The Dancer




Around a century ago, Loie Fuller was considered a major new force in the world of dance.  But today, she is virtually unknown so this French-made biopic attempts to correct that situation.


It is a remarkable story of a girl who propelled herself from the farms of the American Midwest to Paris where her legendary ‘Serpentine Dance’ in which she was encased in metres of white silk extended by elongated rods and lit by a battery of artfully placed lights, caused sensations and utterly enthralled audiences.  It was the dying days of the Belle Epoque and both the Follies Bergere and the Paris Opera embraced this revolutionary young dancer whose influence was so profound at the time that among her fans were numbered the famous early film makers the Lumiere Brothers, sculptor Auguste Rodin, artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and many more notables.


This period from 1870 to the dawn of the ‘war to end all wars’ in 1914 is considered by many to be another European Golden Age akin to the Renaissance in the flourishing of types of artistic expression and Fuller’s stage persona slid into the Art Nouveau movement perfectly.


The film delves into the close relationship between Loie and another extraordinary American dancer, Isadora Duncan (played by Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of Johnny). Fuller helped Duncan ignite her European career in 1902 by sponsoring independent concerts in Vienna and Budapest.  At first, being the toasts of Paris, the duo got along well, but in time the affection turned bitter and a professional rivalry surfaced. Unnecessarily, one would think, as the women’s dance styles were polar opposites.  Fuller was a modernist, aligned with theatrical artifice and current technology.  Duncan was a Romantic, heavily influenced by the Hellenistic revival of the late 19th Century and danced as the embodiment of nature and the ancient Greeks.


Unlike some other recent biopics, this both plays with the truth at times and also skims superficially over a lot of material but oh my, it looks wonderful.  The vision and audacity of Fuller’s dance performances are captured beautifully.  The delightful Vivaldi-inspired music score by Max Richter benefits even further by contributions from Australian musicians Warren Ellis and Nick Cave and Benoit Debie’s cinematography is sublime. The costume design by Anais Romand won a deserved César Award in France this year.


Artist-turned-director Stéphanie di Guisto chose French indie music star Soko (perhaps best known to English speaking circles as the ex of TWILIGHT’S Kristen Stewart) to play Fuller and while she acquits herself relatively well, the main flaw of the production is that it lacks insight into what drove this extraordinary woman or what particular quality she had that made her so celebrated.  Gnawed by insecurity but still incredibly driven, we catch glimpses of the emerging artist and her wonderfully creative vision, but glimpses only.


The Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris houses a vast number of deceased luminaries. Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust, Colette, Moliere, Jean de la Fontaine being a few.  Approx 100 metres from the grave of Isadora Duncan, which is immaculately maintained and pristinely kept, lies the grave of Loie Fuller, overgrown and neglected.  I don’t see this biopic having the power to change that greatly, but again, it is a simply beautiful work of film. 







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