Friday, 13 March 2015

Loie Fuller - Butterfly Dance Pt 2

My last post was about the innovative genius of the American dancer/choreographer Loie Fuller, who caused a sensation among the French public in fin de siècle Paris with her costumes and dances. In the last post I looked at her innovations in choreography and the photographic representations of her in motion. In this post I shall be focusing on the how artists, writers and graphic designers chose to represent and depict her in their own chosen medium. Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme who saw Fuller perform in 1893, was moved to write in an essay on her that he regarded her dance as being - "the theatrical form of poetry par excellence". Anatole France another novelist and poet describes her thus:- "I had seen her only as she had been seen by multitudes across the globe, on the stage, waving her draperies in the first light, or transformed into a great resplendent lily, revealing to us a new and dignified type of beauty..." 

Visual artists of the time were similarly inspired by the spectacle of Fuller's dance, and her figure has been immortalised in the mediums of photography, paint, sculpture, print and early examples of graphic design. Above is a poster by Jules Cheret, who along with Alphonse Mucha was one of the pioneers of the modern poster, a new medium at that time, which succeeded in bringing art out of the museums and onto the streets to the bigger audience of the general public. The dominant artistic style of the period was Art Nouveau which is characterised by the use of sinuous, curving lines, the female figure, and organic animal and plant forms. It was applied to different disciplines such as architecture, sculpture and product design as well as painting and graphic design.

The sinuous, female figure of Fuller then, dancing, swathed in yards of voluminous silk creating organic shapes based on butterflies and flowers, was the perfect embodiment of the Art Nouveau style. The above sculpture of Loie Fuller is by Francois Raoul Larche, and was developed into a lamp base. It looks really beautiful when lit, and again is an attempt to capture the dramatic movement and lighting effects of Fuller's performance.

I really like the starkness of this piece by Secessionist artist Koloman Moser. The dramatic black ground contrasted with gold figure and flame-like entrails rising on either side create a simple, theatrical piece that really appeals to me.

It's interesting to see the development of the three prints above by Toulouse Lautrec. The image at top captures the hybrid nature of Fuller's performance perfectly in which she attempts to transform herself into a human/flower through costume and dance. The length of fabric on the left of the image resembles a calla lily. The other two are variants of the new lithographic printing technique which was being trialled at the time.

Another study by Lautrec capturing the movement of Fuller's costume using sparse line work.

I like the above poster artists attempt to capture the cinematic, harsh lighting effects innovated and employed by Loie Fuller. Using a sharp contrast of light and dark, it is a good depiction of the shadows created by under-lighting through a glass trap-door on the stage, an effect that she pioneered.

This poster shows Fuller's Butterfly Dance costume. Compare it to the 'real' photographic depiction of the actual costume below.

I included the poster image below as I think it captures the colour, movement and innovative theatrical lighting techniques used by Fuller. What an inspiration and gift her performances were to Parisian creatives of that period.