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Articles / Athanasia Kontonikou
 
 
 
Athanasia Kontonikou
Isadora Duncan: Empowered by the Hellenic Spirit
 Congress on Dance Research, Athens, IOFA.
 
 
 
             Introduction
     This paper has as main purpose to discuss the importance that Ancient Greek Civilization exerted to Isadora Duncan and how this impact channeled in the making of ‘future dance’ influencing essentially the dance scene of the 20th making of a new dance form as opposed to the strict character that ballet presented. A short discussion of her visit and witnesses by distinguished personalities who had a personal contact with her prove the love, passion and respect that Isadora Duncan showed towards the Ancient Greek Art. The Album: Isadora Duncan and the artists written by Raptis Alkis consisted an essential source of information in this case. Then, a focus on the process Duncan creating dance movement answer to possible misunderstandings to the way Duncan had perceived the Ancient Greek Art a fact that consisted the initiative source of her dance creation.
 
     Isadora Duncan Visiting Greece: a few witnesses. Duncan’s were not the only Phil Hellenes who loved Greece, but they were the only who carry Antiquity to a daily practice expressing the wonder to live in Greece. Raymond pointed out ‘we the four siblings [...] we guided since we were all young by the Great Ideal.  (Duncan R cited in Raftis A, 2003) What it was that actually that a world personality like Duncan would expect from Greece of 1903?
 
     Greece, a country so far away from America, a small and a poor one, totally devastated from the wars and other political upheavals with no even one dance school to exist, no dancers, no appropriate conditions for the development for the theatrical dance art. It was Raymond who in 1903 organized a family trip to Greece. From the Italian port of Brindisi they reached Leukada - a Greek island in the Ionian Sea and from there with a little boat they disembarked to Kravasara (a small town whose present name is Amphilochia),.... when both Isadora and Raymond kneeling and kiss the land, as a symbolic gesture of paying honor and respect. Then, they follow the Southern coastline of the Gulf of Corinrth.
 
     As soon as they arrive in Athens, they decided to purchase land on the hill of in Kopanas (being today part of the Byron municipality), a quiet pastureland at that
time, where they started to build a house. The mansion of King Agamemnon has inspired the housing project. Isadora and Raymond wore chitons (Greek tunics) and sandal shoes and they studied intensively Ancient Greek art under the guidance of the archeologist and a man of literature Alexander Philadelpheus. However, they discover that the Ancient Greek music has survived in the Byzantine hymnody and they formed a choir under the guidance of professor Constantinos Psachos.
 
     Duncans seems to be very active as soon as they step in Greece. An exemplar of Isadora’s first impressions are recorded by Raftis in his album, to a short discussion she had with Mr. Achilles Neis, a distinguished journalist and poet.
 
     Of course madam, history and other documentations would probably cause your interest in most interesting things and she responded: oh! It is very nice somebody to live here and it is a real happiness somebody to be born Greek.... and that is been stated by an American! And how, if I beak your pardon, does this idea come to you about ancient Greek dances? When I was a child I had love or not I had this excitement for dancing, but when I later studied and began to comprehend the great importance and the art of the ancient Greek dances, I started to dislike the dances of our time, so silly indeed. Then I dare to dream that I will bring back the ancient and great purpose of what those dances were carrying. She asks about the museums when the bas-reliefs want to study the postures, the style and the composition of them. I will study, as better, as I can for the society, for the newest schools (she means the forthcoming eras) and the Greek way of life .I will observe the sculptures status and I will drawn new lives for my dances. (Raftis, 2003)
 
     Isadora is dancing in the Public Theater in 28th audience to its majority, is considering by students, who glorify her. Under a Royal invitation she gave a second performance on December 11th Royal Theater in front King George I and his family, the famous French travel writer Pierre Loti and the elite of the Athenian society. Then, she left for a tour in Europe with the choir she had created under the conductor Panagiotis Tzoaneas. The performances have as main purpose in the revival of the Ancient Greek tragedy, but unfortunately the audience wants something lighter rather than The Suppliants of Aeschylus. Isadora Duncan is giving long lectures before every performance introducing the subject of her dances but in vein. There is a little understanding of what Isadora was trying to do and say and that is because of poor socio-cultural conditions in Greece; so then, as we will see below, after her comeback all her attempts to establish a chorus dance turn to a failure.
 
