Thursday, 2 April 2015

DEATH By Flowing Scarf – Isadora Duncan, USA

“Affectations can be dangerous.” – Gertrude Stein

Unrelated Image (altered)
Isadora Duncan (May 27, 1877 – September 14, 1927) was a dancer considered by many as a mother of modern dance who defied the current social and dance ideals. She favoured barefeet, flowing clothing, loose hair, and free form movements to the conventional ways. Her communist leanings and unconventional – some might say scandalous– love life made her a controversial figure as she was headlined in many a front pages.
She was bisexual, and alluded to her Communism during her last United States tour, in 1922–23; Duncan waved a red scarf and bared her breast on stage in Boston, proclaiming, “This is red! So am I!”

Born in the United States, she lived in Western Europe and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 50. She has since appeared in pop culture, including a 1968 film entitled Isadora, in which she was portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave.

She performed to acclaim throughout Europe. Duncan’s fondness for flowing scarves was the cause of her death in an automobile accident in Nice, France, on the night of September 14, 1927. The scarf was hand-painted silk from the Russian-born artist Roman Chatov. The accident gave rise to Gertrude Stein’s mordant remark that “affectations can be dangerous.”

Isadora Duncan dancing | Source

Duncan was a passenger in the Amilcar automobile of a handsome French-Italian mechanic Benoît Falchetto, whom she had nicknamed “Buggatti” and as the story goes…

The evening was extraordinarily fresh and the small party beamed with smiles as they floated out into the courtyard. A cool breeze blew from the Riviera and ran a little chill across the necks of the bare-shouldered ladies that only invigorated their energy and enthusiasm.

Portrait of Isadora Duncan
circa 1906-1912 | Source: wikipedia
Benoît tenderly grabbed the scarf of the woman that was swirling around him and whispered into her ear. She brushed his hand away fluidly and kept her eyes locked upon him as she reeled beneath his arm.

“Buggatti!” she sang, “Be more caring with your rough paws! This was a gift from Chatov!” And then in a softer tone, “But, yes … Get the car!”

Benoît blew a kiss into the air and jogged around the corner while the friends continued their lively display. A minute later the loud rumble of the Amilcar drowned out the gaieties. Benoît pulled in front of the group and revved the engine as he donned his driving-goggles.

Mary glided over to her friend. She was flinging the crimson scarf into the air.

“Isadora,” she said over the din of the unmuffled motor, “are you leaving us already? Where are you going?”

Isadora stopped her dancing, twisted the enormous scarf twice around her neck and bounded to the waiting car.

“Goodbye, my friends! I am off to love!” she exclaimed.

As Mary watched the little topless car speed off down the cobble-stoned streets of Nice on September 24th, 1927, she saw a red streamer flap in the breeze for a split-second and then whip back under the car. The car skidded to a stop a few seconds later.

It was said, before getting into the car, she reportedly said to her friend Mary Desti and some companions, “Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!” (Goodbye, my friends, I go in glory!).

However, according to American novelist Glenway Wescott, who was in Nice at the time and visited Duncan’s body in the morgue, Desti admitted that she had lied about Duncan’s last words. Instead, she told Wescott, Duncan said, “Je vais à l’amour” (I am off to love). Desti considered this embarrassing, as it suggested that she and Falchetto were going to her hotel for a sexual assignation.

When Falchetto drove off, Duncan’s large silk scarf, a gift from Desti, draped around her neck, became entangled around one of the vehicle’s open-spoked wheels and rear axle.

As The New York Times noted in its obituary: “Isadora Duncan, the American dancer, tonight met a tragic death at Nice on the Riviera. According to dispatches from Nice, Miss Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement.” Other sources described her death as resulting from strangulation, noting that she was almost decapitated by the sudden tightening of the scarf around her neck.

Isadora Duncan was cremated, and her ashes were placed next to those of her beloved children in the columbarium at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The headstone of her grave contains the inscription in French: “The Paris Opera Ballet School.”

At her death, she was a Soviet citizen. Her will was the first of a Soviet citizen to be probated in the U.S.

Did You Know…

  • The plaque at 501 Taylor Street on Lower Nob Hill, near the Theater District in San Francisco commemorates Isadora Duncan’s place of birth.
  • Ironically, years earlier Isadora’s two children were tragically and avoidably killed in a car accident as well. The children were in the car with their nanny, returning home after lunch with Isadora and Paris Singer, (one of the many sons of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer and father to Duncan’s second child, Patrick). The driver stalled the car while attempting to avoid a collision with another car. He got out to hand-crank the engine, but forgot to set the parking brake. The car rolled across the Boulevard Bourdon, down the embankment and into the river. The children and the nanny drowned.
  • In her autobiography, Duncan relates that she begged a young Italian stranger – the sculptor Romano Romanelli – to sleep with her because of her desperation to have another baby. She did become pregnant after the deaths of her elder two children. She gave birth to another illegitimate child, a son, who lived only a few hours and was never named.
  • In the 2003 film How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Kate Hudson’s character Andy dons a yellow diamond necklace in one scene that they call the “Isadora Diamond” which is named after Isadora Duncan. The 80-carat yellow diamond in the necklace was designed by Harry Winston and is worth $6 million.
  • Duncan appears as a featured character in the 2005 Russian TV series Esenin, played by Sean Young.
  • She married the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin who was 18 years her junior in 1922 who accompanied her on a tour of Europe and the United States. The following year he left Duncan and returned to Moscow. He committed suicide in 1925 at the age of 30.

Remembering Isadora...

Glimpses of Isadora Duncan of Film

...footage of Isadora on board ship with the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, whom she married in 1922.

Finally and rather morbidly I came across French newsreel footage of the car in which Isadora’s two met their deaths in 1913 when the car they were traveling in plunged into the Seine in Paris. The talking head over this footage rather gruesomely comment 'Voyons les enfants’!

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