Loïe Fuller and Salome: The Unveiling of a Myth
Loïe Fuller was born Mary-Louise Fuller in Illinois in 1862 and from the tenderest age she began performing on stage, in genres ranging from temperance recitations to popular theatre. At the age of sixteen, she changed her name, moved to New York with her mother and brother Burt and began in earnest a career in vaudeville and burlesque. She got all sorts of jobs, including a touring production with Buffalo Bill’s The Wild West Show. From the mid-1880s she started experimenting with veil- and skirt-dances accompanied by ingenious lighting effects. In her autobiography, however, she chooses to recount the artistic epiphany that turned her into ‘the’ artiste of the Parisian fin-de-siècle: in 1891 she played a young widow hypnotized by a doctor in a play called Quack, M. D.2 Dressed in a voluminous costume of her own making, Fuller danced an interpretation of the unconscious state provoked by suggestion. Thus the ‘serpentine dance’ was born. After successes in New York, she decided to take her new act to Paris, and was immediately engaged by the Folies-Bergère, where she made her debut in October 1892. By this time, she had refined her costumes, which now included curved bamboo or aluminium wands that enabled her to shape the fabric into gigantic swirling sculptures. At the same time, coloured spotlights were projected onto the fabric, dying the silken shapes a variety of vivid colours. The audience saw not a woman but a giant violet, a butterfly,...
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