Friday evening, November 4, dance scholar and Isadora Duncan dancer Alice Bloch will give a Spotlight Talk and performance about Isadora Duncan and her profound influence on American dance. Bloch’s presentation will be punctuated with demonstrations by dancer Karen Castleman and some of Castleman’s students from the Arkansas Arts Academy. It promises to be a lively and interesting evening.
I had the pleasure of sitting down in Crystal Bridges’ Library with Alice to learn a little bit about her work and about Isadora Duncan herself. This is Bloch’s third visit to Crystal Bridges, but the first time I had met her personally. It was a treat. Alice Bloch is a small, wiry woman, with what appears to be boundless energy. While talking with me, she was on her feet far more than she was seated: demonstrating arm movements, postures, using her entire body to illustrate what she was saying to me. And she has a lot to say. She is clearly passionate about her subject, and steeped in the history of American dance.
Bloch holds a doctorate in dance history from Temple University and a choreographic MA from UCLA. She is also fourth-generation Isadora Duncan dancer. What this means is that she was trained in the Duncan style of dance by a teacher who was trained by someone who was trained by Isadora Duncan herself. While that may sound like a dance version of the old “telephone” game, it’s actually quite impressive: what it amounts to is that Bloch’s technique and understanding of the art form was imparted to her through a direct line to the source.
“Dance, until the advent of YouTube and video, was an oral tradition passed from generation to generation,” Alice explained. “But because every body is a different body, the dance also changes from generation to generation. You have to be taught by someone trained in the style.”
One of Bloch’s mentors was Gemze DeLappe, a third-generation Isadora Duncan dancer who worked closely with Agnes DeMille during her dancing career, and was herself trained by Irma Duncan. Irma, a second generation Duncan teacher, was one of Isadora’s six adopted daughters—whom she called the “Isadorables.” They traveled and performed with Duncan and later became “second generation” teachers of the technique.
Isadora Duncan (1877 – 1927) is a fascinating character in American dance history, the founder of a style of dance that was uniquely American and distinctly revolutionary. Duncan based her footwork on the movements in European social dancing, but also incorporated what Bloch calls “basic human movements”: skipping, running, jumping, the movement of a child at play. The upper body, meanwhile, functioned much like the melody line in music: flowing and expressive, but grounded by the feet.
“Isadora despised ballet because they denied gravity,” Bloch explained. Ballet is all about upward energy, lifting the body as if it was fastened to the ceiling with a hook. But Isadora grounded her moves, allowing the energy of her dance to focus earthward.
“You have multiple states of being when you do her work,” Bloch explained. “You have this connection to gravity, yet you’re drawing energy up and offering to the world. Her dances were very simple, but endlessly fascinating.”
Tickets are still available for Alice Bloch’s presentation. Click here to get yours!