While on her Reputation tour, Taylor Swift, who is dancing through some of the photos in her September cover story, has been dedicating the choreography of her “Dress” performance to Loie Fuller, a pioneer of modern dance. One of the links between these two Americans born 127 years apart is, as has been noted, copyright. (In 1892, Fuller’s application to protect her famed and much copied Serpentine dance was denied; earlier this year, Swift lost the rights to her first six albums in the sale of a record label.) They both also experienced unparalleled levels of fame, though Fuller’s was eclipsed, at least in the public imagination, by that of the histrionic and ultimately tragic Isadora Duncan.
Such was Fuller’s reputation that Vogue paid the expatriate Illinoisan a home visit in Paris in 1913 (where the dancer, a lesbian who lived with her suit-wearing girlfriend, Gabrielle “Gab” Bloch, from 1905 until her death). In the article, republished below, Fuller speaks of being “found” by the dance. She brought the Serpentine—and her innovative lighting techniques—to Paris around 1892 and became known as the “Electric Fairy.”
Dance is an ephemeral art, but Fuller’s liquid movements were immortalized by artists like Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, a habitué of the Folies-Bergère; Jules Chéret, a master of poster art; glassmaker Réne Lalique; the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Repose, a languorous portrait by John White Alexander now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was associated with the dancer (though it does not depict her) because of the subject’s flowing white dress.
Fuller danced the Serpentine in voluminous robes with extended sleeves that were attached to poles that swirled around her like wings before enveloping her in a hurricane of drapery. Add the lighting effects, and it was as if, as Swift might say, “sparks [could] fly.”
“A High Priestess of Terpsichore,” by Laura Hubbard.
This article was first published in the September 1, 1913 issue of Vogue.
In Paris, away up on the tip-top of a high eminence reached by a flight of stone steps, is a curiously sequestered block of modern apartments with distractingly similar stone facades. They are bright, airy, and comfortable, and from the windows one looks down over the gardened stretch of the Trocadero and beyond to the great Eiffel tower, described by E. V. Lucas as “straddling over Paris.” A situation unsurpassed in Paris this, and small wonder that it is here Miss Fuller, the dancer—“La Loie” as she is called by the French among whom she has lived intermittently for twenty years—has chosen to abide.
As an American I entered her apartment with the greatest amount of frankly confessed curiosity; for of all the dancers of the present century, there is none more distinctly a product of our soil and of our temperament. Loie Fuller may almost be called the prophetess of the modern cult of dancing, for since she first made her debut over twenty years ago, interest in the terpsichorean art has developed with amazing rapidity.
LOIE FULLER RECALLS
As I waited patiently in the typically French salon—for what star but requires a waiting?—I turned over in my mind what I had heard and seen of the dancer, when suddenly my train of thought was interrupted by the entrance of a short, rosy-faced person with the bluest of blue eyes, and the whitest of white teeth, and upon whose sensitive lips rippled a delightfully contagious smile. Miss Fuller, of course. After the first conventional preliminaries, I induced her to talk a little of her remarkable career which began as a wee mite of a girl in the Academy of Music in Chicago. “I used to recite,” she said, “and I used to sing, and for a little while I thought that I could act” ; in other words, like many another genius, it was not until after many essays and many failures that she at last found herself and her remarkable gift.
It was in the Bijou Theatre in New York, in a play called “The Mascot,” that she appeared for the first time in a regulation ballet dance. “I had never had a dancing lesson in my life and yet I was expected to pirouette on my toes like an infant Carmencita. I was a failure, and the public told me so.”
“But when,” I asked, “did you really find your dance, and method of expression?”
“You mean,” she said, “when did the dance find me; for, do you know, the night I appeared before the public, and created the ‘serpentine’ dance I did not know that I was doing it. How could I,” she added, “for if I had known that I was to do it. it would not have been creating, would it?”
THE PRINCIPLES OF HER SCHOOL
Curious and wonderfully gracious are her interpretations, which can not better be described than in her own words, when she explains the principles which guide her in teaching the children in her school.
“My school,” she says, “is not a dancing school, or a school of definite instruction, but one of the imagination. My children find for themselves the subjects for their dance in the creative rhythm of music and of life, with scarcely a suggestion from me. When they have discovered an idea, I then give the greatest amount of care to its development, though I never correct a child during her execution of a dance. When that is done, they at once become self-conscious and awkward, whereas often, when left to themselves, the fault is corrected by their own instinct.
“Sentiment, imagination, expression—that is my art. And all these emotions must be expressed with the fewest gestures possible, for the strongest sentiments, the deepest sorrows, are betrayed without gesture, without words. To be able to express—that is my sole aim. No system—just intuition and instinct, which have been made to bloom like the flowers in the full light of the sun.” In accordance with these theories we find the children of the school choosing for themselves subjects from nature and from fairy tales, giving life to the flowers, interpreting the motions of the birds, the whispering of the winds, impersonating the brooks and springs.
LIGHTING HER DANCES
Though gesture, as such, counts but little in the Loie Fuller dance, light plays a very important part, and the phrase from Revelation, “She was clothed in the sun, and in the stars,” is one which is often applied to her. Recently she has discovered new means of employing calcium lights for the production of marvelous color effects. This method, used successfully last year, she has now perfected, and is developing to its greatest extent.
Miss Fuller’s autobiography, “Fifteen Years of My Life,” has just been published in England, with a preface by Anatole France, who compares her to the dancers seen in Pompeiian frescoes. The book has had a rather interesting history. It was written by her in English, first published in France in a French translation, and this translation has, without her knowledge, been re-translated into English, and published in its present form.
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Originally Appeared on Vogue