In 1971, vanguard modern choreographer José Limón created Dances for Isadora as a tribute to one of the pioneers of the art form — Isadora Duncan. Limón regarded Duncan as his “dance mother” and choreographed solos that he felt paid homage to her spirit and life, which spanned from 1877-1927.

Dance educator Carolyn Stine McLaughlin is the creator of the A Time with Isadora project and hopes to honor Duncan’s legacy in a similar way. She brought re-stagings of Limón’s dances to Atlanta as a part of the Inman Park Dance Festival in April 2022. Now, her project enters its next phase with a salon-style performance on September 29 at 7 p.m. at The Trolley Barn in Inman Park.

Mercy Matthews performed “Primavera” at the Inman Park Dance Festival in April.

The evening will feature the Limón solos and commissioned works by Full Radius Dance’s Douglas Scott and staibdance’s George Staib, along with a post-show discussion with the audience and a small visual arts exhibit.

For McLaughlin, the Limón-Duncan exchange opened up a much larger conversation around freeing historic dances from grainy photographs and scant videography. A Time with Isadora highlights the theme of how one artist influences many, and how to honor these influences through your own art-making.

McLaughlin first conceived the A Time with Isadora project 10 years ago while experiencing one of Atlanta’s infamous attractions: bumper-to-bumper traffic.

“I was stuck in traffic looking at the rolling terrain of the Olmstead Linear Parks and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be beautiful to see dancers there?’” she says. “Then I thought of the vocabulary of Isadora Duncan.”

Duncan was famous for her barefoot, buoyant dance vocabulary, calling to mind Grecian sculptures with movement that emphasized body-soul connectedness. Intrigued by the influential modern pioneer, McLaughlin went to New York to study with Isadora Duncan Foundation founder and artistic director Lori Belilove and returned to Atlanta with a stack of books and inspiration.

Her project slowly took shape during the intervening years and launched in April with former Limón dancer and reconstructor Natalie Desch setting Dances for Isadora on three of Atlanta’s contemporary dance artists. Mercy Matthews and Andie Knudson from ImmerseATL performed Primavera and Maenad, while Julianna Feracota, who dances with Full Radius Dance, took on Limón’s Niobe. All three were performed at the Inman Park Dance Festival.

Niobe is a character from Greek mythology who serves as the prototype of the mourning mother. The solo recounts Duncan’s tragic loss of her children. Her first two children died at 6 and 3 in a car accident, and she lost her third child shortly after he was born. Duncan’s own tragic end occurred when one of her flowing scarves wrapped around the wheel of her convertible, strangling her.

Feracota gained a new appreciation for Niobe’s maturity, solemnity and grace, as it contrasted the often joyful and playful portrayals of Duncan’s work.

“She lived a full, and at times, tragic life,” Feracota says. “Throughout the process of learning Niobe, I was blown away by the attention to detail and integrity within each movement.”

McLaughlin will also present Duncan’s 1904 solo, Narcissus, after months of working with Belilove remotely. It will be performed Thursday by Full Radius company member Ashlee Jo Ramsey-Borunov.

Feracota in “Niobe”

“I was talking to Ashlee Jo, who also studies yoga, about how Duncan’s gestures come from the fourth chakra, the heart chakra,” says McLaughlin. “All the motivation of the movement comes from the solar plexus and is so uplifting. I hope people will see that.”

The program’s original works include one by McLaughlin in memory of her late friend and visual artist Margaret Katz Nodine and inspired by Nodine’s painting Three. The artist would often attend McLaughlin’s classes and rehearsals to draw her and her colleagues in motion. The painting hung in McLaughlin’s home for years and will now be brought to life for as a trio.

Full Radius Dance director Scott is conversing with Duncan’s life and legacy through the drawings of modernist artist Abraham Walkowitz, whose prints use ink and graphite on paper to outline Duncan’s silhouettes. Scott is translating them into movement with his dancers. Some of Walkowitz’s original drawings are at the High Museum of Art and two reprints will be on display during the performance, courtesy of the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation.

McLaughlin’s second commissioned work for the evening is choreographed by Staib. His duet is set on two staibdance dancers and honors his mentor, former Limón dancer Ann Vachon, with the poignant sentiment threaded throughout the work that “there’s a time for everything.”

McLaughlin says A Time with Isadora’s next iteration will be as a documentary created by University of Georgia student filmmakers Margot McLaughlin, Carrie Miller and Mollie Robertson. She’s excited to give audiences a chance to see works that have been dormant for nearly a century, as well as fresh interpretations of historic art pieces.

“These works are 70 to 100 years old,” says McLaughlin. “But they are still extremely valuable to us as artists.”

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Amanda Sieradzki (MFA) is an arts journalist, dance educator and artistic director of dance company Poetica. She teaches on faculty at the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida, and writes for Creative Pinellas’ Arts Coast Journal, the Tallahassee Council on Culture & Arts, DIYdancer Magazine and ArtsATL.





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