Angela Isadora Duncan (May 26, 1877 or May 27, 1878 – September 14, 1927) was an American dancer who performed to great acclaim throughout Europe. Born and raised in California, she lived and danced in Western Europe and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 50 when her scarf became entangled in the wheels and axle of the car in which she was travelling in Nice, France.
Isadora Duncan was born in San Francisco, the youngest of the four children of Joseph Charles Duncan (1819–1898), a banker, mining engineer and connoisseur of the arts, and Mary Isadora Gray (1849–1922). She has two brothers. her sister Elizabeth Duncan, was also a dancer.
Soon after Isadora's birth, Isadora's mother divorced her father and from then on, the family struggled with poverty.
After her parents' divorce, Isadora's mother moved with her family to Oakland, California, where she worked as a seamstress and piano teacher. Isadora attended school from the ages of six to ten, but she dropped out, having found it constricting. She and her three siblings earned money by teaching dance to local children.
Duncan's novel approach to dance had been evident since the classes she had taught as a teenager, where she "followed her fantasy and improvised, teaching any pretty thing that came into her head". A desire to travel brought her to Chicago, where she auditioned for many theater companies, finally finding a place in Augustin Daly's company. This took her to New York City in 1896 where her unique vision of dance clashed with the popular pantomimes of theater companies.
While in New York, Duncan also took some classes with Marie Bonfanti but was quickly disappointed in ballet routine.
Feeling unhappy and unappreciated in America, Duncan moved to London in 1898. She performed in the drawing rooms of the wealthy, taking inspiration from the Greek vases and bas-reliefs in the British Museum. The earnings from these engagements enabled her to rent a studio, allowing her to develop her work and create larger performances for the stage.
From London, she traveled to Paris, where she was inspired by the Louvre and the Exposition Universelle of 1900. In France, as elsewhere, Duncan delighted her audience.
In 1902, Loie Fuller invited Duncan to tour with her. This took Duncan all over Europe as she created new works using her innovative technique, which emphasized natural movement in contrast to the rigidity of traditional ballet. She spent most of the rest of her life touring Europe and the Americas in this fashion. Despite mixed reaction from critics, Duncan became quite popular for her distinctive style and inspired many visual artists, such as Antoine Bourdelle, Dame Laura Knight, Auguste Rodin, Arnold Rönnebeck, André Dunoyer de Segonzac, and Abraham Walkowitz, to create works based on her.
In 1910, Duncan met the occultist Aleister Crowley at a party, an episode recounted by Crowley in his Confessions. Crowley wrote of Duncan that she "has this gift of gesture in a very high degree. Let the reader study her dancing, if possible in private than in public, and learn the superb 'unconsciousness' — which is magical consciousness — with which she suits the action to the melody." Crowley was, in fact, more attracted to Duncan's bohemian companion Mary Dempsey (a.k.a. Mary D'Este or Desti), with whom he had an affair. Desti had come to Paris in 1901 where she soon met Duncan, and the two became inseparable. Desti later wrote a memoir of her experiences with Duncan.
In 1911, the French fashion designer Paul Poiret rented a mansion — Pavillon du Butard in La Celle-Saint-Cloud — and threw lavish parties, including one of the more famous grandes fêtes, La fête de Bacchus on June 20, 1912, re-creating the Bacchanalia hosted by Louis XIV at Versailles. Isadora Duncan, wearing a Greek evening gown designed by Poiret, danced on tables among 300 guests; 900 bottles of champagne were consumed until the first light of day.
When the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées was built in 1913, Duncan's likeness was carved in its bas-relief over the entrance by sculptor Antoine Bourdelle and included in painted murals of the nine muses by Maurice Denis in the auditorium.
Duncan disliked the commercial aspects of public performance, such as touring and contracts, because she felt they distracted her from her real mission, namely the creation of beauty and the education of the young. To achieve her mission, she opened schools to teach young women her philosophy of dance. The first was established in 1904 in Berlin-Grunewald, Germany. This institution was the birthplace of the "Isadorables" (Anna, Maria-Theresa, Irma, Liesel, Gretel, and Erika), Duncan's protégées who would continue her legacy. Duncan legally adopted all six girls in 1919, and they took her last name. After about a decade in Berlin, Duncan established a school in Paris that was shortly closed because of the outbreak of World War I.
In 1914, Duncan moved to the United States and transferred her school there. A townhouse on Gramercy Park was provided for its use, and its studio was nearby, on the northeast corner of 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South). Otto Kahn, the head of Kuhn, Loeb & Co., gave Duncan use of the very modern Century Theatre at West 60th Street and Central Park West for her performances and productions, which included a staging of Oedipus Rex that involved almost all of Duncan's extended entourage and friends. During her time in New York, Duncan posed for a number of studies by the photographer Arnold Genthe.
