The Isadora Duncan International Institute was created to perpetuate the art of the doyenne of American modern dance in 1977 by Kay Bardsley and Marie Therese Duncan, Isadora’s adopted daughter. Based in New York City and High Falls, the Institute is directed by Jeanne Bresciani, Ph.D., and educates children and adults in Duncan’s approach to life and dance. Based on a blend of the arts, nature appreciation and spirituality, Isadora’s aesthetic was unique for her time.
All current modern and jazz dancers can trace their lineages back to Duncan. Her pioneering movement style, free of ballet’s restrictive body placements, gave birth to generations of the giants of 20th-century dance. Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp, Bob Fosse, and Gene Kelly all owe a debt of gratitude to her.
Born in California in 1877 to a family devoted to the arts, Duncan claimed she danced in her mother’s womb. Dancing barelegged on the beach as a child, she cultivated the free movement that later became her signature.
At 22, Duncan moved to Europe where she deepened her love of ancient Greek civilization. Studying poses on vases in museums and dancing among the ruins laid the foundation upon which she built her lifelong aesthetic, combining the Greek reverence for nature and an enlightened approach to art, philosophy, and politics.
Eschewing societal restrictions on women, the body, dress, marriage, children, and politics (including an embrace of Soviet Communism, which cost Duncan her US citizenship), she became involved with wealthy and powerful men who enabled her to create a lifestyle inseparable from her choreography, filled with art and nature. Still dancing barelegged, often in loose or revealing materials, she embodied her beliefs, while interpreting the great composers in ways no one had ever dared.
Duncan spent many hours observing herself moving in the studio, which lead to her conclusion the solar plexus was the source of all movement, describing it as, “the crater of motor power.” From her autobiography, My Life
: “When I had learned to concentrate all my force in this one center, I found that thereafter when I listened to music the rays and vibrations of the music streamed to this one fount of light within me, where they reflected themselves in Spiritual Vision, not the mirror of the brain but of the soul.”
The technique Duncan taught to the children attending her school was complex. The upper body moved to the melody and texture of the music, while the lower body moved to the rhythm. This translateral approach is now believed to enhance learning skills.
Jeanne Bresciani first studied Duncan’s technique at age five in New York City and has been teaching it around the world (including NYU, The Isadora Duncan Dance Research Center, Athens, and the Isadora Duncan International Institute, Tokyo), for almost 30 years. She will be appearing in several of Isadora’s spring-themed works, as well as presenting her own Duncan-inspired choreography at Kaatsbaan. She brings the Isadora Duncan International Institute dancers (some of whom have been studying at the Institute since they were toddlers), ranging in age from 17 to 60. There is very little footage of Isadora dancing during her tragically short time on earth, so this event is a wonderful opportunity to see her brought to life.
The Isadora Duncan Celebration with Jeanne Bresciani & Friends
will take place on Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, May 15 at 2:30 pm at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli. (845) 757-5106; www.kaatsbaan.org