Sisters of Salome

Sisters of Salome

Sisters of Salome

Sisters of Salome

Synopsis

The origins of the art of exotic dancing lie in English drama and Viennese opera: Oscar Wilde's 1893 play Salome, and Richard Strauss's 1905 opera based on it, brought onto the stage a female character who captured and dominated the audience with the raw power of her naked body. Her Dance of the Seven Veils shocked and fascinated, and Salome became a pop icon on both sides of the Atlantic. Toni Bentley explores how four influential women embraced the persona of the femme fatale and transformed the misogynist image of a dangerously sexual woman into a form of personal liberation.

Excerpt

The personal quest that led me to this book began years ago with a single image of Sidonie Gabrielle Colette’s left breast. I was eighteen when I discovered the French writer’s novels, and while interest quickly became obsession, I devoured as many of them as I could find in fast succession. I fell completely in love with this woman who seemed to speak the unspeakable about the pursuit of love, the pain of desire, and the tenderness that binds the two. Then I saw the photograph of my heroine that I would never forget (fig. I). She was posing in profile on a stage set, her short, curly hair a thick halo about her head, and her right arm raised softly before her uplifted face, her palm facing up and away. Her steady gaze looked expectantly into the distant horizon beyond her hand while, paradoxically, shielding herself from its onslaught. It was a lyrical and yearning gesture that, as a young Balanchine dancer, I recognized from the opening of his ballet Serenade, made almost thirty years later. Colette looked fabulous, and I was thrilled to see that brains and beauty could indeed coexist in one woman.

But it got even better — she was dressed in a torn slip of white linen, her left breast exposed and aiming at the camera lens with shameless pride. The nakedness continued down the left side, revealing a rounded, expertly posed thigh that ended its length in a slipper tied with suggestive black laces. She offered her bosom with a demure gesture of surrender tempered by the grace of an aristocrat.

Her breast was beautiful, and the woman of words suddenly became flesh and blood — and curiously naughty. “Colette’s Breast,” as I came to think of the image, symbolized for me something that I wanted for my-

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