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Isadora Duncan – The Woman Behind the Song

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ANGELA DUNCAN, better known as ISADORA DUNCAN, the Mother of Modern Dance,” was born in San Francisco, California, on May 26 or 27, 1877, or 1878.
Duncan is best known as an American dancer whose teaching and performances helped free ballet from its conservative restrictions. She was also among the first to raise interpretive dance to the status of creative art.
Duncan was one of four children raised by a poor but proud mother, music teacher, and supporter of the arts. As a child, she rejected the rigidity of classical ballet and based her dancing on natural rhythms and movements, an approach she later used in her interpretations of the works of great composers such as Brahms, Wagner, and Beethoven. Her early public appearances in Chicago and New York were unsuccessful.
At 21, with little money, she set sail for England. At the British Museum, Duncan studied the sculptures of ancient Greece, which confirmed the use of dance movements and gestures she instinctually practiced. Through the patronage of the actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Duncan was invited to appear at the private receptions of London’s leading hostesses, where her dancing, distinguished by complete freedom of movement, enraptured those who were only familiar with conventional forms of ballet. Before long, the young, daring, barefoot, scantily clad dancer became all the rage in Europe.
During a controversial tour of Russia in 1905, Duncan made a deep impression on the choreographer Michel Fokine and the art critic Serge Diaghilev, which led to a resurgence of ballet throughout Western Europe. Also, Duncan toured widely and founded dance schools in Germany, Russia, and the United States, though none survive today.
Duncan’s private life was turbulent. The father of her first child was the stage designer Gordon Craig. Patrick, the father of her second child, was a singer, heir to a sewing machine fortune, and an arts patron. In 1913, whild driving in Paris, her two children and nurse were riding rolled into the Seine River, and all three drowned. Duncan never fully recovered from the tragedy.
Duncan’s tours in South America, Germany, and France were moderately successful, but in 1920, she was invited to establish a school in Moscow. There, she met Sergey Aleksandrovich Yesenin, who was seventeen years younger. They married in 1922 and toured the United States during a time when the fear of the “Red Menace” (Communism) was at its height, and she and her husband were unjustly accused of being Bolshevik agents. Leaving her native country once more, a bitter Duncan told reporters, “Goodbye America, I shall never see you again.” This was followed by a painful period with Yesenin in Europe, where his increasing mental instability turned him against her. Later, Yesenin returned to the Soviet Union and committed suicide.
During the last years of her life, Duncan lived in Nice on the French Riviera, where she met with a fatal accident when her long scarf became entangled in the spokes of the rear wheel of a car and accidentally and tragically strangled her.
How did Isadora Duncan come to the attention of the prolific Puerto Rican composer Tite Curet Alonso? In an interview with the “Herencia Latina” portal, Curet Alonso confessed, “I didn’t know who Isadora Duncan was. Someone asked if I’d seen the film ‘Isadora’ (1968) starring Vanessa Redgrave, and I had not.” Sometime later, Tite Curet sought to compose a song and called the singer Nydia Caro, who owned a nightclub called “Isadora.” Caro suggested he read a book about the history of dancers, which he did. Afterward, Tite Curet concluded, “Isadora was a revolutionary like the Cuban singer and firebrand La Lupe, who broke all the song norms. Isadora took off her clothes in the Bolshoi theater in Russia and danced in cemeteries and on top of graves. She died by hanging.” As the story goes, Tite Curet composed “Isadora” in thirty minutes.
Shortly after, musician, composer, and bandleader Louie Ramírez arranged the single “Isadora,” released on the Fania All-Stars album “Cross Over” in 1970. The production featured Rubén Blades, Tito Allen, Adalberto Santiago, Néstor Sánchez, Johnny Pacheco, and Jimmy Sabater in the chorus. The song became a hit and immortalized Duncan.
Unfortunately, when “Isadora” was released, Cuban extremists accused Celia Cruz of praising a communist. At first, Celia and her husband, Pedro Knight, ignored the criticism. However, later, Knight convinced Celia to apologize over the airwaves. Consequently, she never performed the song again.
Today, the “Mother of Modern Dance” is the subject of over forty books, countless drawings, paintings, sculptures, two major motion pictures, a dozen TV documentaries, and several plays and poems. Unfortunately, they do not mention Tite Curet Alonso’s contribution to Duncan’s legacy.


SOURCES

Duncan, Isadora – My Life (Liverlight, 2013)
Ferrando, Alvarez Antionio – Salserisimpperu.com
Flores, Aurora – Contributor

2 COMMENTS

  1. Too bad those crazy Cuban Miami extremists actúa accused Celia of singing about a communist with this song. At first, they righteously ignored the criticism but then Celia’s husband Pedro caved and made her apologize over the radio waves. She never sang the song again!

  2. Aurora, Hope all is well. Thanks for the info. I was not aware. With your permission, I would like to add your comment to the piece. Palante! Tomas

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