A new movie pays tribute to Loie Fuller, a woman who was once the toast of the Belle Époque cabarets of Paris.
Most people seem to remember the San Francisco-born Isadora Duncan, the embodiment of nature and the ancient Greeks, who died in Nice in 1927 when the enormous silk scarf she was wearing got tangled in the rear hubcaps of her open car. Few however seem to remember her fellow countrywoman and contemporary, Loie Fuller, whose ‘serpentine dance’ took Paris and then the world by storm at the turn of the century.
Thankfully, a recent French movie, Stéphanie Di Giusto’s directorial debut, The Dancer, is setting the record straight, paying tribute to Fuller, who was admired by the likes of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the Lumière Brothers, and Auguste Rodin.
The beautifully crafted 19th-century drama premiered earlier this year in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and opened last week throughout France. It offers a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Loie Fuller, from her childhood in the mid-west to her much acclaimed performance at the Paris Opera. Portrayed by French musician-turned-actress, Soko, Fuller is mesmerizing as she whirls and twirls among hundreds of yards of silk, her arms extended by long wooden rods, until her whole body disappears into a storm of shifting shapes, be they butterflies or flowers. The American pioneer was a master of theatrical artifice and modern technology, and Di Giusto manages to turn Fuller’s iconic pieces into sumptuous dance sequences.
The artist’s downfall, however, came when she encountered Isadora Duncan, who first saw her perform at the 1900 Universal Exposition. Both women were seen as polar opposites. Indeed, while one was perceived as androgynous, hard-working, and always experimenting with the latest lighting effects, the other was seen as highly feminine, romantic, and waiting for divine inspiration.
In The Dancer, Duncan is played by Lily-Rose Depp, the daughter of Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp, who dazzles in her first big role. The high-profile international cast also includes Gaspard Ulliel (Saint Laurent), Melanie Thierry (The Zero Theorem), Francois Damiens (Heartbreaker), and Louis-Do du Lencquesaing (Taj Mahal).
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