isadora duncan virtual museum
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Isadora Says: Quotations
My Life by Isadora Duncan
Boni and Liverright (1927)
This Page Last Modified on Dec. 31, 2005
My Art is just an effort to express the truth of my Being in gesture and movement. … From the first I have only danced my life. As a child I danced the spontaneous joy of growing things. As an adolescent, I danced with joy turning to apprehension of the pitiless brutality and crushing progress of life. P3.
I have sometimes been asked whether I consider love higher than art, and I have replied that I cannot separate them, for the artist is the only lover, he alone has the pure vision of beauty, and love is the vision of the soul when it is permitted to gaze upon immortal beauty. P5.
The character of a child is already plain, even in its mother's womb. Before I was born my mother was in great agony of spirit and in a tragic situation. She could take no food except iced oysters and iced champagne. If people ask me when I began to dance I reply, "In my mother's womb, probably as a result of the oysters and champagne--the food of Aphrodite." P9.
I was born by the sea, and I have noticed that all the great events of my life have taken place by the sea. My first idea of movement, of the dance, certainly came from the rhythm of the waves. P10.
I owe the inspiration of the dance I created, which was but the expression of freedom. P11.
I believe that whatever one is to do in one's after life is clearly expressed as a baby. I was already a dancer and a revolutionist. P11.
It seems to me that the general education a child receives at school is absolutely useless. … It was all to me a weary time … My real education came during the evenings when my mother played to us Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Mozart, Chopin or read aloud to us from Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats or Burns. These hours were to us enchanted. Pp12-13.
Most of the novels I read ended in marriage and a blissfully happy state of which there was no more reason to write. But in some of these books, notably George Eliot's "Adam Bede," there is a girl who does not marry, a child that comes unwanted, and the terrible disgrace which falls upon the poor mother. I was deeply impressed by the injustice of this state of things for women, and putting it together with the story of my father and mother, I decided, then and there, that I would live to fight against marriage and for the emancipation of women and for the right for every woman to have a child or children as it pleased her, and to uphold her right and her virtue. P17.
One of the fine things the Soviet Government has done is the abolishment of marriage. With them two people sign their names in a book and under the signature is printed: "This signature involves no responsibility whatever on the part of either party, and can be annulled at the pleasure of wither party." Such a marriage is the only convention to which any free-minded woman could consent, and is the only form of marriage to which I have ever subscribed. Pp17-18.
A dear old lady … told my mother to take me to a famous ballet teacher in San Francisco, but his lessons did not please me. When the teacher told me to stand on my toes I asked him why, and when he replied ("Because it is beautiful"), I said that it was ugly and against nature and after the third lesson I left his class, never to return. P21.
"I have a great idea to put before you, Mr. Daly, and you are probably the only man in this country who can understand it. I have discovered the dance. I have discovered the art which has been lost for two thousand years. Your are a supreme theatre artist, but there is one thing lacking in your theatre which made the old Greek theatre great, and this is the art of the dance--the tragic chorus. Without this it is a head and body without legs to carry it on. I bring you the dance. I bring you the idea that is going to revolutionise our entire epoch. Where have I discovered it? By the Pacific Ocean, by the waving pine-forests of Sierra Nevada. I have seen the ideal figure of youthful America dancing over the top of the Rockies. The supreme poet of our country is Walt Whitman. I have discovered the dance that is worthy of the poem of Walt Whitman. I am indeed the spiritual daughter of Walt Whitman. For the children of America I will create a new dance that will express America. I bring to your theatre the vital soul that it lacks, the soul of the dancer. For you know … that the birth of the theatre was the dance, that the first actor was the dancer. He danced and sang. That was the birth of the tragedy, and until the dancer in all his spontaneous great art return to the theatre, your theatre will not live in its true expression!" P31.
Pantomime to me has never seemed an art. Movement is lyrical and emotional expression, which can have nothing to do with words and in pantomime, people substitute gestures for words, so that it is neither the art of the dancer nor that of the actor, but falls between the two in hopeless sterility. … I always felt I wanted to say of pantomime: "If you want to speak, why don't you speak?" Pp33-35.
My ideas on the dance were to express the feelings and emotions of humanity. P36.
I spent long days and nights in the studio seeking that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body's movement. For hours I would stand quite still, my two hands folded between my breasts, covering the solar plexus. … I was seeking and finally discovered the central spring of all movement, the crater of motor power, the unity from which all diversions of movements are born, the mirror of vision for the creation of the dance--it was from this discovery that was born the theory on which I founded my school. … I … sought the source of the spiritual expression to flow into the channels of the body filling it with vibrating light--the centrifugal force reflecting the spirit's vision. After many months, when I had learned to concentrate all my force to this one Centre I found that thereafter when I listened to music the rays and vibrations of the music streamed to this one fount of light within me--there they reflected themselves in Spiritual Vision not the brain's mirror, but the soul's, and from this vision I could express them in Dance--I have often tried to explain to artists this first basic theory of my Art. Pp75-76.
I applied myself to the task of reading everything that had ever been written on the Art of Dancing, from the earliest Egyptians to the present day, and I made special notes of all I read in a copy-book; but when I had finished this colossal experiment, I realised that the only dance masters I could have were Jean-Jacques Rousseau ("Emile"), Walt Whitman and Nietzsche. P80.
I can remember standing for hours, alone in our cold, bleak studio, waiting for the moment of inspiration to come to me to express myself in movement. At length my spirit would be uplifted, and I would follow the expression of my soul. P84.
"I had come to Europe to bring about a great renaissance of religion through the Dance, to bring the knowledge of the Beauty and Holiness of the human body through its expression of movements." P85.
