Words by Megan Carroll (’18)
Photos by Edward Bell (’17)

Loïe Fuller was a woman of many talents.

Before her death in 1928, the pioneering American interdisciplinary artist created one-woman shows combining dance and revolutionary theatre lighting with
silks.

A stagecraft innovator, Fuller painted the silks with luminescent salts that created an effect similar to the glow-in-the-dark metallic element radium. She was a
close friend of scientist and Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, who discovered radium.

Throughout the past academic year, student Elaina Pignolet (’17) and Suzanne Ostersmith, assistant professor and director of the dance program, collaborated to re-create Fuller’s work at Gonzaga. Dance historian, performer and educator Jessica Coxe-Lindberg visited Gonzaga’s campus in October to set the reconstructed choreography of “Lïly,” Fuller’s most famous dance with silks, for the 2017 Spring Dance Concert. Guest artist Megan Slayter worked with technicians and lighting designers to capture Fuller’s lighting from more than a century ago in the Magnuson Theatre.

“We’ve never hired a professional artist to set a historic work like this,” Ostersmith said. “That is really significant, and marks the growth and development of
this program.”

In a breathtaking visual display, Laura Miller (’18) and Helen Schantz (’20) performed the piece while wearing a white garment made of 70 yards of silk. This work was also the inspiration for “Reblooming,” a contemporary dance performed to a piece of original music composed by Ian Loe (’18).

Pignolet, an art major with minors in dance, interdisciplinary arts and French, began research on Fuller with a trip to the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington. There, she and Ostersmith interviewed curators and historians with extensive knowledge of Fuller ephemera.

Part of Pignolet’s research involved creating a Loïe Fuller art exhibition featuring her original Fuller-inspired monoprint and Ostersmith’s acrylic work on canvas, with help from Jundt Art Museum Director and Curator Paul Manoguerra. She also led Miller’s and Schantz’s rehearsals and critiqued their work prior to the Spring Dance Concert.

Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak, interim Academic Vice President, says research is a priority at Gonzaga, not only in the traditional research-focused fields of science, but also in the arts.

“Elaina’s work with Professor Ostersmith is a model for how research works in the arts and humanities,” Mermann-Jozwiak says. “Stimulating research in those other areas is one of the major goals the College is currently pursuing. Collaborating with a faculty mentor is proven to benefit students from diverse  backgrounds and contributes to their success.”

 

Watch the performance of Fuller’s “Lily” as presented by Gonzaga’s students

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