     Years after in 1920 Duncan full of happiness and optimism, because of her affair with pianist Walter Rummel, decides to relize finally her dream and returns to
live in Athens. She partially restores her house in Kopanas, where she lives with him. Isadora made a promise to the Greek Government to prepare one thousand
dancers for a ‘Festival of Dionysus’ - dancing to Beethoven’s ‘7th Tchaickofsky’s ‘6th Zappeio Building which has been formally assigned by the prime minister Eleutherios Venizelos. Unfortunately, the government changed and Duncan remains without support. She is forced leave for Paris and then for London.
 
     It is true that Isadora Duncan met a considerable number of distinguished Greeks but it was of main importance the friendship she developed with Eva Palmer-Sikelianos, wife of the great Greek poet Angelos Sikelianos. Palmer, in her autobiography Upward Panic (1993) she points out about Duncan: Her arms were  beautiful, and the soft undulations were infinitely charming to a world, which knew only the tiresome stiffness of the ballet; but there is not a single example of any work of Greek art before the fourth century, which resembles Isadora’s dancing. It was always flowing. [...] It was purely Dionysian: that was of November in 1903 when the of the same year, in the Symphony’ and Symphony’ (scherzo) - and she rehearsed every day in the why the world was at her feet. [...] Isadora was not merely a dancer, and this she knew well herself. ‘What a mistake to call me a dancer!’ She was a revolutionist, a reformer: not in politics, but in the specific weight of human beings; she was against the downward tendency and physical lethargy of the bodies; and her dearest wish for the world was that she might bring her message, not to the few but to the millions; not to the rich, but to the poor. And here was the psychic bond between Isadora and her Greek manifestation in ancing. It was fatal that her outward expression resembled a Greek bas-relief, and not an Irish jig, because Greek dancing is the upward dancing of the world; and because the Greeks alone made dancing not the specialty of a few but the universal accomplishment of a nation. (Palmer-Sikelianos, 1993)
 
     Manning concludes that Duncan envisioned dance as the recreation of the spirit of the Greek chorus [...] yet this vision of a new Gesamtkunstwerk went largely unrealized in Duncan’s work and a tension remained between her solo dancing and her vision of dance as a choral form. (Manning S, 1998)
 
     Irrespective of Duncan's failure to attract a lasting government endorsement of her plans, Mr Axilleas Neis characterizes her ‘an apostle of the ancient Greek life and everlasting Hellenic spirit’ (Raftis, 2003)
 
     Spellbound by Hellinism: Towards the making of the ‘future dance’. Isadora Duncan argues in The Dance of the Future: To find those primary movements for the human body from which shall evolve the movement of the future dance in every –varying, natural, unending sequences [...] I might make a example of each pose and gesture in the thousands of figures we have left to us on the Greek vases and bas-reliefs; there is not one which in its movement does not presuppose another movement. This is because the Greeks were the greatest students of the laws of nature, wherein all is the expression of unending, ever-increasing evolusion, wherein are no ends and no stops. (Duncan cited in Huxley M & Witts N, 1996)
 
     With respect to the quote above, Isadora Duncan speaks with a progressive manner towards the movement she personally observed in potteries etc. Duncan’s perspective of observing movement is not restricted to an infertile process of movement-making. Palmer argues very clearly that she (Isadora) did not try [...] to copy a Greek vase, or anything else (Palmer-Sikelianos, 1993). The importance now shall be based on what Duncan was trying to achieve.
 
     Taking into account the formalism that ballet presented at that time, Duncan wished to break the boundaries releasing a new dance form. Hellenism consisted for Duncan the vehicle of her experimentation providing her with the possibility to accomplish this by studying closely various Greek arts.She discovers main components of the ancient Greek art such as harmony, austerity, simplicity and uniqueness. As well, Duncan is being revolutionary towards the attitude to produce dance movement, which may in the future be called ‘technique’. She actually avoided consequently typifying any dance movement, which may later on guide her to a set movement vocabulary. The only technical ability Duncan issued it was her physical ability to conceptually appreciate the flow of movement, the tempo and the element of continuity in the basreliefs, status, potteries, vases etc.
 