… when I have doubted myself, I have thought of that admittance and regained confidence: for over my whole life has been shed, like a benediction, the genius of Eugene Carriere, spurring me to keep to my highest ideal, beckoning me always toward a purer visitation in the holy vision of Art, and, strangely, when grief brought me almost to a madhouse, it was the work of Carriere near me that gave me faith to live. Pp92-93.
… we all sat in the box to see Loie Fuller dance. Had this luminous vision that we saw before us any relation to the suffering patient of a few moments before? Before our very eyes she turned to many coloured, shining orchids, to a wavering, flowing sea flower, and at length to a spiral-like lily, all the magic of Merlin, the sorcery of light, colour, flowing form. What an extraordinary genius! No imitator of Loie Fuller has ever been able even to hint at her genius! I was entranced, but I realised that this was sudden ebullition of nature which could never be repeated. She transformed herself into a thousand colourful images before the eyes of her audience. Unbelievable. Not to be repeated or described. Loie Fuller originated all the changing colours and floating Liberty scarves. She was one of the first original inspirations of light and changing colour. I returned to the hotel dazzled and carried away by this marvellous artist. P95.
I went every night to see Loie Fuller, from a box, and I was more and more enthusiastic about her marvelous ephemeral art. That wonderful creature--she became fluid; she became light; she became every colour and flame, and finally she resolved into miraculous spirals of flames wafted toward the Infinite. Pp96-97.
The sorrow, the pains and disillusions of Love, I transformed in my Art. I composed the story of Iphigenia, her farewell to Life on the Altar of Death. P108.
I was … for the first time reading Schopenhauer, and I was carried away by the revelation of his philosophic enlightenment of the relation of music to the will.
This extraordinary spirit, or as the Germans called it geist, of the feeling of Holiness, der Heiligthum des Gedankes (the holiness of thought), that I met, made me often feel as if I had been introduced into a world of superior and Godlike thinkers, the working of whose brains was far vaster, holier, than any I had encountered in the world of my travels. Here, indeed the philosophic conception seemed to be regarded as the highest point of man's satisfaction, only to be equaled by the still holier world of music. P112.
… it was Botticelli who attracted my youthful imagination. I sat for days before the Primavera, the famous painting of Botticelli. Inspired by this picture, I created a dance in which I endeavored to realise the soft and marvelous movements emanating from it; the soft undulation of the flower-covered earth, the circle of nymphs and the flight of the Zephyrs, all assembling about the central figure, half Aphrodite, half Madonna, who indicates the procreation of spring in one significant gesture.
… I thought: "I will dance this picture and give to others this message of love, spring, procreation of life which had been given to me with such anguish. I will give to them, through the dance, such ecstasy." P113.
"Salute, O Olympian Zeus! And Apollo! And Aphrodite! Prepare, O ye Muses, to dance again! Our singing may awaken Dionysus and his sleeping Bacchantes!" P119.
My soul was like a battlefield where Apollo, Dionysus, Christ, Nietzsche and Richard Wagner disputed the ground. P151.
… drama is the spoken word. The spoken word was born from the brain of man. Music is the lyric ecstasy. To expect a possible union between them is unthinkable.
… "Man must speak, then sing, then dance. But the speaking is the brain, the thinking man. The singing is the emotion. The dancing is the Dionysian ecstasy which carries away all. It is impossible to mix in any way, one with the other, Musik-Drama kann nie sein." Pp151-152.
People realised that the human spirit is something that works upward and is unfolded through tremendous energy and vitality. The brain, after all, is but the superfluous energy of the body. The body, like an octopus, will absorb everything it meets and only give to the brain what it finds unnecessary for itself.
Many of the singers of Bayreuth were of enormous stature, but when they opened their mouths their voices issued forth into the world of spirit and beauty where live the eternal gods. This was the reason why I maintained that these people were unconscious of their bodies, which were probably, for them, but masks of tremendous energy and power to express their god-like music. P152.
In the first performance of "Tannhauser," my transparent tunic, showing every part of my dancing body, had created some stir amidst the pink-covered legs of the Ballet … But I was adamant. I would dress and dance exactly my way, or not at all.
"You will see, before many years all your Bachantes and flower maidens will dress as I do." This prophecy was fulfilled. P157.
… I was, a perfect pagan to all, fighting the Philistines. Yet here was a pagan about to be overcome by the ecstasy of a love born of the cult of St. Francis, and according to the rites of the silver trumpet, proclaiming the raising of the Grail. 158.
… I appeared before the elite of St. Petersburg society in the Saal des Nobles. How strange it must have been to those dilettantes of the gorgeous Ballet, with its lavish decorations and scenery, to watch a young girl, clothed in a tunic of cobweb, appear and dance before a simple blue curtain to the music of Chopin; dance her soul as she understood the soul of Chopin! Yet even for the first dance there was a storm of applause. My soul that yearned and suffered the tragic notes of the Preludes; my soul that aspired and revolted to the thunder of the Polonaises; my soul that wept with righteous anger, thinking of the martyrs of that funeral procession of the dawn; this soul awakened in that wealthy, spoilt and aristocratic audience a response of stirring applause. How curious! P163.
I am an enemy to the Ballet, which I consider a false and preposterous art, in fact, outside the pale of all art. But it was impossible not to applaud the fairy-like figure of Kschinsky as she flitted across the stage, more like a lovely bird or butterfly than a human being. P164.
… I received a visit from the lovely Pavlowa; and again I was presented with a box to see her in the ravishing Ballet of Gisele. Although the movement of these dances was against every artistic and human feeling, again I could not resist warmly applauding the exquisite apparition of Pavlowa as she floated over the stage that evening. P164.
