The latest stage development is the danseuse electrique, the title given the youthful corphyee who, to enhance her grace and pedal dexterity, invokes the aid of science and appears at times in a blaze of varied coloured lights that rival in brilliancy and splendour the gems of the Eastern monarchs who figure in Arabian story. The latest contrivance must be regarded as more wonderful than all its predecessors. First for the effect; then for the explanations. The lady, usually a pretty one, runs upon the stage attired as if for the serpentine dance, and about her skirts and the folds of her dress dash sparks and lights of every possible hue. She dances, kicks and turns while the lights continue to corruscate. Revolving wheels, fountains and prisms of light play about her, appearing and disappearing at every undulation of her form. She is enveloped in a hundred rainbows, playing now upon her feet, again upon her face and top rigging, and anon investing her whole figure in a halo of glory. Visibly there is no mechanism applied, and the silence that bespeaks breathless attention and admiration is unbroken except by the liquid music of the orchestra. This is the modus operandi. The young lady has fastened to her dress vacuum tubes of glass from which the air has been exhausted. These are fed by an induction coil giving a long spark, which when discharged through the vacuums give out the intense and varying lights at will. These tubes are made in convenient forms, and the artist wears an indiarubber dress to protect her from the effects of the scientific methods adopted. It is said by competent authorities that the limit of improvement in the direction indicated has not yet been reached, and that in time stage tableaux will be made so dazzling and extraordinary that they can only be viewed by the assistance of smoked or coloured glasses.
New Zealand Herald 10 June 1893: p. 4
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The young lady’s performance sounds much like those of Mlle. Loïe Fuller, who performed the “Serpentine Dance” with billowing fabric lit by rainbow-coloured lights. Mlle. Fuller is often dismissed merely as an actress and Folies-Bergere performer, but she was widely respected by artists for her innovative dance choreography and by scientists for her patents on chemical compounds for colour and light effects. One does wonder how those glass vaccuum tubes fared in the excitement of the moment.
Here is a performance of a “serpentine dance” by a similar danseuse, identified as Lina Esbrard, c. 1902. Other performances of the serpentine dance were filmed by Auguste and Louis Lumiere. Perhaps she lacks an appreciation of the Terpsichorean graces, but Mrs Daffodil fails to see the appeal of the billowing fabric. It puts her entirely too much in mind of the younger housemaids getting a bit giddy while putting fresh sheets on the beds.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.