Isadora Duncan was an American-born dancer and writer who later worked in Europe and the Soviet Union. She was a revolutionary both in her dance and her political views.
Isadora was born in San Fransisco, California on 27 May 1878, and raised in the San Frnsisco Bay area. Her education was mainly by her mother and focused on classical music and poetry. By her early teens she was creating and performing in the genre that would later be called modern dance. She used free motions modeled on those she observed in nature.
Initially unable to find sympathetic audiences in the United States, as a young performer she went to London, England. The Tanagra figurines in the British museum led her to adopt the free and expressive Greek chiton and bare feet as her dance costume. Her first publicly popular shows were in central Europe in 1903 and 1904.
Isadora's unconventional lifestyle and practice of free love challenged Victorian mores just as her dance challenged mechanical and codified styles in art. Her dance was "derided by conservative critics but hailed as a liberating force by the rising generation of avant-garde poets and painters as well as by political radicals." Her supporters in the US "covered the entire spectrum of the left, and included Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, and John Sloan of the Masses group, the poets of the Yiddish di Yunge, anarchist Alexander Berkman, single-taxer Bolton Hall, socialist-feminist Antionette Konokow, and John Collier, lifelong agitator on behalf of American Indians."
Performances in Russia in the wake of the 1905 Revolution deepened her social and political radicalism, and "from the 1910s on she was world-renowned not only as a dancer but as a living symbol of revolt, revolution, and women's emancipation. Duncan-style dance was taught at the Socialist Party's Rand school in New York and at the anarchists' Modern School at Stelton, New Jersey [USA]. In Spring 1921 she accepted the invitation of Soviet diplomat Leonid Krasin to set up a school of dance in the USSR. "Warmly welcomed by Commissar of Fine Arts Anatoly Lunacharsky, Duncan always insisted that her several years' Soviet sojourn, marred though it was by frustrations and disappointments, was the most exciting and rewarding period of her life. In the Soviet Union she choreographed dances for the workers' hymn "The Internationale," as well as for people's songs such as Ireland's "Wearin' O' the Green" and France's "Carmagnole," and two funeral marches for Lenin."
Undertaking in fall-winter 1922-23 a tour of the US, she was greeted with a prolonged interrogation at Ellis Island, a campaign of villification waged by the American Legion, the Ku Klux Klan, evangalist Billy Sunday, and most of the commercial press, cancellation of many performances, and eventual revocation of her US citizenship.
Her romantic partners included stage designer Gordon Craig, the millionaire Paris Singer, and the Russian Poet Sergei Esenin.
Besides a dancer, she was an "original and bold" essayist and orator. Her autobiography, My Life, was very widely read, and, according to Franklin Rosemont, she was in addition to being an inspired writer on dance, a "penetrating critic of modern education, the situation of women in patriarchal society, and other aspects of repressive culture."
According to Doris Hering of Dance Magazine, Isadora died in France in 1927, accidentaly strangled when a scarf she was wearing caught in the wheels of an automobile.
Primavera is one of her most famous early dance works. She was a major influence on the Russian choreographer Michel Fokine.
- Doris Hering, 2000. "Duncan, Isadora", in Encyclopedia Americana
- Franklin Rosemont, 1998. "Duncan, Isadora", in Mary Jo Buhle and others (editors), Encyclopedia of the American Left