UCLA Library Acquires Isadora Duncan Collection
UCLA Library has acquired the largest private collection ever assembled of rare
materials by and about modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan (1877/78-1927).
"Isadora Duncan is one of the most important artistic figures of the twentieth century as well as a native Californian, and this collection, one of the most extensive in the world, will be invaluable to students and scholars in a variety of fields," said University Librarian Gary E. Strong. "A mere 18 days before her recent death, longtime donor Joan Palevsky made an extraordinary gift of the funds to acquire it. We are deeply saddened by her passing, but we hope this collection, and the many others whose acquisitions she made possible, will form a lasting tribute to her exemplary generosity."
Among the collection's highlights are numerous manuscripts in Duncan's hand, many unpublished, about dance, life, her artistic philosophy, teaching and her husband; numerous writings including a diary by Edward Gordon Craig about his collaborations and relationship with Duncan; 19 letters by Duncan's adopted daughter Irma about her mother; 75 original contracts for appearances in Moscow, St. Petersburg and many locations in Germany; and 39 box office statements.
collection contains more than 300 sculptures, sketches, watercolors and other
artworks by 13 artists, including Antoine Bourdelle,
Gordon Craig, Jules Grandjouan, Robert Henri, Dame
Laura Knight and André Dunoyer de Segonzac. It also includes such unique items as
"Isadora Duncan is the 'mother of us all,' the seminal dancer of the 20th century, exhorting us to love our bodies and be true to expression in movement. She carried the ideals of romanticism to their furthest reaches, exploring the self and translating this experience into a joyful message of natural beauty laced with tragic loss. Would that all could follow her call 'I am going to dance the philosophy of my life,' said Emma Lewis Thomas, professor emerita of dance history. "In this collection the visual images of Isadora enhanced by the personal letters and diary/notes/sketches of Edward Gordon Craig, Irma Duncan and others are invaluable artifacts that transmit her legacy to future generations of Californians."
Born in 1877 or
Her performances were innovative not only for her natural movements and Greek-inspired attire, allowing an "almost naked body to be seen on stage," according to Russian actor, director and producer Konstantin Stanislavsky, but also for her insistence on classical music accompaniment. Inspired by live symphony orchestra performances, she improvised to compositions by Beethoven, Chopin, Corelli, Gluck, Mozart, Rameau, Schubert, Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Wagner and to the French and Soviet national anthems.
When World War I
Stanislavsky kept a Greek vase Duncan gave him in his sparsely furnished bedroom in the Moscow Conservatory; Eleanora Duse and Cosima Wagner were touched by her natural creativity, as were Ballets Russes greats Mikhail Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky and impresario Sergei Diaghilev. In later, years, Sir Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and countless others have choreographed their homage to this creative artist.
About the Department of Special Collections
The UCLA Department of Special Collections was created in 1946 to administer the UCLA Library's rare and unique materials in the humanities and social sciences. Recognized today as one of the country's top special-collections departments, it is supported by the circulating holdings of the Charles E. Young Research Library, where the department now resides.
The department's collections and programs encompass rare books and pamphlets from the 15th through the 20th centuries; extensive manuscript holdings; drawings, including original architectural drawings; early maps and atlases; and photographs, prints and paintings. Collections also contain artifacts, audiotape and videotape recordings, oral history transcripts, phonograph records, postcards, and posters.
"The Isadora Duncan Collection enhances the department's dance holdings, making it an essential site for research on the study of the new, or 'aesthetic,' dance movement that flourished at the turn of the 20th century," said Victoria Steele, head of the department.
collections include those of early modern dance pioneers Maud Allan and Ruth
St. Denis; Duncan's creative collaborator, sometime manager, friend and lover
Edward Gordon Craig and his mother, Ellen Terry; and Mary Desti,
a close friend of Duncan's, as well as her son,
Preston Sturges, who spent much of his childhood in
Europe with his mother as she accompanied