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Loïe Fuller: Modern Dance Pioneer….

July 28, 2013
: Jules Chéret's 1893 poster advertising Loïe Fuller's performances at the Folies Bergère is one of the most iconic images of Art Nouveau. Utilizing the new technology of chromolithography, it reproduced the brilliant colors Fuller achieved on stage with the new technology of electric lighting. It appeared in four different color combinations and was later re-printed in Chéret's Maître d'Affiche, a small-format collection of poster art. Although compelling, the image is hardly a likeness of Fuller and the flagrant exposure of the dancer's physique is pure fantasy. (Collection William G. & Sally R. Sommer.)

: Jules Chéret’s 1893 poster advertising Loïe Fuller’s performances at the Folies Bergère is one of the most iconic images of Art Nouveau. Utilizing the new technology of chromolithography, it reproduced the brilliant colors Fuller achieved on stage with the new technology of electric lighting. It appeared in four different color combinations and was later re-printed in Chéret’s Maître d’Affiche, a small-format collection of poster art. Although compelling, the image is hardly a likeness of Fuller and the flagrant exposure of the dancer’s physique is pure fantasy. (Collection William G. & Sally R. Sommer.)

Loïe Fuller (1862 – 1928) was a visionary artist who crafted a novel genre of performance, one that combined billowing costumes with dazzling lights and projections to conjure transformative imagery of hypnotic beauty.

Born Marie Louise Fuller 1862 in Fullersburg, Illinois, she embarked on an early theatrical career as an actress and singer in vaudeville, stock companies, and burlesque before developing the dance style that made her famous in the early 1890s. Through experiments with silk drapery and colored lights, she evolved her first Serpentine Dance. Thereafter, the genre became known as “serpentine dancing” and was widely imitated.

Fuller was heralded as a technological wizardress for her many stagecraft innovations, which included: doing away with scenic elements and plunging the theater into total darkness; harnessing a revolving disc of colored gels to shine ever-shifting multi-hued patterns on her swirling skirts; projecting images (such as photographs of the moon’s surface) onto her garments; lighting the stage from below, as in her famous Fire Dance to create the illusion of being ringed by flames; and choreographing shadows and silhouettes.

This 1892 photograph shows Fuller costumed for her Serpentine Dance and holding a typical "skirt dance" pose. While the connection with skirt dancing is evident, the image also reveals Fuller's innovations. She has done away with the skirt dancer's usual corseted bodice, moved the waistline higher, added more fabric to the skirt, and used sheer lightweight white silk (in lieu of a skirt dancer's pleated fabric) to serve as a mobile screen for her colored lights and projections. (Photograph by B.J. Falk. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.)

This 1892 photograph shows Fuller costumed for her Serpentine Dance and holding a typical “skirt dance” pose. While the connection with skirt dancing is evident, the image also reveals Fuller’s innovations. She has done away with the skirt dancer’s usual corseted bodice, moved the waistline higher, added more fabric to the skirt, and used sheer lightweight white silk (in lieu of a skirt dancer’s pleated fabric) to serve as a mobile screen for her colored lights and projections. (Photograph by B.J. Falk. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.)

Fuller’s 1892 debut at the Folies Bergère in Paris catapulted her into international celebrity. Her performances enraptured the fin de siècle artists, poets and intellectuals. She was depicted by artists in many media and became influential in such movements as Art Nouveau, Symbolism, Cubism, and Futurism.

This 1892 photograph shows Fuller costumed for her Serpentine Dance and holding a typical "skirt dance" pose. While the connection with skirt dancing is evident, the image also reveals Fuller's innovations. She has done away with the skirt dancer's usual corseted bodice, moved the waistline higher, added more fabric to the skirt, and used sheer lightweight white silk (in lieu of a skirt dancer's pleated fabric) to serve as a mobile screen for her colored lights and projections. (Photograph by B.J. Falk. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.)

This 1892 photograph shows Fuller costumed for her Serpentine Dance and holding a typical “skirt dance” pose. While the connection with skirt dancing is evident, the image also reveals Fuller’s innovations. She has done away with the skirt dancer’s usual corseted bodice, moved the waistline higher, added more fabric to the skirt, and used sheer lightweight white silk (in lieu of a skirt dancer’s pleated fabric) to serve as a mobile screen for her colored lights and projections. (Photograph by B.J. Falk. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.)

Fuller’s serpentine dancing lies at the origin of modern dance. Although they later became rivals, Fuller helped the career of a young Isadora Duncan. Ruth St. Denis was an admirer of Fuller and choreographed works in homage. At the turn of the 20th century, Fuller brought dance to the cutting edge of modernity, and her energy and ambition made her one of the most influential American women of her era. Fuller died in Paris, France, on January 2, 1928.

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