In 1921, Duncan's leftist sympathies took her to the Soviet Union, where she founded a school in Moscow. However, the Soviet government's failure to follow through on promises to support her work caused her to return to the West and leave the school to her protégée Irma.
Breaking with convention, Duncan imagined she had traced dance to its roots as a sacred art. She developed from this notion a style of free and natural movements inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature and natural forces as well as an approach to the new American athleticism. Duncan wrote of American dancing: "let them come forth with great strides, leaps and bounds, with lifted forehead and far-spread arms, to dance." Her focus on natural movement emphasized steps, such as skipping, outside of codified ballet technique.
Duncan also cited the sea as an early inspiration for her movement, and she believed movement originated from the solar plexus. Duncan placed an emphasis on "evolutionary" dance motion, insisting that each movement was born from the one that preceded it, that each movement gave rise to the next, and so on in organic succession. It is this philosophy and new dance technique that garnered Duncan the title of the creator of modern dance.
Duncan's philosophy of dance moved away from rigid ballet technique and towards what she perceived as natural movement. She said that in order to restore dance to a high art form instead of merely entertainment, she strove to connect emotions and movement: "I spent long days and nights in the studio seeking that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body's movement." She believed dance was meant to encircle all that life had to offer—joy and sadness. Duncan took inspiration from ancient Greek art and combined some of its forms with a passion for freedom of movement.
The Greek art has also inspired her to create her revolutionary costume of a white Greek tunic which allowed a freedom of movement that corseted ballet costumes and pointe shoes did not.
In both professional and private life, Duncan flouted traditional cultural standards. She was bisexual and an atheist.
Duncan bore three children, all out of wedlock. The first, Deirdre Beatrice (born September 24, 1906), by theatre designer Gordon Craig, and the second, Patrick Augustus (born May 1, 1910), by Paris Singer, one of the many sons of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer. Her first two children drowned in the care of their nanny in 1913, when their car went into the River Seine. Following the accident, Duncan spent several months recuperating in Corfu with her brother and sister, then several weeks at the Viareggio seaside resort with the actress Eleonora Duse.
In her autobiography, Duncan relates that she begged a young Italian stranger, the sculptor Romano Romanelli, to sleep with her because she was desperate for another child. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son on August 13, 1914; however, the child died shortly after birth.
In 1921, after the end of the Russian Revolution, Duncan moved to Moscow where she met the poet Sergei Yesenin, who was eighteen years her junior. On May 2, 1922, they married, and Yesenin accompanied her on a tour of Europe and the United States. However, the marriage was brief, and in May 1923 Yesenin left Duncan and returned to Moscow. Two years later, on December 28, 1925, he was found dead in his room in the Hotel Angleterre in St Petersburg, in an apparent suicide.
Duncan also had a relationship with the American poet and playwright Mercedes de Acosta, self-acclaimed lover of Marlene Dietrich, and sister of socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig. Their relationship was documented in numerous revealing letters they wrote to each other. In one, Duncan wrote, "Mercedes, lead me with your little strong hands and I will follow you – to the top of a mountain. To the end of the world. Wherever you wish."
By the late 1920s, Duncan's performing career had dwindled, and she became as notorious for her financial woes, scandalous love life and all-too-frequent public drunkenness. She spent her final years moving between Paris and the Mediterranean, running up debts at hotels. She spent short periods in apartments rented on her behalf by a decreasing number of friends and supporters, many of whom attempted to assist her in writing an autobiography. In a reminiscent sketch, Zelda Fitzgerald wrote how she and F. Scott Fitzgerald, her husband, sat in a Paris cafe watching a somewhat drunk Duncan. He would speak of how memorable it was, but what Zelda recalled was that while all eyes were watching Duncan, Zelda was able to steal the salt and pepper shakers from the table.
In his book Isadora, an Intimate Portrait, Sewell Stokes, who met Duncan in the last years of her life, describes her extravagant waywardness.
Isadora Duncan's autobiography My Life was published in 1927. The Australian composer Percy Grainger called Isadora's autobiography a "life-enriching masterpiece."
On the night of September 14, 1927, in Nice, France, Duncan was a passenger in an Amilcar CGSS automobile owned by Benoît Falchetto, a French-Italian mechanic. She wore a long, flowing, hand-painted silk scarf, created by the Russian-born artist Roman Chatov, a gift from her friend Mary Desti. Desti, who saw Duncan off, had asked her to wear a cape in the open-air vehicle because of the cold weather, but she would only agree to wear the scarf. As they departed, she reportedly said to Desti and some companions, "Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire !" ("Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!"); but according to the American novelist Glenway Wescott, Desti later told him that Duncan's actual parting words were, "Je vais à l'amour" ("I am off to love").
