Somewhere on the Web, a rumor started – a rumor suggesting the woman photographed in Eadweard Muybridge’s, Animal Locomotion, Plate 187 is Isadora Duncan – the pioneer of early modern dance. Duncan’s Wikipedia page (on August 15, 2017) links to a Getty’s Image page, displaying the image as “Dancer Isadora Duncan.” A Google image search for “Isadora Duncan dancing” yields the photograph twice within the first 100 images.
It is unlikely that the woman photographed is Duncan. Muybridge produced this image in 1887, and Duncan was born in 1878. She would have been 9 years old at the time the photographs were taken.
But the confusion is understandable. The woman in the photographs seems to embody Duncan’s spirit about 20 years before she exhibited it on the world. Not only was Duncan notorious for her free movements, bare feet, and flowing gowns at a time when the rigidity of ballet, pointe shoes, and corsets dominated American dance. Duncan’s dance philosophy was also guided, in part, by evolution theory; consider this passage from 1903 lecture she gave in Berlin called the “Future of Dance” (which would later be published as a manifesto of Modern Dance):
The primary or fundamental movements of the new school of the dance must have within them the seeds from which will evolve all other movements, each in turn to give birth to others in unending sequence of still higher and greater expression, thoughts and ideas …
(This is the only video clip that exists of Duncan dancing.)
Muybridge’s photography, and particularly his Animal Locomotion series, have also been associated with evolution theory. Up until then, photography was about capturing snapshots in time. Muybridge, however – considered to be the “father of motion pictures” – captured animals as they moved through time, or as their motion evolved. Rebecca Solnit writes in a cultural history of Muybridge’s legacy:
The railroad shrank space through the speed of its motion. Geology expanded time through the slowness of its processes and the profundity of its changes. When they subscribed to the old biblical scale of time, human beings seem to have marched as confidently as elephants, sure they were center stage in a drama whose beginning and end were near at hand and whose set changes were slight. In the new industrial and scientific sense of time, they swarmed and darted like insects, quick but uncertain of their place in a cavalcade of unimaginable length. … It was geology, specifically, Lyell’s book that he took with him on the Beagle’s sail around the world from 1831 to 1836, that would lead Charles Darwin to his theory of evolution, and that theory would further transform the place of human beings on the stage of life, more distant from God and closer to the other species. Muybridge, by photographing human beings as “animals in motion” among other animals, took a Darwinian stance.
Duncan wanted to cultivate “animals in motion” through Modern dance; she continued in her manifesto:
The movement of the waves, of winds, of the earth is ever in the same lasting harmony. We do not stand on the beach and inquire of the ocean what was its movement of the past and what will be its movement of the future. We realize that the movement peculiar to its nature is eternal to its nature. … [The dancer of the future] will dance the changing life of nature, showing how each part is transformed into the other.
The timelines better align to corroborate the suggestion that Duncan is featured in Jean Metzinger’s painting “Danseuse in a Café” – a Cubist painting depicting a fashionably dressed woman holding a bouquet of flowers as she dances amongst drinking café-goers. The Wikipedia page for the painting “dances” around this suggestion, noting that Metzinger was very likely in attendance at La Fête de Bacchus, a lavish party held on June 20, 1912, where Duncan “wearing a Hellenic evening gown designed by [Paul] Poiret, danced on tables among 300 guests and 900 bottles of champagne were consumed until the first light of day.” Metzinger’s painting was exhibited in the Salon d’Automne three months later.
Metzinger, too, worked to exhibit motion in his paintings – through what he called “mobile perspective.” He writes of the Cubist technique exemplified in the painting:
[Cubists] have allowed themselves to move round the object, in order to give a concrete representation of it, made up of several successive aspects. Formerly a picture took possession of space, now it reigns also in time.”
Bateson quoted Duncan in his book, [“]Steps[“] to an Ecology of the Mind, the book where he too ……
….works out his theory of double bind and the type of learning required creatively endure it.
If I could tell you what I meant, there would be no point in dancing it.
Throughout history, those who seek to represent the world (photographers, painters, dancers, mathematicians, scientists, knowledge representation experts, and anthropologists) have run up against limits of saying what they mean. In “real worlds” where nature is changing, where animals are in locomotion, and where perspectives are diverse, these representers have had to loosen up their corsets and follow less rigid “steps.” Of course this means, at times, our knowledge systems produce surprises and inconsistencies. At times, the chasses that “link data” break rules of geometry or rules of logic, non-sensibly suggesting, for instance, that the woman pictured in the image at the top of this web page is 9 years old. But, in doing so, these systems also open space for conflict, for motion, evolution, and new kinds of expression.