We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Revolutionary: Isadora Duncan’s Words, Music, Dance
Harman Center – Forum
Sunday, July 13 @ 5:30 PM; Sunday, July 20 @ 6 PM
Sunday, July 24 @ 7 PM; Saturday, July 26 @ 1 PM
They say: “Join Word Dance Theater in their multi-media production of the life and times of Isadora Duncan, the great American artist and revolutionary. Using Duncan’s own words, actress Sarah Pleydell embodies Isadora. WDT dancers provide brilliant reconstructions of Isadora Duncan’s choreography, and Marcia Daft creates a soundscape using the beautiful music that was the thru-line of Duncan’s life and work. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience one of America’s greatest geniuses.”
Brian’s take: I find it very challenging to apply words to dance. To me, they kind of kill the point.
Not that it can’t be done, as it is elegantly in the Word Dance Theater’s production at the Harman Center Forum. You can truly watch the mother modern dance give birth to the form in this homage not only to Isadora Duncan, but to movement itself.
The piece is divided into segments of language and segments of dance, taken directly from Duncan’s texts and her choreography, respectively. Sarah Pleydell, who compiled the script, narrates as Duncan from a plush divan. The director has given her very little opportunity to move—she lounges nearly the entire performance—but save a few weak moments, Pleydell commands Duncan’s words with masterful gestures and thoughtfully measured delivery.
And then there are the dances, performed by Cynthia Word (also artistic director), Valerie Durham, and Ingrid Zimmer, which, over the course of eleven pieces, run the emotional gamut from joy to childhood to love to patriotism to mourning to communism. (Well, I’m not sure if communism is officially part of the “emotional gamut,” but I digress.) Some are better than others—and a few are spectacular—but each resonates vibrantly with Pleydell’s soliloquy and, even more impressively, her intent gaze as she watches the movement unfold before her.
One number bears particular mention, although I hate to demean it by even calling it a “number.” In 1913, Duncan’s two children drowned in the Seine. At this moment in the show, Word stands center stage and performs a painfully physical ave in low light. Her gestures are revealed so slowly, so precisely, and at such a microscopic level, that you barely even catch her moving. She refuses to utter an extraneous breath. Draped with a simple white linen, she might as well be a trembling marble statue. Word never moves her feet, and so the faintest tilt of the head or quiver of the torso sends a ripple of sorrow through the theater. Duncan often spoke of ever-elusive “ideals” in movement, gesture, and the human form. Word would certainly have made the master proud.
See it if: “You’re just not a dance person” (I can hear you saying it from here, and that’s no excuse).
Skip it if: You find yourself easily irritated by less-than-ideal recordings of classical music, no matter how talented the dancers moving to them are.