Loïe Fuller and her Legacy: The Visual and the Virtual

In: Activating the Inanimate: Visual Vocabularies of Performance Practice

Loïe Fuller, pioneer of modern dance, is best known for her innovative visual techniques, mainly based on original costumes and lighting. Her work with silk draperies, electric lighting and movement to create images and transform one image into another astonished her audiences, bringing her wide recognition as an avant-garde artist. Registering dance in a totally new key, she was among the first to claim that ‘dance is movement’. For her, contrary to most views in her time, neither plot nor music were seen as vital forces behind dance expression. Not even the body was as significant as movement, for in her works it was concealed and literally vanished beneath the yards of draperies she wore. Although this separation between body and movement seems peculiar concerning dance, that was precisely her aim—to visualize and express ‘pure’ movement. The technologies she invented, developed and manipulated sought above all to achieve this. Viewed thus, Fuller can be seen as the forerunner of later dance styles, as created by such prominent choreographers as Merce Cunningham, whose work became a model for both modern abstract dance and contemporary technology-based practice. Abstraction, in this context, refers not only to non-narrative dance, but indicates the virtualization of the body, aimed primarily at visualizing pure movement. Nowadays, the ‘virtual’ is strongly connected to electronic technologies, in particular cyberspace and computer-simulated environments, but is neither a new term nor phenomenon. Informed by the history and theory of virtuality, I shall explore the interconnection between visual methods, technology and abstraction in Fuller’s work; and, taking Cunningham’s work as a contemporary example, relocate her practice and aspirations within the current discourse and performance of technology-based virtual dance.

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