“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”.
Les papillons japonais, is an early silent era film released in France circa 1908 by Segundo de Chomón who was a pioneering Spanish film director. He produced many short films in France while working for Pathé Frères and has been compared to Georges Méliès, due to his frequent camera tricks and optical illusions. He is regarded as one of the most significant Spanish silent film directosr in an international context.
This film is essentially a genre picture — the sort of stage/film magic hybrid that Georges Melies had pioneered. It is partially hand colored and shows several Japanese characters and eventually a worm change into a butterfly. While flapping it’s wings the butterfly changes colors as it flies, before changing into a girl performing the serpentine dance popular in France and elsewhere at the time.
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.
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).
Creation of the Serpentine starring Loie Fuller by Segundo de Chomón