Cover image for Isadora : a sensational life
Isadora : a sensational life
Kurth, Peter.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Little, Brown, and Co., [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 652 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV1785.D8 K87 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GV1785.D8 K87 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Isadora Duncan is considered by many to be the founder of modern dance. Her name is synonymous with originality, spontaneity, drama, and sensuality. Finally, here is a biography that does justice to the life of this unforgettable woman. Never before has Isadora Duncan been so thoroughly explored. Kurth recounts her sensational life -- her many loves, her passion for her art, her sensational performances, and her personal tragedies. Isadora reveals the dramatic story of this passionate artist, set against the sweeping backdrop of Europe and the United States in the early twentieth century.

Author Notes

Peter Kurth lives in Vermont.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Duncan, the mother of modern dance, made art her faith and Walt Whitman and the ancient Greeks her mentors and lived an ardent and revolutionary life. Barefoot and clad in loose, flowing garments, she responded directly to the music rather than conforming to traditional choreography, igniting raging debates about art, sexuality, and propriety. Displaying a confounding mix of altruism and mercenariness, she supported her divorced mother and recalcitrant siblings, performed for adoring standing-room-only audiences all across America, Europe, and Russia during the First World War and well into the 1920s, and established schools for her Isadorables even as she was condemned for her licentiousness, financial shenanigans, and half-baked radical politics. Visionary, courageous, rash, and mercurial, Duncan has never been portrayed with such tireless attention to detail. Kurth, the author of Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexander (1995), diligently tracks Duncan's every triumph and tragedy, skillfully excerpts her writings and other invaluable sources, and sets her entire complex milieu in motion. In awe, he wisely restricts himself to precision reporting, leaving aesthetic and psychological interpretations for other scholars, who, like all of Kurth's fascinated readers, will be grateful for his herculean effort and abiding respect. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kurth (Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson) presents an exhaustive march through an exhausting, tragic life, organizing endless material into a coherent chronology. Duncan's contributions to dance are better documented and analyzed elsewhere. With minimum commentary, Kurth follows Duncan's frenetic existence from her 1877 birth in San Francisco until her infamous death (when her scarf caught in the wheel of her car, strangling her) in France in 1927. Duncan, her sister and two brothers, professionally entwined throughout their lives, spent early childhood vacillating between luxury and penury (her financier/swindler father, an integral part of San Francisco's 1877 banking collapse, was prone to long disappearances), a tendency which prevailed throughout their adulthood. Duncan seemed marked by tragedy: various fires destroyed belongings and homes (her earliest memory was of being tossed from the window of a burning building); her father died in a shipwreck; two of her children perished when a chauffeur rolled their car into the Seine; the third died shortly after birth. Throughout adulthood, Duncan moved restlessly and incessantly about, principally from Paris to Berlin to Russia. She danced, drank and enjoyed volatile long-term relationships while simultaneously leaping into bed with numerous so-called geniuses. Occasional professional successes peppered Duncan's life, but perhaps her most defining experience was her 1922 marriage to the mad, alcoholic and abusive Russian poet Esenin. By the time of his suicide in 1925, the couple had essentially destroyed each other professionally and personally. Neither a dance history nor a portrait of an era although Duncan knew everyone and participated in everything this book instead offers a meticulous chronology of an extraordinary life. (Nov. 15) Forecast: This is not, as the publisher claims, "the first major biography" of Isadora (Frederika Blair's predates it by 15 years). Its exhaustive rather than illuminative qualities will limit its readership to the most dedicated dance fans. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Known to some as a leading light of early modern dance and to others as an ill-starred celebrity of the early 20th century (she was strangled when the long scarf she was wearing caught in the rear wheel of a sports car in which she was riding), Isadora Duncan has been the subject of a number of biographies and films over the years. On and off stage Duncan was unconventional, free-spirited, and, to purists of dance and morality, downright shocking. Her style of dance (incorporating everyday movements like skipping and jumping) and dress (barefoot, uncorseted, Grecian-style gowns) were unheard of even in the theater of those late Victorian times. Kurth, a regular contributor to and author of American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson and Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson, has fashioned a luminous portrait, aglow with the details of Duncan's life and times. Mining the rich lode of Duncan sources her own writings, recollections of her contemporaries and press coverage of the day Kurth presents as complete a picture of the dance pioneer and proto-feminist as is possible. Although only a few minutes of Duncan's dancing have been preserved on film, the vivid descriptions found here will conjure up moving images of one of the most original figures in dance history. Recommended for all libraries. Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

From the eloquent photograph on the jacket to the more than 60 pages of endnotes, this is a book with exemplary attention to detail. With the precision of an Antwerp diamond cutter, respected biographer Kurth presents with brilliant clarity the many facets of Duncan's life (1877-1927). This marvelously readable book has the same lively incisiveness of an Edith Wharton novel set at the same time. Duncan is synonymous with all that is free-wheeling and innovative in the early years of US modern dance, and Kurth must be credited with capturing the vitality of her spirit while revealing impeccable scholarship and providing what is sure to be considered the definitive work on this important artist. Much as Agnes de Mille's Martha (CH, Feb'92) provides a far more objective and accurate view of Graham's life than Graham did in her own Blood Memory (1991), Kurth provides a more comprehensive and readable perspective on the life of Duncan than she did in her autobiography, My Life (1927). He provides a phenomenal wealth of information, particularly in view of the reasonable cost of the book, and has clearly set the standard for any future writing on Duncan. All collections. C. W. Sherman emerita, College of William and Mary

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Part I The Happier Age of Gold: 1877-1904p. 3
1. A Baby Bolshevikp. 5
2. "I Dreamed of a Different Dance"p. 20
3. Flying Eastwardp. 34
4. Londonp. 55
5. Parisp. 68
6. Germanyp. 92
7. Mythp. 109
Part II Twin Souls: 1904-1907p. 127
8. Teddy and Topsyp. 129
9. "Your Isadora"p. 147
10. Their Own Sweet Willp. 165
11. Maternityp. 184
12. Breaking Stonesp. 200
Part III Passion and the Storm: 1907-1914p. 217
13. Pim and Pure Pleasurep. 219
14. Daughter of Prometheusp. 236
15. To Love in a Certain Wayp. 255
16. One Great Cryp. 283
17. The Rock of Niobep. 303
Part IV Decrescendo: 1914-1921p. 321
18. Dionysion 1915p. 323
19. South Americap. 340
20. "I Tell You She Drives 'Em Mad"p. 356
21. Sunk in Sorrow, Tossed in Joyp. 372
22. The Bad Fairyp. 390
Part V Russia: 1921-1924p. 409
23. Comrade Duncanp. 411
24. Wayward Childp. 428
25. "How Russian! How Russian!"p. 441
26. Just a Wee Bit Eccentricp. 464
27. Genius and Kaputtp. 481
Part VI "Sans Limites": 1924-1927p. 497
28. Love and Idealsp. 499
29. Seraphitap. 517
30. The Ride to Gloryp. 536
Epiloguep. 555
Sources and Acknowledgmentsp. 559
Abbreviationsp. 563
Notesp. 565
Indexp. 629