Category Archives: Dance

Jean, Sergei, Erik, Pablo, Leonide et les autres…

'Rag-Time Parade', composed by Erik Satie (Rouart, Lerolle & Cie, Paris, 1919)
‘Rag-Time Parade’, composed by Erik Satie (Rouart, Lerolle & Cie, Paris, 1919).

The best part of this post is the short movie. If you haven’t got time, directly scroll to the end and have a good laugh with the dancing ‘horse’.

Left: the Théatre du Chatelet in Paris; Right: photo of The Little Girl in Parade.
Left: the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris today; Right: photo of the little American girl posing for the 1917 Parade. The girl’s costume should have been designed by Picasso, but it was just bought in a shop.

In 1917, almost a century ago, two big events happened that would affect the lives of millions of people: the United States entered the Great War and Russia held its October Revolution. It is hard to imagine that against this grim historical background the bizarre, eccentric and crazy ballet Parade was created in Paris, a few hundred miles away from the mud, misery and inferno of the WWI front lines.

Left, Leonid Massine as the Chinese conjurer in Parade. Right the design for the Chinese conjurer’s costume by Pablo Picasso.

Parade was a short ballet. It premiered, together with other more traditional ballets, at a war time charity gala to support the troops, in May 1917 at the Théâtre du Chatelet. Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) had set the whirling story somewhere at the fringe of a fairground. Cocteau imagined acrobats, clowns, a Chinese conjurer, a little American girl (based on the 1914 film serial The Perils of Pauline) and other strange characters parading on the stage to entice the passers-by to enter the show.

Author Jean Cocteau and composer Erik Satie
Portraits of the author Jean Cocteau (left) and composer Erik Satie (right), both by Pablo Picasso.

The music composed by Erik Satie (1866-1925) was mixed with many real-life sound effects, e.g. from typewriters and gunshots. The dances were choreographed by the young Leonide Massine, the successor of Nijinsky. Finally, none other than Picasso designed the decors and cubistic costumes.

Two of the costumes designed by Picasso and made of wood, papier-mâché, metal and cloth.
Two of the costumes designed by Picasso and made of wood, papier-mâché, metal and cloth.

Preparing the ballet in Rome, Sergei Diaghilev wanted to be part of the avant-garde art scene using a modernistic environment for his Ballets Russes. The Parade ballet caused a scandal. About time! It was from 1912 (L’ Après-midi d’un faune) and 1913 (Le Sacre du printemps) ago that the Ballets Russes had provoked public outrage and the scorn of the critics.

'La Diva de l'Empire', composed by Erik Satie ()
‘La Diva de l’Empire’, composed by Erik Satie (Rouart, Lerolle & Cie, Paris, 1919). Not in our collection.

The ragtime from Parade was later adapted for piano solo and published in 1919 with its beautiful cover shown at the beginning. At the same time the editor also published an American intermezzo ‘La Diva de l’Empire’ by Satie with an equally striking cover. La Diva de l’Empire is a 1919 edition of a cabaret song with ragtime rhythms which Satie wrote in 1904. Obviously both covers were drawn by the same hand, but whose? Picasso, Natalia Goncharova, Fernand Léger, Charles Martin, ..? Or perhaps Satie himself who enjoyed typography and sketches?

Example of Satie's graphic and typographic experiments.
Examples of Satie’s graphic and typographic expressions.

“1917” is also the title of an exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou – Metz a few years ago. On that occasion the monumental theatre curtain (more than 16 m wide !), designed by Picasso for the ballet Parade, was unveiled. A few pictures tell about that enterprise.

The preparation for the 2008 exhibition of the Picasso curtain from the 1917 ballet Parade, at the Centre Pompidou – Metz.

With this giant scene Picasso refers to his previous more romantic rendering of street performers and artistic types, so distinctive for his earlier Rose Period. But at the same time the perspective and composition create a semi-realistic scene that is both upsetting and disturbing.

A detailed view of the Picasso decor.
A detailed view of the Picasso decor.

