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Although American-born Loie Fuller had no formal training, she was an important modern dance pioneer. While performing in a pantomime, she was intrigued by the special effects. Images were projected onto fabric through the use of calcium lights, drapery and magic lanterns (a type of early slide projector). Fountains lit with multi-coloured lights that she saw in Paris, as well as the skirt dances performed at London's Gaity Theatre all influenced her own presentations.
Fuller's first successful choreographic work was Serpentine Dance (1891), which she performed between the acts of a play. After asking the management for a raise, Fuller was fired and replaced with another artist who performed her dance. Fuller sued and, although she lost, her case set an important precedent in American law. The judgment stated that Fuller's “graceful movements” were not the same as a play and therefore could not be copyrighted.
Soon after, Fuller left the United States and found acclaim in Paris. In works such as Papillon (1892) and Violet (1892), Fuller tossed the silky fabric of her costume, enveloping herself in beautiful shapes of butterflies and flowers. Her dances were lit against a black floor and background by colored electric lights.
For her most popular work, La Danse du Feu (Fire Dance) (1895), set to Wagner's Ride of the Walkyries, Fuller stood on a sheet of glass placed over a trap door. A red light under the stage made it appear as if her skirt caught fire and then engulfed her.
Fuller designed and patented all of her own costumes and lighting effects, and experimented with phosphorescent paint that shone in the dark. She eventually became fatally ill from the toxic chemicals she used in her stage effects.
Current, Richard Nelson and Maricia Ewing Current. Loie Fuller: Goddess of Light. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997.
Lista, Giovanni. Loïe Fuller: Danseuse de la belle époque. Paris: Stock-Éditions d’art somogy, 1994.