Home Magazine Dancing the Future. The authenticity of Isadora Duncan

The Mart - Contemporary and Modern Art Museum of Trento and Rovereto - dedicates the first evocative Italian exhibition, “Dancing the Revolution. Isadora Duncan and the figurative arts in Italy between the 19th century and avant-garde”, to the “dancer of the future”, pioneer of advanced Modern Dance and all-round tragic female character with strong charisma. 

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Isadora Duncan was the revolutionary and radical dancer ahead of her time. Born in San Francisco in 1877, she moved to Europe in 1899, touring London, Berlin and Paris, where she met the sculptor Auguste Rodin who was profoundly affected by her dance. Duncan is best known as a free and eccentric woman with a turbulent life and a tragic epilogue. The long, silky scarf she has always been wearing strangled her, getting caught on a convertible Bugatti’s wheel. Duncan’s last words allegedly were: “I’m about to fall in love”. At that time, in 1927, she was living in Nizza and her career had gone through a very rough patch.

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Plinio Nomellini (Livorno, 1866 - Firenze, 1943). Isadora Duncan. Gioia (Gioia tirrena), 1914
"Quadreria Villa San Martino". Silvio Berlusconi Collection


Too heavy to dance - some rumours say - full of debts and dependent on alcohol. But, despite all opposition (she also lost two children drowned in the Seine River), Isadora Duncan not only invented, between the 19th and 20th Century, a new ballet genre, modern and closely related to nature, but her style had a profound impact on Figurative arts. From painting to sculpture and theatre. Barefoot or in elegant sandals, wearing an ancient-like greek tunic, she performed, as an autodidact, the “Dance of future” - her most famous guide for modern dancers. Duncan used legs, arms, hands and her head as elements of dramatic expression. She was no longer a ballerina forced in a tutu like the Grande Danseuse (circa 1900) by Federico Zandomeneghi, in the tradition of the classical ballet dancer’s figure which Edgar Degas was famous for, but a “natural” dancer. The movement's impulse has nothing to do with constriction, it comes from the inside and it encounters the sea wave’s undulatory patterns or the wind’s curving shape. Liberated and impetuous, resembling an enchanting and beautiful clay statuette of a dancer in Dionysian pose, surprisingly Duncan was defined “great master of sculpture” because her plastic posture could be easily replicated in a marble or bronze shape.

Isadora Duncan was deeply fascinated but, in some measure, disruptive of the ancient past, especially of her beloved Renaissance Artists (Botticelli and his Spring), seeking total liberation and a new ecstatic mode of communicate feelings. Isadora who dances, the 1905 water painting by her lover, the stage designer Edward Gordon Craig, portrays a joyful body wrapped in a Hellenistic peplos balanced on a concentric pose - open, light, fluctuating yet steady, energetic and strong. Stronger than the transient and Symbolist women carrying roses in Gaetano Previati’s "The dance" (1908). But similar to the coeval Figure in Movement, an imperious and refined dancer, pre-Futurist in his lines and motion, by artist Umberto Boccioni.


Gino Severini (Cortona, AR, 1883 - Parigi, 1966), Ballerina, 1913
Mart, Museum of Modern and Contemporary art in Trento e Rovereto. Collection L.F.


The interesting thing is that Isadora Duncan developed, for multiple reasons, a special connection with Italy - her life’s aspect nearly unexplored - with the protagonists of the artistic milieu. Primarily with the immense actress Eleonora Duse, therefore with some painters from Versilia (the north of Tuscany). Then she had an amour with Gabriele D'Annunzio, the sacred poet. In a telegram to D'Annunzio in 1915, Duncan writes passionately: “your light inspires the entire world, yours in the universe. Isadora”. In his masterpiece Tell, men, your own story (1942), Alberto Savinio, Giorgio De Chirico’s younger brother, traces with a pen phantom biographies of prominent and very different men - Nostradamus, Jules Verne to name but a few - and among these he includes one woman only, Isadora Duncan.

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Fortunato Depero (Fondo, TN, 1892 - Rovereto, TN, 1960), Rotazione di ballerina e pappagalli, 1917
Mart, Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto. Deposito a lungo termine


To Savinio, she embodies the idea of androgynous Amazon, far ahead of rigid gender identity. She is an admirable heroine, in a fury of colours, as we praise in Plinio Nomellini’s Isadora Duncan. Joy (1914). Both curvy and muscular, her head back down in the typical pose, Duncan is surrounded with a vibrant red drape and her feet are moving rapidly on Tyrrhenian Sea’s water edge. Sensual and unconventional, Isadora Duncan’s legacy positively affected Italian free women dancers - the most popular circle was born around the patron and collector Cesarina Gualino in Turin - and contributed to establish numerous world’s dancing schools devoted to her. Nowadays the “Isadorables” community proves the grandeur and modernity of Isadora Duncan’s avant-garde dance aesthetics. 

Written by Petra Chiodi

Cover images: Cesare Laurenti (Mesola, FE, 1854 - Venezia, 1936), Fioritura nuova, 1897, Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Galleria Internazionale dí Arte Moderna di Cá Pesaro.

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