“Isadora: A Novel” by Amelia Gray— Reimagining Isadora Duncan

Gray, Amelia. “Isadora: A Novel”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

Reimagining Isadora Duncan

Amos Lassen

I have never really understood why I so love Isadora Duncan but I am sure it has to do with the fact that she was a rebel who openly dared to express how she felt about everything. Vanessa Redgrave beautifully portrayed Isadora on the screen in a movie I will never forget and I am always ready to learn a bit more about Duncan. When this book came in the mail today, I immediately sat down and began to read it and I continued until I finished as if it had put a spell on me.

Some of it we already know but here it is told to us in a new way. After the world was aware of who she was and of her spirit (which seemed incapable of being broken), we learn that it indeed was broken in 1913. The world was on the brink of war and great pain was yet to come although Duncan suffered a tremendous personal tragedy with the horrible and unexpected death of her children. A freak accident in Paris resulted in the drowning death of her two young children. That same accident divided Isadora’s life into two aspects. On one side Isadora was the

the mother of modern dance, a young and brilliant talent and on the other she was a bereaved mother who teetered between sanity and madness. All of us who have ever read about Duncan are familiar with the death of children yet in this book it becomes a major aspect in her life and one from which she never really recovered. Before the death, Isadora danced as she lived, freely and with abandon. As she went through Europe before the war, she was determined to change the concept of the dancer. However, as she tried she had to live and deal with the cruelty of life as exemplified by the loss of her children and unsuccessful love life.

Even though she had been born in California, she was drawn to Europe and when she was twenty-two-years-old, she was unable to convince her mother and the rest of the family to join her. Before Duncan, dance was a highly regimented and precise art and she was determined to change that— this was to be her life’s work. She believed in natural movement and when she was just twenty-six, she lectured in Berlin about what she called “the dance of the future”. She united dance to nature and went back to the Greeks with the idea that dance’s purpose was to strive to be natural. She danced what seemed to be simple movements but were actually very visceral expressions.

She was soon widely known and she used that to her advantage but she also had difficulties being banned from some venues because she chose to dance barefoot and just wearing a tunic. Her love life was also well known. Her list of lovers was not really spoken about but was known and she had two children from two different men, one of whom was not her husband. Before the accident she traveled Europe with her children and she worked all of the time. She and her sister opened a dance school and was determined to build a new artistic movement.

“Isadora” is written in the first person and it is as if the dancer herself pulls us into her fascinating life story. If you love Isadora Duncan, you will love this book and if you do not know her, you will her and be enthralled. I always felt that Duncan was that part of me that I always wanted to be but for whatever reason was unable to do so (and she did it for me). Put this one on your list—-you do not want to miss it.


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