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Alexander Philadelpheus

 

Alexander Philadelpheus (1866-1955), Athenian archeologist and painter, intimate friend of the Duncans in Greece and their tutor in ancient Greek art.

 

Watercolor and excerpt of his unpublished diary, written in 1940. Courtesy of his grandson Alexander Philadelpheus.

 

 

  "A great piece of good fortune was in store for Athens: the arrival of the distinguished American Isadora Duncan. The fame of the great dancer ran ahead of her arrival here; it was not just her appearance on the stage that caused indescribable enthusiasm. After her first evening at the Municipal Theatre, everyone, without exception, was asking for a repeat of the dance event.

 

  Giving in to the insistence of this public demand, the great dancer decided to give a second performance at the Theatre Royal.

 

  Words cannot describe the unique and novel art of this young and graceful American. No one could ever have imagined that from the simple sounds of playing instruments it would be possible to derive such creative and harmonious movements, such, in a word, statuesque patterns! Nevertheless all of these were constantly achieved by this self-taught genius of dance.

 

  Yes, truly self-taught, because no teacher could possibly teach such perfect and almost, one might say, God-inspired art! Her only teachers were, and are - since she continues to be taught - Nature and Antiquity, and, inasmuch as Nature is wholly embodied in the immortal works of our Ancestors, we can fairly call Miss Duncan a true child of Ancient Greece and a legitimate daughter of Terpsichore!

  So the dances that you will be seeing performed before your eyes today may not be themselves the exact dances of Ancient Greece, since these were, like all the other fine arts, such as Poetry, Music, Sculpture and Painting, the free and true expression and manifestation of the feeling and passions of the spirit. From a very young age Miss Duncan adored Greece, and her dream was always to step one day on the soil of this glorious land, which is still today a place of pilgrimage for mankind.

  Her enthusiasm for and her devotion to Greece are so great that she has crossed the whole world like a bird of paradise, and already, like another Winged Victory untying her sandals, is setting up camp in her holy city of Athens, building her new nest at the foot of Mount Hymettos.

 

  When we applauded this famous American this evening, we therefore honoured and applauded not only the world-famous great dancer, but also the new fellow-citizen of Athens as well.

 

................................

 

  During 1902 the great dancer Isadora Duncan came to Athens for the first time. She was then very young, a very likable blonde girl, and she came with her family, with her mother, her sister and her famous brother Raymond, who later himself became a dancer - besides a carpet-maker and whatever else the human mind can imagine!

 

  At that time Isadora was not well known in Europe, and she had come straight from San Francisco in California to become acquainted with Greece and its immortal monuments. A friend of mine introduced me to her, and from then on we continued a long, sincere and true friendship until her tragic death. In her "Memoirs", which were published I think for Parisians, there is no mention of my name at all. This shows great ingratitude, since God knows what she owes to me, who with my usual and natural enthusiasm always help an artist, whether from Greece or from elsewhere, especially Isadora Duncan, who seemed to be a High Priestess of the art.

  And it is no exaggeration to say that I was the first who initiated her into the beauty of antiquity, since I guided her to all the sacred places of Antiquity, and, for hours in the orchestra of the theatre of Dionysos, the cradle of dramatic art, I explained how ancient drama developed from the Thymele dance round the altar, and so Dance was its source and basis. How could a young American girl coming from California be familiar with such details about ancient dancing!

 

  We went up to the holy rock in the evening many times, and she often danced impromptu in front of the Temple of the Winged Victory and in front of the Caryatids. But what a dance that was! One would have thought that some great dancer of antiquity had come out of those divine marbles and that the ancient spirit had become incarnate in that young creature, who was setting foot on the sacred soil of eternal Greece for the first time! …

 

  She was so enthusiastic about Greece that she came to live here and founded a dancing school. For this she wanted to buy a building plot, and she chose one of the hills behind the Stadium and at the foot of Mount Hymettos, called "Kopanas". So we sought out the owner, and one day, after many formalities, we went to the conveyancer's office with him and drew up a contract of sale, for which Isadora paid the whole purchase price.

  From then on, Kopanas became her favourite retreat, where she lived with her family, especially Raymond, who busied himself with putting the place in order and supplying all their needs. They had some domestic animals there, a goat, a dog and some others. Naturally, the whole neighbourhood was curious about this strange and novel little American colony, and never stopped pestering them, as always happens in Greece. At that time the district was almost deserted, though today it is densely populated, being part of the Pangrati district.

  Then Isadora approached the Ministry about founding a School of Dance, but it seems that her request was not considered at all, and this beautiful dream failed, as did so many other noble initiatives in Greece, which was not yet ready for such enterprises. Perhaps today, forty years later, things are better.

 

  All these things disappointed her, and she left for Paris and other places, where she quickly showed her exceptional dancing skill, and established herself as an artistic star. But she did not forget Greece, and after some years she returned, this time more mature, and with two children… Duncan was a woman without superstition, and therefore she was never afraid, whenever people asked her about her children, to say with much love that one (Patrick) was the son of Mr Singer, and the other I do not remember now whose. In spite of all this, she was always called "Miss". This woman repeated in practice the miracle of the immaculate conception!