… the painter Bakst … who had some clairvoyant powers, read my hand … . He found there two crosses. "You will have great glory," he said, "but you will lose the two creatures whom you love most on earth." At that time this prophecy was a riddle to me. P165.
For three hours I sat tense with bewilderment, watching the amazing feats of Pavlowa. She seemed to be made of steel and elastic. Her beautiful face took on the stern lines of a martyr. She never stopped for one moment. The whole tendency of this training seems to be to separate the gymnastic movements of the body completely from the mind. The mind, on the contrary, can only suffer in aloofness from this rigorous muscular discipline. This is just the opposite from all the theories on which I founded my school, by which the body becomes transparent and is a medium for the mind and spirit. P165.
… I also arose at unheard- of hour of eight o'clock to visit the Imperial Ballet School, where I saw all the little pupils standing in rows, and going through those torturing exercises. They stood on the tips of their toes for hours, like so many victims of a cruel and unnecessary Inquisition. The great, bare dancing-rooms, devoid of any beauty or inspiration, with a large picture of the Tsar as the only relief on the walls, were like a torture chamber. I was more than ever convinced that the Imperial Ballet School is an enemy to nature and to Art. P166.
… when she (Isadora) was asked who taught her to dance, she
"Terpsichore. I danced from the moment I learned to stand on my feet. I have danced all my life. Man, all humanity, the whole world, must dance. This was, and always will be. It is in vain that people interfere with this and do not want to understand a natural need given us by nature." P168.
"Before I go out on the stage, I must place a motor in my soul. When that begins to work my legs and arms and my whole body will move independently of my will. But I do not get time to put that motor in my soul, I cannot dance." P 168.
There were many quarrels for and against my ideals; and one duel was actually fought between a fanatic balletoman and a Duncan enthusiast. It was from that epoch that the Russian ballet began to annex the music of Chopin and Schumann and wear Greek costumes; some ballet dancers even going so far as tto take off their shoes and stockings. P172.
Gymnastics must be the basis of all physical education; it is necessary to give the body plenty of air and light; it is essential to direct its development methodically. It is necessary to draw out all the vital forces of the body towards its fullest development. That is the duty of the professor of gymnastics. After that comes the dance. Into degree of energy, enters the spirit of the dance. For the gymnast, the movement and the culture of the body are an end in themselves, but for the dance they are only the means. The body itself must be forgotten; it is only an instrument, harmonised and well appropriated, and its movements do not express, as in gymnastics, only the movements of a body, but, through that body, they express also the sentiments and thoughts of the soul. P175.
The exercises commenced by a simple gymnastic preparation of the muscles, for their suppleness and their force; it is only after these gymnastic exercises that the first steps of the dance come, the first steps are to learn a simple, rhythmic walk or march, moving slowly to simple rhythm, then, to walk or march quickly to rhythms more complex; then to run, slowly at first, then jump slowly, at a certain moment in the rhythm. By such exercises one learns the notes of the scale of sounds, and thus my pupils learned the notes of the scale of movement. These notes, in consequence, are able to be agents in the most varied and most subtle harmonies of structure. These exercises, moreover, are only a part of their studies. The children were always clothed, too, in free and graceful draperies in their sports, in their playground, in their walks, in the wood; jumping, running naturally, until they should have learned to express themselves by movement as easily as others express themselves through speech or through song.
Their studies and their observation were not to be limited to the forms in art, but were, above all, to spring from the movements in Nature. Pp175-176.
At that time my popularity in Berlin was almost unbelievable. They called me the Gottliche Isadora. It was even bruited about that when sick people were brought into my theatre they became well. And every matinee one could see the strange sight of sick people being brought in on litters. I had never worn any other dress than the little white tunic, bare feet and sandals. And my audience came to my performances with an absolutely religious ecstasy. P179.
… as a rule I never notice the audience when I am dancing--they always seem to me like some great god representing Humanity. P180.
More like an angel of Blake than a mortal youth he (Gordon Craig) appeared. Hardly were my eyes ravished by his beauty than I was drawn toward him, entwined, melted. As flame meets flame, we burned in one bright fire. Here, at last, was my mate; my love; my self--for we were not two, but one, that one amazing being of whom Plato tells in the Phaedrus, two halves of the same soul.
This was not a young man making love to a girl. This was the meeting of twin souls. Pp182-183.
It was my fate to inspire the great love of this genius; and it was my fate to endeavor to reconcile the continuing of my own career with his love. Impossible combination! After the first few weeks of wild, impassioned love-making, there began the waging of the fiercest battle that was ever known, between the genius of Gordon Craig and the inspirations of my Art.
… And yet Gordon Craig appreciates my Art as no one else has ever appreciated it. But his amour propre, his jealousy as an artist, would not allow him to admit that any woman could really be an artist. Pp185-186.
At Stockholm … I visited their Gymnastic Institution, but my visit did not leave me an ardent devotee. It seems to me that Swedish gymnastics are meant for the static, immobile body, but take no account of the living, flowing, human body. Also it regards the muscles as an end in themselves, instead of recognising them merely as the mechanical frame, a never-ending source of growth. The Swedish Gymnasium is a false system of body culture, because it takes no account of the imagination, and thinks of the body as an object, instead of vital kinetic energy. Pp189-190.
