Friday, July 4, 2008

Painting with Dance

Published June 26, 2008 by The Dalles Chronicle

The Maryhill Museum of Art celebrated the work of one of its founders Saturday with “Dancing with Loïe,” an all-day event ending with an evening of dance at The Dalles Wahtonka High School.

LoïeFuller’s experimentation with costume and lighting design produced mesmerizing choreography that is still reconstructed by artists today.

The performances included productions of the dances “La Noir” and “Dance of the Elements” by Jody Sperling and her company, Time Lapse Dance.

Sperling, a Fuller interpreter and dance scholar, gave a lecture at Maryhill and showed several slides with images of Fuller — a whirling mass of fabric, a woman’s form concealed by sheer white silk and colored beams of light. Sperling’s presentation showed the evolution of Fuller’s work from frivolous entertainment to captivating spectacle.

Fuller, who originally performed as a burlesque dancer, took cues from skirt-dancing, a traditional dance that highlighted the female body and usually had a salacious connotation. Sperling showed slides of photographs that documented the evolution of Loïe Fuller’s dance techniques.

In 1997, Sperling was the photo editor for the International Encyclopedia of Dance. Her managing editor choreographed a show featuring styles from the 1890s, and though Sperling originally showed little interest in performing a Fuller-esque solo at the show, the unique costume and the choreography (set to “Ride of the Valkyries”) changed her mind.

Sperling, however, is not a reconstructor of Fuller’s dances. Instead, she draws inspiration from Fuller’s work and choreographs her own more contemporary routines.

According to Sperling, Fuller used innovative methods to create her costumes. She installed long, lightweight rods in the sleeves of each dress so that when a dancer spins or waves her arms, the billowing fabric follows every movement.

“With the extensions under the costumes, you’re basically able to create these spiraling vortex forms that exist in nature and all different kinds of phenomena that are not normally visible,” Sperling said.

“When you create these undulating, iridescent surfaces, you’re able to create scenes, and it’s incredible. When I am dancing, I really feel that I am connecting to the universe.”

At Maryhill, dancer Jessica Lindberg gave a presentation on Loie Fuller’s “Fire Dance.” She showed videos of herself performing some of Fuller’s most famous dances in costume. The costumes were an integral part of Fuller’s work; they created the shapes and imagery that helped her captivate audiences. Each costume was made with yard after yard of silk.

Lindberg’s collaborator and former classmate Megan Slayter designed the lighting for Lindberg’s reconstruction.
Both Slayter and Lindberg are dancers. They met in a modern dance class in the graduate program at Ohio State. When the class briefly discussed Loie Fuller, Lindberg said she was interested, but the lesson moved immediately to the next subject. It wasn’t enough for Lindberg.

“That hole in art history always sort of ate at me. I wanted to fix it,” Lindberg said.

Lindberg and Slayter researched Fuller’s lighting techniques, design philosophy and personal life. Eventually, they were able to recreate some of her most well-known routines.

Lindberg’s performance of “Fire Dance” is now part of a DVD available in the Museum gift shop.

“We’re both very committed to making this available to art students,” Slayter said.

The Fuller festival schedule included several other presentations. Author Ann Cooper Albright gave a speech on her book, “Traces of Light: Absence and Presence in the Work of Loie Fuller.” Maranee Sanders gave a presentation titled “Loie and Friends.” Dancers from The Portland Ballet performed “Reverie Du Soir, ’A Tribute To Loie Fuller’” and “Flower Festival in Genzano - Pas de Deux.” Lindberg performed Loie Fuller’s “Lily of the Nile” dance, which was created in 1897.

The museum — and artist and dancer Alisa Looney — invited children to don costumes and dance in the Outdoor Sculpture Garden. The garden is full of original sculptures, including a few by Looney herself.

Elizabeth Graham, a ten-year-old from Philipsburg, Montana, said her favorite part of the trip was dancing with Looney. Looney and Graham twirled in the garden with pieces of colorful silk and tulle in their hands, making shapes reminiscent of Fuller’s famous dresses.

Graham came to The Dalles to visit her aunt and uncle and see the Stonehenge Memorial at Maryhill, but she said she was excited to see the Loie Fuller exhibit.

“It’s awesome,” she said.

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