Arts + Culture

UCLA Library Acquires Isadora Duncan Collection

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TheUCLA Library has acquired the largest private collection ever assembled of rarematerials by and about modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan (1877/78-1927).Built by Los Angelesattorney Howard Holtzman over a 30- year period, thecollection of some 1500 items includes manuscripts, correspondence,photographs, artwork, contracts and box office statements and ephemera. It is housed in the Charles E. Young ResearchLibrary Department of Special Collections.

"IsadoraDuncan is one of the most important artistic figures of the twentieth centuryas well as a native Californian, and this collection, one of the most extensivein the world, will be invaluable to students and scholars in a variety offields," said University Librarian Gary E. Strong. "A mere 18 days before her recent death,longtime donor Joan Palevsky made an extraordinarygift of the funds to acquire it. We aredeeply saddened by her passing, but we hope this collection, and the manyothers whose acquisitions she made possible, will form a lasting tribute to herexemplary generosity."

Amongthe collection's highlights are numerous manuscripts in Duncan's hand, manyunpublished, about dance, life, her artistic philosophy, teaching and herhusband; numerous writings including a diary by Edward Gordon Craig about his collaborationsand relationship with Duncan; 19 letters by Duncan's adopted daughter Irmaabout her mother; 75 original contracts for appearances in Moscow, St.Petersburg and many locations in Germany; and 39 box office statements.

Thecollection contains more than 300 sculptures, sketches, watercolors and otherartworks by 13 artists, including Antoine Bourdelle,Gordon Craig, Jules Grandjouan, Robert Henri, DameLaura Knight and Andr Dunoyer de Segonzac. It also includes such unique items as Duncan's personalguestbook, featuring the signatures of Gabriel d'Annunzio, Auguste Rodin, PrestonSturges and Oscar Wilde; and silk scarves designed and printed by herbrother Raymond.

"Isadora Duncanis 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. Shecarried the ideals of romanticism to their furthest reaches, exploring the selfand translating this experience into a joyful message of natural beauty lacedwith tragic loss. Would that all could follow her call 'I am going to dance thephilosophy of my life,' said Emma Lewis Thomas, professor emeritaof dance history. "In this collection the visual images of Isadora enhanced bythe personal letters and diary/notes/sketches of Edward Gordon Craig, IrmaDuncan and others are invaluable artifacts that transmit her legacy to futuregenerations of Californians."

Born in 1877 or1878 in San Francisco, Duncan took a few dance lessons while she wasyoung but rejected the formality of classical ballet for more natural rhythmsand movements. She made her professional debut in Chicagoin the mid-1890s, then with her mother, sister and two brothers moved to New York where they nearly starved. She achieved her first real success aftermoving to Englandin 1898, where the celebrated actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell recognized herextraordinary talent and fostered Isadora's dancing career.

Her performanceswere innovative not only for her natural movements and Greek-inspired attire,allowing an "almost naked body to be seen on stage," according to Russianactor, director and producer Konstantin Stanislavsky, but also for her insistence on classical music accompaniment. Inspiredby 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 nationalanthems.

During 1900-14 Duncan performed to great acclaim throughout Europe and inRussia and returnedto the United Stateson three tours. On her 1908 U.S.tour with conductor Walter Damrosch and an 80-member orchestra, PresidentTheodore Roosevelt saw her perform in Washingtonand said she was "as innocent as a child dancing through the garden in themorning sunshine."

When World War Ibroke out, Duncan moved to New York initially, then returned briefly toEurope before embarking on a tour of South America. To support her schools she continued to tourfollowing the war, even though problemsin her personal life took a toll on her performances.

Duncan began to give dance lessons in San Francisco in 1883,when she was very young. In 1904 she established her first formal school in Berlin's fashionable Grunewald neighborhood, with her sister Elizabethas director; the school continues to operate today, now in Munich under the direction of Hannelore Schick. Sheestablished another school outside Parisin 1914 but closed it shortly thereafter. In 1921 the Bolshevik Russian governmentinvited her to open a school in Moscow intowhich she threw all of her energies, but when promises of government supportfailed to materialize by 1924, she returned to France.

Duncan's personal life was both unconventionaland tragic. Inher relationship with Gordon Craig, a stage designer and son of the renownedactress Ellen Terry, she conceived her first child, Deirdre, born in 1906, and in a subsequent relationship with ParisSinger, heir to the sewing machine fortune and benefactor to her and herschools throughout her life, she hada son, Patrick, born in 1910. Bothchildren drowned in 1913, when the brakesfailed on the car they were ridingin and it rolled into the Seine.

In 1922 Duncan determined to revive her performing career andplanned a tour of the U.S. She marriedthe Russian poet Sergei Aleksandrovich Esinin, 17 years her junior, so that he could legallyaccompany her. During the 1922-23 tour both were ridiculed and came undercriticism and government suspicionfor their association with Bolshevist Russia.They separated after two years; Esininreturned to Russiawhere he suffered a mental breakdown and committed suicide in 1925.

Duncan gave her final performance in Paris on July 8, 1927.During her last years she completed the first volume of a memoir entitled "MaVie" [My Life], which was published posthumously. She died on September 14,1927, in Nice in an infamous automobile accident: the scarf she was wearingcaught in the open-spoke wheel of a convertible in which she was a passenger; she died instantly of a broken neck. According to her wishes, her body was takento Paris and cremated; her ashes were placed in Pre Lachaise Cemetery,where some 4000 people attended the interment.

Duncan influenced countless artists in theperforming and visual arts. Those in thedance world alone include dancers Anna Pavlova, Loe Fuller, Maud Allan, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, Vienna's Grete Wiesenthal,the German Expressionist generation of the 1920s led by Mary Wigman and the American modern dance movement of the 1930sspearheaded by Martha Graham.

Stanislavskykept a Greek vase Duncan gave him in his sparsely furnished bedroom in theMoscow Conservatory; Eleanora Duse and Cosima Wagner were touched by her natural creativity, aswere 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 thiscreative artist.

About the Departmentof Special Collections

The UCLA Department of Special Collections was created in 1946 toadminister the UCLA Library's rare and unique materials in the humanities andsocial sciences. Recognized today as one of the country's topspecial-collections departments, it is supported by the circulating holdings ofthe Charles E. Young Research Library, where the department now resides.

The department's collections and programsencompass rare books and pamphlets from the 15th through the 20th centuries;extensive manuscript holdings; drawings, including original architecturaldrawings; 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 IsadoraDuncan Collection enhances the department's dance holdings, making it anessential site for research on the study of the new, or 'aesthetic,' dancemovement that flourished at the turn of the 20th century," said VictoriaSteele, head of the department.

Relatedcollections include those of early modern dance pioneers Maud Allan and RuthSt. Denis; Duncan's creative collaborator, sometime manager, friend and loverEdward 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 inEurope with his mother as she accompanied Duncanon tours.

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