DANCING AND THE DANCE
Munich 1903 (Hof-Atelier Elvira)
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS: "Oh body swayed to music, oh brightening glance / How can we know the dancer from the dance?"
"I was born in America in the city of San Francisco on the day when a revolution broke out there. … Furious crowds raged in the streets."
THE NEW REPUBLIC: Her life was indeed like a force of nature in its primitive energy and strength, like a flame, a wind, a tide flowing and retreating across all the countries of the world. This daughter of the western ocean, whose first knowledge of the movements of the dance came from the jig of an Irish grandmother who had crossed the plains in a prairie wagon, left everywhere behind her -- in America, in France, in Germany, in Russia, in Greece -- images of Eternal Woman. Subjective yet universal images: the chaste and lovely dancing maiden; the grande amoureuse, lover and beloved of all men; the maenad, hurling her knees upward to the tune of the world's despair and revolution; the mother rejoicing and abundant, surrounded by joyous children; the mother sorrowing and bereft, smitten by a cruel fate and driven ever after, bent in a veil of tears and lamentation. These are Isadora, legendary already as Sappho, or Helen of Troy, or Duse, a creature who, for all her earthly passions, seems to live in a dream, to move to the most lyrical and stern rhythms of the world's great music, to live in her own body … `like a spirit in a cloud.'
"I don’t believe you. There is no Santa Claus."
GORDON CRAIG: "People called her a great artist—a Greek goddess—but she was no such thing. She was something quite different from anyone and anything else. I always thought how Irish she was—which means, how full of a natural genius which defies description—but she had more than that. Yet there was the tip-tilted nose and the little firm chin and the dream in her heart of the Irish who are so sweet to know. And in her eye was California, and this eye looked out over Europe and thought fairly well of what it saw."
JOHN DOS PASSOS: "She was an American like Walt Whitman; the murdering rulers of the world were not her people; the marchers were her people; artists were not on the side of the machineguns; she was an American in a Greek tunic; she was for the people."
EDWARD STEICHEN: "She was one honest-to-god American."
John Sloan, "Isadora in Revolt" (Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art)
WALT WHITMAN: "The attitude of great poets is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots. The turn of their necks, the sound of their feet, the motions of their wrists, are full of hazard to the one and hope to the other. "
"The great poets are also to be known by the absence in them of tricks and by the justification of perfect personal candor."
1898 (Jacob Schloss)
"Let the women of Boston don their golden sandals and their diaphanous draperies, and go out and dance on Boston Common in the moonlight. I look forward to the day when I shall lead the maidens of Boston, clothed in white, with dandelions in their hair, round Boston Common in the spring. Bacchic Boston. Sounds well, don’t you think?"
UNIDENTIFIED NEWS CLIP (1898): "Whenever in the dance her feet stepped far apart, one of her legs came forward, right out of that sedate drapery, and was on transitory view full length and skin-colored. … Miss Duncan, it may be added, had no idea of the trouble she was about to create."
"Why don’t you look startled? Don’t you think that’s interesting? Listen, I said: Boston is Bacchic! Boston is in the midst of a Bacchic revel! There! That’s good copy. You ought to put it in the headline on the front page: `Miss Duncan’— or, `Clever Miss Duncan’— or, `Beautiful’— yes, that’s better. `Beautiful Miss Duncan Says Boston is Bacchic.’ That is enough to make all the ministers preach special sermons. They will—you watch."
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH (1909, quoting an association of Methodist ministers): "It is to us a matter of exceeding regret that in the name of Charity and before an audience of character and culture … a performance was given that is a gross violation of the proprieties of life, and we trust it may never be repeated in our fair city."
John Sloan (Milwaukee Museum of Art)
JOHN SLOAN: "Isadora Duncan! … It’s positively splendid! I feel that she dances a symbol of human animal happiness as it should be, free from the unnatural trammels. … Her great big thighs, her small head, her full solid loins, belly – clean, all clean – she dances away civilization’s tainted brain vapors, wholly human and holy – part of God."
JOHN BUTLER YEATS: "People are much divided about her merits, the rival parties hating each other like the Capulets and the Montagues. The young girls are full of enthusiasm for her. Those a little older puzzled and somewhat shocked, the elder ladies furious. … The other day there was an enormous house who were as still as if we were in church, except that no one coughed."
JANET FLANNER: "Her art, animated by her extraordinary public personality, came as close to founding an aesthetic renaissance as American morality would allow, and the provinces especially had a narrow escape. … She arrived like a glorious bounding Minerva in the midst of a cautious corseted decade."
PHIL ARMOUR (Chicago meat-packing magnate): "She’s as sweet as one of them beech nut hams."