About the Muse, Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), Born in California by the Pacific Ocean in 1877, Duncan’s childhood provided a proximity to the power of nature as well as to the classical underpinnings of art and literature that instilled a reverence for both the ancient and the eternal in this creative genius who was to become a force for the birth of Modernism and, perhaps, the most influential dancer who has ever lived. Through the imperative of selfhood, and for the cause of Joy, Beauty, Strength and Courage, Duncan first lent both ‘creative impulse’ and ‘sense of weight’ to the rediscovery, reanimation and re-imagination of the lost birthright – the ‘Art of the Dance’.
Duncan’s family moved often, learning as they traveled across America and through the storied lands of Europe, to attune themselves to the synthesis of art and life that was to become the fountainhead of Duncan’s ‘school of life’. Drawn particularly to the myths and traditions of the Western cultural imagination, these sources infused not only her work, but her very ‘soul’ in what has been termed the ‘movement of the soul’, restoring the ancient ideal of ‘The Dance’ to centrality in human experience in a whole new genre of art – the Modern Dance.
Duncan has been termed a ‘prophet’ by generations of readers of her works and exponents of her dance. Focused against the vaudeville, burlesque and rigid balletic forms of her time, Duncan harnessed body and soul, mind and heart to conform to the demands of consciousness, a faculty not associated in great measure with earlier forms of dance training until her strident call for – “the highest intelligence in the freest body.” For Duncan’s perspective was larger than her personal body and soul, or that of her followers – it was of archetypal dimension. Duncan wedded divine cause to human necessity lifelong, intent on the redemption of matter through the dance. She was hailed as the first ‘citizen of the world’ – not in a political but in a human sense, as when during the insurmountable grief that surrounded the death of her children in 1913, she responded with a statement in the New York Times to all those who had sent their condolatory support, wording it, “My friends have helped me realize what alone could comfort me – that all men are my brothers, all women my sisters, and all little children on this Earth my children.” In light of Duncan’s innovations and their impact on her contemporaries in the press, in the arts and among the intelligentsia of Europe, she perhaps did more for the freedom of the human body in the first half of the 20th century than any living person, shifting from a mere celebrity to a figure of iconic stature.
Excerpted and adapted from Jeanne Bresciani, Ph.D., Myth and Image in the Dance of Isadora Duncan, New York University Ph.D. dissertation. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI, 2000.