Traces of Light

Absence and Presence in the Work of Loïe Fuller

By Ann Cooper Albright

Wesleyan University Press
Middletown, Connecticut

A Review

We all know Loïe Fuller, who danced waving yards of scarf in multicolored lights. Right? Well, not quite.

Professor Albright, in this definitive discussion of all aspects of La Loïe, has augmented this vision. La Loïe looms as the grandmother of dance multimedia and of all “independent women.” With impeccable research and unique reconstruction, Albright traces what Paris saw in the heyday of the Moulin Rouge and details the movement and lighting of Ms. Fuller’s dances.

With the self-assurance that we might expect of the chair of Gender and Women’s Studies of Oberlin College, she describes in the introduction the history of her own interest in and research into her subject. She allows us to know her, her ability to metakinetically feel the movement of the dancer, her tireless pursuit of sources, and her historic agenda.

And with the self-assurance that we might expect of a Professor of Dance, she spells out the musculature needed to hoist and control yards of silk. Albright reconstructed and performed in several venues one of Ms. Fuller’s dances and found that her own muscles built up after those performances. She uses this observation to counter some voiced opinions that Ms. Fuller was “not really a dancer.” But all I needed was to read the many comments of those who saw Fuller’s work, writing how it “moved” them, to know that she was indeed an artist.

(I note here that, along with many beautiful photographs, all pertinent original sources are included in the body text of the book, not hidden in footnotes or in an addendum, making this volume indeed “reader friendly.”)

Loïe Fuller is really our contemporary. As a motion artist she had a vision, and she found the material and the means to embody it. She had to “invent” light sources (putting trap doors in the stage floor to provide “up lighting,” for example), supervise construction, and coach the electricians (a process familiar to all of us in multimedia). As a woman she “was her own man”—being exactly what she was, a style that indeed seems contemporary to us. Her sensitivity had to ignore the question “Is this DANCE?”—the same question that many artists today must ignore as they pursue their visions.

I found Albright’s tracing of the social changes that Fuller seems to have inadvertently been party to of contemporary interest. As a society we seem always in flux, and our artists are in the forefront of thought and change.

—Ruth Grauert, Sept. 11, 2007     

See also Weslayan University’s Web site devoted to Ann Cooper Albright’s reconstruction of Fuller’s work. Includes photos, videos, and a collection of posters from the Follies Bergère. (Requires Flash and Quicktime.)