The Serpentine: Loie Fuller

Loie Fuller is a turn-of-the-century dancer whose name stands apart. She is often coupled with the great Isadora Duncan, who was also an experimental dancer, but Loie Fuller was first. Fuller is most closely associated with Art Nouveau. She first came to prominence in the 1890s and was admired and imitated well into the 1900s. Like many luminaries of her time, Fuller caused a sensation in France; Paris called her La Loïe.

The image at the top is a poster designed by Jules Cheret in 1893 to advertise an upcoming performance at La Folies Bergère cabaret in Paris.

Loie Fuller, Library of Congress

 

She was born Marie Louise Fuller near Chicago, Illinois. Loie was introduced to public life early. She was a professional child actress, who later became interested in dancing and lighting effects. Loie Fuller developed her own free dance techniques. She performed choreography in long silk dresses before multi-colored lights.

Her talent was instantly recognized. The poet William Butler Yeats admired her and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted her. Even the legendary Lumière brothers were entranced. Auguste and Louis Lumière were amongst the very first pioneers into filmmaking and they were captivated by Loie’s Serpentine dance.

 

Lumière brothers

Strangely, despite nearly every important pioneer filmmaker working with Loie Fuller at some point, their original films of her were lost. What remains are their contemporaneous movies of other women performing Fuller’s famous serpentine dance.

Color film was many years in the future, so the colors you see here have been hand-colored by the filmmakers on a frame-by-frame basis, to capture the dazzling multi-colored effects of Loie Fuller’s live shows.

 

 

 

Should you want to learn more about Loie Fuller, I recommend this excellent article on the Public Domain Review.

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