     What was of uppermost importance for Duncan was to give to the 20th to comprehend the necessity for a new form of expression. So, to add to my concern,
Duncan rejects the idea of the dance product temporarily as the importance should be based on the dance process, thus experimentation. It can be assumed that her
denial to set up movement has not be left totally aside. Her vision for experimentation may wished to keep longer so the 20th creation of a new form of dance expression. Simply to say, her concern in observing the primary movement put actually the foundations for the evolution of Modern Dance later on.
 
     A focus on the primary movements of the human body are consisted the initiative source of her movement material and an evidence of a fundamental structure stage of movement composition. Duncan created the conditions for a new compositional dance form, a new form so different from ballet. Then, she progresses further to the development of that primary stage of movement use disregarding any technical detail required in movement. The conceptual framework of movement that presupposes another movement capture in a sense three of the essential characteristics of the Hellenic art: the flow, the tempo and the element of continuity referred as above. When all technique details, as in ballet, have been ignored flow, tempo and continuity remain essential components of her dance and the focus now drawn upon the expressive part that her dancing process required.
 
      The element of expression consisted a determine factor for Duncan. The expressive multiplicity of her movements released her dancing from any technique inquiry. Palmer points out that she (Isadora) has described her search for that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body’s movement. (Palmer-Sikelianos, 1993) Her solo dancing comes to justify the element of individuality in the dancing process. The dancer who can exist everywhere and express emotional feelings through dance movement is consisting an attitude of her manifestation. In parallel with the individuality developed as part of her dancing the element of liberation is strengthening essentially her attitude and position on dance. Kraus in his book ‘ History of Dance’ (1969) states about modern dance what actually Duncan envisioned for this new form of expression, the ‘future dance’: Modern dance this highly individual form of artistic expression began as a rejection of what its advocates saw as the formalism and sterility of traditional ballet. Today, modern dance still places emphasis on the artistic expression of the individual performer, and lacks a single approach to technique. (Kraus, 1969)
 
     Therefore, the fact that her dance can be discussed and analyzed even without a set movement technique gives the opportunity to consider Duncan’s dance as existing, substantial and influential for the 20th give the stimuli for another form of expression in dance but the choreographic value of her dance challenged really performance conventions. Indeed, she influenced many artists of her generations mostly in Europe and United States since now. Jean century world to be guided successfully to the century dance world. Duncan did not only Morrison Brown argues that Isadora Duncan had a tremendous and long-range impact on dancers, artists and society as a whole. (1998b)
 
     Duncan had the anarchy of making dance so democratic for the body. She showed the need of human to dance and come closer to his nature when the dance world had wrongly believed that ballet would probably cover all need for dance. Duncan brought the light for further development in the dance sector. She feed herself and her students; her body and soul; people and society breaking the boundaries in all aspects of human life.
 
Conclusion
Hellenism had a tremendous impact on Isadora Duncan. The ancient Greek
civilization consisted the initiative source of her dance creation and a vehicle to the
century dance development.
20th
Athanasia Kontonikou
 
 
REFERENCES
Goodman L &Gay de J (2000) The Routledge Reader in Politics and Performance.
London: Routledge.
Huxley M & Witts N (1996) The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader. London:
Routledge
Kraus R (1969) History of Dance USA: Prentice –Hail, Inc, Englewood Clift NJ
Layson J, ‘Isadora Duncan- A preliminary analysis of her work’ in the Dance
Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance. Spring 1983, Volume 1, Number 1
pp: 39-49.
Manning S, ‘Isadora Duncan’ in the International Encyclopedia of Dance (ed)
Oxford University Press, 1998, volume 2, pp: 451-458
Miller J ‘ Isadora Duncan’ in the International Dictionary of Modern Dance. (ed) St
James Press, 1998, pp 214-215.
Morrison-Brown J, Mindin N & Woodford H C (1998b) The Vision of Modern
Dance :In the words of its creators. London: Dance Books
Palmer-Sikelianos E (1993) Upward Panic Edited by John Anton USA: Philadelphia,
Harwood Academic Publishers.
Raftis A (2003) Isadora Duncan and the artists. Greece: Greek Dances Theater ‘ Dora
Stratou’ & International Organization of Folk Art-Greek Section.
 
 
 

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