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Washington Post Fringe 2008

Isadora Duncan, Fringe Magnet
By Lisa Traiger 
Special to The Washington Post 
Friday, July 11, 2008; Page WE20

Isadora Duncan was a radical feminist nearly a century before the term came into vogue. She was an iconoclastic dancer who broke from the strictures of ballet and the dance hall to create a performing style that became the precursor to modern dance.

“Isadora revolutionized everything she touched,” says Cynthia Word, a local dancer who, since 2005, has immersed herself in the works and philosophy of the turn-of-the-20th-century choreographer. “She was very much into women’s liberation at a time when women didn’t even vote. She changed the art of dance. She changed fashion and theater. I want people to know . . . that she was really quite a visionary.”

Duncan broke nearly all the rules of her era: dancing barefoot; tossing out corsets and starched tutus for filmy, translucent costumes; bringing her art to intimate salons; and connecting deeply on a spiritual and emotional level with her fans. She was, in a sense, the first fringer.

“Her work was certainly very fringe when she was creating it,” Word says, “and I think it is still fringe, even now, because Isadora believed in the dignity and the beauty of the human.”

During the next two weeks, Capital Fringe Festival audiences will have a rare opportunity to see Duncan’s once-radical works reconstructed and performed by Word Dance Theater at the Harman Center for the Arts. “Revolutionary: Isadora Duncan’s Words, Music and Dance” features British actress Sarah Pleydell reading from Duncan’s prolific writings, including a popular autobiography, letters and critical essays she penned before her untimely death (accidentally strangled by her own scarf) in 1927. Word, with guest dancers Valerie Durham and Ingrid Zimmer, will re-create a dozen of Duncan’s famous but little-seen works, among them “Revolutionary Etude,” “Mother,” “Ave Maria” and “Water Study.”

Other Fringe dance events will showcase many of the region’s best-known companies. Company and community members affiliated with the groundbreaking Liz Lerman Dance Exchange will invigorate a building in “Muscle and Mortar: Animating Architecture” by dancing throughout the grand spaces, between the columns and beneath the arches of the National Building Museum (July 25, 26). Maida Withers’s “Fare Well: The End of the World as We Know It!” paints a moving snapshot of the changing environment using text, dance, an electronic score and interactive media (Harman Center for the Arts today, Saturday and July 19).

At Dance Place, the dancing never stops. “Eclipse: 24 Hrs of Blackness!” (July 26, 27) will begin with master classes and daytime showcases of contemporary African American choreographers, including Troy Powell, Quynn Johnson, Christal Brown and Reggie Glass, and the all-day-into-night affair concludes with a full concert featuring up-and-comers Whitney Hunter, Reginald Cole and Samantha Speis.

For those who prefer to dance themselves, the 9:30 club is hosting Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company in a participatory, postmodern cabaret called “Songs of My Life/Going Against the Flow” (July 26). Twenty dancers, a handful of DJs, a quartet of video artists and members of Washington Improv Theater will perform throughout the expansive nightclub, allowing plenty of opportunities for the audience to dance to the beats of a varied musical selection, including salsa, hip-hop, merengue and Top 40.