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Articles / Carl van Vechten
 
 
 
Carl van Vechten
Duncan Goncerts in New York
Magriel, Paul (ed.): Nijinsky, Pavlova, Duncan:
Three lives in dance. U.S.A. Da Capo Press, Inc.,
1946-1947
 
 
 
November 10, 1909
      Miss Isadora Duncan, who has evolved a style of choreographic art which corre­sponds in a measure at least­ according to a comparison with the figures on ancient vases­ with the dances of the ancient Greeks, made her reappearance in New York last evening at the Metropolitan Opera House, assisted by Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Orchestra. The program stated that Miss Duncan would dance to the ballets and choruses of Gluck's Iphigenie en Aulide. Most of her dances were accomplished to such aid, but at least one of them, a Chorus of Priestesses, was taken from Iphigenie en Tauride, and its original purpose and signification were greatly distorted by the dancer. It is a number which was never designed for dancing, and to anyone who has heard it in its proper place in the opera it must seem more or less of a sacrilege to have it put to such purpose.
 
     There can be no possible objection, however, to Miss Duncan's appropriating the ballet numbers from the Gluck operas for her particular purpose. It is a well­known fact that Gluck composed many of his ballets because they were demanded by the audiences of his time rather than by the exigencies of his operas. It is also quite as true that the list of them includes much that is best of the Gluck music.
 
     They are particularly fitted in their nobility and lack of sensuousness to accompany the moods and poses which Miss Duncan portrays in her dances. She is at her best in dances which depict life and gaiety and motion. In this she is always sure of communicating her meaning to an audience. The Bacchanale which ended the formal program exhibited her finest talents. The play of the arms in the moderato and allegro in which the Maidens of Chalkis play at ball and knuckle bones by the seashore was also one of the effective bits.
 
     The dances last night were in nowise different from those in which Miss Duncan has appeared in past seasons in this country and Europe, and her draperies were the same beautiful Greek arrangements. Repetitions of several of the dances were demanded by the large audience, and at the end of the program Miss Duncan added several extra numbers, concluding with The Beautiful Blue Danube waltz.
 
 
November 17, 1909
     Miss Isadora Duncan again appeared at the Metropolitan Opera House yesterday afternoon and danced for the first time this season to Beethoven's A major symphony, which was played by the New York Symphony Orchestra, with Walter Damrosch conducting. It is quite within the province of the recorder of musical affairs to protest against this perverted use of the Seventh Symphony, a purpose which Beethoven certainly never had in mind when he wrote it. Because Wagner dubbed it the "apothe­osis of the dance" is not sufficient reason why it should be danced to.
 
     However, if one takes it for granted that Miss Duncan has a right to perform her dances to whatever music she chooses, there is no doubt of the high effect she achieves. Seldom has she been more poetical, more vivid in her expression of joy, more plastic in her poses, more rhythmical in her effects than she was yesterday. Wagner's title for the symphony might very properly be applied to Miss Duncan. As usual, she was most effective in the dances which require decisive movement. One of the wildest of her dances she closed with arms outstretched and head thrown back almost out of sight until she resembled the headless Nike of Samothrace.
 
     The orchestra played Chaikovsky's Marche Slave, a pantomime from Mozart's ballet music to Les Petits Riens, and a Beethoven Polonaise for the second part of the program and then Miss Duncan danced five Chopin numbers. The audience was large and enthusiastic.
 
 
February 16, 1911
     Miss Isadora Duncan, the American girl who is directly responsible for a train of barefoot dancers who have spread themselves, like a craze, over two continents in the last five years, has returned to America, and yesterday she gave a new exhibition of her dancing, with the assistance of Walter Damrosch and the Symphony Society, at Carnegie Hall. Before the doors opened there were no seats to be had, and the long line of car­riages which drew nigh the portals, as the hour set for the dancing to begin approached, indicated that Miss Duncan not only was the first of the barefoot dancers, but also the last. She not only has established her vogue, but she has also maintained it.
 
     It has long been the custom for Miss Duncan to dance to music which originally belonged either to the opera house or the concert room. In years gone by she has lifted her feet to Chopin measures; to dances from the Gluck operas; and even to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. This last was considered by many as a desecrating escapade, but many others paid money to see her do it, and Miss Duncan achieved some of her greatest popular success with the symphony which Wagner called the "apotheosis of the dance." Doubtless many people thereby became acquainted with a work of Beethoven which they never would have heard
otherwise.
 
     Yesterday Miss Duncan forsook the masters who have given her most of her material for dancing until now. She had arranged, in fact, an entirely new program, through which to display her art. It was made up of excerpts from the Wagner music dramas and Bach's Suite in D.
 
     If Bach did not intend that his music should be danced to, at least several of the numbers in this suite bear the names of dances, so Miss Duncan cannot be taken too much to task for employing them for her purposes.
 
     The stage setting was what it usually is at a Duncan seance. Green curtains depended from the heights of the stage and fell in folds at the back and sides leaving a semi­circular floor in the center on which dim rose­colored lights flitted here, contrasting with shadows there. When Mr. Damrosch came to the conductor's desk and raised his baton, all the lights in the auditorium were extinguished. The orchestra played the prelude to the suite and then Miss Duncan appeared.
 
