The following document is an abstract of a paper accepted for presentation at the Visual Delights III — Magic and Illusion conference at the University of Sheffield, July 15-17th 2005.

Magic formed a key part of the vaudeville culture of the late nineteenth century, largely dependent on the audiences and visual motifs of the popular stage. Historically the magician has been associated with a male figure, in complete control of a stage space and commonly accompanied by a beautiful, female assistant. The dancer Loïe Fuller (1868-1928) questions this assumption and suggests a link between women and the art of the illusionist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fuller was, and is still, often referred to as the 'Fairy of Electricity', a stage presence that was enabled and created as a by-product of an external modern force. This paper refutes this description of her performance and offers her as a magician rather than a creation through a close consideration of two of her performances: the stage piece, 'The Mirror Dance' (in her repertoire during her performances at Paris's Folies-Bergère in the 1890s) and the early twentieth-century film, 'An Animated Picture Show'.

Fuller's hugely popular performances incorporated many special effects, most of these were offered by advances in stage lighting, but others were the product of earlier illusive devices, for example the use of mirrors and reflection and of magic lanterns. Both 'The Mirror Dance' and 'An Animated Picture Show' feature a female body that appears to be an illusion, a non-corporeal dancer. Yet both involved complex technological effects and choreographic control, the paper explores this ambiguity and uses it to ask further questions surrounding the relationship between the female performer and the magician.


3 May 2005