Loie Fuller will always stand out in my memories of undergraduate Dance History classes (taking place in a really musty damp room) as the kookiest and most interesting historical hero of dance. I’m sure most of you who are interested in dance know all about her and there will most probably be nothing in this post that offers new or exciting information about her. HOWEVER. I would like to draw attention to the fact that she was one of those rare artists who manages to occupy a space that is peripheral and somewhat disconnected to conventional definitions of dance. She was not fully a ‘dancer’ or ‘choreographer’ but rather she was doing something that was not dance or acting or painting or any of those clearly defined roles. No, she was far more original and creative than that. She had no ballet training, she performed in burlesque shows and the circus. Born in America and finding fame in Paris, she was the odd woman mucking about with lighting and material and mirrors and special effects at the turn of the century. God, I love her.
Here’s a little gif to give you an idea of the sort of aesthetic she was most famous for:
For those of you who aren’t too familiar or interested in dance (hi, welcome), Loie Fuller (1862 – 1828) was born in Chicago. She was a child actress and performed in the Folies-Bergére. By 1892 (I think?!) she had become a big hit in Paris, getting the sort of recognition she never managed to receive in the US. Yeats wrote about her, the Lumiere brothers and Thomas Edison filmed her, Lautrec painted her – she was mingling and seducing the hopping art nouveau scene of Paris before the World started having World Wars. When my honey, Katie (who is almost finished her heinous art degree) and I were in New York and looking at some exhibition, we came across this:
A famous image by French artist, Henri Tolouse Lautrec (think ‘Moulin Rouge’ sans Nicole Kidman). We both pointed at it and started talking about it simultaneously… Katie was saying something along the lines of “Oh-Lautrec-so-great-have-a-copy-of-this-my-room’ and I was saying something along the lines of ‘Oh-Loie-Fuller-so-great-you-should-see-this-old-video-of-her-work’. It was sweet how our collision of interests matched up so neatly; (one goes around hunting for artists to look at whilst the other goes around hunting for dancers to look at and they end up looking at the same image and each other, both fascinated that the other found this bit of history via a different channel).
But Fuller was not merely a muse for fancy man-artists. She was an artist/inventor/scientist in her own right, holding several patents for certain chemicals and gels for stage lighting. (And was a member of the French Astronomical Society – neat!) UbuWeb has a short film (nicer than the gif) of her work Danse Serpetine by the Lumiére Brothers (1896). Wikipedia rudely reminds us that it is most likely not her in the film but an unknown dancer. I am not sure if the following photographs are of her, specifically. But they certainly are of an pioneering aesthetic that she was responsible for. Also, the colours you see in the footage of her work, have been hand-painted on to each slide. In ‘real life’, the colours came from the theatre lights that reflected off the voluminous silk materials that she manipulated so cleverly and beautifully. You can watch it here:
Sigh and swoon. Here are (nice and big!) pictures: