Though this may seem a little disconnected from my first speeches about the importance of Isadora Duncan, halfway through her autobiography, I felt compelled to sit down and write again about her vis a vis my impressions of her book. Fortunately, I will not lead the reader of this on a page by page review of the book, and I can’t, sorry to say, even if I tried, for she did begin to drag a bit, or maybe it was me. But, little by little, she left me thinking each time I put the book down, looking eagerly for the mood to take me so that I might pick it back up again in the spirit she wrote it, and read on.
She does rub off on you. Isadora Duncan was a very unique woman. I found out I admire her greatly and can see, why she elicited from bystanders such a response. No movie could really convey all that was monumental in that historic and eventful life, such is the nature of a movie, an essence-one perspective, and to dwell too much on the fascinating personage she was, or her lack of training as a writer would be to judge and diminish what I really feel is a great book. I am drawn in and repeatedly drawn back to find out what incredible journey will next unfold. No life of shorter duration could possibly have been lived with such perspicacity. I will let those who wish to read about her, do, and those who do not presently find themselves interested in or able to, don’t. I will say that some of the names of those famous and infamous she encounters include painters, philosophers, dancers, impresarios, musicians and venerable, one of my particular favorites was Pavlova, and Stanislavsky.
Also, I will mention in Russia, she found acceptance and her descriptions left out much detail that I would have liked to have known more about, heard more of, but these extraneous sentiments that flitter through the pages of her memoirs seem to be like tastes of delicacies that have motivated the life we are reading about, her book, were prompted by the doing of the writing of her book, and were influential to her. Her accounts of her lovers, loves and pain are concise and matter of fact. She was not a hateful person, did not have time, I believe to waste her energy on the pastime. Her portrayals at first seem vapid, and gawking, too much like an engenue in reverence to those she wishes to impress, and later, her perspective of their greatness diminishes, or is replaced by the observations of an equal, wiser and more experienced artist in her own right. There is no doubt that Isadora was a great artist, and influenced the world of dance, and not just modern dance-ballet. At once she is passionate about the people of Russia, how business seems to leave the conflux of her ideas and is replaced by her thankfulness of their deep appreciation of great art and finally a place for her (possibly) is considered. For us westerners, it is as if a closed door of great strength and impenetrability is flung wide open and its rich desserts apparent at last; the mystery solved, for they welcomed her with open arms into a glittering world of the paparazzi, the rich and decadent world that was art in the beginning of the last century, ecstatic to embrace new ideals, and Isadora’s impressions are nearly surreal in their intensity. She seemed and acted as if in a dreamlike state and was overwhelmed.
From this first visit came the momentum to finally open her school and to pass down the 500 or more specific exercises that were to form her actual technique, and as well certain facts about her motherly instincts, the blessing came with the droves of children who applied for admission to her school upon the announcement of its opening in Berlin. She took in many orphans into that school and invested her accumulated fortune in it. One idea passed onto the next in her life, impulsiveness was one secret of her success, and she accomplished so much in so short a time-she lived just fifty years. I am fifty this year-me and the James Bond movies. She never let the knock of opportunity go unanswered, even if it was whimsical, unconventional, mythical, fantastical or animalistic. She was truly led by her id, and aware of her power as time went on.
It will disappoint readers to find, if expecting debaucherie and promiscuity. None really, so far. But she did seem to come into her womanhood later in life. She had great self-control and as she aged, she found less and less in men her inferior to rouse her desire, and fewer men of her own equal not intimidated by her charisma and intelligence available, or willing to commit to her brand of life. Her descriptions of her impressions of experiences, childbirth, and her first child deserve a second read, and are sadly omitted from any self-help/guidance books I have seen passed along by mothers, and her perceptions are fitting if not couched in euphemistic terms. So much in fact, that to say she is frank would be a disservice to her. She is honest, I believe, and I can barely read her discussion of her feelings toward her lost children, without true empathy. Of motherhood, she says,” The baby was astonishing; formed like a Cupid, with blue eyes and long brown hair, that afterwards fell out and gave place to golden curls. And, miracle of miracles,that mouth sought my breast and bit with toothless gums, and pulled and drank the milk that gushed forth. What mother has ever told the feeling when the babe’s mouth bites at her nipple, and the milk gushes forth from her breast? This cruel biting mouth, like the mouth of a lover, and our lover’s mouth, in turn, reminding us of the babe. Oh, women, what is the good of us learning to become lawyers, painters, or sculptors, when this miracle exists? Now I knew this tremendous love, surpassing the love of man. I was stretched and bleeding, torn and helpless, while the little being sucked and howled. Life, life, life! Give me life! Oh, where was my Art? My Art or any Art? What did I care for Art? I felt I was a God, superior to any artist.” And she said she was not a writer. There is more, lots more, where that came from. Words from a soul which felt life so intensely, and could express it, that I am almost scared to continue, expecting tears at the end.
But that is just the book and really does not give her enough credit. She wrote other little books apparently and now I feel it is my duty to seek them all out and read every word. Not just the books, but the exercises, the choreography, her words, her guidance. I am not convinced that she is ably represented by her followers, who try as they might to capture her presence and her spirit in their copies, cannot possibly convey what Isadora managed to, upon those who witnessed her. No wonder imitations paled and fell by the wayside-no one could recapture her. She applauds gymnastics as the first preparation for the dance and compares styles of it, denouncing some and upholding others, but she states that this is merely the basis on which a body grows healthy, and I think she means by exercise in general (and ready for more specific teachings in dance and steps and the interlinking of music in those steps is explained in pretty good detail). Then she refers to the mind becoming the art and the body a sculpture with which expression and feeling alone can bring to perfection, through art, living and nature-rather Pygmalionesque- but I won’t explain any more details here, and will continue reading hopefully providing a few more impressions at the end. Keep on Dancing!