While working on Parade, Picasso met his future first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a dancer with the Ballets Russes. They married a year later in 1918.

picasso olga
Pablo Picasso with his future wife Olga Khokhlova, posing before the poster of Parade in Paris 1917.

Now as promised, the film, thanks to the dance performance of ‘Europa Danse’ who recreated Parade in 2008 (source:

The Furlana: a Blessed Dance Craze

La vraie Furlana papale by Théo Noletty, published by Philippo, Paris 1914, illustrated by Clérice Frères.

Traditionally the furlana was an Italian folk dance from Friuli, a region between Trieste and Venice. Dating back to the 17th century it became popular on the European continent in the first half of the 18th century, thanks to Couperin and Rameau. Pietro Longhi the painter of Venetian 18th century everyday life immortalized the furlana in one of his typical genre scenes.

la biu bella furlana
Left, Peasants dancing the Furlana by Pietro Longhi (1702-1785). Right, La piu bella Furlana by Alfredo Barbirolli, published by Au Ménestrel Paris in 1914, illustrated by René Péan.

By the end of the 18th century the furlana was passé. Apart from an opera or two in which the furlana was staged, nobody cared about the dance anymore, let alone knew how to dance it. It was a rather cheerful tune though if the version from Amilcare Ponchielli‘s opera La Gioconda is anything to go by.

And then all of a sudden at the eve of the Great War, in the spring of 1914, the furlana became the dance craze! It was extremely short-lived and lasted but a few months. But in that fleeting period it had the ambition to replace the tango which had invaded Europe around 1912. As the story goes we have to thank Pope Pius X for this fad. Pius X was strongly opposed to modernist interpretations of Catholic doctrine. He advocated traditional devotional practices, and of course abhorred the sensual and shocking tango.

pope furlana2
Left, Pope Pius X carefully watches a couple dancing the Tango. From L’Illustration.Right, Friuli by Bonincontro, published by Bornemann Paris in 1914, illustrated by Pousthomis.

Allegedly Pope Pius X, in a reaction to the dangerous vogue of the tango, had invited two young members of the Pontifical aristocracy to perform the notorious tango in a strictly private audience. Having witnessed these ‘ridiculous barbarian contortions’, Pope Pius X advised young people to adopt the delightful Venetian dance instead of the devilish tango. It was a (chaste) dance that he had often seen in his youth, where physical contact went no further than clasped hands. This papal advise was repeated in Rome’s Il Tempo newspaper.  And before long the furlana became the vogue in Rome, soon to be followed in Paris.

furlana venetie
Left, La Giocosa Furlana by L. Durand, published by Dupuis, Paris in 1914, illustrated by Léon Pousthomis. Right, La Furlana by Emile Doloire, published by Delormel, Paris in 1914, illustrated by Clérice Frères.

It is in that very short period of time, between the spring of 1914 and the outbreak of WWI, that every self-respecting dance teacher, every composer and every publishing house had to quickly concoct ‘the real’ furlana. A Venetian dance teacher claimed he had succeeded in recreating the original furlana after an interview with an octogenarian. It looked like this:

forlan gedanst2
The Furlana, reconstructed by the Venetian Professor Galante. La Revue Musicale S.I.M. april 1914.

At the same time a Roman dance teacher was quick to tell of his good fortune to discover an ancient dance manual explaining all the original movements of the furlana.

furlana X
Left, La Furlana by Paul Fauchey, published by Adolph Furstner in 1914, illustrated by Hippolyte Fournier. Right, La Furlana by Attic, published by E. Joullot, illustrated by Pousthomis.

In Paris as well, all in the music business were frantically claiming their importance in the furlanamania. One publisher tried to lure his potential clientèle reassuring them that the furlana could be danced everywhere: ‘La Furlana, nouvelle danse Vénitienne approuvée par sa sainteté le Pape Pie X, et pour cette raison adoptée dans les salons aristocratiques et mondains’. Another one boldly retraced the origins of the furlana to an ancient gondolier dance.

furlana bloem
Left, Célèbre Furlana Venitienne by Saratosga, published by Bons Auteurs, Paris, illustrated by Paul Dubois. Right, Furlana Jolie by Maria Rosset, published by Rosset, Paris 1914, illustrated by Clérice frères.

