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Arthur F. Kales, American, (1882–1936)
Ruth St. Denis, c. 1910
Vintage silver print
6 in. x 8 in. (15.24 cm x 20.32 cm)

Object Type: Photography
Credit Line: Gift of C. Jane Hurley Wilson '64 and Michael G. Wilson, Wilson Centre for Photography, London, UK
Accession Number: 2008.4.21

This photograph was taken in 1910 just after St. Denis had finished a three-year United Kingdom dance tour of “Translations,” a series of decorative solo dances inspired by ethnic traditions ranging from the Middle East to Japan. Ruth St. Denis reclines in an exotic costume while smoking a cigarette.  The shadow design in the background completes the intended suggestion of a faraway land, and in this image Ruth St. Denis becomes the quintessential embodiment of America’s turn-of-the-century infatuation with exotica.

Ruth St. Denis is known as a fundamental innovator of modern dance in America, and is cited among other major dance figures, such as Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) and Loie Fuller (1862-1928). She co-founded the influential Los Angeles dance school, Denishawn, in 1915. Dissatisfied with traditional ballet, St. Denis integrated Eastern forms of movement and costume into her dance theory. Her choreography was performed in vaudeville and elite theatres alike. She sought a dance that did not merely entertain, but rather maintained a deeper spiritual and philosophical expression that was often linked to non-western traditions.

Kales’ ethereal, sepia-toned representation not only supports St. Denis’ “exotic” identity but also exemplifies fundamental aspects of pictorialist photography, which used image-altering methods, such as soft focus, special filters, and lens coatings to create a poetic mood. Kayla Erickson ’10 Wilson Intern 2008

Object Description
"Portrait of the dancer seated on floor wearing exotic costume & holding a cigarette. Unmounted, pencil credit & catpion verso"

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