If I had only visioned the dance as a Solo, my way would have been quite simple. Already famous, sought after in every country, I had only to pursue a triumphal career. But, alas! I was possessed by the idea of a school--a vast ensemble--dancing the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven. …
I was possessed by the dream of Promethean creation that, at my call, might spring from the Earth, descend from the Heavens, such dancing figures as the world had never seen. Ah, proud, enticing dream that has led my life from one catastrophe to another! …
With these dreams I returned to Grunewald to teach the little group who were already learning to dance with such beauty as to strengthen my faith in the ultimate perfection of an orchestra of dancers--an orchestra which would be to sight what the great symphonies were to sound. P213.
"'There should be no music for such a dance as this,' she (Isadora) says, 'except such music as Pan might make on a reed cut from the river bank, a flute perhaps, a shepherd's pipe--that is all. The other arts--painting, sculpture, music, poetry--have left dancing far behind. It has been practically one of the lost arts, and to try to harmonise it with one so far ahead as music, is difficult and inconsistent. It is to revive that lost art of dancing that I have devoted my life.'" P220.
"' In those far-off days which we are pleased to call Pagan, every emotion had its corresponding movement,' she (Isadora) says. 'Soul, body, mind worked together in perfect harmony. Look at those Hellenic men and maidens caught and imprisoned by sculpture's lure, rather than hacked and chiselled from opposing marble--you can almost tell what they will say to you when they open their lips, and, if they do not open them, what matter, for you know just the same.' P221.
… I felt that my dance really resembled the birth of Athena, springing full-armed from the head of Zeus. Pp224-225.
Perhaps there is no complete joy in life, but only hope. P225.
All money brings a curse with it, and the people who possess it cannot be happy for twenty-four hours. P233.
… I realised that riches and luxury do not create contentment! It is certainly more difficult for rich people to accomplish anything serious in life. P238.
I believe that in each life there is a spiritual line, an upward curve, and all that adheres to and strengthens this line is our real life--the rest is but as chaff falling from us as our souls progress. Such a spiritual line is my Art. My our souls progress. Such a spiritual line is my Art. My life has known but two motives--Love and Art--and often Love destroyed Art, and often the imperious call of Art put a tragic end to Love. For these two have no accord, but only constant battle. P239.
The tour in America was most happy, successful and prosperous, for money attracts money, until one day in January a very nervous lady came into my loge and exclaimed, "But, my dear Miss Duncan, it's plainly visible from the front row, You can't continue like this."
And I replied, "… that's just what I mean my dancing to express--Love--Woman--Formation--Springtime. Botticelli's picture, you know--the fruitful Earth--the three dancing Graces enceinte--the Madonna--the Zephyrs enceinte also. Everything rustling, promising New life. That is what my Dance mean--" Pp241-242.
No wonder that I felt inclined to become a Communist when I so often had exemplified for me the fact that for a rich man to find happiness was like Sisyphus trying to roll his stone up-hill from Hell. P247.
L (Lohengrin). Took it into his head that we should be married, although I protested to him that I was against marriage.
"How stupid for an artist to be married," I said, "and as I must spend my life making tours round the world, how could you spend your life in the stage-box admiring me?" P247.
… I certainly was not suited to domestic life, … for the hundredth time, I made a firm decision that hereafter I would give my entire life to Art, which though a hard task-master, is a hundred per cent more grateful than human beings. Pp251-252.
"It has been quoted that I have said unkind things about America. Perhaps I have--that does not mean that I do not love America. Perhaps it means that I love America too much. I once knew a man who was passionately in love with a woman who would have nothing to say to him, and teated him badly, Every day he wrote her an insulting letter. When she asked him, 'Why do you write me such rude things?' he replied, 'Because I love you so madly.' P252.
"Build a simple, beautiful theatre. You don't need to gild it; no need of all those ornaments and fal-lals. Fine art comes from the Human Spirit and needs no externals. In our School we have no costumes, no ornaments--just the beauty that flows from the inspired human soul, and the body that is its symbol, and if my Art has taught you anything here, I hope it has taught you that. Beauty is to be looked for and found in children; … children … are my pearls and my diamonds: I want no others. Give beauty and freedom and strength to the children. Give art to the people who need it." P253.
"Great music should no longer be kept for the delight of a few cultured people, it should be given free to the masses: it is as necessary for them as air and bread, for it is the Spiritual Wine of Humanity." Pp253-254.
I had always prophesied a great Artist to come who would combine the two gifts of creating music and dancing simultaneously, and when my little boy danced, it seemed to me that he might become the one who would create the new dance born from the new music.
Not only was I allied to these two adorable children by the poignant tie of flesh and blood, but I also had with them a higher bond to an almost superhuman degree, the tie of Art. P 266.
[After Isadora's children died]
I have heard people speak of the ennobling influence of sorrow. I can only say that those last few days of my life, before the blow fell, were actually the last days of my spiritual life. Ever since then I have had only one desire--to fly-- to fly--to fly from the Horror of it, and my life has been but a series of weird flights from it all, resembling the sad Wandering Jew, the Flying Dutchman; and all life has been to me but as a phantom ship upon a phantom ocean. P267.
How empty and dark would life be without them [Deirdre and Patrick], for more than my Art and a thousand times more than the love of any man, they had filled and crowded my life with happiness. P271.
I saw every one about me weeping, but I did not weep. On the contrary, I felt an immense desire to console every one. … Was it that I was really in a state of clairvoyance, and that I knew that death does not exist--that those two little cold images of wax were not my children, but merely their castoff garments? That the souls of my children lived in radiance, but lived for ever?
Only twice comes that cry of the mother which one hears as without one's self--at birth and at death. For when I felt in mine those little cold hands that would never again press mine in return, I heard my cries--the same cries as I had heard at their births. Why the same? Since one is the cry of supreme joy and the other of sorrow. I do not know why, but I know they are the same. Is it not that in all the Universe there is but one great cry containing Sorrow, Joy, Ecstasy, Agony--the Mother Cry of Creation? P275.
