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By André Levinson
Copyright Librairie Bloud & Gay, Paris, 1924
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak
(Excerpted from “La Danse au Théâtre,” which assembles Levinson’s critical articles published between April 1922 and April 1923, for the most part in the Paris daily Comoedia, here from a December 11, 1922 piece entitled “The Quarrel Between the Ancients and the Moderns,” with the sub-heading “The Trial of Isadora Duncan.”)
Certainly, Isadora Duncan is guilty as charged. She was the grand switch operator who redirected dance onto a dead-end track and made it derail. Her enthusiastic brand of Hellenism à la headmistress produced unprecedented ravages. Her musical dilettantism grew into a rage of epidemic proportions. “Rise, Lazarus, and dance!” clamored the American demagogue. And a thousand young women suddenly declared themselves dancers. An army surged around Isadora, an international brigade of the barefooted. With the great stamping of her large naked feet she makes Beethoven jump, Chopin run, Gluck trot. Proclaimed the redeemer of the body, which she emancipates from all the conventional shackles, she enters in the Pantheon. Bringing with her, it’s claimed, a re-birth.
I have a dear friend in Russia, one of the country’s most subtle critics. An intelligence that I call gourmontienne* and a pure sensibility inhabiting a sickly and deformed body. Disabled, he drags himself along laboriously with the aid of a crutch and a cane. Well, this man was transported to such a degree by the Duncanian “miracle” that he declared her art to be “the means for all of us to become beautiful.”
Without doubt, the personality of the dancer herself has a lot to do with this infatuation, or rather this idolatry. Without any particular physical beauty, with her figure recalling a kindly school-marm, her torso lacking any suppleness, her feet flattened out and widened by two decades of naked stomping on the planks, Isadora nonetheless has been able to preserve a certain plastic prestige. Her gestures are sober, at times evocative. And if her musicality seems doubtful and approximate, she has the gift of fecund emotions. Her practically non-existent technique can be assimilated in 24 hours by just about any dancer. Her audacity, on the other hand, is incommensurate, genial. Her pupils and imitators are innumerable; to imitate her one has no need of audacity!
Nevertheless, Isadora might have been useful to dance: useful like a good old-fashioned fire is useful for the beautification of a neighborhood.
When Isadora appeared on the scene, dance had been languishing for 20 years. Classical dancers continued their arduous task in a complete moral isolation; artists and poets had lost interest in this grand tradition. And all that was left of the not so distant past of the incomparable kingdom of the ballerina’s court — of which Théophile Gautier, Jules Janin, Théodore de Banville, Stéphane Mallarmé, Gavarni and Lamy had been the reigning dignitaries — were the last remnants of some decrepit members. Even if the handful of simple-minded and upright true believers, gifted with good instincts, who knew how to maintain, despite and against all the others, their unshakeable conviction and keep their metier intact were admirable. Because being a ballerina, only a few years ago, was a perilous distinction.
Well, it was Isadora who brought the masses back to dance, who created a new audience for it. She knew how to promote a vast surge of opinion. One which is not going away, however much she uses her very real power to inculcate deplorable and paltry concepts, and nurtures false sensibilities among this public. Thanks to her, those who have come to clear the terrain and reconstruct will not be operating in a void. And it’s thus that the fruits of her efforts, negative as they may have been, appear considerable and propitious.
*A reference to the journalist and critic Remy de Gourmont (1858 – 1915), known for his vast erudition. In 1889, was one of the co-founders of the new Mercure de France, to which he almost exclusively devoted his literary efforts after being diagnosed with Lupus. Gourmont also worked for the French Bibliothèque Nationale.
Celebrating 20 years as the Internet’s longest-running arts magazine and the world’s leading voice for dancers, the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager is now offering Home page ads with photos starting at just $49/month when you sign up by April 15. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information to join Freespace Dance (above), Slippery Rock University Dance (top), and others in sponsoring the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager, for two decades the leading voice for artists.
Celebrating 20 years as the Internet’s longest-running arts magazine, the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager is now offering Home page ads with photos starting at just $49/month when you sign up by April 2. Contact email@example.com for more information to join Freespace Dance (top), Slippery Rock University Dance (above), and others in sponsoring the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager, for two decades the leading voice for artists.
If there’s one person in dance who is consistent, it’s Battery Dance’s Jonathan Hollander, whose vision, contrary to the myopia which sometimes infects other leaders of the New York dance community, has always been both global and community-oriented in the larger sense. Receiving its premiere Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Modern Art as part of MoMA’s Doc Fortnight festival, Rob Fruchtman’s 2017 “Moving Stories” follows six dancers from Battery, including ex-Graham fixture Tadej Brdnik, as they travel to India, Romania, Korea, and Iraq to work with at-risk youth, with just one week to prepare a performance. The documentary is preceded by Maris Curran’s “While I Yet Live,” in which five acclaimed African-American quilters from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, discuss love, religion, and the fight for civil rights as they continue the tradition of quilting that brought them together, and followed by a discussion with some of the dancers, who also included Robin Cantrell, Mira Cook, Clement Mensah, Sean Scantlebury and Lydia Tetzlaff. Photo courtesy Rob Fruchtman.
(Dance Insider Principal Sponsor Ad) The Star-Ledger’s Robert Johnson calls Donna Scro Samori / Freepace Dance “astonishing and wonderfully gratifying.” For info on classes and upcoming performances, click here. Above: Freespace Dance artistic director Donna Scro Samori and Omni Kitts, as captured by Lois Greenfield. Photo copyright Lois Greenfield. (To advertise your dance program, performance, audition, or product on the Dance Insider, please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at firstname.lastname@example.org . Subscribe to the DI by Friday, December 8 for just $29.95/year, and receive a free one-month Home page ad.)