Her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and rear axle, pulling her from the open car and breaking her neck. Desti said she called out to warn Duncan about the scarf almost immediately after the car left. Desti brought Duncan to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
As The New York Times noted in its obituary, "Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement." Other sources noted that she was almost decapitated by the sudden tightening of the scarf around her neck. At the time of her death, Duncan was a Soviet citizen. Her will was the first of a Soviet citizen's to undergo probate in the U.S.
Duncan was cremated, and her ashes were placed next to those of her children in the columbarium at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. On the headstone of her grave is inscribed École du Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris ("Ballet School of the Opera of Paris").
Duncan is known as "The Mother of Dance". While her schools in Europe did not last long, Duncan's work had an impact on the art and her style is still danced based upon the instruction of Maria-Theresa Duncan, Anna Duncan, and Irma Duncan, three of her six adopted daughters. Through her sister, Elizabeth, Duncan's approach was adopted by Jarmila Jeřábková from Prague where her legacy persists.
Choreographer and dancer Julia Levien was also instrumental in furthering Duncan's work through the formation of the Duncan Dance Guild in the 1950s and the establishment of the Duncan Centenary Company in 1977.
Another means by which Duncan's dance techniques were carried forth was in the formation of the Isadora Duncan Heritage Society, by Mignon Garland, who had been taught dance by two of Duncan's key students. Garland was such a fan that she later lived in a building erected at the same site and address as Duncan, attached a commemorative plaque near the entrance, which is still there as of 2016. Garland also succeeded in having San Francisco rename an alley on the same block from Adelaide Place to Isadora Duncan Lane.
In 1987, she was inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame.
French: Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) ou l'art de danser sa vie
Isadora Duncan a été un objet de fascination totale pour ses contemporains. Venue de l’autre côté de l’océan, cette danseuse aux pieds nus, sans corset, a sidéré le public de la Belle époque par son audace, sa manière de danser, sa soif de liberté et son esprit révolutionnaire.
Dame Kristin Ann Scott Thomas, DBE (born 24 May 1960) is an English actress who also holds French citizenship. A five-time BAFTA Award and Olivier Award nominee, she won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and the Olivier Award for Best Actress in 2008 for the Royal Court revival of The Seagull. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for The English Patient (1996).
Scott Thomas made her film debut in Under the Cherry Moon (1986), and won the Evening Standard Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer for A Handful of Dust (1988). Her other notable films include Bitter Moon (1992), Mission: Impossible (1996), The Horse Whisperer (1998), Gosford Park (2001), The Valet (2006), and Tell No One (2007). She won the European Film Award for Best Actress for Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long (2008), etc.
She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2003 Birthday Honours and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to drama. She was named a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by the French Government in 2005.
Kristin Scott Thomas was born in Redruth, Cornwall. Her mother, Deborah (née Hurlbatt), was brought up in Hong Kong and Africa, and studied drama before marrying Kristin's father, Lieutenant Commander Simon Scott Thomas, a pilot in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm who died in a flying accident when Kristin was aged five. She has a younger sister Scott Thomas.
The childhood home of Scott Thomas was in Trent, Dorset, England. Her mother remarried to another Royal Navy pilot, Lieutenant Commander Simon Idiens who also died in a flying, six years after the death of her father. Scott Thomas was educated at Cheltenham Ladies' College and St Antony's Leweston in Sherborne, Dorset, both independent schools.
On leaving school in 1978, she moved to Hampstead, London, and worked in a department store. She began training to become a drama teacher at the Central School of Speech and Drama, enrolling on a BEd in Speech and Drama. After a year at Central, speaking French fluently, she decided to move to Paris to work as an au pair and studied acting at the École Nationale supérieure des arts et techniques du théâtre (ENSATT). When she was 25, she was cast as Mary Sharon in the film Under the Cherry Moon (1986), the first but widely panned film directed by and starring the already well-known musical artist, Prince.
Her breakthrough role was playing Brenda Last in an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust (1988), winning her the Evening Standard British Film Award for the most promising newcomer. This was followed by roles opposite Hugh Grant in Bitter Moon and Four Weddings and a Funeral where she won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1994, she starred in the Romanian–French film An Unforgettable Summer, in which she played Marie-Thérèse Von Debretsy. Rather than learn Romanian for the part, she read her lines phonetically. In an interview for Gloucester Citizen on 22 March 2015, she cited An Unforgettable Summer as one of the films that she is most proud of alongside The English Patient and Only God Forgives.
