Before The Dancer I had read and seen a considerable amount about Isadora Duncan, but not her predecessor Loie Fuller.
In 1887, after her father’s death, 25-year-old Marie-Louise (Loie) leaves to join her mother (who is part of a Temperance Society) in New York and pursue her dream of becoming an actress.
After a wardrobe catastrophe on stage, she is inspired and develops an entirely new dance routine involving long, flowing garments and coloured lights. An instant success in New York, Loie then meets ether-sniffing Count Louis Dorsay. After an unwanted advance by Dorsay she discovers a wad of his hundred dollar bills which sends her to France.
Upon landing in Paris, she manages to catch the eye of Folies Bergère manager Marchand, who puts her on stage at his famous nightclub. When imitators try to steal her radical innovations shebegins to train new students including Isadora Duncan with whom she has a brief affair. Descending to alcoholism, she finally pulls herself together for one last performance which inspires her to continue her teaching and pass on her legacy.
French singer-actress Soko was mesmerising as Loie Fuller. Her transition from farm girl, to young innocent, to mature performer and self-manager was flawless. She easily portrayed the two sides of Loie’s life, her innocent, virginal, self-doubting inner self and the pursuit of excellence which characterised her outer life.
Loie’s demands upon herself to perfect her dance were immense and Soko’s re-enactment of her slow descent into poor health and alcohol were frightening realistic.
The other crucial role in The Dancer was, of course, Isadora Duncan played with cunning and guile by Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Johnny Depp). Initially an innocent (or was she?), she soon became Loie’s confident and we are led to believe, briefly her lover. I can find no evidence of this in my research though. Depp is a striking beauty who is also a very competent actress and more than held her own opposite Soko.
Add to these competent performances the spectacle of Fuller’s modern dance with stunning visual effects and you have a film which is an education in dance and a unique cinema experience!
Reviewed by Barry Hill
Rating out of 10: 10