Sunday October 14, 2012 - At the 92nd Street Y as part of their Russian Sundays series, an evening devoted to Isadora Duncan was highlighted by the choreographer's “Impressions of Soviet Russia” featuring two group works set to Russian Worker’s songs and three Scriabin etudes Mother, Revolutionary and The Crossing at St. Petersburg. These works were choreographed by Isadora Duncan between 1920 - 1924 in Russia.
Third-generation Duncan dancer Lori Belilove led an ensemble of young dancers in performing the Worker's songs; Lori also performed a solo created by Duncan in reflecting on the death of her two children. But the dance portion of tonight's programme opened with the girls dancing exuberant solos from earlier stages of Duncan's career, including Chopin's Minute Waltz. Lori spoke of the way in which the danceworks we were seeing had been passed down from one generation of Duncan dancers to the next in the years before video documentation existed; many of the works were not notated at the time of their creation so it has been a verbal and demonstrative tradition that has kept them alive. To me they seem the very essence of dance.
I suppose even people who know next-to-nothing about dance know the name Isadora Duncan as the Mother of Modern Dance, and are also aware of the tragic accident that claimed the lives of her two children, and of her own bizarre and untimely death.
Duncan was a pioneering feminist before that word came into wide use. She ran her own life and managed her business affairs. She was ahead of her time in so many ways, and she is a woman I would very much love to have met.
Tonight, photos of Isadora by Edward Steichen were projected onscreen; we see her standing among Grecian ruins where she gathered inspiration fo her work. A very rare and very brief clip of Duncan dancing at a garden party is the only footage of her in motion that is known to exist.
Disillusioned by America, Duncan moved to Europe where in 1902 she met Loie Fuller and joined Fuller on tour. Duncan later toured extensively in Europe and the Americas; critics had mixed responses to her work, but she enjoyed success with the public. Between her break with accepted traditions of dance and her political beliefs, Duncan became extremely controversial.
A desire to pass her dance and philosophy on to younger generations caused her to open schools in Germany, Paris and Moscow. But world events prevented many of her plans from reaching fruition. She could never find financial support in the United States: "The rich people in America are criminally unintelligent."
Duncan first visited Russia in 1904 and returned there in 1921. Her notion of Communism was simplistic: "Everybody singing and dancing together"; her Leftist leanings caused her to be viewed as an anti-American anarchist. "Ideals always bring calamities in their wake," she said. Her Russian adventure ended when the Soviet government failed to fulfill promises made to help her sustain her school there.
Duncan lived a life devoted to two things: dance and love. Like many great romantics, she often followed her heart to disastrous ends. She bore two children out of wedlock, was briefly married to the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin - an alcoholic and eventual suicide - and she was involved to unknown extents with both Eleanora Duse and Mercedes de Acosta.
In summation, Isadora Duncan said: "I have only danced my life."
There was to be a panel discussion and a Q and A session at the Y tonight, but when the dancing ended I got up and left. Sometimes I think that the dance says all it has to say and there is no need for words. That's how I felt tonight, and I walked back across Central Park feeling an odd connection with the legendary Duncan who died in 1927.
The grave of Isadora Duncan at Pere-Lachaise in Paris.
A postage stamp honors the woman who lived, in her own words, "Sans limites."