Monday, February 22, 2010

Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography for Nonfiction Monday

Jones, Sabrina. Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography. New York: Hill and Wang-Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

ALA Great Graphic Novels for Teens (Nonfiction, 2009)

With this book, I'm asking a generation in flip-flops to imagine how traffic stopped when Isadora strolled down 5th Avenue in her homemade sandals.
p. 3
This graphic novel tells the story of Isadora Duncan, the Mother of Modern Dance, from her humble beginnings as the daughter of a piano teacher to her sudden death, due to an overly flow-y accessory and all that came in-between.

I came to this book knowing a few things about Isadora Duncan, namely that she spawned the "Isadorables;" that her style of dance, which was supposed to be free of training and structure, evolved into a new form of dance altogether in which students can now train and learn choreography that is passed down from body to body much in the way that ballet, which she despised for its "rigidness," has been for centuries; and that she was kind of a boozer. Basically, I know the kinds of things they tell you at the beginning of a modern dance class held during a summer workshop for ballet dancers.

All of these things are laid out beautifully in the book. But there is so much more! Isadora traveled the (Western, including Russia) world, to showcase her dancing. She gave political performances, that were not all that well-received, and yet she gave them over and over again because she believed in what she had to say. She was a professional dancer who GOT PREGNANT without ending her career. She started schools for underprivileged girls in Europe where they could learn to dance (be "Isadorables") and eat three square meals a day free of charge.

She also had the first historically recorded wardrobe malfunction (it's just wikipedia, nothing you can't click at work) and a rather scandalous string of lovers. As Jones says, we all have Isadora to thank for the widespread acceptance of "comfortable dress and serial monogamy" (125).

Throughout this biography, Jones manages to balance Isadora's personal, professional and family personas. Rather than focusing on just the scandal, just the ground-breaking accomplishments, just the prevalent eccentricities, Jones shows how each was affected and usually enhanced by the others. She also manages to convey a lot of movement, which is what modern dance is all about, for a book of black and white illustrations. Almost every spread shows a swaying, jumping, or somehow dancing Isadora. Her innocent little "I'm not up to anything" face peeks out from every page as well.

By drawing from Isadora's own autobiography, as well as her other publications and the work of other biographers, including Isadora's most loyal adopted Isadorable, Irma Duncan, Jones puts forth a wonderful look at all of the facets of Isadora's life. This book expresses the freedom and artistry that Isadora spent her life sharing with others.

Book source: Philly Free Library


Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I really enjoyed this book when I discovered it in the library. It's a great introduction to Isadora's life.

DianeRChen said...

This is a fascinating review and I can't wait to read Isadora Duncan. Thanks!