Movement Captured: Dance in Art from the Loeb

“The only record of a dancer’s art lies in other art.” Martha Graham, 1941

Of the many rich exchanges between dance and fine art, those best represented in the collection of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center involve pivotal figures in twentieth-century ballet and modern dance, the latter dominated by influential American women. Their innovations spanned from Europe to Russia to the United States. 

Isadora Duncan dancer, date unknown (Photographer unknown)

Loïe Fuller at Musée d’Orsay, Paris, ca. 1900 by Samuel Joshua Beckett

Beginning around 1900, the strictures of traditional ballet were no match for the explosive creativity put forth by a new class of larger-than-life modern dancers. Among them were Loïe Fuller, who dissolved the human form into fields of color and light; Isadora Duncan, who harnessed the power of natural, free-form movement; and Graham, who found in gesture a direct conduit to human emotion. Avidly observing these figures were artists who captured the evolution in dance through painting, prints, and photographs. 

Ballet Russes, date unknown (Photographer unknown)

Artists too injected their expertise into the world of dance. In ballet, this phenomenon was epitomized early in the century by the Ballets Russes and its unified costume, set design, choreography, and music that transported audiences to otherworldly realms. Subsequently artists like Eugene Berman collaborated with dancers to create costume and set designs, while others like Alexander Calder distilled the energy of dance into abstract forms. The challenges of such projects were not small. “After all,” noted student Jane Fiske in her 1946 review of the Vassar exhibition Dancing in America, “dance is the art of action.”

This exhibition was organized by the Art Center and Miriam Mahdaviani, Vassar College Dance Department, with the assistance of Eleanor McClure-Chute, class of 2020.

Movement Captured: Choreography of Ted Shawn and Merce Cunningham Performance Stills