIVE BODY
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Since her premature death, Duncan has been both credited with and blamed for introducing the practice of "self-expression" into American stage dance. The detractions have been significant. The next generation of modern dancers constructed an aesthetic of objective form, in reaction to what they disapprovingly understood as Duncan's aesthetic of autobiographical emotion. ...
5. THE FEMALE BODY
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In late-nineteenth-century America, the popularity of the dancing girl arose along with the development of theatrical syndicates, whose escapist entertainments reflected the increasing commercialism of the theater. The typical scenario: ...
6. THE BODY POLITIC
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By the teens, the Greeks no longer figured in Duncan's rhetoric. She did not even mention them during the war as a source of democracy. The Hellenic discourse and its corollary, that of "Nature," had been enormously useful to her as a way of establishing a universal, transhistorical cultural authority for dance in America at the turn of the century. ...
7. EPILOGUE: TWILIGHT OF AN AMERICAN GODDESS
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Isadora Duncan—both the woman and the legend—found herself out of step with her homeland by the time of her last tour. She was met with hostility, not only because her body politic was perceived as seditious by an anticommunist public, but also because her dancing body was considered old-fashioned by the postwar avant-garde and because her female...
Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2010