Angelos Cleanthis

Angelos Cleanthis, Greek journalist.

 Letter from Berlin, published in the magazine Panathinea, Athens 31 January 1903.


LETTER FROM BERLIN - Miss Duncan and the Greek dances

   Miss Duncan's dance idylls (Tanz-Idyllen) at the Royal Opera have been the theatrical and artistic event of the day in Berlin. Every day there has been such an enthusiastic account of them, the artiste has been so applauded, they have aroused so much discussion about her new kind of dance and her dress, and above all so much has been written everywhere about ancient Greece and its dances, that we considered it was time for us to write something too, to enlighten our Greek readers. We therefore approached Miss Isadora Duncan, who, expressing every moment her devotion to Greece, was very eager to explain her ideas and her programme to us.

  But first a little about Miss Duncan and her kind of dances and her attire.

  Born in California, the daughter of a philhellene professor, she was brought up under the influence of Greek learning. At an age when other children were being read the story of "Cinderella", young Duncan was hearing from her father's mouth stories from Homer and the other Greek poets. Their home was a museum of Greek masterpieces. The flair for dance was inborn in the young Duncan. She went to a dance school, and at the age of 13 she was already a teacher.

By this means, on her father's death, she helped her family. "My mother," she told us, "was a good musician. In our hall we had a copy of Botticelli's painting 'Primavera'. One day, while she was playing Mendelssohn's 'Spring Song', my mother said to me: "Look at the 'Primavera'." And as the triumphant tones of the composer resounded, it seemed to me as if the characters in the painting were moving, as if they were coming out of their frame, and were moving harmoniously to the music. This unforgettable scene will remain with me forever.

  I started to dance taking the positions of the characters in the picture. From that time the idea came to me to reproduce this picture in my dancing." Since then she has applied herself to the study of the Greek masterpieces; she has studied art and literature in Berlin. Her musical, literary and encyclopaedic education in general is astonishing.

  A few days ago she performed in front of the public in Berlin for the first time. After an explanatory prologue by the actor Arndt, she came in and danced the 'Primavera'. And then, in turn, 'Euridice' (Death - In Hades - Liberation) with music by Gluck, 'Pan and Echo', Musette and other pieces. Every movement, every inclination was a masterpiece, the result of her laborious study of the ancient arts. She was not dancing; she was moving rhythmically, expressing through the beautiful lines of her body different feelings, grief, joy, despair - especially in the wonderfully rendered death of Euridice. Her grace and flexibility literally achieved perfection.

  In the 'Primavera' she wore the familiar dress of the characters in the painting. Bare feet.

  As Euridice she had a long Greek chiton of gossamer fabric, allowing all the wonderful lines of her body to be seen. In 'Pan and Echo' her dress was a short above-the-knees red chiton; under this her body was naked. But not even the most censorious people dared to criticise her. Was she not dancing in the sometimes over-strict Royal Theatre? Perhaps the colossal prices permitted nudity in front of an audience who saw it artistically, and so differently?

  The office where she received us was an altar dedicated to dancing and ancient Greece. All the Greek masterpieces were in it. "From the day I saw the 'Primavera' I thought of founding a new kind of dance, as simple and natural as children's dancing. Naturalness, perfectly harmonious movement. Wherever one looks, in nature and in life, harmony of movement reigns everywhere: the clouds as they cross the sky, the movement of the trees in the forest, the undulation of the sea; this harmonious movement of nature is what we should learn, what we should imitate.

  In my dancing I want to convey the beauty of the purest - cleanest - lines, which enthrall us in the statues of Greek antiquity; I want to give life to the beauty which the creative force of the artist renders in unmoving form; I want to reproduce the works of the great craftsmen; I want to bring them to life. And for this reason I have turned to your Greece; the Greeks understood what was beautiful in nature and interpreted this; what else were the dances, their works, other than imitation, an attempt at the perfect rendering of the beautiful lines of nature?" She showed us a bronze statue of a Satyr dancing. "Take this," she said, "and imagine it upon the waves, in a forest shaken by the wind, in a desert bathed in the perpendicular rays of the sun, and you will see that there is a harmony between this and the waves of the lines of the gently moving trees, the straightnesses of the desert. Now imagine a dancer of today in her attire, imagine her too on the waves, in the forest, in the desert - what disharmony towards everything beautiful, towards every natural line!

  A month ago Siegfried Wagner told me: your dance is the ideal dance that my father thought of; in spring come to Bayreuth and dance to his music, dance in Parsifal, as you understand it, as you wish to. This year I will go to Bayreuth. My ideal is to organise my own ballet with my own pupils and then to come and dance for the first time in an ancient Greek theatre. Soon I shall open a school, I shall build a home in pure Greek style and I shall decorate it with every well-known masterpiece. Everywhere the beautiful, the natural, the nude. I shall take girls of four and I will bring them up there; they will get up very early in the morning, and go to bed early; for two hours only they will dance every afternoon; as each one wishes, without rules; I will teach them Greek, Greek literature, philosophy, poetry and music. After 18 years they will come out from there as artists of dancing; this will be my ballet.

  This is my dream. But as soon as I can I will come to Greece as a simple pilgrim; I have always longed to come to pay homage to your immortal monuments, to dare to be inspired by the Parthenon."

  In her forthcoming performance she will dance various works of Chopin (Nocturne, Polonaise, and others). Miss Duncan has the outward appearance of the 'American Girl'; her expressive face with the wonderful slight curve of the neck is reminiscent of the sketches of Gibson. She is very rich, living in the most aristocratic street in Berlin with her mother and her sister.