Chopin — Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4 (Slow Mazurka)

Reconstructed by Julia Levien and Hortense Kooluris. A dance of starkness, social isolation and loneliness.


Nadia Chilkovsky Nahumck

Reference: Nahumck, Nadia Chilkovsky. Isadora Duncan: The Dances. Washington DC: The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1994.

Step patterns have no relevance whatsoever to the Polish national dance. Rarely does one find a Duncan work that is so gloomy. Yet, in its cold formalism, it is uniquely beautiful, fragile and profound. It might be taken as a fascinating study of four eternities of loneliness in the life of one woman, or of four figures lost in individual contemplation, withdrawn from human contact.

At sixteen-measure intervals, three women enter with deliberated slowness, seemingly drawn toward fixed resting places that are like separate graves, each interring its own tale. Even the modest interlude provided by a feeble attempt to dance en ronde and the musical change into a major key offers no respite from the somber mood. From the moment of entry, each of the three dancers appears to be a shadow rather than a sentient being. Each is an empty form, numb to pleasure or pain, remote from the pulsating rhythms of life, as if drawn in her catatonia to the sepulchral nothingness of "gesture without motion" (T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Man").

A fourth figure enters during the final sixteen measures. Somewhat more animated, she meanders around the other three dancers, seeming to search for some sign of warmth or recognition. At the end she, too, succumbs to an insentient state, falling heir to a prevailing coldness and slowly settling into her appointed place nearby.

There are moments in the dance when uncanny body stillness overwhelms the melancholy sounds of the music. Perhaps, in her own creative fashion, Duncan was warning her audience against the dangers of social apathy and spiritual debility. In their final arrangement the four figures remain as though frozen in time, like the immutable stone goddesses of the Parthenon, with their flowing drapery framed eternally in the temple's pediment.

Nicolai Georgievitch Shebuyev

Reference: Shebuyev, Nicolai Georgievitch. Review of Isadora dancing in Russia. Petersburg Gazette. 1904.

For the Mazurka in A-flat there came onstage a figure severe and sorrowful, looking intently upward, all her being yearning for heaven while her hands seem to beg, trying to seize something. Then suddenly her eyes flashed with Bacchic ectasy -- the flame died -- there was another flash -- then once again a look of severity and prayer...

Christy Cornell-Pape

While the steps to this dance are very similar from “East Coast” to “West Coast” Duncan dance traditions, the intent, underlying meaning, and ending are quite different and bring different focuses to the dance.
In the “West Coast” version, the dance opens and a lone dancer steps onto the stage, as in a new place, a new land, never seen before. She looks around, is uncertain, looks back then forward, steps forward then back, and finally spots a place of serenity, and settles down to relax and admire. Enter second dancer, same scenario, also finding her spot, thinking she is alone. But then, rising to a fully seated position, the dancers see each other and greet each other. The third dancer enters, also alone, also finding her spot and settling in. The three dancers acknowledge one another and then come together to dance in a circle, enjoying their independence with companionship. Then, in the midst of this serene happiness, the storm comes, the dancers come together and cling to each other, finding support together. Then, slowly, they peel away from each other, again each finding their own spot, and lay in the grass looking up at the sky. Enters the fourth figure, she comes to each one of the other three dancers individually, beckoning them one at a time, they notice her and lift themselves up to a seated position. The fourth figure seats herself and the four dancers now beckon gently to each other, acknowledging each other. Then, together, they slowly turn away from each other and lay in the grass.

This dance has also been explained as the stages in a woman’s life. First enters the young maiden, next the mother, and last the crone. Each separate and independent, they are also unified in that they are one in the same woman at different points in her life. They come together, then back apart, and are finally connected, peacefully and irrevocably, by the final figure, representative of death.

As taught by Christina Bergren Fessenden and Ann Cogley, both students of Mignon Garland.


Title Date Dancers Full Dance? Notes
Lori Belilove & The Isadora Duncan Dance Company 2013-2014 Season Highlights 2014 No
Julia Levien performance 2005 No Cut off at end
DDD Performance at Mountain View, CA 1994-03-25 Christina Fessenden, Annah G McCluskey, Melinda McGee, Deborah Vaernes-Leeb Yes
Dionysian Duncan Dancers Julia Morgan 1993-09 Ensemble Yes
Scriabin's 'Mother', Chopin Slow Mazurka, Gluck 'Gracieux' and Allegretto 1991-06-23 Ann Cogley, Mary Sano, Janice Blaisdell, Jane Apostol Yes
Chopin Mazurkas and Tanagra Waltz, S. F. Duncan Dancers, 4/23/89 1989-04-23 Ann Cogley, Mary Sano, Janice Blaisdell, Michelle Swanson Yes
DFI Cunningham 1980 Yes End cut off
Douglass College 1978 Lori Belilove, Sylvia Gold, Hortense Kooluris, Gemze de Lappe Yes
Isadora Duncan Repertory Dance Company performs Slow Mazurka Yes
Russian Worker Songs Lori Belilove, Jeanne Bresciani, Judith Ann Landon, Adrienne Ramm Yes

Related items in the Archives

The Collection of Christy Cornell-Pape > Programs > Irma Duncan — Isadora Duncan Dancers — Mar 13, 1932

The Collection of Pamela De Fina > Programs > United Nations Staff Day Performance — Isadora Duncan Dance Group — 1979

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > The Isadora Duncan Dance Memorial, 1952 — Dec 14, 1952

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > S.F. Duncan Dancers with Florence Atherton Dickey — Jul 1982

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > S.F. Duncan Dancers, The Heritage of Isadora — 1989

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > S.F. Duncan Dancers, Hotel Nikko — 1991

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Riverside Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — May 26, 1977

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Duncan Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — Jun 24, 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Commemorative Dance Company — Nov 16, 1979

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Linda Elkin — Isadora Duncan Dancers — Nov 05, 1987

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Ballroom Blitz — Barbara Kane — Isadora Duncan Dance Group, Moscow School of Music and Movement — Aug 04, 1993

The Collection of Janaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) > Programs > Isadora Duncan Dance Memorial — Ruth Fletcher, Mary Garland, Hortense Kooluris, Sima Leake, Julia Levien — Dec 14, 1952

←Back to the repertory list