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Film review: The Dancer – American modern dance pioneer Loïe Fuller brought to life in biopic

She’s said to have inspired Toulouse-Lautrec and the Lumière Brothers, and now the groundbreaking modern dance pioneer’s life has been celebrated in Stephanie Di Giusto’s directorial debut

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 8:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 11:52am

3/5 stars

A ragged but diverting biopic, The Dancer tells the story of the American-born, French-celebrated modern dance pioneer Loïe Fuller. It is not hard to see why debut director Stephanie Di Giusto was drawn to Fuller, said to be the toast of the Parisian music hall, Folies Bergères, at the turn of the 20th century, she was also an influence on Toulouse-Lautrec and the Lumière Brothers.

With Thomas Bidegain – a frequent screenwriter for Jacques Audiard on films like Rust and Bone and A Prophet – collaborating on the script, the story sees Fuller (played by musician-turned-actress Stéphanie Sokolinski, better known as Soko) journey from her humble American Midwest origins to New York, where she meets the roguish aristocratic patron Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), and begins to develop her seminal theatrical dance routines.

Shipping out to Paris and the Folies Bergères, Fuller also meets the soon-to-be-famous young dancer Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp). Rivalries spark, with Isadora presented here as a schemer, but Di Giusto has cast the roles perfectly: the animalistic, earthy Soko contrasts excitingly with her graceful, ethereal co-star, who has every chance to emulate the careers of her parents, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis.

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The staging of Fuller’s work (notably her Serpentine Dance) is beguiling, even if some patchy editing has been used to switch between the actors and their body doubles. With an equally eclectic support cast, including Amanda Plummer as Fuller’s mother, it is a refreshing if uneven piece.

Certainly, Di Giusto should be applauded for celebrating a woman that few outside dance circles will know, but whose life is worth remembering.

The Dancer opens on May 25

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