From my earliest childhood I have always felt a great antipathy for anything connected with churches or Church dogma. The readings of Ingersoll and Darwin, and Pagan philosophy had strengthened this antipathy. I am against the modern code of marriage, and I think the modern idea of a funeral is ghastly and ugly to a degree of barbarism. As I had the courage to refuse marriage and to refuse to have my children baptised, so now I refused to admit in their death the mummery of what one calls Christian burial. I had one desire--that this horrible accident should be transformed into beauty. P276.
… of course my endeavour to express this was criticised and resented by many orthodox religionists, who considered that because I wanted to say farewell to my loved ones in Harmony, Colour, Light and Beauty, and because I brought their bodies to the Crematorium instead of putting them in the earth to be devoured by worms, I was a heartless and terrible woman. How long must we wait before some intelligence will prevail among us in Life, in Love--in Death? P277.
I returned to my Neuilly studio. I had some definite plan to end my own life. How could I go on--after losing the children? Only it was the words of the little girls of my School, who stood around me--"Isadora, live for us. Are we not also your children?"--that awakened me to the task of soothing the grief of these other children, who stood there weeping their hearts out for the death of Deirdre and Patrick. P277.
She [Eleanora Duse] used to rock me in her arms, consoling my pain, but not only consoling, for she seemed to take my sorrow to her own breast, and I realised that if I had not been able to bear the society of other people, it was because they all played the comedy of other people, it was because they all played the comedy of trying to cheer me with forgetfulness. Whereas Eleanora said:
"Tell me about Deirdre and Patrick," and made me repeat to her all their little sayings and ways, and show her their photos, which she kissed and cried over. She never said, "Cease to grieve," but she grieved with me, and, for the first time since their death, I felt I was not alone. For Eleanora Duse was a super-being. Her heart was so great it could receive the tragedy of the world, her spirit the most radiant that has ever shone through the dark sorrows of this earth. Often when I walked with her by the sea, it seemed to me that her head was among the stars, her hands reached to the mountain tops. P292.
I believed that this school at Bellevue would be permanent and that I should spend there all the years of my life, and leave there all the results of my work.
In the month of June we gave a Festival at Trocadero. I sat in a loge watching my pupils dance. At certain parts of the programme the audience rose and shouted with enthusiasm and joy. At the close they applauded at such length that they would not leave. I believe that this extraordinary enthusiasm for children who were in no wise trained dancers or artists, was enthusiasm for the hope of some new movement in humanity which I had dimly foreseen. These were indeed the gestures of the Vision of Nietzsche:
"Zarathustra the dancer, Zarathustra the light one, who beckoneth with his pinions, one ready for flight, beckoning unto all birds, ready and prepared, a blissfully light-spirited one."
These were the future dancers of the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven. Pp300-301.
In 100 A.D. there stood on one of the hills of Rome a school, known as the "Seminary of Dancing Priests of Rome." … Although they were taught all the arts and philosophies, dancing was their chief expression. … they descended from their hill to Rome, where they took part in certain ceremonies and danced before the people for the purification of those who beheld them. These boys danced with such happy ardour and purity, that their dance influenced and elevated their audience as medicine for sick souls. It was of such expression that I dreamed when I first formed my School, and I believed that Bellevue, standing on an Acropolis near Paris might have the same significance to that city and its artists as the School of the Dancing Priests of Rome. P302.
… in the month of July of that year 1914, a strange oppression came over the earth. … While I had been planning the renaissance of the Art of the Theatre, and festivals of great human joy and exaltation, other forces had been planning war, death and disaster, and alas! What was my small force against the onrush of all this? Pp304-305.
[about third baby]
Finally, I heard the baby's cry -- he cried -- he lived. Great as had been my fear and horror in that terrible year, it was now all gone in one great shock of joy. Mourning and sorrow and tears, long waiting and pain all made up for by one great moment of joy. Surely if there is a God He is a great stage director. All those long hours of mourning and fear were transformed to joy when they placed a beautiful boy baby in my arms.
… I whispered, "Who are you, Deirdre or Patrick? You have returned to
me." Suddenly the little creature stared at me and then gasped, as if choking
for breath and a long whistling sigh came from his icy lips. I called the nurse
After an hour of anguished waiting, Augustin came in and said:
"Poor Isadora -- your baby -- has died --"
I believe that in that moment I reached the height of any suffering that can come to me on earth, for in that death it was as if the others died again -- it was like a repetition of the first agony -- with something added. Pp306-307.
For in those days of the war every one felt the same enthusiasm. …
… we were all flame and fire, and even the artists said, "What is Art?" The boys are giving their lives, the soldiers are giving their lives --what is Art? And if I had had any intelligent sense at that time, I should have said, "Art is greater than life," and would have remained in my studio creating Art. But I went with the rest of the world and said, "Take all these beds, take this house that was made for Art, and make a hospital to nurse the wounded." P308.
Bernard Shaw says that as long as men torture and slay animals and eat their
flesh, we shall have war. I think all sane, thinking people must be of his
opinion. The children of my School were all vegetarians and grew strong and
beautiful on a vegetable and fruit diet. Sometimes during the war when I heard
the cries of the wounded I thought of the cries of the animals in the slaughter
house, and I felt that as we torture these poor defenseless creatures so the
gods torture us. Who loves this horrible thing called War? Probably the meat
eaters, having killed, feel the need to kill -- kill birds, animals -- the
tender stricken deer -- hunt foxes.
