Tag Archives: Choreographers

Fanny Elssler and desire

fanny elssler

When Fanny Elssler (1810–84) left the Paris Opéra to tour the U.S. between 1840 and 1842, adoring critics there were faced—apparently for the first time—with the dilemma of writing approvingly about a woman making herself an object of desire.

Recurring descriptions of her being a divinity or an enchantress evince the process of assuaging guilt over this desire, and assumptions that male dancers were homosexuals enabled the suspension of jealousy over her dancing partners.

This according to “The personification of desire: Fanny Elssler and American audiences” by Maureen Needham Costonis (Dance chronicle XII/1 [1990] pp. 47–67).

Above, an image used for her U.S. tour of Elssler performing her signature La cachucha; below, a recreation performed by Carla Fracci.

Related article: The postmodern ballerina

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Ted Shawn and Native American dance

ted shawn

Ted Shawn was the first choreographer to introduce carefully researched interpretations of Native American dance to audiences in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Beginning in the 1910s, when prominent dance critics were utterly dismissive of Native American dance, Shawn formed a high opinion of it—a view that was confirmed when he witnessed a complete Hopi ceremony in 1924.

This according to “The American Indian imagery of Ted Shawn” by Jane Sherman (Dance chronicle XII/3 [1989] pp. 366–382). Below, archival footage of some of Shawn’s work.

Related post: St. Denis and Radha

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Graham and Freud

 

Martha Graham found Freud’s psychoanalytic ideas useful for making sense of both her personal life and the material to which she was drawn as a choreographer; they were particularly central to the creative process for her works based on Greek myths.

In Night journey, in which Oedipus’s mother and wife is forced by the blind seer Tiresias to relive the most painful moments of her life, Graham turns Jocasta into a powerful female protagonist by turning a straightforward linear narrative into a complex and difficult one, evoking the physically charged and taboo themes of eroticism, the maternal body, and death.

This according to “Dance, gender and psychoanalysis: Martha Graham’s Night journey” by Ramsay Burt (Dance research journal XXX/1 [spring 1998] pp. 34–53). Below, Graham herself dances in the opening of Alexander Hammid’s 1960 film of the work.

Related article: Herskovitz and Freud

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Loïe Fuller’s serpentine success

 

Skirt dancing, involving the dancer’s graceful manipulation of a full skirt, was a widely popular genre in the U.S. when Loïe Fuller premiered her Serpentine dance in 1892.

Fuller’s costume for this dance involved so much fabric that—combined with atmospheric lighting—it almost completely obscured her human form. By shifting the focus from the dancer to the costume, she added a new level of abstraction to the skirt dance genre, prefiguring many of the innovations of modern dance.

The dance was a huge success and was much imitated, prompting Fuller to sue for copyright infringement; but the judge ruled against her, stating that a dance depicting no story, character, or emotion could not be considered a “dramatic composition” protected by the copyright act.

This according to “Loïe Fuller’s Serpentine dance: A discussion of its origins in skirt dancing and creative reconstruction” by Jody Sperling (Proceedings of the Society for Dance History Scholars XXII [1999] pp. 53–56). Below, a hand-colored 1895 film of an unnamed dancer by the Lumière brothers suggests what Fuller’s performance was like.

Related article: Tórtola Valencia and Otherness

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Tórtola Valencia and Otherness

tortola valencia 1

Carmen Tórtola Valencia (1882–1955), who may have reinvented herself as Spanish, made a flamboyant contribution to early modern dance in Spain, Western Europe, and Latin America between 1908 and 1930.

Her rapport with Spanish modernismo enabled her elevation from a music hall and musical theater performer to a solo concert dance artist with a large repertoire of classic, Oriental, and Spanish numbers. Tórtola Valencia’s career particularly flourished in the Hispanic world, while elsewhere she cultivated the figure of the exotic Other.

