The next time you’re in Paris and want to cultivate some ennui (as one does in Paris), take the métro to the Gambetta station in the 20th arrondissement, and visit the Père Lachaise Cemetery. It may not be as chock-full of célébrité as the Montparnasse Cemetery, but Oscar Wilde and Molière are there, as well as someone you might not have heard of: Loïs Fuller.
Fuller was an originator of modern dance during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century, and more recently her place in the creation of the modernist aesthetic is being paid more attention. There is more to be said there, but in this post I’m interested in some of Fuller’s patents.
Instrumental to her swirling, light-filled performances were a set of patents that detailed the design of her costume and groundbreaking lighting techniques. She frequently wore layers and layers of silk—sometimes up to 100 yards in one costume—that she manipulated via custom-designed armature. The silks were illuminated by clever placement and management of lights—some of which were concealed beneath the floor and projected upwards through her costume. And it wasn’t just the technology of the production that was revolutionary; she managed a team of men charged with manipulating the lights in time with the dance and changing colored gels (another of her inventions).
This level of complexity and accuracy in stagecraft was unheard of at the time, and much of the complicated, technology-packed showmanship we see in contemporary productions can be traced back to Fuller. So even if you can't make it to Paris, give a little nod of thanks to Fuller the next time you're watching a performance.
Below are a few of her many patents for you to enjoy, but first here is one of the only surviving films of Lois Fuller performing her Serpentine Dance. These clips were filmed by the Lumière Brothers in 1896, and they have tinted the film to approximate the effect of the colored lighting used in the work.