The butcher with his bloody apron incites bloodshed, murder. Why not? From cutting the throat of a young calf to cutting the throat of our brothers and sisters is but a step. While we are ourselves the living graves of murdered animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on the earth? P309.
… I walked along the beach, … The tide was coming in fast, and often I walked through the incoming waves. Although it was very cold, I felt a great desire to face them and walk straight into the sea, to end for ever the intolerable grief from which I could find no relief either in Art, in the rebirth of a child, or in love. In every effort to escape, I found only destruction, agony, death. P314.
Coming from bleeding, heroic France, I was indignant at the apparent indifference of America to the War, and one night, after a performance at the Metropolitan Opera House, I folded my red shawl around me and improvised the "Marseillaise." It was call to the boys of America to rise and protect the highest civilisation of our epoch--that culture which has come to the world through France. P316.
At that moment all New York had the "jazz" dance craze. Women and men of the best society, old and young, spent their in the huge salons of such hotels as the Biltmore, dancing the fox trot to the barbarous yaps and cries of the Negro orchestra. I was invited to one or two gala dances at the time, and could not restrain my indignation that this should be going on while France was bleeding and needing the help of America. In fact the whole atmosphere in 1915 disgusted me, and I determined to return with my School to Europe. Pp317-318.
As I advance in these memoirs, I realise more and more the impossibility of writing one's life--or rather, the lives of all the different people I have been. Incidents which seemed to me to last a lifetime have taken only a few pages: intervals that seemed thousands of years of suffering and pain and through which, in sheer self-defence, in order to go on living, I emerged an an entirely different person, do not appear at all long here. I often ask myself desperately, What reader is going to be able to clothe with flesh the skelton that I have presented? I am trying to write down the truth, but the truth runs away and hides from me. How find the truth? If I were a writer, and had written of my life twenty novels or so, it would be nearer the truth. And then, after I had written these novels, I should have to write the story of the Artist, which would be a story quite apart from all the others. For my artist life and thoughts of Art have grown quite aloof, and grow still, life a separate organism, seemingly quite independent of what I call my Will.
Still here I am, trying to write the truth of all that happened to me and I greatly fear that it will turn out an awful mess. But there you are I have begun the impossible task of putting this record of my life on paper and will go on with it to the end, although I can already hear the voices of all the so-called good women of the world saying: "A most disgraceful history." "All her misfortunes are only a just requital of her sins." But I am not conscious of having sinned. Nietzsche says, "woman is a mirror," and I have only reflected and reacted to the people and forces that have seized me and, like the heroines of the "Metamorphoses" of Ovid, have changed from and character accoring to the decree of the immortal gods. Pp323-324.
Art gives form and harmony to what in life is chaos and discord. A good novel works up artistically to a certain climax, and has no anti-climax. Love in Art ends, as for Isolde, with a tragic and beautiful closing note, but Life is full of anti-climaxes, and a love affair in real life generally ends with a discord, and that in the very middle of a musical phrase, leaving a strident, clamorous dissonance. And often in real life a love affair after its culmination revives again only to die a miserable death on the tomb of financial reclamations and lawyers' fee. Pp325-326.
He [Arnold Genthe] is not only a genius but a wizard. He had left painting for photography but this photography was most weird and magical. It is true he pointed his camera at people and took their photographs, but the pictures were never photographs of his sitters but his hypnotic imagination of them. He has taken many pictures of me which are not representations of my physical being but representations of conditions of my soul, and one of them is my very soul indeed. P327.
As a parenthesis, you may notice in this autobiography that I have always been faithful to my loves, and in fact would probably never have left any of them if the they had been faithful to me. For just as I once loved them, I love them still and for ever. If I have parted from so many, I can only blame the fickleness of men and the cruelty of Fate. P328.
The most terrible part of a great sorrow is not the beginning, when the shock of grief throws one into a state of exaltation which is almost anaesthetic in its effects, but afterwards, long afterwards, when people say, "Oh, she has gotten over it"--or "She is all right now, she outlived it"; when one is, perhaps, at what might be considered a merry dinner-party to feel Grief with one icy hand oppressing the heart, or clutching at one's throat with the other burning claw. Ice and Fire, Hell and Despair, overcoming all, and, lifting the glass of champagne, one endeavors to stifle this misery in whatever forgetfulness--possible or impossible.
This was the state I had now reached. All my friends said: "She has forgotten; she has outlived," whereas the sight of any little child who entered the room suddenly, calling "Mother" stabbed my heart, twisted my whole being with such anguish that the brain could only cry out for Lethe, for Oblivion, in one form or another, and from this horrible suffering I aspired to create new life, to create Art. Ah, how I envy the resignation of those nuns who pray with pale lips, murmuring incessant prayers all through the night before the coffins of strangers. Such temperaments are the envy of the artist who revolts, who cries, "I will love, love, create joy, joy." What a Hell! Pp331-332.
In early 1917 I was a appearing at the Metropolitan Opera House. At that time I believed … that the whole world's hope of liberty, regeneration and civilisation depended on the Allies winning the war, so at the end of each performance I danced the "Marseillaise," with the entire audience standing. This did not prevent me from giving my concerts of Richard Wagner's music, and I think that all intelligent people will agree that the boycotting of German Artists during the War was unjust and stupid.
On the day of the announcement of the Russian Revolution all lovers of freedom were filled with hopeful joy, and that night I danced the "Marseillaise" in the real original Revolutionary spirit in which it was composed, and followed it with my interpretation of the "Marche Slav," in which appears the Hymn to the Tsar, and I pictured the downtrodden serf under the lash of the whip.
This antithesis or dissonance of gesture against music roused some storm in the audience.
