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Photo: Loie Fuller in her "Serpentine Dress"
Loie Fuller

Source: Merriam-Webster

Loie Fuller, 1862-1928, Dancer

Born on January 15, 1862, in Fullersburg (now part of Hinsdale), Illinois, Marie Louise Fuller grew up there and in Chicago. She made her stage debut in Chicago at the age of four, and over the next quarter-century she toured with stock companies, burlesque shows, vaudeville, and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, gave temperance lectures and Shakespearean readings, and appeared in various legitimate productions in Chicago and New York City. She began to achieve notice in Nat Goodwin's burlesque "Little Jack Sheppard" in New York in 1886, and in 1887 she starred in Charles Frohman's production of «She». In 1888 she attempted a Caribbean tour with her own company, but bankruptcy ended the attempt in Havana. She appeared in several plays in London in 1889-1890.

While rehearsing "Quack, M.D." in 1891 Fuller hit upon the idea of using a voluminous skirt of transparent china silk, in which she twirled under a pale green light. The effect on the audience was remarkable. She began experimenting with varying lengths of silk and different colored lighting and gradually evolved her "Serpentine Dance," which she first presented in the revue "Uncle Celestin" in New York in February 1892. After a week her success was such as to make possible her own show at the Madison Square Theatre. Later in the year she traveled to Europe and in October opened at the Folies Bergère in her "Fire Dance," in which she danced on glass, illuminated from below. She quickly became the toast of avant-garde Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin, and Jules Cheret used her as a subject, writers dedicated works to her, and daring society women sought her out. She lived and worked mainly in Europe thereafter. At the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 she appeared in her own theater. Her later experiments in stage lighting, a field in which her influence was deeper and more lasting than in choreography, included the use of phosphorescent materials and silhouette techniques.

In 1908 Fuller published a memoir, "Quinze Ans de Ma Vie", to which Anatole France contributed an introduction; it was published in English translation as
"Fifteen Years of a Dancer's Life" in 1913. During World War I she entertained Allied troops and engaged in relief work for which she was later decorated by
several nations. After the war she danced infrequently, but from her school in Paris she sent out touring dance companies to all parts of Europe; such groups continued to tour for a decade after her death. In 1923 she staged the inferno scene for a Paris Opéra production of Berlioz's «Damnation de Faust». In 1926 she last visited the United States, in company with her friend, Queen Marie of Rumania. Her final stage appearance was her "Shadow Ballet" in London in 1927. She died in Paris on January 1, 1928.


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