Husband Sergei Yesenin
Hotel and Café des Artistes, 1 W 67th St, New York, NY 10023, Stati Uniti
Père Lachaise Cemetery, 16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris, Francia
Angela Isadora Duncan (May 26, 1877 or May 27, 1878[a] – September 14, 1927) was an American dancer who performed to acclaim throughout Europe. Born in California, she lived in Western Europe and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 49 or 50, when her scarf became entangled in the wheels and axle of the car in which she was riding.
In both professional and private life, Duncan flouted traditional mores and morality. She was bisexual and an atheist, and alluded to her communism during her last United States tour, in 1922–23: she waved a red scarf and bared her breast on stage in Boston, proclaiming, "This is red! So am I!"
Duncan bore two children, both out of wedlock. The first, Deirdre Beatrice (born September 24, 1906), by theatre designer Gordon Craig, and the second, Patrick Augustus (born May 1, 1910), by Paris Singer, one of the many sons of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer. Both children drowned in the care of their nanny in 1913 when their runaway car went into the Seine.
Following the accident, Duncan spent several months recuperating in Corfu with her brother and sister. She then spent several weeks at the Viareggio seaside resort with the actress Eleonora Duse. The fact that Duse had just left a relationship with the rebellious and epicene young feminist Lina Poletti fueled speculation as to the nature of Duncan and Duse's relationship, but there has never been any indication that the two were involved romantically.
In her autobiography, Duncan relates that she begged a young Italian stranger, the sculptor Romano Romanelli, to sleep with her because she was desperate for another baby. She became pregnant by him, and gave birth to a son on August 13, 1914; the infant died shortly after birth.
In 1921, after the end of the Russian Revolution, Duncan moved to Moscow where she met the acclaimed poet Sergei Yesenin, who was 18 years her junior. On May 2, 1922, they married, and Yesenin accompanied her on a tour of Europe and the United States. However, the marriage was brief, and in May 1923 he left Duncan and returned to Moscow. Two years later, on December 28, 1925, Yesenin was found dead in his room in the Hotel Angleterre in St Petersburg in an apparent suicide.
Duncan had a relationship with the poet and playwright Mercedes de Acosta, as documented in numerous revealing letters they wrote to each other. In one, Duncan wrote, "Mercedes, lead me with your little strong hands and I will follow you – to the top of a mountain. To the end of the world. Wherever you wish."
By the late 1920s, Duncan's performing career had dwindled, and she became as notorious for her financial woes, scandalous love life and all-too-frequent public drunkenness as for her contributions to the arts. She spent her final years moving between Paris and the Mediterranean, running up debts at hotels. She spent short periods in apartments rented on her behalf by a decreasing number of friends and supporters, many of whom attempted to assist her in writing an autobiography. They hoped it might be successful enough to support her. In a reminiscent sketch, Zelda Fitzgerald wrote how she and F. Scott Fitzgerald, her husband, sat in a Paris cafe watching a somewhat drunk Duncan. He would speak of how memorable it was, but what Zelda recalled was that while all eyes were watching Duncan, Zelda was able to steal the salt and pepper shakers from the table.
In his book Isadora, an Intimate Portrait, Sewell Stokes, who met Duncan in the last years of her life, describes her extravagant waywardness. Duncan's autobiography My Life was published in 1927. The Australian composer Percy Grainger called Isadora's autobiography a "life-enriching masterpiece."
On the night of September 14, 1927, in Nice, France, Duncan was a passenger in an Amilcar CGSS automobile owned by Benoît Falchetto, a French-Italian mechanic. She wore a long, flowing, hand-painted silk scarf, created by the Russian-born artist Roman Chatov, a gift from her friend Mary Desti, the mother of American film director Preston Sturges. Desti, who saw Duncan off, had asked her to wear a cape in the open-air vehicle because of the cold weather, but she would only agree to wear the scarf. As they departed, she reportedly said to Desti and some companions, "Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!" ("Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!"); but according to the American novelist Glenway Wescott, Desti later told him that Duncan's actual parting words were, "Je vais à l'amour" ("I am off to love"). Desti considered this embarrassing, as it suggested that she and Falchetto were going to her hotel for a tryst.
Her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and rear axle, pulling her from the open car and breaking her neck. Desti said she called out to warn Duncan about the scarf almost immediately after the car left. Desti brought Duncan to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
As The New York Times noted in its obituary, Duncan "met a tragic death at Nice on the Riviera." "According to dispatches from Nice, Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement." Other sources noted that she was almost decapitated by the sudden tightening of the scarf around her neck. The accident gave rise to Gertrude Stein's mordant remark that "affectations can be dangerous". At the time of her death, Duncan was a Soviet citizen. Her will was the first of a Soviet citizen's to be probated in the U.S.
Duncan was cremated, and her ashes were placed next to those of her children in the columbarium at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. On the headstone of her grave is inscribed École du Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris ("Ballet School of the Opera of Paris").
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