Teddy and Topsy

Isadora Duncan revealed through a love affair and her letters

Article by Gareth K Vile | 10 Aug 2011

Although her position in the dance pantheon is problematic, Isadora Duncan remains an inspiration. Robert Shaw discovered that Duncan had an romance with Edward Gordon Craig, the revolutionary set designer, and used their letters as the basis of Teddy and Topsy. Part love story, part study of theatrical mavericks, Shaw has homed in on a meeting of great minds and desires.

“Peter Brook says that most contemporary theatre design owes its origin to Craig’s ideas, although they have never truly acknowledged,” Shaw begins. “Duncan's influence on dance is equally important and widely recognised. I was fascinated by the fact that these two outsiders, who forced their respective establishments to change, gravitated towards each other emotionally and romantically.”

“In her autobiography, Duncan writes in a rather grand and portentous style,” Shaw admits. However, she perhaps expresses her true self in these unguarded missives. “Her letters reflect exactly the freedom she looked for in her dancing. And I was drawn to the fact that she was determined to succeed on her own terms.”

Perhaps her lifestyle, more than her dance, makes Duncan our contemporary. "Much of what Isadora stood for seems very contemporary but was most unusual in her day. She was an unmarried mother and she made a career without a man behind her or guiding her.”

Even the relationship with Craig faltered for recognisable reasons. “I think their romance was fated to fail, as so many today, through pressure of work,” Shaw concludes. “Duncan was constantly touring northern Europe. Craig was in Italy. It was geography that did for them - and Craig's notorious promiscuity.”

Rather than a hagiography of two greats, Shaw represents a love affair between two individuals who challenged their art-forms and came together in a passionate, intimate, doomed, embrace.

Nellie McQuinn as Isadora Duncan with Hugh Bonneville as the voice of Edward Gordon Craig Original design by Edward Gordon Craig 5-29 August 2011 @ 14:00 Hill Street Theatre, 19 Hill Street, Edinburgh EH2 3JP