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Overview (4)

Date of Birth 26 May 1877San Francisco, California, USA
Date of Death 14 September 1927Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France  (accidental strangulation)
Birth NameAngela Isadora Duncan
Height 5' 6" (1.68 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Isadora Duncan was an American dancer and innovative educator known for interdisciplinary and cross-cultural projects, and a hectic marriage to the famous Russian poet Sergei Esenin.

She was born Isador 'Dora' Angela Duncan on May 26, 1877, in San Francisco, California. Her father, Joseph Duncan, was a cultured man, a poet and an art connoisseur, who worked for the Bank of California. Her mother, an amateur pianist, after divorcing her father, lived a high-principled Victorian lady's life with four children an very little money. Young Isadora was raised in Oakland, California. She was obsessed with dancing from an early age. Although she was not exposed to rigorous classical ballet practice, she achieved recognition in San-Francisco. There, she started teaching a dance class for children when she was just 14 years old.

She began her professional career in Chicago in 1896, under producer and playwright Augustin Daly. He cast Duncan as Titania in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', and she traveled with his company to Europe. Back in the USA, Duncan performed solo dances at the homes of wealthy patrons. She called her program The Dance and Philosophy and performed it to the waltzes of Johann Strauss. In 1899, she left America with her mother and siblings to settle in London. There she met Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the idol of the London stage, who introduced Duncan to London society.

From 1899-1907, Duncan lived in London, Paris and Berlin. She began using the music of Frédéric Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven for her dance. In 1903 she moved to Berlin. There Duncan was introduced to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. She formulated her own philosophy of The Dance of the Future modeled after the ancient Greeks: natural and free. Duncan called for abolition of ballet. She accused ballet of "deforming the beautiful woman's body" and depriving it of human naturalness. "The Dance of the Future will have to become again a high religious art as it was with the Greeks. For art which is not religious is not art, it is mere merchandise" - stated Duncan. Her school of dance in a suburb of Berlin was the start of her famous dance group, later known as the Isadorables.

Duncan made several tours of Russia and met with directors Konstantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko at the Moscow Art Theatre. In St. Petersburg, she also attracted the attention of Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina among other leading ballerinas of the Mariinsky Ballet. Having established good connections with Russian intellectuals, she Returning to the US, her performances were poorly received by critics, who bashed Duncan for her "physical interpretation" of music on stage. She left America in 1909, after less than a year, and never lived there again, returning only for tours.

From 1909 to 1913, Duncan lived in Palais Biron in Paris, where her neighbors were artist Henri Matisse, writer Jean Cocteau, and sculptor Auguste Rodin. Eventually she established three schools in France, Germany, and Russia, and gained tremendous popularity across Europe. Her personal life was marked with as much freedom as was her dancing. Duncan had a child by designer Gordon Craig, and another child by Paris Singer, the heir to the sewing machine fortune. Her both children drowned in an accident on the Seine River in 1913. By that time, she was an acclaimed performer in Europe. She danced to the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. Her face was carved in the bas-relief by sculptor Antoine Bourdelle in the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, and was painted in the murals by artist Maurice Denis.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Duncan moved to Moscow. There she married the popular poet Sergei Esenin who was 17 years her younger. This was her one and only official marriage. She took Esenin on tour to the US in 1922-1923. At that time her appearances were marked by baring her breasts on stage and shouting, "This is red! So am I!" The following year, Esenin left Duncan and returned to Moscow, where he suffered a mental breakdown and sought psychiatric help. Meanwhile, her apprentice, Irma Duncan, remained in the Soviet Union and ran the Duncan Dancing School there. At that time, Duncan evolved as a follower of Friedrich Nietzsche and remained anti-religious for the rest of her life.

Duncan's ex-husband Esenin was found dead in a hotel in St. Petersburg, on December 28, 1925. His mysterious death was never completely explained. Isadora Duncan died on September 14, 1927, in Nice, France. She was killed by her long neck scarf caught in the wheel of an open automobile in which she was a passenger. She was pulled from the car and dragged before the driver could stop. Duncan was cremated and her ashes were laid in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France.

Her highly popular Russian school was closed in 1939, under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, and many of her Russian partners were repressed and exiled.

Isadora Duncan was portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave in the 1968 film Isadora (1968).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov

Spouse (1)

Yesenin, Sergei (1922 - 28 December 1925) (his death)

Trivia (8)

After her own children died, Duncan adopted six of her international dance students who migrated to the U.S. and took her last name.
An early feminist, Duncan didn't believe in marriage and she bore two children out of wedlock by two different men (a daughter named Deirdre with lover Gordon Craig, and a son with Paris Singer).
Duncan's life was riddled with tragedy. In 1913, at the height of her fame, her two young children died when their driverless car rolled into the Seine River in Paris. A later baby was stillborn. When Duncan did at last wed, the marriage was short-lived and ended in separation, whereupon her husband killed himself. Isadora herself died in a freak auto accident only two years later. Fond of wearing long, flowing scarves, Duncan died when one accidentally entangled in the rear wheel of a Bugatti convertible, throwing her forcibly from the vehicle and strangling her.
Recognized as the mother of the modern dance movement.
Mary Desti, one of her closest friends, was the mother of famed writer and director Preston Sturges. Sturges grew up traveling Europe with them both.
Sister of actor Raymond Duncan.
Pictured on one of a set of 4 USA 'forever' commemorative postage stamps featuring Innovative Choreographers, issued 28 July 2012. Others honored in this issue were José Limon, Katherine Dunham, and Bob Fosse. Price on day of issue was 45¢.
In an interview on the Dick Cavett show, Elsa Lanchester lauded Vanessa Redgrave's depiction of Isadora Duncan, but referred to Isadora as an "untalented bag of bones".

Personal Quotes (5)

The artist is the only lover, he alone has the pure vision of beauty, and love is the vision of the soul when it is permitted to gaze upon immortal beauty.
On strategy: My motto -- Sans Limites.
On desire: All my lovers have been geniuses; it's the one thing on which I insist.
On reading: What one has not experienced one will never understand in print.
[her description, from 'My Life' of their days in Greece] It was decreed to rise at sunrise..and greet the rising sun with joyous songs and dances. Afterwards we were to refresh ourselves with a modest bowl of goat's milk. The mornings were to be devoted to teaching the inhabitants to dance and sing. They must be made to celebrate the Greek gods and give up their terrible modern costumes. The afternoons were to be spent in meditation, and the evenings given over to pagan ceremonies with appropriate music.

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