Legends Lost-1910-1919: Dancing through History-Segment Two

By Eley, Susie Eisner | Dance Spirit, February 2002 | Go to article overview

Legends Lost-1910-1919: Dancing through History-Segment Two


Eley, Susie Eisner, Dance Spirit


AMONG THE DANCERS WE LOST BETWEEN 1910 AND 1919 WERE LEGENDS WHO FURTHERED BALLROOM AND THE PAS DE DEUX, AS WELL AS THE ROLES OF MEN IN BALLET AND AFRICAN-AMERICANS IN DANCE.

The carefree, heady days before WWI saw dance in America blossom. There was the birth of the Ziegfeld Follies in 1907, the ballroom craze of the 1910s (100 new ballroom steps were invented between 1912 and 1914) and the popularity of vaudeville and musical comedy theater. Overseas, the center of ballet shifted from Russia to Paris, when impresario Sergei Diaghilev moved his Russian company to France in 1909. Diaghilev's company dominated the ballet world for the next 20 years, featuring the work of Fokine, Nijinsky, a young Balanchine and others.

VERNON CASTLE 1887-1918

During the second decade of last century the husband-and-wife team of Vernon Castle and Irene Foote were the most popular ballroom couple. Together the pair brought ballroom dance out of its stodgy, Edwardian haze into the Modern Age, popularizing steps like the Texas Tommy and the Grizzly Bear, while inventing new ones like the Castle Walk, Foxtrot and One-Step, to the contemporary rhythms of ragtime. Castle was born in England and moved to the U.S. to dance after studying civil engineering. He met Foote in 1910 during a vacation to her hometown, New Rochelle, NY. After garnering fame dancing in Paris, the pair moved home to tour, attracting an evergrowing audience who adored them for their romantic airs and cutting-edge ways. (Foote rejected corsets for loosefitting clothing and introduced bobbed hair and a slim, boyish figure to the ballroom and fashion arenas.) Castle died during a flight-training mission in Texas during WWI. A 1930s Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie about Castle and Foote is based on Foote's book Castles In The Air.

PAVEL GERDT 1844-1917

Pavel Gerdt may have had one of the longest and most prolific ballet careers in the history of the artform. Dancing with the Bolshoi and Maryinsky Theatres in Russia for over 50 years, the premier danseur performed nearly 100 roles, many of them choreographed by his greatest mentor Marius Petipa (see below). Trained by Petipa and Lev Ivanov (see DS January 2001, page 135), Gerdt quickly rose through the ranks of the Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg. During a time when male dancers mainly served as "porteurs" (for the ballerinas), Gerdt pushed for increasing prominence for male ballet dancers. (Petipa even revised the choreography in Act II of Giselle, adding cabrioles and assembles for Gerdt.) Gerdt created some of the most intriguing male roles of the time: Prince Desire in The Sleeping Beauty, Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake and Abderachman in Raymonda, to name a few. Among his students at the Imperial School were Mikhail Fokine, Agrippina Vaganova and Anna Pavlova.

MATA HARI 1876-1917

Exotic dancer Mata Hari was pivotal in elevating striptease to an artform. Born Margaretha Zelle in Leeuwarden, Holland, Zelle stood apart from her peers, with her 5'10" frame, dark complexion, dark eyes and olive skin. After a failed marriage to a Dutch army colonel and a stint in Java, Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Zelle moved to Paris at the turn of the century. …

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