“Of all the wonders that the world had to offer, only art promised immortality.”
Spotlight: Loie Fuller
If you were to take a Modern Dance History class, the teacher would show you a “tree”. This tree is made up of branches and shows how each dancer or choreographer is connected to the next one.
At the top of the tree are three choreographers who were the first; Ruth St. Denis, Loie Fuller and Mary Wigman. Then we move down and weeks will be spent on the most influential; Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham and Alvin Ailey.
Loie Fuller was of the first but not much is taught beyond her Serpentine Dance before the class moves on. But, the industrious student might head to the library to find out more about this remarkable artist.
Ms. Fuller started off in Vaudeville as a dancer. She would do ballet or character dances, whatever she could get hired to do. Then, the electric lights came along and she designed a dance style which featured herself dancing with these new lights. Swirling about draped in fabric, often with sticks in her hand to extend the fabric; her dance was mesmerizing.
She was an inventor too. She created color filters to go in front of these new lights and secured a patent. Her dances now had shifting colors and she would employ many stage hands to change the colors while she danced. Ms. Fuller was getting popular but her dance was expensive too.
In 1902, she went to France. Not to perform but to attend the Convention of Electrical Engineers. While she was there, she went to the Folies Bergere and saw a woman imitating (stealing) her dance. Complaining to the Producer, he told her to prove it. As the saying goes, she danced the other girl off the stage. She owned that dance!
In time, Ms. Fuller would attempt to patent her dance so that no one else could steal it. The judge said that since there is no narrative, it could not be patented; which I think is a little weak but it was the early 1900s!
So: Loie Fuller began performing at the Folies Bergere.
I believe that Loie Fuller changed the venue entirely. The hall was a place for popular song, light operettas, costume performers and acrobats. Loie Fuller brought in the rich top hat crowd, everyone wanted to see her perform.
Her dance style was known to represent the Art Nouveau art movement. She had fans in abundance. She was sculpted. Her dance was filmed, with the film makers laboriously going through frame by frame to try to color the subject like in the dance. She had poetry written about her.
Here is just a little from W.B. Yeats:
When Loie Fuller’s Chinese dancers enwound
A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
It seemed that a dragon of air
Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
So the platonic Year
Whirls out new right and wrong,
Whirls in the old instead;
All men are dancers and their tread
Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.
Isadora Duncan danced in her company! It was when Isadora famously kicked off her ballet shoes and dance across Europe to finally be embraced in Russia.
I think that the best way to illustrate just how popular and revered Loie Fuller was in Paris is that she was a lesbian. She traveled everywhere with her partner and mother. The press, who normally would have a field day with the shock of famous homosexual, said: nothing!
She was a remarkable artist. I would encourage you, if interested, in searching more about her and, I think, that you will be delighted.