Ninety years after her death, long-forgotten American dancer Isadora Duncan is now back in the spotlight. Franco-American actress Lily-Rose Depp played her in the movie The Dancer three years ago, and she is now the lead character in a graphic novel published in France by Dargaud in 2017 and translated into English this week by SelfMadeHero.
Isadora retraces the fanciful life of the woman who revolutionized the world of dance. It portrays her Atlantic crossing aboard a cargo ship transporting livestock in 1899, her tumultuous relationship with Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, and her tragic death on the Côte d’Azur in 1927, strangled by her scarf after it became entangled in a moving car’s axle.
Born in San Francisco in 1877 to a penniless pianist, she left California and moved to Paris in 1900. That year, the French capital was hosting the World’s Fair, and the city was buzzing with artistic and intellectual energy. It was during this time that Isadora met composer Camille Saint-Saëns and sculptor Auguste Rodin, who made her one of his muses.
The artist’s sculptures in movement (Cupid and Psyche, The Kiss) inspired Isadora to develop a unique dancing style influenced by both the ancient (dancing barefoot wearing a plain white toga) and the contemporary (with curves and flexibility, her head lowered, breaking from the academic style of the corps de ballet).
While in Paris, Isadora also discovered the surreal theatrical performances of Loie Fuller, another American artist who shook up the Parisian scene with her “serpentine dance.” Fuller introduced her to the circles of the Parisian intelligentsia before Isadora finally outshone her.
At the height of her glory, Isadora began a tour of the United States. She stepped off the S.S. Paris in New York in September 1922 and performed at Carnegie Hall. During her next show in Boston, one of her breasts accidentally fell out of her shirt, causing a scandal in Prohibition-era America and putting an abrupt end to her career.
=> Isadora, by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie, SelfMadeHero, 2019. 140 pages, 24.99 dollars.
Article published in the October 2019 issue of France-Amérique