ORINDA – Call us suckers for dance, but there’s something intensely gratifying about watching Lois Flood waft barefoot across the Orinda Library community hall stage.
Yes, she’s not a spring pup. And the sound system isn’t doing Chopin and Brahms any favors. But after an opening spiel about Isadora Duncan – the muse who appears to be both inspiration and part of Flood's DNA – pleasured sighs and appreciative applause burst spontaneously from the small, 20-some-people audience.
The venue’s limited space is perfect for the attendance numbers and the intimate, informal atmosphere Flood invites.
“I know 65 of her dances,” Flood said, in an interview before the performance. “I’ve been doing this show for 23 years and I mix it up each time for variety. I do this because she was one of the most influential women of her time.”
Isadora Duncan was born on May 27, 1877 (or 1888, some accounts differ), and grew up in Oakland. Her impoverished childhood did not lack for artistic and cultural riches; Duncan was encouraged to freely explore art, literature, music and of course, dance. “She was the first modern dancer; she was unconstrained by ballet slippers and tutus,” Flood said.
Duncan was also a feminist and revolutionary. Her constant-motion, express-from the-torso’s-center choreography agitated some and angered others, especially after a Russian tour in the early 1900s. Popular abroad, but occasionally scorned or treated to scathing reviews at home, Duncan retreated to Europe for much of her adult life.
“She would say, ‘I am not a dancer: I’m an expressionist.’ ” Flood said, paraphrasing Duncan’s philosophy.
In a series of nine four-minute dances, artfully interrupted twice by guest poet Marjorie Lynne Wagner’s readings, the influence of Greek art and sculpture, classical music, nature, mime and balletic traditions were obvious.
Flood donned a steady variety of gold, orange and the iconic white tunics as she swirled a red scarf, filtered rose petals through her fingers, or soared through the space on burnt-orange-toned (scarf) wings. During a particularly poignant Russian dance Flood had learned from a young dancer in Russia – and one she claimed no one else in the world currently performs – the scarf was a partner, not simply a decoration. Swirling it like a storm, closing it in front of herself like a curtain, bursting from behind its confines. The dance was a three-layered interaction between performer, prop and audience.
Tragically, it was a scarf that ended Duncan’s life at the age of 50. Riding in a convertible-style touring car, her scarf was entangled the car’s wheels and broke her neck.
In New York, Lori Belilove’s Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation keeps Duncan’s legacy alive through a performing company, educational programs and preservation of an archival collection. Maria-Theresa Duncan and Kay Bardsley’s Isadora Duncan International Institute, Inc. extends their programs beyond national borders. And from her home base in Alamo, Flood accepts private students and continues to pass along the legacy of a woman of distinction.
Flood said it took a long time to drop her own ballet-trained biases. Duncan dances are not about form or line; they adhere instead to unfurling streams of energy, laws of nature, connectivity between individuals and are always about beauty.
“That is starting to be a lost art,” Flood said. “I like that most of these dances are uplifting.”