September 26, 2019
Dressed in a black filmy top and pants, Catherine Gallant greets the audience. She states her age, 63, and enumerates the steps in her life that lead to her dance career. It all clicked when Gallant met and studied with Julia Levine, one of the “Isadorables” – Isadora Duncan’s adopted children.
For the next 90 minutes, Gallant delivers a compelling master class in the life and dances of Duncan. Calmly narrating the evening, Ms. Gallant breezed through Duncan’s biographical time-line bulleting important events through words and corresponding dances.
Midway through, she asks for the lights to come up so she can invite people to come on stage and experience some of the Duncan movement vocabulary. People eagerly step on stage and follow her instruction to find their breath, project with their bodies and locate the weighted swing in skips. Everyone embraces the simple, redolent moves, in a chorus of motion. Gestures followed breath, and motions link one person to another to forge a community.
Conceived by Jerome Bel, many know the outlines of Duncan’s life (born 1877)—her love of ancient Greek culture, dance and men—but every few minutes, another historical nugget is polished. Supposedly Duncan choreographed over 100 dances, but only about 40 exist by virtue of the oral tradition—one that passes dances down from one body to another.
Outfitted in a filmy tunic, Isadora shocked audiences in the early 1900’s by baring her legs and dancing barefoot. If anything was made clear, it was that only Duncan had ownership over her body—nobody could tell her what to do with it, and with whom.
According to Bel and Gallant, Duncan would listen to the music first, then dance to it the second time around. Of course, the dances were set to short preludes and waltzes, but still, it’s like tasting the wine before consuming the full glass.
A producer and performer, Duncan performed throughout the world, and she opened three schools in Berlin, Moscow and Paris. They were free! Children lived at the schools, were taught dance as well as other subjects and learned how to be human. What a beautiful thought.
One of the most poignant depictions arrives when Gallant recounts the death of her 2 children in Paris. For 2 years following the loss, Duncan does not dance. For Duncan, that must’ve been like living without breathing. Finally, she returns to the stage, and performs a piece expressive of her profound loss. Gallant explains the narrative of each gesture: the mother brings a child into the universe, protects and loves it until one day she reaches out and the child is gone. At that point, she waves adieu to the child.
This was a very affecting performance that not only illuminated the simplicity and greatness of Isadora Duncan, but also proved the power of illustrating dance for an audience through a lecture demonstration format.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis