Extraordinary Vintage Photos of The American Circus by Frederick W. Glasier

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Queen, the High Diving Horse, Brockton Fair, Massachusetts, circa 1899 via

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Joan of Arc, circa 1912 via

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Ella Bradna, Equestrian, circa 1903 via

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Loie Fuller, Glorine, Butterfly Dancer, 1902 via

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Charmion, Strong Woman, 1904 via

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Nettie Carrol, circa 1904 via

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Annette Kellerman, circa 1907 via

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Gertrude Dewar, Mademoiselle Omega, Brockton Fair, Massachusetts, 1908 via

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Mademoiselle Scheel with Lions, circa 1905 via

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Living Statues, circa 1905 via

W.B. Yeats “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”

When Loie Fuller’s Chinese dancers enwound
A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
It seemed that a dragon of air
Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
So the Platonic Year
Whirls out new right and wrong,
Whirls in the old instead;
All men are dancers and their tread
Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.” – W.B. Yeats, ll.49-58 in the poem “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”.

Amazing Vintage Photos of Loïe Fuller and the Serpentine Dance

in the 1890s the amazing serpentine dance became popular throughout Europe and the United States. The new dance was created by Loïe Fuller (1862 – 1928). Fuller was a visionary artist whose novel genre of performance combined billowing costumes with dazzling lights and projections to conjure transformative imagery of hypnotic beauty. Born in Chicago, Fuller embarked on an early theatrical career as an actress and singer in vaudeville, stock companies, and burlesque before developing the dance style that made her famous in the early 1890s. Through experiments with silk drapery and colored lights, she evolved her first Serpentine Dance. Thereafter, the genre became known as “serpentine dancing” and was widely imitated.

Her warm reception in Paris during a European tour persuaded Fuller to remain in France and continue her work. A regular performer at the Folies Bergère with works such as Fire Dance, Fuller became the embodiment of the Art Nouveau movement. Fuller’s pioneering work attracted the attention, respect, and friendship of many French artists and scientists, including Jules Chéret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, François-Raoul Larche, Henri-Pierre Roché, Auguste Rodin, Franz von Stuck, Maurice Denis, Thomas Theodor Heine, Koloman Moser, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Marie Curie.

Although they later became rivals, Fuller helped the career of a young Isadora Duncan. Fuller helped Duncan ignite her European career in 1902 by sponsering independent concerts in Vienna and Budapest.

At the turn of the 20th century, Fuller brought dance to the cutting edge of modernity, and her energy and ambition made her one of the most influential American women of her era. Fuller died in Paris, France, on January 2, 1928.

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Portrait of Loïe Fuller, by Frederick Glasier, 1902 via

The Serpentine Dance on Film

This is an 1896 film of Fuller performing the dance by pioneering film-makers the Lumière brothers. It gives a hint of what her performance was like. The Serpentine Dance was a frequent subject of early motion pictures, as it highlighted the new medium’s ability to portray movement and light. Many other filmmakers produced their own versions, distributing prints that had been hand-tinted to evoke (though not quite reproduce) the appearance of colored light projection. Fuller also appeared in films by Segundo de Chomon, fx. in the 1908 silent Création de la Serpentine (1908).

Beautiful Vintage Photos of Ruth St. Denis

Ruth Saint Denis (January 1879 – 1968) was a modern dance pioneer, introducing eastern ideas into the art.

While touring in Belasco’s production of Madame Du Barry in 1904 her life was changed. She was at a drugstore with another member of Belasco’s company in Buffalo, New York, when she saw a poster advertising Egyptian Deities cigarettes. The poster portrayed the Egyptian goddess Isis enthroned in a temple; this image captivated St. Denis on the spot and inspired her to create dances that expressed the mysticism that the goddess’s image conveyed. From then on, St. Denis was immersed in Oriental philosophies.

Like Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan before her, St. Denis felt that Europe might have more to offer her. She left with her mother for London in 1906, and traveled the continent performing her “translations” until 1909, when she returned to give a series of well-received concerts in New York City and on tour in the United States. During the next five years she continued to tour, building her reputation as an exotic dancer with an artistic bent, a “classic dancer” in the same catagory as Isadora Duncan. These two artists were, however, inherently different in their approach to the solo dance. According to St. Denis’ biographer Suzanne Shelton, Duncan sought “the Self in the Universe,” and St. Denis sought “the Universe in the Self.” For St. Denis, the exotic worlds she intended to interpret could be seen from the vantage point of her body. One of her quotes reads as follows:

I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.

After 1911, the vogue for solo dancers on the professional stage died down. To support herself, St. Denis often gave private lessons to society women, including Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. In 1938 St. Denis founded Adelphi University’s dance program, one of the first dance departments in an American university. It has since become a cornerstone of Adelphi’s Department of Performing Arts.

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Ruth St Denis in the ‘East Indian Nautch Dance’ (1932)

Ruth St Denis is seen here performing the Indian Noche (1932) one of her most famous pieces.

Vintage Celebrity Portraits by Benjamin J. Falk

When photographer Napoleon Sarony died in 1896, Benjamin J. Falk ascended to the first place in the world of performing arts photography.

Born on October 14th, 1853, Benjamin J. Falk grew up in New York City. He graduated from the College of the City of New York with a B.S. in 1872, while concurrently serving as a technician under photographer George Rockwood. His first ambition was to be a graphic artist, so he attended classes at the NY Academy of Design while maintaining a studio with Jacob Schloss:

“Being naturally of an investigating turn of mind he interested himself in scientific studies. After making crayons for five years, he enlarged his studio into a photographic gallery. In 1881 he moved to Broadway, where the business grew rapidly, developing largely in the line of portraits of celebrities” (source).

He often experimented with his images, using curious juxtapositions, unusual poses, and lighting highlights to convey distinctiveness of personality. He did many portraits against blank walls or bleached out backcloths. He began the fashion for faces and figures suspended in a milky white ground that became ubiquitous shortly after 1900.

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Lillian Russell, bust portrait, facing front by Benjamin J. Falk, 1889 via

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Lillian Russell, 1861-1922, full length, standing, facing left; in elegant gown by Benjamin J. Falk, 1904 via

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Dancer and pioneer Loïe Fuller by Benjamin J. Falk, 1896 via

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Dancer and pioneer Loïe Fuller by Benjamin J. Falk, 1896 via

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British actress Lillie Langtry by Benjamin J. Falk, 1881 via

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British actress Lillie Langtry by Benjamin J. Falk, 1881 via