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Artist Spotlight: Löie Fuller

This is an excerpt from Interdisciplinary Arts With HKPropel Access by Suzanne Ostersmith & Kathleen Jeffs.

Löie Fuller (1862-1928) was born in Chicago and performed on vaudeville stages from the beginning of her career. Her early work, beginning with a theatrical piece called Quack M.D., enthralled audiences with the use of her voluminous whirling skirt and her use of gas lighting and innovative fabric to create an ethereal effect. Her skirt dances were a sensation, and she traveled to New York, London, and Paris. In Paris, she performed with the famous Folies Bergère, and her dances were very popular. Fuller was a modern dance pioneer, setting the stage in the late 1800s with her unique lack of corsets and use of classical ballet silk fabric. Her work was abstract, what we would call performance art: part dance, part sculpture. She used classical ballet steps and choreography, but the silk fabric brought her dances to a new level. She pushed the elements of what had been done before in theatre lighting. She innovated by darkening and silencing the house to a degree that was unusual for solo performances at the time. She used new lighting angles and colored gels, like a “jewel in a jewel box” instead of the typical painted garden scenes more common to female performers. She was also a costume designer, working with her friend Marie Curie to use radioactive crystals to make her dresses glow. Her connections in the field of visual arts included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Briton Rivière, and Auguste Rodin, and she was part of the movement known as art nouveau. Fuller performed at the World’s Fair in Paris 1900, where she had her own theatre. She was also a connector of people. She met Queen Marie of Romania and Sam Hill, a wealthy businessman. Unfortunately, the chemicals she used to create her spectacular effects were discovered later to be dangerous, and might have poisoned her. The work and legacy of Löie Fuller continues to inspire interdisciplinary creators to push the boundaries of dance and visual arts (see figure 6.1).

Figure 6.1 Helen Shantz performing in Löie Fuller dance work at Gonzaga University.
Figure 6.1 Helen Shantz performing in Löie Fuller dance work at Gonzaga University.