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Body KnowledgePerformance, Intermediality, and American Entertainment at the Turn of the Twentieth Century$
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Mary Simonson

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199898015

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199898015.001.0001

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Dancing Music: Isadora Duncan and Wagnerism in the American Imagination

Dancing Music: Isadora Duncan and Wagnerism in the American Imagination

(p.80) 3 Dancing Music: Isadora Duncan and Wagnerism in the American Imagination
Body Knowledge

Mary Simonson

Oxford University Press

Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) is frequently described as a maverick whose unconventional, improvisatory movement aesthetic helped to establish and shape American modern dance. Yet Duncan’s dances and conceptions of art were heavily influenced by Richard Wagner. Dancing to excerpts of Parsifal and Tristan und Isolde, quoting and referencing his artistic theories in her own speech “The Dance of the Future,” and relating tales of her summer at Bayreuth, Duncan staged an intermedial interrogation of Wagner’s works and ideas. The American Wagner cult has long been associated with the Gilded Age and conductor Anton Seidl (1850–1898). Isadora Duncan’s American performances demonstrate that American Wagnerism persisted well into the twentieth-century, albeit in a different form. Conjuring herself as a rebellious disciple of Wagner, Duncan’s intermedial performances knit together music and dance, but also join strands of Wagnerism and Victorian ideologies with early modernist aesthetics.

Keywords:   Isadora Duncan, Richard Wagner, early modernist aesthetics, intermediality, “The Dance of the Future,”, American Wagnerism

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