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3 Perverts in Court: Maud Allan’s The Vision of Salomé and the Pemberton-Billing Trial This chapter considers the ‹rst in›uential modernist female interpreter of Wilde’s play, the Canadian American dancer Maud Allan, who shot to international fame with The Vision of Salomé in London in 1908. Scholars studying dance or lesbian legal and cultural history and scholars of Wilde’s cultural afterlife have been very interested in Allan because of her tragic involvement in the 1918 Pemberton-Billing Trial, in which Allan and the avant-garde theatrical producer and director J. T. Grein became the targets of a sexual-political smear campaign against their private staging of Wilde’s Salomé. Despite the well-established scholarship on the trial and Allan’s previous dance career, however, the complex connections between Allan’s pioneering professional, inherently feminist work as a dancer and Oscar Wilde’s transgressive Salomé, as well as the momentous cultural con›ation between artistic and sexual “perversity” in Allan’s art, have not been systematically explored. Like Wilde’s, Allan’s art crossed established boundaries of art, morality, and gender, challenging social, cultural, and political conventions, and it is no coincidence that she chose Salomé as her platform. Adapting Salomé for modern female solo dance gave Allan a chance to make her mark as an avant-garde artist by following in the footsteps of Wilde, Reinhardt, and Strauss. To her “goes the distinction of performing the ‹rst important Salome dance in the post-Strauss era, independent of the play and the opera— in Europe at any rate” (Bizot 74), and she was the ‹rst female adapter of Wilde’s scenario for the stage. This was all the more daring because her provocative subject matter and revealing stage attire prompted contemporaries to identify Allan with the suffragettes’ calls for women’s greater social, 83 cultural, and political independence, though Allan was never actually involved with those campaigns and vigorously denied the association. Even though the public was enamored with Allan’s grace, physical beauty, and marketing as a serious artist, The Vision of Salomé was understood as gender rebellion against women’s traditional morality and modesty, especially since it was put forth by a ‹nancially, legally, and sexually independent woman. Contemporaries also feared that Allan’s popularity would corrupt her enthusiastic female audiences. In the public’s eye, Allan’s half-naked Salomé dangerously merged the specter of Wilde’s homosexuality with “perverse” feminist ideas that threatened the very fabric of society. Transgressive art became synonymous with transgressive sexualities. Maud Allan’s The Vision of Salomé Born in Canada and growing up in the United States and in Europe, Allan’s ambition was to make a serious impact and build a name for herself as an artist. She had originally planned to become a classical pianist and studied with excellent musicians in Berlin (including composer Ferruccio Busoni), but when her music career did not really take off as much as she had hoped, she decided to switch career paths to modern dance. As much as Allan’s talent , shrewd business sense, and independent artistic spirit were unmistakable factors in her career, she was spurred on by personal factors as well. One reason for Allan’s keen wish for personal and professional success was a dark and tightly guarded secret in her recent family history that put keen pressure on her to ease her family’s shame. In 1895, shortly after Maud Allan had left to start her classical piano lessons in Berlin, her beloved brother Theo Durrant had murdered, raped, and mutilated two young women in a San Francisco church, a much-publicized crime for which he was ‹rst imprisoned and then executed at San Quentin in 1898. As a consequence, Maud Allan (born Beulah Maud Durrant) changed her name and followed her mother’s urgent entreaties to stay in Europe, where Theo’s horrible deeds had not made the headlines the way “the crime of the century” had in the United States. In an 1899 letter, her mother, Isabella, wrote, “You must make a name for yourself if you wish to gladden our last days, or nothing else in the world will make up for our loss but showing the world that you as well as he were ambitious. Now, my dear, close your teeth tight and say I WILL, even if it takes every minute of my time, I will, I shall I MUST and NOTHING will prevent it!” (quoted in Cherniavsky, Salome Dancer...


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