It is strange that in all my Art career it has been these movements of despair and revolt that have most attracted me. In my red tunic I have constantly danced the Revolution and the call to arms of the oppressed.
On the night of the Russian Revolution I danced with a terrible fierce joy. My heart was bursting within me at the release of all those who had suffered, been tortured, died in the cause of Humanity. P334.
…when we returned to New York, I found myself without any funds and after two distracted months accepted a contract for California.
… Just before my arrival I had heard the news, which the papers had brought, of the death of Rodin. The thought that I should never see my great friend again made me weep so much that on seeing the reporters waiting on the platform at Oakland to interview me, not wishing them to notice my swollen eyes, I covered my face with a black lace veil, which caused them to write next day that I had affected an air of mystery. P336.
In San Francisco I met my mother again, whom I had not seen for some years, as, from an unacountable feeling of homesickness, she refused to live in Europe. She looked very old and careworn … I could not help contrasting my sad face and the haggard looks of my mother with the two adventurous spirits who had set out nearly twenty-two years go with such high hopes to seek fame and fortune. Both had been found--why was the result so tragic? Probably because that is the natural sequel of life on this most unsatisfactory globe, where the very first conditions are hostile to man. I have met many great artists and intelligent and so-called successful people in my life, but never one who could be called a happy being, although some may have made a very good bluff at it. Behind the mask, with any clairvoyance, one can divine the same uneasiness and suffering. Perhaps in this world so-called happiness does not exist. There are only moments. P337.
… I met my musical twin-soul--the pianist Harold Bauer. To my amazement and delight he told me that I was more of a musician than a dancer and that my art had taught him the meaning of otherwise inscrutable phrases of Bach, Chopin and Beethoven. For some miraculous weeks we experienced a wonderful collaboration of art, for, just as he assured me that I had opened to him secrets of his art, so he showed me interpretations of my own which I had not dreamed.
… Unlike most musicians, his scope was not limited to music alone, but embraced a fine appreciation of all art and a wide intellectual knowledge of poetry and the deepest philosophy. When two lovers of the same high ideal of Art meet, a certain drunkenness possesses them. For days we lived in a high degree of intoxication without wine, through every nerve a trembling, surging hope… Pp337-338.
Meeting with Harold Bauer placed me once more in that marvelous atmosphere of light and joy which only comes from association with such an illuminated soul. I had hoped that this might continue and that we might discover an entire new domain of musical expression together. But, alas, I had not reckoned on circumstance. Our collaboration ended with a forced and dramatic separation. P337.
In spite of the enthusiasm of the select audiences who filled the Columbia, I was despondent at the lack of response of my native town to support my ideal of a future School. P339.
It has often made me smile--but somewhat ironically--when people have called my dancing Greek, for I myself count its origin in the stories which my Irish grandmother often told us of crossing the plains with grandfather in '49 in a covered wagon--she eighteen, he twenty-one, …
… my grandmother, thinking of Ireland, used often to sing the Irish songs and dance the Irish jigs, only fancy that into these Irish jigs had crept some of the heroic spirit of the Pioneer and the battle with the Redskins-probably some of the gestures of the Redskins themselves and, again, a bit of Yankee Doodle, when Grandfather Colonel Thomas Gray came marching home from the Civil War. All this grandmother danced in the Irish jig, and I learnt it from her, putting into it my own aspiration of Young America, and, finally, my great spiritual realisation of life from the lines of Walt Whitman. And that is the origin of the so-called Greek Dance with which I have flooded the world.
That was the origin--the root--but afterwards, coming to Europe, I had three great Masters, the three great precursors of the Dance of our century--Beethoven, Nietzsche and Wagner. Beethoven created the Dance in Spirit. Nietzsche was the first dancing philosopher. P 340-341.
I often wonder where is the American composer who will hear Walt Whitman's America singing, and who will compose the true music for the American Dance which will contain no Jazz rhythm--no rhythm from the waist down, but from the Solar Plexus, the temporal home of the soul, upwards to the Star-Spangled Banner of the great sky which arches over that stretch of land from the Pacific, over the Plains, over the Sierra Nevadas, over the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic. I pray you, young American composer, create the music for the dance that shall express the America of Walt Whitman--the America of Abraham Lincoln. P341.
How grotesque that they have encouraged in America Schools of, so-called, bodily culture, of Swedish gymnastics, and the ballet. The real American type can never be a ballet dancer. The legs are too long, the body too supple and the spirit too free for this school of affected grace and toe-walking. It is notorious that all great ballet dancers have been very short women with small frames. A tall, finely made woman could never dance the ballet. The type that expresses America at its best could never dance the ballet. By the wildest trick of the imagination you could not picture the Goddess of Liberty dancing the ballet. Then why accept this school in America? P342.
Why should our children bend the knee in that fastidious and servile dance, the Minuet, or twirl in the mazes of the false sentimentality of the Waltz? Rather let them come forth with great strides, leaps and bounds, with lifted forehead and far-spread arms, to dance the language of our Pioneers, the Fortitude of our heroes, the Justice, Kindnesss, Purity of our statesmen, and all the inspired love and tenderness of our Mothers. When the American children dance in this way, it will make of them beautiful beings, worthy of the name of the Greatest Democracy.
That will be America Dancing. P343.
Just as there are days when my life seems to have been a Golden Legend studded with precious jewels, a flowery field with multitudes of blossoms, a radiant morn with love and happiness crowning every hour; when I have found no words to express my ecstasy and joy of life; when the idea of my Schools seems a ray of genius, or when I actually believe that, although not tangible, my School is a great success; when my Art is a resurrection; so there are other days when, trying to recollect my life, I am filled only with a great disgust and a feeling of utter emptiness. The past seems but a series of catastrophes and the future a certain calamity, and my School the hallucination emanating from the brain of a lunatic.
