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“Concealment is vulgar”: Isadora Duncan’s unveiling of the body
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0918-899X
2014 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

“You shall see that in a few years’ time all your bacchantes and flower girls will be dressing the same way as I do”, Isadora Duncan prophesied when Cosima Wagner suggested that her stage costume was too frivolous. To Duncan, the body was the ‘temple of her art’; the body was beautiful, real and true and must not be concealed in ‘half-clothed suggestiveness’. Duncan’s conceptualisation of the body reverberated in a society where the experience of self, freedom and progress was under radical transformation, and her dancing could be seen to articulate a sense of excitement and liberation, for example in the use of flowing’ and ‘unbroken’ movements, in her refusal to dance in the musical hall theatres (spaces traditionally assigned to dance), and not least, in her dancing barefoot in Greek-inspired costumes that revealed much more of her body than convention would allow. Isadora Duncan made the costumes adapt to her dance and according to her partner Gordon Craig, Duncan would transform the costumes, which in ‘reality’ looked like nothing, but became magically beautiful when she danced. Bare legs and arms, free flowing textiles draped around her body and long scarves were her signatures, and these textiles bespoke the freedom and audacity of her art. Her style also became famous and highly inspirational to women’s fashion as her loose costumes and bare feet presented a stark contrast to the corseted Victorian women in her audience. But her costumes also inspired fellow artists, for example Léon Bakst, who designed costumes for Les Ballet Russes in Paris Duncan’s influence on Bakst’s costuming can seen especially in the costumes he made for the company’s male dancers. Duncan was concerned with purging the dance from anything she deemed conventional, ‘artificial’ and false and in this her concerns were aligned with the modernist anxiety about finding new means to express ‘its own originality and modernity’. This paper discusses how Duncan’s costuming contributed to the re-evaluation of the body in modernism.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Isadora Duncan, phenomenology, aesthetics, body, movements, meaning, experience, fashion
National Category
Cultural Studies General Literature Studies
Research subject
Literature; English
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-119458OAI: diva2:845993
Objects of Modernity, Birmingham University, 23–24 June, 2014.
Available from: 2015-08-13 Created: 2015-08-13 Last updated: 2015-12-16Bibliographically approved

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Palmstierna Einarsson, Charlotta
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