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motw logo 1-35Chances are, even people who wouldn’t describe themselves as “into dance” have heard the name Isadora Duncan and know something about her career and tragic death. But what about dancer and performance artist Loie Fuller, the innovator of modern dance who helped propel Duncan to superstardom in the early 20th century? Stephanie Di Giusto’s drama “The Dancer” remedies that by telling the story of Fuller’s complex, fascinating and often-heartbreaking life and career. Continue reading…

the dancer dancer posterAn Illinois native, Fuller (played by Soko) was always determined to perform. She fancied herself an actress, but she found her true calling in the 1890s in the form of a billowing silk dress and avant-garde stage lighting. She fused the two to create a fluid, whirling, multicolored performance that became known as the Serpentine Dance. Her art eventually took her to Europe, where she was met with applause and accolades.

But, the movie shows us, success takes its toll — both physically and emotionally. The weight of Fuller’s heavy costume ravages her body, and the bright stage lights she requires literally burn her eyes. Meanwhile, her complicated relationship with moody Count Louis D’Orsay (Gaspard Ulliel) has more ups and downs than her choreography does. Then, when Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp) arrives on the scene, Fuller faces the biggest challenge of her personal and professional life. Captivated by Duncan’s grace and flattery, Fuller wants to give her protege the world — namely, a featured performance on the Paris Opera stage — but Duncan never seems satisfied with what Fuller has to offer. Depp plays her as a silver-tongued schemer; talented, no question, but always self-serving.

Based on the novel by Giovanni Lista, Di Giusto’s film illuminates a compelling chapter in the history of modern dance. “The Dancer” celebrates a realistically flawed but immensely gifted woman who dreamed more than anything of sharing art in all forms with the world. With its lush cinematography, compelling acting, and gorgeous dance performances, “The Dancer” makes good on Fuller’s ambitions. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW Comments:

Nikki Baughan: Stephanie Di Giusto’s lavish biopic about 19th Century French dancer Loie Fuller is both a handsomly mounted biopic of an intriguing young woman, and an astute study of the highs and lows of the creative process. As Loie, whose stunning, artistic and physically gurelling Serpentine dance captured the attentions of the day, lead actress Soko captures both her vulnerability and power as she evolves from simple farmgirl to a celebrity of the day. Lily-Rose Depp lends solid support as up and coming dancer Isadora Duncan, whose relationship with Loie turned into a rivalry that shaped both of their careers.

Esther Iverem: “The Dancer” is an atmospheric and poignant biopic about the life of Loie Fuller, the American actress who gained fame in Europe during the late 19th century with her “Serpentine Dance,” performed with a long flowing gown and special lighting that she designed. Director Stephanie Di Gusto tells this story about the beginnings of modern dance with sensitivity and gusto. Lead actress Soko is hypnotic in her rendering of artistic expression, obsession and sacrifice.

Sheila Roberts: “Filmmaker Stephanie Di Giusto’s fascinating feature debut about pioneering Belle Epoque dancer Loie Fuller explores Fuller’s creative passion for acting and modern dance, her technological innovation and contributions to modernist performance, and her complex relationship with protégé Isadora Duncan. In the lead role, musician-actress Soko performs electrifying dances choreographed by Jody Sperling. She’s surrounded by a solid supporting cast including Gaspard Ulliel, Melanie Thierry and Lily-Rose Depp. Di Giusto takes considerable poetic license with the true story to craft a compelling, visually stunning cinematic tale. Noteworthy are Benoit Debie’s cinematography, Carlos Conti’s production design, and Max Richter’s elegiac score.”

Jennifer Merin: Stephanie Di Giusto’s dramatic biopic is all about Loie Fuller, the American actress who rose to prominence in Europe when she introduced her famous Serpentine dance. Fuller’s innovative and thrilling performance sparked innovation in the dance world that has had a lasting impact on modern dance. As played by Soko, Fuller is a complex and fascinating character, who sewed her own flowing silk costumes and created stage lights so bright they burned her eyes. She also befriended and mentored Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp), and paved the road to her success. Cinematically stunning and with exquisite performances, THE DANCER presents Fuller’s story beautifully, while capturing the social environment for women during the late nineteenth century.

Cate Marquis: Stephanie DiGusto’s THE DANCER depicts the story of Loie Fuller, a dance innovator of the late 19th and very early 20th centuries whose Serpentine dance of billowing costumes and lighting effects, made her world famous. If you have seen clips of early silent films, there is a fair chance you have seen a snippet of her striking, butterfly like dance. Her dance style, a precursor to modern dance, influenced another famous dancer, Isabelle Duncan, played by Lilly-Rose Depp (the daughter of Johnny Depp), who once studied with her and whom Fuller mentored. Read full review.

Liz Whittemore: Stephanie S​o​kolinski’s performance​ in​ The Dancer is passionately powerful. The film is a beautiful example of how competition can motivate the most extraordinary moments of art and exploration amongst women.​The theatrical scenes are richly shot​ ​and the script is engrossing from start to finish.​​​ ​Loie Fuller’s glorious choreographic contributions can no longer go unnoticed. The Dancer simply cannot be ignored.

Nell Minow: Loie Fuller, the woman in the silent, flickering images from the Lumiere brothers and the posters by Toulouse-Lautrec, was more than a dancer. She was an artist at the highest level of imagination and innovation. Soko, under the direction of Stéphanie Di Giusto, lets us see Fuller’s fearlessness in giving audiences performances unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.


Title: The Dancer

Director: Stephanie Di Giusto

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Running Time: 208 minutes

Language: English and French with English subtitles

Principal Cast: Soko, Lily-Rose Depp, Gaspard Ulliel

Screenwriters: Thomas Bidegain, Stephanie Di Giusto. Sarah Thibau, adapted from the novel by Giovanni Lista

Production Company: The Wild Bunch

Distribution Company: Myriad Films


Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Esther Iverem, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf

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Written by Betsy Bozdech, edited by Jennifer Merin

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Betsy Bozdech

Betsy Bozdech is the Executive Editor of Common Sense, for which she also reviews films. Her film reviews and commentaries also appear on and