Folies Bergere and the Serpentine Dance

As I was writing this post on MFA Boston's Lautrec and the Stars of Paris exhibit, I came across a few photos I took in the last gallery of the exhibit that were centered around some mesmerizing film footage of the 'Serpentine Dance.'

Lautrec and the Stars of Paris - MFA Boston

I could have stayed in this room for hours, watching the minute or less clip go on repeat.

Lautrec and the Stars of Paris - MFA BostonMiss Loïe Fuller, Lautrec, 1893

Successful entertainment acts in theaters or in circuses often use illusion to make the act seem even more incredible and impossible, and when done well they're nothing short of ingenious.

Before film effects and today's technology, club owners and theater directors knew the key to drawing a crowd lay in creating an effect that would keep people coming back each week.

At the end of the Lautrec exhibit, the MFA curators display more of his contemporaries' artwork and entertainment technology for performances that required his print advertisement skill.

Lautrec and the Stars of Paris - MFA BostonLa Loïe Fuller, Jules Cheret, 1893

One such act was Loïe Fuller's Serpentine Dance.

Clothed in yards of draped fabric, Loïe would spin in fine movements that moved her dress so that it would spiral like butterfly wings, or like a snake hence the name — Serpentine Dance.

Portrait of Loïe Fuller as Butterfly, Benjamin Joseph Falk, 1901

Through a sort of kaleidoscope of colored films placed over the spotlight, her dress would dramatically change colors as she danced (think the 'make it pink/make it blue' scene from Sleeping Beauty).

Technology has often played a part in creating art — technique leads to inventions to improve and make more efficient, mixing colors and creating colors becomes a more scientific process, and new tools are invented with each advent of a new art movement. So the progress makes perfect sense.

But with the Serpentine Dance we have various artforms and technologies coming together — Loïe's dancing, the costume creation, the colored film wheel to change the colors of her dress, the use of early video cameras to film her dancing, and the printed advertisements to promote the act (which, lithography has a whole technology-practice itself!).

You can see the reflection of the color-treated film footage in this frame

Where did you last pull up a chair to experience multiple technologies and media create a work of art?

1 thought on “Folies Bergere and the Serpentine Dance”

  1. Learned something new. Thank you, Grace.

    The history of mesmerizing audiences with spectacle might be an interesting concept to explore further.

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