23 February 2013

Loie Fuller & Joseph Paget Fredericks

A swirl of blues and greens....an ocean wave....a woman in motion.    By all accounts, when she danced, Loie Fuller dominated the stage as definitively as The Great Wave Off Kanagawa dominated Mount Fuji in Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Whatever they meant by it, critics likened Fuller to a force of nature.  In Joseph Paget-Fredericks' gouache, Loie Fuller performing Claude Debussy's  La Mer (inspired by Hokusai) is a wave in human form.   To achieve that effect Fuller converted a staircase and hundreds of square feet of silk into lapping waves. Pavel Tchelitchew, who later designed several ballets for George Ballanchine, remembered the 1925 performance for its  "dreamlike costumes of trailing silk and its phantasmagorical lighting."

Loie Fuller  (1862-1928) was  in images more than any other performer of her  time: Toulouse-Lautrec, Koloman Moser, Jules Cheret,  Joseph Paget-Fredericks (1905-1963), who became a painter, choreographer and designer, also knew Fuller as a friend from his childhood.

Fuller's parents ran a boardinghouse in Chicago.   Joseph's mother, Constance Paget, was the daughter of a British journalist whose family had made a theatrical museum at their home and his father Arthur Remy von Hohenthal Fredericks was the nephew of the Russian arts minister who arranged for the Ballets-Russes to appear in Paris in 1909.

Fuller's first appearance at the Folies-Bergere on Nov. 5, 1892  created an impression as forceful as that of the Ballets Russes. Young girls copied her clothing and mannerisms.  Stephane Mallarme, who saw her perform a few months later, wrote: “(She) is as once an artistic intoxication and an industrial achievement…. She blends with the rapidly changing colors which vary their limelit phantasmagoria of twilight and grotto, their emotional changes, delight, mourning, anger…”
But La Loie, as the French dubbed her,  was no ingenue.    She had toured the Midwest with Buffalo Bill Cody at age 21, acted on Broadway and, when unemployed, had lied her way into a dance troup. “When you are starving you sometimes forget to be strictly truthful.”
Untrained in classical ballet, Fuller figured out that if she wrapped herself in cloth and waved her arms she could create powerful visual effects. She was never comfortable being called a dancer but  if the term performance artist had been in use a century ago it would have suited her.    Her choreography made modern dance possible, her use of stage lighting was an innovation in color, she danced on a mirrored floor  in London.  Andre Levinsohn, the French dance critic recognized all that.  “She is a great imaginative creator of forms.     Her drapes animate and organize space…abolish geometrical space….”
In 1905 Pathe of France filmed Fire Dance,  one of her signature pieces.  With slow motion filming, shadow casting and negative images imprinted on the film stock, a twirling figure was transformed into a moving kaleidoscope.  Riveted viewers reached for comparisons to a butterfly or an orchid.

 The Paget-Fredericks home in San Francisco was full of art collected by Constance and theatrical memorabilia, Arthur's specialty.  A successful businessman and philanthropist and his cultured wife made an ideal couple to entertain visiting performers, Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Anna Pavlova among them.   
An impressionable, artistic young boy absorbed it all sponge-like.  Joseph presented "An Hour of Dance Impressions by Joseph Paget-Fredericks" at Berkeley when he was only sixteen.
He attended the University of California and then in Europe he was tutored by Leon Bakst and John Singer Sargent.  Together, Bakst and Pavlova sponsored his first exhibition in Paris.  He  became the art director for Pavlova's world tours in 1932 and 1933.   Paget-Fredericks designed the 1941 production of Tchaikovsky Swan Lake for the San Francisco Opera.  Had he lived longer to write the books he planned, Paget-Fredericks might be as well known as the dancers he painted.

Related article posted here April 7, 2011 - Airborne.
by: Joseph Rous Paget Fredericks, undated, from the collection of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
1. Loie Fuller Performing Debussy's La Mer ca. 1925.
2. Loie Fuller - Fire Dance.
3. Loie Fuller - Serpentine Dance.
4. Loie Fuller.  

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