They move blithely with abandon, young women clad in filmy tunics like Greek goddesses, barefoot, long hair cascading down their backs. A gathering of fairies in the forest? A hippie wedding in a meadow? More like a performance by the Isadora Duncan Dance Ensemble, a local group devoted to preserving the style of the maverick American dancer, born in 1878.
Making her stage debut in 1899, Duncan scandalized turn-of-the century audiences with her rejection of corsets, toe shoes, ankle-covering outfits, and classical moves. She also drew fire for relinquishing any semblance of a normal life. An ardent believer in women's rights, she never married but had many affairs, bore three children (all of whom died prematurely) out of wedlock, embraced Communism, and perished tragically in 1927 when the long scarf she wore became entangled in the wheels of the car in which she was riding.
Living mostly in Europe, Duncan founded several schools for underprivileged girls all over the world. That and the many children she adopted ensured her dance legacy (a repertoire of nearly 60 works reflecting stages of her life) would be perpetuated to the so-called second generation. Ninety-year-old Julia Levien, a student of daughters Anna and Irma Duncan during the 1930s, is a third-generation dancer. Levien's apprentice, Miami dancer/professor Andrea Mantell-Seidel, also a protégé of modern dance pioneer Eleanor King, did not embrace Duncan's method until her early thirties. ("It was love at first skip," she laughs.) In 1991 Mantell-Seidel, the fourth generation, introduced Duncan's work to a fifth, founding a company of girls ages thirteen and fourteen.
The Miami-based dancers soon received international acclaim, performing at venues such as the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center and the prestigious Internationales Tanzfestival Nordheim-Westfalen in Germany. The youngsters are now women and a few, including Stephanie Bastos -- who lost a leg in a 1995 car accident -- remain with the ensemble.
This weekend another generation shares the spotlight with its predecessors. A new group of "Isadorables," plus the older gals together with Mantell-Seidel and former Jose Limon Company dancer Bambi Anderson, will debut in 100 Years of Isadora: Six Generations. The show will pay tribute to Levien's 75 years in dance (she's the troupe's artistic advisor) and commemorate the shocking moment a little over 100 years ago when Isadora Duncan bounded onto the stage.
"It's such beautiful work," Mantell-Seidel notes. "It's about the triumph of the human spirit. It's great art. It transcends time and place. That's what makes art survive." And offering what may be the greatest hope that Duncan's style itself will endure? The little ones darting about the stage this weekend, among whom will be Anderson's and Mantell-Seidel's daughters.