     She wore, as she always does, some drapery of diaphanous material. She stood for a moment in the shadow at the back of the stage while the orchestra began the Air the celebrated slow movement in the suite, which violinists play on the G string. Miss Duncan waved her arms and posed during this movement but did not do much of what is conventionally called dancing.
 
     In the two Gavottes and the Gigue which followed, however, the dancer was seen at her best. She flitted about the stage in her early Greek way and gave vivid imitations of what one may see on the spherical bodies of Greek vases. The Bourée from the suite the orchestra played alone and the first part of the program closed with the Polacca from the first Brandenburg Concerto, also undanced.
 
     There was a brief intermission before the Wagner excerpts were played. Then the house was darkened and the Lohengrin Prelude was performed. After this Miss Duncan gave her interpretation of the Flower Maidens' music from Parsifal.
 
     This time she appeared in white gauze, beautifully draped. Her hair was caught up with flowers of pinkish hue. She evidently danced with an imaginary "Guileless Fool" standing in the center of the stage. To him she appealed with all her gestures and all her postures. It was an interesting attempt to give the spirit of the scene in the Klingsor's garden. What it meant to those who have never heard Wagner's music drama this writer cannot profess to know. The next number announced on the program was the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Instead, however, of rapping for attention from his orchestra, Mr. Damrosch asked the audience for attention, turned about, and made a little speech.
 
     The purport of his remarks was to the effect that it had originally been intended that Miss Duncan dance only music which had been arranged by Wagner in his music dramas for that purpose.
 
     "It had been my intention," said Mr. Damrosch, "simply to play this music from Tristan. Yesterday, however, Miss Duncan modestly asked me if I would go through the Liebestod with her. She has, as is well known, a desire to unite dancing to music in a perfect whole, as an art which existed in the time of the early Greeks. Whatever she does now, of course, must be largely experimental. However, the results which she has already achieved with the Liebestod are so interesting that I think it only fair to set them before the public. As there are probably a great many people here to whom the idea of giving pantomimic expression to the
Liebestod would be horrifying, I am putting it last on the program, so that those who do not wish to see it may leave."
 
     There was applause and then Miss Duncan gave her impressions of the Paris version of the Bacchanale from Tannhduser, which were very pretty but hardly as bacchanalian as might have been expected. After the orchestra had played the Prelude to Die Meister­singer she danced the Dance of the Apprentices from that music drama. It may be stated that Miss Duncan did her best dancing of the afternoon to this number and it was repeated. As for the Liebestod, the anticipation of it evidently was not too horrible for anyone to bear. People did not leave their seats, except possibly the usual few who are obliged to catch trains. Miss Duncan's conception of the music did not seem to suggest a pan­tomimic Isolde, nor was it exactly dancing. In other words, she puzzled those who knew the music drama, and did not interest those who did not. Therefore one may ask, Why?
 
 
February 21, 1911
     It was to the operas of Gluck that Miss Isadora Duncan went for her first inspiration when she began her revivals of the Greek dance, and yesterday afternoon in Carnegie Hall she returned to Gluck. Her previous attempt to dance to the music from the lyric dramas of Richard Wagner had not resulted in complete success, but her spectators yesterday were pleased to see that Miss Duncan was herself again.
 
     The first half of the program consisted of copious excerpts from Orfeo, played in chronological order, and embracing the chief incidents of the book, with the exception of the scene in which Eurydice persuades Orpheus to turn and gaze upon her face. The Symphony Society of New York, Walter Damrosch conducting, played the music; a small chorus, seated among the orchestra, sang several of the choruses, and Mme. Florence Mulford sang several of Orpheus's, airs.
 
     In the first act, in a long robe of flowing gray, Miss Duncan represented one of the companions of Orpheus. Her poses and movements were intended to suggest the deepest grief. It was in the first scene of the second act, that of the scene in Hades, which was given in its entirety, that Miss Duncan, portraying one of the Furies, first aroused the enthusiasm of the audience. She indicated the gradual wavering of the Furies from the tremendous "No" in the beginning to the end when the Furies allow Orpheus to pass on to the Elysian Fields. The Dance of the Furies, with which this scene concludes, was a remarkable exhibition of
dancing, evidence of high imagination.
 
     It had originally been intended that several of the choruses and Orpheus's air from the scene of the Elysian Fields should be included in the program scheme, but evidently it was found necessary to omit these. Only the ballet airs were presented from this scene, including the famous air with flute obbligato, which was exquisitely played by Mr. Barrère. Miss Duncan, as a Happy Spirit, was as much at home as she had been previously as a Fury. From here on a long excision was made in the score until the finale was reached; even the famous chaconne was omitted. In the final scene, in which the chorus again appeared, Miss Duncan indicated the triumph of Love.
 
     The excerpts were beautifully played by Mr. Damrosch and his orchestra. It is worthy of note that the seldom heard overture, a usually omitted ballet air, and the finale, which is replaced at the Metropolitan Opera House by a finale from another opera of Gluck, were restored. As has been stated, much else was omitted.
 
     After an intermission Miss Duncan danced to some music by Schubert, and the orchestra played Dvořak's In the Spinning Room.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Sunday the 19th. . Isadora Duncan Pundect
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