Loie Fuller was an American dancer who was a pioneer of both modern dance and theatrical lighting techniques.Born Marie Louise Fuller in the Chicago suburb of Fullersburg, now Hinsdale, Illinois, Fuller began her theatrical career as a professional child actress and later choreographed and performed dances inburlesque (as a skirt dancer), vaudeville, and circus shows. An early free dance practitioner, Fuller developed her own natural movement and improvisation techniques. Fuller combined her choreography with silk costumes illuminated by multi-coloured lighting of her own design.
Although Fuller became famous in America through works such as the serpentine dance (1891), she felt that she was not taken seriously by the public who still thought of her as an actress. 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. An 1896 film of the Serpentine Dance by the pioneering film-makers Auguste and Louis Lumière gives a hint of what her performance was like. (The unknown dancer in the film is often mistakenly identified as Fuller herself.)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, Demetre Chiparus, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Marie Curie
Fuller held many patents related to stage lighting including chemical compounds for creating color gel and the use of chemical salts for luminescent lighting and garments (stage costumes US Patent 518347). Fuller was also a member of the French Astronomical Society.
Loie Fuller’s original stage name was “Louie”. In modern French “L’ouïe” is the word for a sense of hearing. When Fuller reached Paris she gained a nickname which was a pun on “Louie”/”L’ouïe”. She was renamed “Loïe” – this nickname is a corruption of the early or Medieval French “L’oïe”, a precursor to “L’ouïe”, which means “receptiveness” or “understanding”. She was also referred to by the nickname “Lo Lo Fuller”.
Romanian Art Déco Period Sculptor Demétre Chiparus(Dorohoi 1886 – 1947 Paris) did in bronze and ivory the iconic piece “Danseuse au cerceau” or “Ring Dancer” in 1928 inspired in the famous and prodigious dancer Zoula de Boncza of the Parisian Folies Bergère, a first dancer of The Belgrado Royal Opera and a Mime dancer of the Opéra-Comique in Paris. Later in life Zoula de Boncza, descendant of Polish nobility and one of Fuller’s best students, wrote a book published in 1961: the dance method La Danse classique sans barre: Méthode Zoula de Boncza, de l’Opéra-Comique.
Fuller formed a close friendship with Queen Marie of Romania; their extensive correspondence has been published. Fuller, through a connection at the U.S. embassy in Paris played a role in arranging a U.S. loan for Romania during World War I. Later, during the period when the future Carol II of Romania was alienated from the Romanian royal family and living in Paris with his mistress Magda Lupescu, she befriended them; they were unaware of her connection to Carol’s mother Marie. Fuller initially advocated to Marie on behalf of the couple, but later schemed unsuccessfully with Marie to separate Carol from Lupescu. With Queen Marie and American businessman Samuel Hill, Fuller helped found the Maryhill Museum of Art in rural Washington State, which has permanent exhibits about her career.
Fuller occasionally returned to America to stage performances by her students, the “Fullerets” or Muses, but spent the end of her life in Paris where she died of pneumonia on January 1, 1928, at the age of 65. She was cremated and her ashes are interred in the columbarium at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Her sister, Mollie Fuller, had a long career as an actress and vaudeville performer
Fuller’s work has been experiencing a resurgence of professional and public interest. Rhonda K. Garelick’s 2009 study entitled Electric Salomedemonstrates her centrality not only to dance, but also modernist performance. Sally R. Sommer has written extensively about Fuller’s life and times Marcia and Richard Current published a biography entitled Loie Fuller, Goddess of Light in 1997. The philosopher Jacques Rancière devoted a chapter of Aisthesis, his history of modern aesthetics, to Fuller’s 1893 performances in Paris, which he considers emblematic of Art Nouveau in their attempt to link artistic and technological invention. And Giovanni Lista compiled a 680-page book of Fuller-inspired art work and texts in Loïe Fuller, Danseuse de la Belle Epoque, 1994.
Fuller continues to be an influence on contemporary choreographers. One example is Jody Sperling who re-imagines Fuller’s genre from a contemporary perspective. Another is Ann Cooper Albright, who collaborated with a lighting designer on a series of works that drew inspiration from Fuller’s original lighting design patents. Shela Xoregos choreographed a tribute, La Loȉe, a solo which shows several of Fuller’s special effects.