Cartoonist Jones takes an admiring glance at the truncated life and roller-coaster times of the woman who traversed three continents to revolutionize dance.
Denounced as everything from a “wild voluptuary” to a “jumping Jezebel,” Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) famously remarked, “People do not live nowadays. They get about 10 percent out of life.” Every page of this admiring graphic biography reminds readers that the American dance pioneer herself always got 100 percent. The thin volume depicts a number of turbulent scenes from Duncan’s personal and professional experiences, underscoring the frenetic exuberance with which she conducted her many affairs. With bold strokes and supple lettering, Jones’s pen-and-ink drawings attempt to animate Duncan’s boundary-smashing style, onstage and off: as the barefoot, tunic-clad artist whose free-flowing movements transformed classical dance, and as the convention-defying single mother of two and very public lover of famous figures and political causes. “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,” writes Jones. It’s difficult to extract the truth about Duncan’s life, the author acknowledges, from the diverse, often contradictory accounts supplied in the dancer’s writings, reminiscences by her contemporaries and biographies with various agendas. Jones’s portrait depicts a gifted artist driven by a passion to realize at whatever cost her feminist vision of the dancer of the future: “woman in her purest expression, body and soul in harmony, emerging from centuries of civilized forgetfulness, no longer at war with spirituality—the highest intelligence in the freest body.” Interestingly, although Jones espouses Duncan’s unabashed belief that “to expose is art, to conceal is vulgar,” and doesn’t shy away from depicting the great tragedies of her subject’s life, she tends to suggest rather than explicitly spell out the dancer’s more controversial actions: dalliances with women, numerous suicide attempts, proclivity for public drunkenness.
A somewhat sanitized portrait; Duncan might have preferred something bolder.