I saw *Isadora Duncan,* a new dance piece by Jérôme Bel, at the Alliance Française on 9/25/19. It was a one-woman show performed by Catherine Gallant. She came out onstage with no music. She was wearing a black blouse and black pants, stood, center stage, and took a moment to look at the audience. She introduced herself and told us a bit about herself and her history as a dancer. She also gave us a brief overview of Dundan, the Mother of Modern Dance.
It was a little disarming to be addressed so directly, especially by a dancer, because dancers almost never speak onstage. She finished her introduction and said, “I’m going to leave now, and come back with my costume.”
She walked back onstage holding a piece of royal blue silk. The audience chuckled. She explained that the tunic is made of two rectangular pieces of silk that are sewn together on the sides, left open on the bottom and for armholes, and stitched together at the shoulders. She left the stage and came back having removed the black outfit and put on the tunic. She added a bit of elastic at the waist, to add a waist and gather it a bit for a blousy effect. She confessed that she added a little Velcro at the shoulders, which got more chuckles from the audience.
She performed five pieces total, and each followed the same format. She performed it once with music and no talking. Then she performed it with no music, talking through the movements, describing the movement and its meaning, and then she performed it a third time, with music again, and no talking. The third time was always the most meaningful, because we understood what was being expressed on a much deeper level.
Here’s a video of Gallant herself performing one of the five Duncan dances she did, Schubert’s “Moment Musical.”
She asked that the house lights be brought up and invited members of the audience to come onto the stage and be taught some Duncan moves. Fifteen people went onto the stage, took off their shoes, stood in a circle, and were talked through the Duncan method of breathing from the sternum and skipping, feeling the weight of the thigh, but then springing up as the leg drops. The audience laughed at the volunteers, but it didn’t seem funny to me. It was touching to see people that did not appear to be dancers being taught these timeless choreographies, and doing them gracefully.
Gallant left the stage and came back in a burgundy tunic with a dark brown wrap. She told the tragic story about Duncan’s two children, a seven year-old daughter and three year-old son who drowned in the Seine, in a runaway car driven by their nanny. Eight years later Duncan created a dance called “Mother,” done to a Scriabin étude. Here’s Gallant again:
The woman comes onstage caressing the hair of her child. She shows the child the world and assures the child that the world is a wonderful place and that good things happen in it. She holds the child and sends the child out into the world. She child comes back and lies down in front of her. She caresses the child. At 2:30 she lowers her torso onto the floor, with one hand stretched forward. A slight spasm of the hand indicates that the mother realizes that the child is no longer there. This spasm isn’t visible in the video, but it was incredibly powerful in the performance. The woman gives a final farewell to the child.
The second dance in the video above was the final dance that Gallant performed, “Revolutionary,” to another Scriabin étude (by the way I was disappointed that the pianist in the recordings used in the Alliance Française was given no credit in the program). Duncan was inspired by the Communists in this dance. The dance has great power, culminating in some fearsome foot-stomping near the end.