This according to “Early modern dance in Spain: Tórtola Valencia, dancer of the historical intuition” by Iris Garland (Dance research journal XXIX/2 [fall–winter 1997] pp. 1–22). Below, photographs of Tórtola Valencia and her exotic costumes.

Related article: Loïe Fuller’s serpentine success

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Fred Astaire’s drunk dances

Astaire

In his comic depictions of drunk dancing, Astaire used choreography to project social views and feelings about drunkenness, and to set up tensions between those qualities of inebriation and the precision and agility that his dancing embodied.

Memorable examples include the solo number “One for my baby (and one more for the road)” in The sky’s the limit (1943, above and below).

This according to “Stepping high: Fred Astaire’s drunk dances” by Sally Banes, an essay included in Writing dancing in the age of postmodernism (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1994, pp. 171–183).

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Katharine Dunham and L’ag’ya

The peoples of the Caribbean welcomed Katharine Dunham and shared their dance cultures with her; her obligations toward them figure in her danced testimonies to their hospitality.

Her solo in L’ag’ya (1938) was not a collusion with colonial ideologies of appropriation—it was a testament to the immediacy of performance and the importance of maintaining a welcoming openness in the face of the overwhelming idea of infinity.

This according to “Hospitality and translation in Katherine Dunham’s L’ag’ya” by Ramsay Burt, an essay included in Proceedings: Society of Dance History Scholars (Stoughton: Society of Dance History Scholars, 2003) pp. 8–11. Above, Dunham with Vanoye Aikens in L’ag’ya in 1938; below, excerpts from Dunham’s solo from a silent 1947 film.

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The Mr. Isaac mystery

The celebrated late–17th- and early–18th-century English dancing master known in historical sources only as Mr. Isaac may have been Edward Isaac, who was baptized in 1643 and whose particulars fit in circumstantial ways with what little is known about the choreographer.

By the mid-1670s Mr. Isaac was well-connected in the court and theaters, and recognition of his work continually grew, lasting into the reign of George I. His extant dances, notated by John Weaver and others in the Beauchamp–Feuillet system, show a typically English love of formal complexity and occasional departures from fashionable French models, yet they share qualities that mark them as definitively his own.

This according to “Mr. Isaac, dancing-master” by Jennifer Thorp (Dance research XXIV/2 [Winter 2006] pp. 117–137).

Related article: Mr. Isaac and The Union

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Mr. Isaac and The Union

The 1707 Act of Union joined England and Scotland as a single entity. For the birthday of Queen Anne that year the choreographer Mr. Isaac created The Union, a couple dance that conveyed some of the tensions involved in forging a new national identity.

The doctrine of affections linked the genres of the dance’s loure and hornpipe sections with specific emotions. The loure was connected with pride, even arrogance, as well as a tinge of nostalgia; in this section of The Union, the two dancers pass and join with an air of circumspect ambivalence, expressing cultural rapprochement. Associated with Scotland, the hornpipe was linked with vigor and vitality, and the second section of The Union presents an idealized, anglicized vision of Scottishness.

This according to “Issues of nation in Isaac’s The Union” by Linda J. Tomko (Dance research XV/2 [winter 1997] pp. 99–125). Above, excerpts from John Weaver’s notation of the piece using the BeauchampFeuillet system.

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Ghostcatching

To create the virtual dance installation Ghostcatching the digital artists Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar used a computer-based optical system to track the movements of the choreographer Bill T. Jones. The data from this motion-capture system formed the basis for three-dimensional digital animation.

The work challenges previous modes of commodification and enjoyment of the racialized other; it also provides a new generation in a genealogy of mechanized figures and automatons, as exemplified by the photographic work of Étienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904).

This according to “Ghostcatching: An intersection of technology, labor, and race” by Danielle Goldman (Dance research journal XXV–XXVI/2–1, pp. 68–87).

Above, some of Marey’s 1870 locomotion studies; below, excerpts from Ghostcatching.

 

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