Parisian stylish dance teachers hurried to scrape together some movements in order to create a new choreography. Some of these teachers succeeded in attaching their name and theory to the published music. The best known of them was the elegant Duque (Antonio Lopes de Amorim Diniz) a Brazilian who abandoned a career in dentistry to become a dancer and dance teacher in Paris.  Duque was responsable for another dance craze: the maxixe. But this is for a later post. For now we’re off to Venice, going to dance with a gondolier!

La vrai Furlana, published by Edouard Salabert, Paris 1914. Photograph of L. Duque by Henri Manuel.

The Dolly Sisters: Art Deco gold diggers

Gold Diggers illustrated by Boullaire
Gold Diggers illustrated by Boullaire

Gold Diggers is an appropriate title for the fox trot danced by the Dolly Sisters. They surely knew something about gold digging, not as in ‘gold mining in Klondike’ but as in sweet-talking sugar daddies. The Dolly Sisters were hot during the jazz age and everybody wanted to be seen with them, even royalty.

The Dolly Sisters in their flamboyant costumes

Jenny and Rosie Deutsch had immigrated from their native Hungary to America where they began performing on stage at an early age. They were identical twins and they accentuated this by synchronising their movements and by wearing identical costumes. The Dolly Sisters soon became famous both in Europe and in the States. They had a penchant for plumes, jewellery, money, and older men but above all for gambling.

dollies gypsy
The Dolly Sisters in gypsy costume.

The best known of their sugar daddies was Harry Selfridge, who founded the first ‘shopping is fun’ department store in Oxford Street, London: Selfridges. In his later life he became so besotted by the Dolly Sisters that he catered for their every wish. He bought them diamonds, flew over their favourite food and sat next to them at the gambling table, his wallet wide open. This would eventually hasten the downfall of Harry Selfridge: he lost his entire fortune and his beloved department store.

The Dolly Sisters’ exuberant partying lifestyle came abruptly to an end when Jenny was injured in a car accident. She never recovered from it and sadly hanged herself in 1941. Rosie retired from public life and also tried to take her own live. She passed away in 1977.

The Dolly Sisters were wildly famous during their heyday, but it was not an enduring fame. Now this is interesting. We still know Greta Garbo, Maurice Chevalier or Charlie Chaplin, but not the Dolly Sisters. Maybe long-lasting fame has to do with persistence and talent. The Dolly Sisters’ career span was rather short. As for their talent we can get a glimpse of that in a recently published YouTube fragment. They are performing in a pantomime of a traditional children’s tale Babes in the Woods, although not in their usual identical costumes.

In an iconographic way the Dolly Sisters simply breathed Art Deco. Their ornate costumes and lavish acts are the quintessential image of the Roaring Twenties as can be seen in some of our Dolly Sisters sheet music covers.

Dolly Sisters, illustrated by de Valerio
Dolly Sisters, illustrated by de Valerio
Charleston Dolly, illustrated by Jack Roberts
Charleston Dolly, illustrated by Jack Roberts
dolly sisters maurice chevalier
Three covers illustrated by Loris with Maurice Chevalier between Jenny and Rosie.

Furthermore statuettes, porcelain figurines and boudoir dolls accompanied the Dolly Sisters’ rage and success. In 2012 a bronze and ivory statuette of the twins by Chiparus sold for almost 350.000 € .

Large bronze and ivory statuette of the Dolly Sisters, by Demetre Chiparus
figurine dolly sisters
Goldscheider figure group, the Dolly Sisters, 1925


Boudoir dolls of the Dolly Sisters, courtesy of Frau Wulf,

The twins also inspired László Moholy-Nagy for his modernist photomontage Olly & Dolly Sisters. Moholy-Nagy transforms their normally cheerful disposition by a vast emptiness using light, monochromatic colours and simple geometric shapes.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy olly & dolly sisters
Olly & Dolly Sisters by László Moholy-Nagy, circa 1925, Gelatin silver print (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)