What is the truth of a human life, and who can find it? God Himself would be puzzled. In the midst of all this anguish and delight; this filth and this luminous purity; this fleshly body filled with hell fire, and this same body alight with heroism and beauty -- where is the truth? God knows, or the devil knows -- but I suspect they are both puzzled.
… my mind is like a stainedglass window through which I see beautiful and fantastic beauties -- marvelous forms and richest colours, and, on other days, I look only through dull, grey-glass windows and view the dull grey rubbish heap called Life. P344.
… I had also always had the companionship of men who were more or less neurasthenic and either sunk in deepest gloom or buoyed up to sudden joy by drink … P345.
When I arrived in London, … I had not the money to go on to Paris, so I took a lodging in Duke Street, … Alone and ill, without a cent, my School destroyed and the war appearing to go on interminably, I used to sit at the dark window at night and watch the air raids, and wish that a bomb might fall on me to end my troubles. Suicide is so tempting. I have often thought of it, but something always holds me back. Certainly if suicide pellets were sold in drug stores as plainly as some preventives, I think the intelligentsia of all countries would doubtless disappear over night in conquered agony. Pp345-346.
There is a song of Wagner's that I love --"The Angel" -- which tells of a spirit sitting in utter sadness and desolation, to whom comes an Angel of Light, and such an Angel then came to me, in these dark days, when a friend brought Walter Rummel, the pianist, to see me.
When he entered I thought he was the picture of the youthful Liszt, come out of its frame … He played for me. I called him my Archangel. … I composed new dances to the inspiration of his playing, dances all comprised of prayer and sweetness and light, and once more my spirit came to life, drawn back by the heavenly melodies which sang beneath the touch of his fingers. This was the beginning of the most hallowed and ethereal love of my life.
No one has ever played Liszt as my Archangel played him, because he has the vision. He sees beyond the written score what frenzy really means, and frenzy spoken daily with angels. P347.
… each time a new love came to me, in the form of Demon or Angel or Simple Man, I believed that this was the only one for whom I had waited so long, that this love would be the final resurrection of my life. But I suppose love always brings this conviction. Each love affair in my life would have made a novel, and they all ended badly. I have always waited for that one which would end well, and last for ever and ever -- like the optimistic cinemas!
The miracle of Love is the varied themes and key in which it can be played, and the love of one man compared to another may be as different as hearing the music of Beethoven compared to the music of Puccini, and the instrument that gives the response to these melodious players is Woman. And I suppose a woman who has known but one man is like a person who has heard only one composer. P348.
The war was over. We watched the Victory march through the Arc de Triomphe, and we shouted, "The World is saved." P349.
… in the studio our [Isadora and Walter Rummel] two arts blended into one in a marvellous manner, while under his influence my dance became etherealised. He was the first to initiate me to the full spiritual meaning of the works of Franz Liszt, of whose music we composed an entire Recital. …
There we spent holy hours, our united souls borne up by the mysterious force which possessed us. Often as I danced and he played, as I lifted my arms and my soul went up from my body in the long flight of the silver strains of the Grail, it seemed as if we had created a spiritual entity quite apart from ourselves, and, as sound and gesture flowed up to the Infinite, another answer echoed from above.
I believe that from the psychic force of this musical movement, when our two spirits were so attuned in the holy energy of love, we were on the verge of another world. … If my Archangel and I had pursued these studies further, I have no doubt that we might have arrived at the spontaneous creation of movements of such spiritual force as to bring a new revelation to mankind. Pp350-351.
The painter Edward Steichen … took many lovely pictures in the Acropolis and in the theatre of Dionysus, which faintly foreshadowed the splendid vision I longed to create in Greece. P352.
In the spring of the year 1921 I received the following telegram from the
"The Russian Government alone can understand you. Come to us: we will make your School."
From whence did this message come? From Hell? No -- but the nearest
place to it. What stood for Hell in Europe -- from the Soviet Government of
Moscow. And looking round my empty house, void of my Archangel, of Hope and of
Love, I answered:
"Yes, I will come to Russia, and I will teach your children, on one condition, that you give me a studio and the wherewithal to work."
The answer was "Yes," … Pp357-358.
Before leaving London I went to a fortune-teller, who said, "You are bound on a long journey. You will have many strange experiences, you will have troubles, you will marry --"
But at the word "marry," I cut her short with laughter. I, who was always against marriage? I would never marry. The fortune-teller said "Wait and see." P358.
On the way to Russia I had the detached feeling of a soul after death making its way to another sphere. I thought I had left all the forms of European life behind me for ever. I actually believed that the ideal State, such as Plato, Karl Marx and Lenin had dreamed it, had now by some miracle been created on earth. With all the energy of my being, disappointed in the attempts to realise any of my art visions in Europe, I was ready to enter the ideal domain of Comunism.
… As the boat proceeded northwards, I looked back with contempt and pity at all the old institutions and habits of bourgeois Europe that I was leaving. Henceforth to be a comrade among comrades, to carry out a vast plan to work for this generation of humanity. Adieu then Inequality, Injustice and the brutality of the Old World which had made my School impossible.
… Now for the beautiful New World that had been created! Nor for the World of Comrades. The dream that had been conceived in the head of Buddha; the dream that had resounded through the words of Christ; the dream that has been the ultimate hope of all great artists; the dream that Lenin had by a great magic turned to reality. I was entering now into this dream that my work and life might become a part of its glorious promise.
Adieu Old World! I would hail a New World. Pp358-359.
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