Review: Loie Fuller

Dear Constant Reader,

Please vote for The Boston Babydolls every day!

Today’s book is not about burlesque, but a dancer who inspired one of the Boston Babydolls.

Loie Fuller: Goddess of Light by Richard Nelson Current & Marcia Ewing Current (1997)

Loie Fuller (née Marie Louise Fuller in 1862) was stage struck from a very early age. It’s said that at 2 years old she unexpectedly joined the recitation group at church and lisped her way through “Now I lay me down to sleep”. She strived for stardom as an actress and singer, but it wasn’t until she turned to dance that her fortunes turned. She took a popular music hall dance style — the skirt dance — and turned it into a dramatic swirl of fabric, dubbed the Serpentine Dance.

After a lukewarm reception in the US, Loie took her dance to Paris in 1892 and became a sensation. La Loïe, as the French quickly dubbed her, mesmerized audiences with her dances of flowing fabric, highlighted with colored light. In some of her dances she manipulated the folds of fabric with long sticks, creating the form of a butterfly, a flower, rippling waves. In “Le Lis du Nil” she was draped in 500 yards of silk.

When theatres were still using gas footlights and limelight, Loie took advantage of the new electrical arc lights for her performances and created her own colored gels to get just the right effect. Sometimes she danced on a platform of glass, lit from below, and used mirrors in some of her dances. She took advantage of new technologies, projecting images on her draperies with magic lanterns and later, making moving pictures,

Her swirling form was a hallmark of Art Nouveau and many artists depicted her, on paper and in sculpture, including Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec. She inspired fashions in clothing, jewelry, and home decor. She can also be given credit for paving the way for modern dancers, like Isadora Duncan (in whose career she took an interest), and Fokine’s Ballets Russes.

Many of her tours and other ventures were mismanaged and lost money, despite her critical acclaim. By all accounts she was charming, generous, and childlike. Loie was constantly in debt and relied on her many friends to help her out. She wrote a hasty memoir which was eventually published in English as Fifteen Years of a Dancer’s Life, With Some Account of her Distinguished Friends.

To give you an idea of the serpentine dance, here’s a montage of films shot during Loie’s lifetime. I don’t know if the dancers include Loie herself, students of hers, or just imitators. The colored footage was hand tinted, frame by frame.

So, where do we come into this? After Betty Blaize saw dancer Jody Spurling present a program inspired by Loie Fuller, she saw the possibilities for using huge swirls of fabric to captivate and tease. She got a vast quantity of silk and sewed herself a cape a la Loie.

Her first act “Lost at Sea” involved a slideshow telling a tragic love story projected onto her costume as she danced.

“Someone to Watch Over Me” was originally done behind a large Venetian blind, to give the audience a voyeuristic thrill and create a film noir look. Later, we used lighting effects to give the same atmosphere without having to worry about sightlines.

Unlucky in Love, February 2012 (Photo by Chris McIntosh)

In “Snowfall” Betty appeared in a blizzard made from tiny points of light, and then an actual blizzard of paper snow falling from the ceiling.

V for Vixen, December 2010 (Photo by Paul Falcone)


Published in: on 27 February 2013 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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