1996 saw the release of the film with her most famous role as Katharine Clifton, The English Patient, which gained her Golden Globe and Oscar nominations as well as critical acclaim. This was followed by a brief period working in Hollywood on films such as The Horse Whisperer with Robert Redford and Random Hearts with Harrison Ford. However, growing disillusioned with Hollywood, she took a year off to give birth to her third child.
She returned to the stage in 2001 when she played the title role in a French theatre production of Racine's Bérénice, and appeared on-screen as Lady Sylvia McCordle in Robert Altman's Gosford Park. This started a critically acclaimed second career on stage, in which she has received four nominations for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress, including one win, for her performance of Arkadina in a London West End production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull.
Scott Thomas has also acted in French films. In 2006, she played the role of Hélène, in French, in Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One), by French director Guillaume Canet. In 2008, Scott Thomas received many accolades for her performance in Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (I've Loved You So Long), including BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress.
In 2015, she appeared in Suite Française, the film adaptation of Irène Némirovsky's World War II novel directed by Saul Dibb.
In 2017 she was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the 71st British Academy Film Awards for portraying Clementine Churchill in Joe Wright's Darkest Hour.
In 2020, Scott Thomas played Mrs. Danvers in director Ben Wheatley's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Gothic romance Rebecca, with Armie Hammer and Lily James.
Scott Thomas is divorced from François Olivennes, a French gynaecologist, with whom she has three children: Hannah (1988), Joseph (1991) and George (2000). She has lived in France since she was 19, brought up her three children in Paris, and sometimes considers herself more French than British.
Claire McCardell (May 24, 1905 – March 22, 1958) was an American fashion designer of ready-to-wear clothing in the twentieth century. She is credited with the creation of American sportswear.
Claire McCardell was the eldest of four children born to Eleanor and Adrian McCardell in Frederick, Maryland. Adrian was a Maryland state senator and president of the Frederick County National Bank. As a child, McCardell earned the nickname "Kick" for her ability to keep the boys from pushing her around.
Fascinated by fashion from a young age, McCardell wanted to move to New York City to study fashion design at age 16. Unwilling to send a teenager so far away, McCardell's father convinced her to enroll in the home economics program at Hood College instead. After two years of study in Maryland, McCardell moved to New York and enrolled in Parsons (then known as the New York School of Fine and Applied Art). In 1927, McCardell went to Paris, continuing her studies at the Parsons branch school at the Place des Vosges. In Paris, McCardell and her classmates were able to purchases samples by couturiers such as Madeleine Vionnet that they took apart in order to study their structure.
McCardell graduated from Parsons with a certificate in costume design in 1923. After graduation, she worked odd jobs sketching at a fashionable dress shop, painting flowers on paper lamp shades, and acting as a fit model for B. Altman. Then she met designer Robert Turk.
Late in 1930, McCardell began working as an assistant designer for Robert Turk. Soon afterward, Turk moved to a larger company, Townley Frocks, and brought McCardell with him. In 1932, Robert Turk drowned in a boating accident and Claire was asked to finish his fall line.
The 27-year-old Claire McCardell, now chief designer of Townley Frocks, soon traveled to Paris for inspiration, as did most American designers. Not interested in copying European high fashion, McCardell searched for inspiration in art and street fashion. During the 1930s, she began to show innovations such as sashes, spaghetti string ties, and the use of menswear details that would become part of her design signature. In 1938, she modernized the dirndl. She also pioneered matching separates.
After the closure of Townley Frocks, Hattie Carnegie hired McCardell to work for her famed dressmaking firm, but her designs were not successful with Carnegie's clients, who were in search of more elaborate merchandise. While working for Hattie Carnegie, McCardell met Diana Vreeland (then at Harper's Bazaar). She would become McCardell's lifelong friend and champion. In 1940, just before leaving Carnegie, McCardell attended her last Parisian fashion show, preferring from then on to avoid any French influence on her clothing.
Townley Frocks reopened in 1940 under new management and McCardell returned to the brand. The company's labels then read, "Claire McCardell Clothes by Townley", making her one of the first American designers to have name recognition.
World War II cut American designers off from European inspiration and limited the availability of some materials. McCardell flourished under these restrictions. Although many designers considered them too basic, McCardell already worked with fabrics such as denim, calico, and wool jersey that were easily available during the war.
In 1941, McCardell produced a line of separates that made nine outfits from five pieces. The pieces included a taffeta skirt, a jersey top, and a jersey jacket.
