“The dizziness of a soul made visible by artifice” (emphasis added) are the words poet Stéphane Mallarmé, figurehead of the Symbolist movement of poetry, employed to describe of art of Modern Dance pioneer Loie Fuller.
Fuller was an American in Paris at the turn of the century. In the autumn of 1892 that she captured the imagination of artists and laymen alike when she performed her Danse Serpantine at the burlesque show, Les Folies-Begère, wafting yards of fabric about her person, like an Art Nouveau butterfly. She glided to prominence on the wings of her silk garments.
What made dervish so unique? She was not only a pioneer of dance but an innovator of illumination. She experimented with the effect of changing light on her voluminous silk vestments. This colour play is the artifice of which Mallarmé spoke: the complexity of her soul bared by artificial luminesce. Fuller didn’t only dance in the light, she invented the light. She made patented contributions not only to stage lighting, but to cinematic technique. She was even a member of the French Astronomical Society. A close friend to both the likes of Marie Curie and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, she was, perhaps, the most famous woman in Paris during the Belle Epoch.
From an era and aura of time so far flung as turn of the century Paris, to a time and space even farther flung: the Antebellum South. How does one travel from beneath the glare of the lights of the Moulin Rouge, to a plantation in Palmetto Georgia, built circa 1841? They might as well be light years apart. It is fitting that light connected the two worlds for me.
My friends’ beautiful “plantation plain” dinning room in Palmetto, GA. A home frozen architecturally in time since circa 1841, but in presence, a long way spun from its ignominious past.
While visiting dear friends in the country on an autumn sunday afternoon, my friend, Gail, directed a quick shoot of the paradox in an outfit I happened to have on that day. “I want you to capture the light filtering through the diaphanous dress,”she instructed our photographer, Kennyatta Collins, as though she knew the idea behind pairing a sheer pink frock with an inky biker jacket was to play with contrasts in light and in mood. A candy-coloured doll’s dress and a broody leather jacket: opposites attract. “And you!” she turned to me, “I want you to dance!”
And dance I did, propelled by the light of Ms. Fuller, and even attempting to do so with a full watering can. There was joy, there was laughter, there was shortness of breath, all the while never losing sight of all those who had traversed these fields before me, burdened by the weight of cotton, unable to dance.
Looking out at the verdant view of the grounds from the screen door (INSIDE the house, on a plantation now owned by a black man and a Jew), I couldn’t help but think how our sorrows can turn to joy (how such a beautiful place would have once spelt nothing but pain for its current owner); how a moment can sublimate, from the must intense heat, into such a mystical substance that rises through the soul (for I was but days before, sinking in my own darkness and now here I was, surrounded by friends and dancing in circles of glee); how everything in this dizzying world turns in the gyre, like Ms. Fuller herself, hopefully spinning ever toward light.
What I Wore: ASOS dress, JOD Clothing lambskin jacket, Jimmy Choo boots, Céline Audrey sunglasses.