Tuesday, May 5, 2009

o My name is Lyz Hazelton, and I am a dance major and gender studies minor here at Mount Holyoke College. For my Dance in the 20th Century final project, I chose to focus my show on dancer Loie Fuller, and her contributions not only to the world of modern dance, but also at her innovations in lighting techniques and costuming. I found this particular topic fascinating because it is relatively rare to find a performer whose originality is instituted not only in their movement, but also in other elements of their performance that are, to me, just as important. It is common practice today to have a choreographer, a performer, a lighting designer, a costume designer, and a multitude of other people working on one show – it is unusual to find one person taking on all of these tasks, as Loie Fuller did at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

A Brief Biography

Loie Fuller was born Mary Louise Fuller sometime in January of 1863 in the small town of Fullersburg, near Chicago. An exact birthdate is difficult to pinpoint, since Fuller herself gave journalists eight different birth dates throughout her career. Although Fuller was not a dancer by training (she only took approximately six dance lessons in her life), she did perform with various vaudeville and burlesque troops, as well as acting with the Felix A. Vincent company in Chicago. Fuller utilized her innovations in lighting and costuming partially to draw attention away fromt he fact that she had a stocky build and that she was not well-trained, like the other popular dancers of her time. Fuller's movement was a sharp contrast to the more formal ballet that was so popular at the time in that she was much more natural and spontaneous, much of it inspired by forms from nature, and this helped her gain tremendous popularity in both the United States and Europe. The public's appreciation for her art form led to the production of Loie Fuller skirts, handkerchiefs, scarves, and even a Loie Fuller stove, of all things. Fuller started her own dance school in the early 1900s, and recruited girls from England (much as Anna Pavlova did later on). To these girls Fuller passed on her highly personal form of dance, something that had previously not been widely accepted or appreciated.
After World War I, Fuller did not do much dancing herself, but she sent out dancers from her school to perform all over Europe, and these groups continued to tour for almost a decade after Fuller's death. Her final performace was in London in 1927 before her death in January of 1928.


In order to make up for the fact that she was both lacking a typical "dancer" body and that she had minimal training, Loie Fuller used innovative lighting techniques and long, flowing costumes to capture the attention of audiences. She used yards of China silk to create voluminous dresses that swirled with her turns and walzing steps. For her original production of her Serpentine Dance (see link below), Fuller patented a simple bodice and exceptionally full skirt, and later on the capacious dress shown at right, into which she attached two wands in order to extend the reach of her arms and create the swirls of fabric that were such a signature and integral part of her pieces (the skirt measured 120 yards at the hem). Later on, Fuller discovered that if she treated costumes with phosporescent salts, they would glow while dancers moved on a darkened stage. She used this technique for her Radium Dances in 1904, and in the 1920's Shadow Dances she projected images of dancers onto backdrops. This projection technique was incorporated into German theater soon afterwards.

Serpentine Dance, first performed in Paris in 1892


Lighting Innovations

Fuller's use of phosphorescent salts was only a small part of her efforts to make her performances visually stimulating and impressive. Edison's invention of the incandescent lamp proved to be monumental for Fuller's pieces, as gas lighting had previously been the only option for theatrical lighting. Up to twenty electricians operated dozens of lamps, changing out multicolored gelatins in order to achieve the desired effect. Fuller painted gelatins
with multiple colors, instead of one solid tint, so
*Recreation of Fire Dance by Lindberg Slayter
Reconstructions, 2007

that the different shades could be seen in succession. For her piece Fire Dance (1895), she invented a glass pedestal that she lit from below as well (as well of instead of just from the sides or above, as was customary) to create the stunning effect of a fire growing and then dying. A technician beneath the pedestal operated lights and, again cued by Fuller's movements, switched out different colored gels to create red, blue, orange, and purple glows. Fuller also shrouded the rest of the stage in black to make the result even more dramatic. Other dancers of the time and the years following, such as Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, either danced in natural light or used theatrical lighting to imitate natural light, so Fuller's extensive use of showy lighting was entirely different.


Fuller's work gained much attention in her time primarily because it was so very different from the classical ballet that had previously been the only widely accepted dance form. Her work attracted the attention of poet Stephane Mallarme, Marie Curie (whose home she performed at), and French author and dramatist Alexandre Dumas, as well as serving as the inspiration for many pieces of poetry. Lithographs, prints, and statues of her image were created (as the one seen at right, created in 1901 by Francois-Raoul Larche, currently residing in the Museum of Modern Art). Fuller's theatrical lighting and costuming was partially inspired by the vaudeville and burlesque shows she performed in at a young age, so some elements of the spectacle that was also popular in ballet can be seen in her pieces. She also used classical music by such major composers as Mozart, Schubert, and Debussy, and this use of popular music can be seen as well in Isadora Duncan's performances to symphonies by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Fuller was able to translate the growing trend of curving, flowing, natural lines into her movement, and her conversion of nature into movement reflected the growing art nouveau trend in society at the time. Her influence can still be seen in recreations of her pieces by such dancers and choreographers as Jody Sperling, whose company Time Lapse Dance is partially focused on Fuller-inspired works (website and clips of her work can be found at http://www.timelapsedance.com/). Multiple books have been written on Fuller and her life and style, including the memoir published by Fuller herself in 1908, entitled "Quinze Ans de Ma Vie", or "Fifteen Years of My Life" (later republished in English and called "Fifteen Years of A Dancer's Life").

Clare de Lune, Inspired by Fuller, Performed by Jody Sperling, 2008


Links to Other Sites

Great Dance Weblog

- http://greatdance.com/danceblog/archives/dance_history/000438.php

Wet Canvas Virtual Museum

- http://www.wetcanvas.com/Museum/Posters/Entertainers/Fuller/index.html


- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loie_Fuller