Abstract

This essay establishes a genealogy of modernist performance that foregrounds the popular movement based on the ideas of the French acting theorist and voice teacher François Delsarte (1811-71). Delsartism has been understood as either a short-lived, anti-modern histrionic acting style or an affected regimen of self-improvement and physical culture, and is virtually absent from discussions of modernism. Yet the movement established a modernist kinaesthetic—a movement ideal—and bodily technique based on a tension between stasis and movement: a pose modeled after classical statuary melting into another pose. This essay demonstrates that Delsartism provided the training regimen for modern dancers and silent film actors, who used Delsartean poses, coded with an emotional valence and a mythic narrative, as a method for making meaning in bodily expression. Examining the work of the early posers Emma Lyon Hamilton and Eugen Sandow, the dancers Isadora Duncan and Ted Shawn, the silent film star Louise Brooks, and the directors D. W. Griffith and Lev Kuleshov, Preston details the widespread impact of Delsartism on modernist performance. The Delsartean genealogy unites disparate strains of modernist performance, including ideas of the natural and mediated body, classicism, and the machine age.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 213-233
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-15
Open Access
No
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