That same year, she showed her first "Kitchen Dinner Dress". Made of cotton, the "Kitchen Dinner Dress" had a full skirt with an attached apron.
In 1938, Claire McCardell introduced the Monastic Dress, a bias-cut tentlike dress. It had no seamed waist and hung loosely, but with a versatile belt it could be adapted to hug a woman's curves gracefully. Best & Co. exclusively sold the dress for $29.95 and it sold out in a day. The "Monastic Dress" was widely copied and the cost of trying to stop knock-offs drove Townley Frocks out of business.
In 1942, McCardell created her famed "Popover Dress". It was a response to a Harper's Bazaar challenge to create something fashionable one could wear to clean the house and then, wear to a cocktail party. The simple grey dress came with a matching potholder that fit into the dress pocket. The "Popover Dress" sold for $6.95 and more than 75,000 were sold in the first season alone. These dresses became a staple of McCardell collections and over time, she made versions in different lengths and fabrics. The "Popover Dress" received a citation from the American Fashion Critics Association and in 1943, McCardell won a Coty Award.
In 1943, Claire McCardell married the Texas-born architect, Irving Drought Harris, who had two children by an earlier marriage, and established a home base in Manhattan.
In 1944, McCardell popularized the ballet flat when, responding to the shortage of leather, McCardell commissioned Capezio Ballet Makers Inc., an American manufacturer of dance shoes, apparel and accessories to produce a range of ballet flats to match her designs. When the government announced a surplus of weather balloon cotton materials in 1944, McCardell quickly bought them up, using them to design clothes that patriotic American women wore with pride.
Beginning in 1945, McCardell was featured as an "American Look" designer by Lord & Taylor's department store. In 1946, McCardell won the Best Sportswear Designer Award and in 1948 she won the Neiman-Marcus Award.
As McCardell's fame grew, her influence within Townley Frocks also rose. In 1952, she became a partner in the company.
After the war, McCardell worked as a volunteer critic in the fashion design department at Parsons. In 1950, President Harry S. Truman, the first lady Bess Truman, and their daughter Margaret Truman presented McCardell with a Woman of the Year Award from the Women's National Press Club. This was the award McCardell cherished most.
In April 1953, the Frank Perls Gallery in Beverly Hills launched a retrospective exhibition of twenty years of McCardell's garments. The exhibit included the "Monastic Dress", the "Diaper Bathing Suit", Capezio ballet flats, and work-wear-inspired pieces with rivets. In his introduction to the exhibit, retailer Stanley Marcus wrote, "...she is one of the truly creative designers this country has produced... She is to America what Vionnet was to France."
In 1954, she worked on an advisory panel formed by Time Inc. to create a new magazine that would become Sports Illustrated.
A book entitled What Shall I Wear? The What, Where, When, and How Much of Fashion was published in 1957 under McCardell's name.
McCardell’s life and work were cut short by a diagnosis of terminal colon cancer in 1957. With the help of long-time friend and classmate, Mildred Orrick, McCardell completed her final collection from her hospital bed. She checked out of the hospital in order to make the introductions for her final runway show. McCardell died on March 22, 1958 at the age of 52. She is buried in the family plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Frederick, Maryland.
After her death, McCardell's family decided to close the label. Her brother explained, "It wasn't that difficult [to close the label]. Claire's ideas were always her own."
In 1981, Lord & Taylor re-issued the "Popover Dress" as part of a McCardell retrospective at their Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan. Versions of the "Popover Dress" are held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Museum at F.I.T. Versions of the "Monastic Dress" are held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and LACMA.
In 1990, Life named McCardell one of the 100 most important Americans of the twentieth century. A year later, she was inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.
In 1998, forty years after her death, three separate retrospectives of Claire McCardell's work were staged at Metropolitan Museum of Art, F.I.T., and the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.
Fashion designers such as Isaac Mizrahi, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Norma Kamali, and Cynthia Rowley all have been influenced by McCardell. Anna Sui's line of spring-summer 1999 was directly inspired by her work. Of McCardell's work Anna Sui said, "What I truly appreciate was her fabric sensibility, even with more constructed fabrics like denim. She made them all look so soft and drapy. The halters she did were so modern. The thing is, you look at some of the things she did, and you can't believe it was the 40s.''
In 2019, the Frederick Art Club launched the Claire McCardell Project to underwrite the creation and installation of a larger-than-life bronze statue of McCardell in her hometown of Frederick, Maryland. The club commissioned award-winning sculptor Sarah Hempel Irani for this monumental task and, thanks to community support, reached its fundraising goal in less than two years. In October 2021, the statue will be placed on a granite pedestal in an elegant garden setting in Frederick’s Carroll Creek Park.
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