Isadora Duncan: The Great ‘Barefoot Dancer'

Isadora Duncan: The Great ‘Barefoot Dancer'

American dancer, world star and wife of the great Russian poet, she broke with convention and invented free dance... We’d like to tell you about creativity, love and tragedy of Isadora Duncan.

Beginning of the creative path

Dora Angela Duncan was the fourth child in the family of a Californian banker, however, when the girl was born, her father had already gone bankrupt and fled in an unknown direction with all the money left. Left without a breadwinner, the family that used to be well-off was literally struggling to survive.

All the Duncan children danced well and earned money giving choreography lessons, and Dora wasn’t interested in anything else at all. At the age of 10 she dropped out of school and devoted herself to her vocation entirely. The first moves characterizing her unique style were appearing at the same time.

Later, the young dancer began performing in nightclubs under the name Isadora Duncan. Her natural movements, Greek tunic and bare feet seemed to the audience really exotic and aroused delight.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Duncans moved to Europe - first to London, then to Paris, where the girl was fortunate enough to work in the team of her idol Loïe Fuller, an actress, dancer and founder of the modern choreographic style. Together they created such numbers as the Fire, the Serpentine and the Divine Barefoot Dancer, toured Europe. Isadora got money and fame that allowed her to start a solo career.

Worldwide recognition and contribution to the development of dance

In 1902, a performance in Budapest became the dancer's first great success, and a year later she was a world-famous dancer.

In 1903, the Duncans were living in Greece, where the dancer studied ancient plastique, which would later become a recognizable feature of her author's style. At the same time, Isadora initiated construction of the temple of dance on the Copanos hill. Today, it is the Isadora & Raymond Duncan Dance Research Center.

In 1904, the dancer opened a school near Berlin, in the town of Grunewald. In the same year, her first concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg took place.

Isadora, inspired by Nietzsche, believed that every person should learn to move beautifully and she wrote about this in her book The Dance of the Future. She invested almost all her money to open and support new schools. She adopted 6 girls from among her students, and raised others as her own children. Her students didn’t let the dancer commit suicide, when two of her own children - seven-year-old daughter Deirdre and three-year-old son Patrick - were killed in a car accident.

“Isadora, live for us. Aren’t we your children?” - the girls pleaded with the grieving and broken Isadora.

In an attempt to heal her soul, the dancer got pregnant again, but her newborn son lived only a few hours. It's hard to imagine what it was like for Duncan to continue living after such tragedies, but she not only lived, but also danced.

Duncan's plastique was sensual and erotic, but no one reproached her for being vulgar or too explicit. Isadora denied any standards, the freedom of her movement was inspired by nature.

This is what she said about it: “I'm not going to teach you how to dance. I just want to teach you to fly like birds, bend like young trees in the wind, rejoice like a butterfly rejoices on a May morning, breathe freely like clouds, jump easily and silently like a gray cat.”

Isadora Duncan in Russia and the USSR

The dancer's concerts in St. Petersburg were attended by members of the imperial family and the first persons of the Russian ballet - Lev Bakst, Mikhail Fokine, Sergei Diaghilev, Mathilde Kschessinska. Duncan's dance was in many ways the opposite of the academic practice, but "Duncanism" impacted ballet as well- ballerinas' arms became freer. Russian "Duncanists" opened their own schools, the most famous of them was Heptakhor, a studio of the musical and plastic movement, which existed for 19 years.

In 1921, the Soviet authorities officially invited Isadora Duncan to open a school in Moscow with state financial support. The dancer believed that it was here, in the new Soviet world, free of bourgeoisness and inequality, that she would be able to truly create. But the reality turned out not that rosy - the funding was not enough even with the money that Duncan invested herself. The post-revolutionary cold and hunger were exhausting, 40 girls admitted for free education in the summer were growing crops for the next year so that there was something to eat.

Forever in love

Isadora's romantic life was full of passions and flings. The dancer in dire need of love was rarely alone - she always had an apple of her eye, but at the same time she valued her freedom highly. The man of her life and the only official husband was the poet Sergei Yesenin, who was 18 years younger. They met in 1921 and got married in 1922, taking the double surname of Duncan-Yesenin. The hot-tempered poet lifted his hand against the dancer on numerous occasions, but she justified his aggression with depression and forgave him. They spent the first year of marriage in Europe and America, where Isadora organized translations and publications for her husband. Yesenin's depression got stronger in a foreign land, so in 1923 the poet returned home and in 1924 the dancer left for Paris, where she later received a telegram saying: “I love another woman, I’m married and happy.”

In 1925 Yesenin died, and in 1927 an accident took the life of Isadora Duncan. In Nice, when she was riding a car with a man, a long silk scarf, thrown around the dancer's neck, became entangled around the wheel spokes and broke her neck.

According to one of the eyewitnesses of the tragedy, the last phrase of the great "barefoot" dancer was: “Farewell, my friends! I go to glory!” According to the other: ”I am off to love.”