 

  She gave several performances at the Theatre Royal, achieving triumphant success. The Athenians were crazy about her. And her dancing was indeed something incredible! Such suppleness of body, such feeling of beauty, and what astonishing originality in her dancing inspiration. Although I have known many other great dancers in the past thirty or so years, not one of them can be compared with the immortal Isadora Duncan!

 

  And she was a very amorous woman. She fell in love with all kinds of people, scholars, soldiers and others, but her love affairs were sensual and transient. She changed her men-friends much as she changed her clothes. She gave the most sumptuous meals, it was a dream how she decorated the table herself, as the personification of Spring, carrying in her arms a bunch of flowers, which she scattered with much grace on the table. Many times, with the lightness of a bird, she hopped up on the laid table to cover the light with a piece of drapery, because she could not tolerate strong lighting…

 

  If one of the dinner guests was to her liking, she approached him during the dessert course and covered him with her broad veil, under which she used to kiss him or rather devour him with kisses! Nobody was embarrassed, not even the French Ambassador, whom she had close to her after the meal on the beach at Skaramanga. Suddenly, at the end of the meal, she abducted an officer sitting near to her and left all of the rest of us open-mouthed!…

 

  The last time she came to Greece was during the Great War, when our country was torn by the frightful split between the Royalists and the Venezelists. Isadora was on the side of the Allies, whereas everyone in Athens was defending the martyr King Constantine, who was the target of the Allies.

 

  One evening she had invited us to the Hotel d’ Anglettere, in Constitution Square, when an irresistible dancing impulse seized her, and, taking a French flag, she started to sing the "Marseillaise", to the accompaniment of the piano. Little by little her enthusiasm increased and became a frenzy, and like a Maenad she was crawling on the ground, wrapped up in the flag. Not satisfied with this display, she went out of the hotel and, still singing and frantic, made for the café of Zacharotos, where an immense crowd was gathered.

  I tried to restrain her, afraid that an incident might occur, but to no avail! On the contrary, she climbed on to a chair and shouted out in favour of the Entente and Venizelos. But there was a deathly silence around her! One would have thought that everyone had turned to stone, though Isadora imagined that she was driving them crazy with her enthusiasm… When eventually she saw that no one was listening to her, she flew into a rage, and cursed everyone and everything… And the next day she left Athens, never to see it again…

 

  Before going she visited us and asked my wife Victoria to supervise her two young children (about 6-8 years old), who on account of her impending departure, she would leave in Athens with their governess. They would be staying at the Hotel d'Angeleterre and my wife would be in overall charge. Victoria, indeed, who was always very obliging, asked our friend General Vakaloglou and his wife, with whom she had been connected for a long time, to provide them with a pass to the Royal Garden, which then, before the Plastira Revolution, was inaccessible to the public, except for a few hours each week.

  This lamentable revolution, the accumulation of so many misfortunes for our country, did one good thing too. It did it without meaning to, since after they banished the royal family and confiscated its buildings and property, what else could they do with the Royal Garden but to leave it open to the Greek people?

 

  After the departure of Duncan with her brother Raymond, her little children were fine and enjoying complete good health, when suddenly - ill-fatedly - a telegram from Duncan burst in asking us to send her children to her. Her instructions were of course carried out immediately, and the tender creatures departed for France with their nurse. Not many months had passed, however, when we received the tragic news that both of her two children were going for their usual drive along the banks of the Seine, when the car slipped and fell into the river, and the poor little children were both drowned, as it was quite impossible to save them.

  This frightful accident to the unlucky Duncans touched the whole of Paris, which she had conquered with her superb art. As great artist she gave such grandeur to the funeral of her two young children, such as Paris had never known before. She invited the most famous singers from the Parisian theatres to sing the Requiem in the immense halls where they were staying.

  It seems that the majesty of this funeral service was something quite unique, and the predominance of emotion was indescribable. This calamity strongly affected the life of the great artiste, who subsequently turned to drink and excess, which destroyed her otherwise flourishing health. The situation was further aggravated by her going to Russia, during the Bolshevik revolution, where, I heard, she became involved with a Russian poet, who later suddenly died.

 

  Disenchanted by all these misfortunes, Duncan returned to France, where she sought relaxation on the Côte d'Azur. She lived a dissolute life, and it was said that on occasions she attempted to commit suicide… Fate however acted without her waiting for it and brought an end to her tragic life in the most tragic way… While she was sitting in the motorcar ready to set off, her long veil, the scarf she wore so gracefully, fanned by the wind, became entangled in the wheel. When the vehicle moved off, the veil, which she had put round her neck, strangled her within a few moments, in spite of all her friends' efforts to save her!

  Such was the tragic end of that unique woman, who with her art aroused the admiration of the whole civilised world!"

 

 

 

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