Dance Preview: ISADORA (Segerstrom in Costa Mesa)

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by Gregory Bernard on August 1, 2018

in Dance,Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


On September 14, 1927, dancer and San Francisco native Isadora Duncan was strangled in Nice, France, when the enormous silk scarf (“which she had worn since she took up communism,” one newspaper reported) somehow blew into the well of the rear wheel on the passenger side of the sportscar she was learning to drive. It wound around the axle, tightening around Duncan’s neck and dragging her from the car and onto the cobblestone street. (“Affectations,” said Gertrude Stein when she heard the news of Duncan’s death, “can be dangerous.”)

This tragic accident, and many others in her 49-year life span, propelled Duncan into the firmament forever, but I wonder how many know of her unconventional approach to dancing. World-famous at the time of her death, she took inspiration from the classical Greek arts and combined them with an American athleticism to form a new philosophy of dance, in opposition to the rigidity of traditional ballet — this is precisely what provoked her to move to Europe in 1898, where she became enormously successful. The trailblazer’s raison d’être, aside from establishing a new dance vocabulary and educating youth, was simply the creation of beauty.

Now, a brand new full-length ballet about this gorgeous, glamorous genius will play at Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa for four performances only, August 10-12, 2018. Using the score to Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella  — which will be played live with conductor Pavel Sorokin and the Mikhailovsky Orchestra — choreographer Vladimir Varnava and co-librettist Konstantin Fedorov designed this exciting world premiere specifically for Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova, who is easily the greatest dancer I have ever seen (her Giselle for the Royal Ballet was one for the books). (Just so you see the exhaustive work it takes to prepare, below is a clip of a ballet rehearsal with Varnava and Osipova, who is renowned for her lightness and high jump.)

Along with Galya Solodovnikova’s original multi-media sets (including a 1927 Bugatti roadster shipped from Wisconsin) and costumes, and Konstantin Binkin’s lights, the contemporary dance ballet features a company of 25 dancers and Russian ballerina Veronika Part, who will be the only artist en pointe as “The Ballerina.”

Duncan lived a self-consciously bohemian, eccentric life offstage as well: She was a feminist and a Darwinist, an advocate of free love and a Communist. (For this, her American citizenship was revoked in the early 1920s.) Meanwhile, her life was a tragic one, especially when it came to automobiles: In 1913, her two small children drowned when the car they were riding in plunged over a bridge and into the Seine in Paris, and Duncan herself was seriously injured in car accidents in 1913 and 1924.

The piece will not be strictly autobiographical, but will definitely have an overview of the triumphs and tragedies in this maverick’s life, as well as her stunning technique. It’s also an inspection behind the things that drove her to delve into dance and develop her signature style, one which celebrated independence and self-expression. (You’ll meet — among others — her family, Lenin, a dance teacher, a muse, and a scoundrel husband, Yesenin. Her improvisational and emotional works were choreographed, she said, “to rediscover the beautiful, rhythmical motions of the human body.” And that you will most certainly get from Osipova. After Isadora completes its run at Segerstrom Center, the production will move to Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theater September 21 and 22.

photos by Doug Gifford (click on picture for larger image)
photographic study of Isadora Duncan made in New York by Arnold Genthe

Segerstrom Center
600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa
Friday August 10, 2018 at 7:30
Saturday, August 11, 2018 at 2 and 7:30
Sunday, August 12, 2018 at 1
for tickets, call 714.556.2787 or visit SCFTA

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