Jody Sperling has been re-creating the work of Loie Fuller. Her Time Lapse Dance, performing Friday through Sunday at the Cunningham Studio, has an unusual collaborator: Terry Borton, founder of the American Magic-Lantern Theater.
“He’s been doing magic-lantern shows for a long time,” says Sperling. “He has a magic lantern, and thousands of 19th- and early-20th-century slides. He wears a 19th-century tuxedo when he performs. He’s always wanted to do a Loie Fuller dance, and somebody told him about me.
“Fuller, who made her first dance in 1891 and died in 1928, used magic lanterns to create incredible effects. They look very psychedelic. It was a popular genre, with many imitators. Particularly popular were patriotic lantern dances, with faces of presidents. Also butterflies, bees, bats, clouds, flowers. She used slides to create the illusion of fire. In a dance called Le Firmament, she used images of constellations. She also made experimental films. Her effects are protocinematic; instead of achieving motion through moving the film, she achieved it through moving the ‘screen.’ We went through Borton’s collection and pulled out groups to create thematic segments, the sense of this historical genre. My favorites are these very rare mid-19th-century slides his great-grandfather used to teach astronomy: diagrams of the zodiac and constellations. The lantern is a stereopticon: Originally gaslight, it’s been rigged for electricity.
“I coined the term ‘time lapse dance’ to talk about what I’m doing. I draw inspiration from the relics we have of dances lost, imagining what they were like. I’m interested in creating works of art that are cutting-edge in today’s terms. You can’t be original if you aren’t aware of history.”