Above: dancers Morgana Rose Mellett and Emily D'Angelo of the Isadora Duncan Dance Company
Friday August 29th, 2014 - Today I went down to the Gibney Dance Center where friends of the Isadora Duncan Dance Company had been invited to an intimate studio session in anticipation of the upcoming renewal of a 'lost' Duncan work, DANCE OF THE PRIESTESSES.
Lori Belilove, artistic director of the Company, welcomed us and then told the story of how DANCE OF THE PRIESTESSES has miraculously re-surfaced after several decades of being nothing more than a bit of legend.
There had been talk of a film of the work having been made in 1963 and featuring one of the original Isadorables, Anna (Denzler) Duncan. Incredibly the film surfaced and was presented to Lori by some benevolent angel. Lori set to work with her dancers to re-construct the piece, and we will be able to see it danced both on the film and live at a presentation at the Gibney Dance Center on September 17th, 2014, at 6:30 PM. Further details of this event will be forthcoming.
The dancework is drawn from the story of Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, who was rescued from her fate as a human sacrifice by the goddess Artemis. Iphigenia becomes a priestess at the temple of Artemis in Tauris, a position in which she has the gruesome task of ritually sacrificing any foreigners who land on that kingdom's shores. Iphigenia is eventually confronted with the necessity of sacrificing her long-lost brother Orestes but that horrific duty is averted by the intercession of the goddess Athena.
The story was immortalized in Christoph Willibald von Gluck's gorgeous opera, IPHIGENIE EN TAURIDE. And it is to Gluck's music that DANCE OF THE PRIESTESSES is performed.
After providing us with this background, Lori asked each of us to cross our hands over our sternum and to breathe deeply; we can immediately sense our own center and the connectedness of the entire body. Her dancers then demonstrate some of the exercises with which they warm up: similar to a ballet barre, and yet the movement emanates from the torso rather than being guided by the limbs.
The dancers looked so beautiful doing these deceptively 'simple' exercises which actually call for great concentration and control. The movement has a slow and ecstatic quality as the wheel-like flow of the arms, radiating from the sternum, reach down to the Earth and then soars skyward.
Having shown us these stylistic elements, the dancers then performed a brief passage from DANCE OF THE PRIESTESSES. The ritualistic pouring of the libation oil and the stately pacing of the celebrants, arms opening in eloquent gestures of offering and supplication, create a timeless atmosphere of feminine power and beauty.
The dancers - Kim D'Agnese, Faith Kimberling, Emily D'Angelo, and Morgana Rose Mellett - each have distinguishing physical characteristics which maintain their individuality even when dancing in unison. Watching them was a truly savorable experience.
I'm hoping to see a rehearsal of the full work prior to the Gibney showing on September 17th.
Watch a brief film clip of Anna Duncan performing at Jacob's Pillow in 1942 here.