Chopin — Etude in A flat major, Op. 25, No. 1 "Aeolian Harp"

This dance is often performed with a wing-like scarf attached to the fingers and mid-back of the dancer, and is also often performed with "Butterfly." Choreographed later in Isadora's career, it nonetheless is like her more lyrical work of her earlier period, and was created for her adopted daughters, the Isadorables, to perform as they grew older and more mature as dancers.

This dance has a series of quick steps in relevee, which can look like a ballet bouree, but must be performed in a more fluid, organic and pliable manner to maintain the appropriate Duncan aesthetic and naturalness. Tiny hand presses, in harmony with the music, are performed alongside the quick, high footsteps. After this beginning, the dance breaks away into beautiful balancees, turns and rushes forward and back, depending on the particular variation being performed. The dance ends in a frenzy of vibrations through the hands, fingers and feet, resolving into a yielding with the neck and back bending, arms alongside the body, a surrender of spirit.


Valerie Durham

This fluttering dance is performed extensively on relevee, almost performing a Duncan-esque bourree, with hands that press against an unseen pool, sending out urgent ripples of energy with fluid palms. The dancer, wearing a scarf hanging like wings from the back to the fingertips, presses outward in every increasing arcs, hiding and then revealing self. The dance progresses into a series of swells back and forth, then spiraling turns, finally culminating in a passionate flurry of vibrating gestures, up and down with the arms, until reaching purely up, and finally surrendering in a release of arms and energy with arching back and exposed neck.

This dance has been shared as a water dance - an exploration of ripples, wavelets and splashes, as well as a dance to represent the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is often performed in tandem with "Butterfly," Chopin Etude Op. 25, No. 9, which also uses the same winged scarf configuration.

This dance has several interpretations. As "Aeolian Harp" the main focus thematically is on the expression of the musical vibrations of the harp, the symbolically abstract plucking of the strings, the vibrational quality of the strings, the swelling and circling of the sound. The arm-length scarf beautifully reflects the vibrations of the movement.

As "Ondine" (a water nymph) or simply "Harp" the dance has a more aqueous quality. In this case, the pressing of the hands indicates the creation of ripples and waves while the feet splishsplash through the shallow water. The balancees, turns and rushes forward and back, the presence of the wing like scarf, represent the larger motion of water, waves and whirlpools, splashes and currents. The water nymph searches for the meaning of her life, her soul and ultimately resolves her quest with a release of the body.

The dance has also been interpreted as the story of the Anunciation of Mary by the Angel Gabriel. In this version, the dancer, as Mary, resists the announcement, using the hand pressing as a way to push away the good news from the Angel. The ending includes the receiving of the spirit, and a surrender to the will of God.

Barbara Kane

Julia Levien, in teaching this dance, referred to the Undine/Ondine as searching for her mortal soul.


Title Date Dancers Full Dance? Notes
Harp and Narcissus 2022-05-28 Christy Cornell-Pape Yes
Hortense Kooluris Memorial 2007-10-01 Adrienne Ramm Yes
Dances by Isadora: Harp Etude 2004 Catherine Gallant Yes
DDD Performance at Mountain View, CA 1994-03-25 Deborah Vaernes-Leeb Yes
Dionysian Duncan Dancers Julia Morgan 1993-09 Yes
Isadora Duncan's 110th Birthday Celebration 1987 Jeanne Bresciani Yes

Related items in the Archives

The Collection of Lynn Armentrout > Programs > An Evening with Isadora — The Isadora Duncan Youth Ensemble

The Collection of Christina Fessenden > Programs > Performance by Ann Cogley and Chris Fessenden — Jul 18, 1999

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

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Dance Group Gala Ball — Barbara Kane — Isadora Duncan Dance Group — Sep 27, 1996

The Collection of Janaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) > Programs > Isadorables

The Isadora Duncan Archive Collection > Programs > Isadora Duncan in the 21st Century — Jan 20, 2017

←Back to the repertory list