Abstract for the Greek article : Between -isms. How the Athenians reacted to Isadora in 1903.

(lecture given at the “Isadora & Raymond Duncan Dance Research Centre  in the context of the celebration of the 110 years since the construction of the historical site where the Center is hosted | May 2013)


During the 20th century, dance historians have placed Isadora next to a number of -isms (including humanism, feminism, liberalism, American radical individualism,  Hellenism, neo-classicism, modernism and many more), but her plethoric personality and the deep  contradictions that came with her theoretical discourse, made it  impossible to neatly classify her into any of these.

My premise in this lecture is that, during her stay in Athens, Isadora got caught in the line of fire between two other -isms, purely Greek this time, Demoticism and Archaism. This was a deep conflict, called the ‘language question’, that began as far back as the creation of the Greek state in the second half of the 19th century, climaxed at the beginning of the 20th century and continued to influence Greek politics, society and culture for the larger part of the 20th century. The ‘language issue’ was crucial to the construction of the  Greek identity and in defining the relationship of modern Greece to its glorious past.

During her first visit to Greece in 1903, Isadora actually participated in a series of demonstrations regarding the language called the ’Oresteiaka’ on the side of the conservative view that believed that certain ‘sacred’ texts should not be translated into modern Greek. At the same time, she came into contact with supporters of the opposite view, including the Greek royal family and a number of high society liberal Greeks. I believe that her relations with all these people, who were in intellectual conflict with each other may have damaged her credibility.

Moreover, her ideas concerning the ancient Greek ideal, were received by some as a marvelous endeavour – which unfortunately concealed the modern  nature of her dancing – by others as a ridiculous undertaking, especially coming from an eccentric American female artist. There were few people who actually surpassed their emotional response to the ancient Greek aspect of her dancing, and were able to enter into a discourse about  the meaning of her art or about the issues it gave rise to. Also, arriving at the beginnings of the women’s movement in Greece, I believe that Isadora’s representations of gender were also problematic in the eyes of the locals.

During her last visit to Greece in 1920, Isadora once again got caught up in the political divide of the time, and left with a distinct feeling of disappointment. The sad reality remains that she did not leave her mark on the Greek dance scene, probably because, despite her own contradictions, she remained too progressive for the comparatively conservative Athenian society.

Medie Megas