Maud Allan

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Maud Allan
Born
Beulah Maude Durrant or Ulah Maud Alma Durrant

(1873-08-27)27 August 1873
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died7 October 1956(1956-10-07) (aged 83)
NationalityCanadian
Known forDance and choreography
MovementModern/contemporary dance

Maud Allan (born as either Beulah Maude Durrant or Ulah Maud Alma Durrant;[1][2] 27 August 1873 – 7 October 1956) was a Canadian dancer, chiefly noted for her Dance of the Seven Veils. In World War I, she faced accusations of being a lesbian spy, for which she sued unsuccessfully for libel.

Early life[edit]

Maud Allan was born Ulah Maud Allan Durrant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1873 to William Allan Durrant and Isabella, adopted daughter of Mrs. Dredger of Toronto.[3] She was their first daughter and second child. A younger sister by two years to Theodore Durrant (1871–1898).[3] As a young person, Allan loved piano and was very musically gifted. Her teacher was Miss Lichenstein, a well-known piano teacher in Toronto and Montreal at the time.[3]

In 1887, her mother, brother and herself moved to San Francisco, California, to meet their father who had lived there for 3 years before, establishing a life for the family.[3] Theo and Maud attended Lincoln High School and then the Cogswell Technical Institute where she took courses in wood carving and sculpture.[3] During this time Allan was still practicing and teaching piano.[4] She also gave concerts in the homes of affluent people living in San Francisco like Adolph Sutro. Sutro was rumoured to be her grandfather and her mother's biological father, there is sufficient evidence to assume this to be true as the family had little money, yet they were able to send Theo to private boarding school and afford a home in an affluent neighbourhood in San Francisco owned by Sutro.[3] Allan's family was also actively engaged in the Emmanuel Baptist Church, specifically her brother Theo who was the Assistant Superintendent of the church's Sunday school.[3] Her brother was also enrolled in medical school at Cooper Medical College.[3] Allan's piano teacher, Eugene Bonelli, director of the San Francisco Grand Academy of Music, recommended that she continue her studies in Berlin, Germany at the Hochschule fur Musik.[4] Even though her family was financially strained, her mother pushed for her to go to Europe to continue her education.[4] Isabella and Theo also planned on meeting her in Germany and travelling around Europe with her after Theo's graduation from medical school.[3] Theo was planning on pursuing postgraduate medical studies while in Europe too.[3]

Only six weeks after Allan went to pursue her career in Germany, her brother committed what was known as the crime of the century.[4] Her brother Theodore was charged and convicted of the murders of two young women at Emmanuel Baptist Church.[4] Allan was unable to say goodbye to her brother because he was hanged on January 7, 1898, at San Quentin Prison while she was still living in Berlin.[4] Allan blamed herself for her brother's death because she believed if she hadn't left him, he wouldn't have committed the murders.[3] She always maintained that her brother was innocent, and he died unnecessarily.[3] His death stayed with Allan for many years after, and she and her mother Isabella scattered his ashes around Europe to mourn his loss.[4] There is speculation that her last name was changed to Allan to distance herself from her brother's actions and allow her to have a successful career.[5]

Stage and dance career[edit]

Allan began her dance career after meeting Ferruccio Busoni, the director of the Meister-schüle in Weimar, Germany where she studied piano after she finished studying in Berlin.[5] Allegedly, the first time Allan danced was in front of Busoni and he became enthralled with her performance requesting that she stop pursuing piano and pursue dance instead.[5] One of Busoni's contemporaries was Marcel Remy who became her agent, manager, and composer.[6]

She made her stage debut in Vienna, Austria on November 24, 1903, at the age of 30.[4] She danced to Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Bach, Schumann, Chopin, Schubert, and Debussy.[4] Allan toured this performance throughout Europe and traveled to cities like Liège, Brussels, Berlin, Leipzig, and Cologne over the next 5 years.[4] These five years were crucial for solidifying Allan's career change from pianist to dancer and legitimating her talents among the ranks of Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis.[citation needed]

The piece that placed Allan at the pinnacle of dance in Europe was The Vision of Salome, which premiered in Vienna in December of 1906.[4] This show was inspired by Oscar Wilde's play Salome, which she first saw with Marcel Remy in 1904.[4] The play is centered around Salome, King Herod's stepdaughter, and her attraction to Jokanaan (John the Baptist) who has been imprisoned by her stepfather. After Jokanaan rejects her advances because she is a "daughter of Sodom", she dances the Dance of the Seven Veils in exchange for anything she wants from her stepfather. After dancing, she asks for Jokanaan's head. Despite her father's resistance, she gets what she wants and Jokanaan dies. Allan thought that the lead role could have been better expressed through a different medium, and this is how she got her idea for The Vision of Salome.[4] Remy also created the score for the performance.[4]

Reviews were generally critical of her dancing, saying not much of it adds to the existing culture that Isadora Duncan had created.[4] It was evident that Allan was not a formally trained dancer from reading the reviews of The Vision of Salome. However, the part of the twenty-minute performance that really intrigued viewers was the shock value. Allan danced topless; her body was only covered by intricate jewellery.[4] She made the decision to dance topless because she believed that her body was her instrument, and no other artists cover their instruments while they created.[3] Also, a realistic wax sculpted head of John the Baptist sat at the corner of the stage for much of the performance, often terrifying viewers.[3] Allan also used the severed head as a prop towards the end of the performance, and it received a lot of attention in the media for being gruesome and absurd. This media attention allowed the news of Allan's performance of the Dance of the Seven Veils to travel across Europe and for her to tour places across Europe including Paris, Prague, Budapest, Munich, Bohemia, and Leipzig.[4]

Allan's next significant career move came when she performed The Vision of Salome in London in 1908 where the depiction of biblical characters on stage was illegal.[4] She began this "conquest of London" by performing a two-week residency at the Palace Theatre where her performance ended with The Vision of Salome.[4] These performances made her an overnight sensation in the region and pushed her into the upper echelon of society in England. She continued performing in London for 18 months and performed The Vision of Salome 250 times[4]

In 1909, Allan decided that Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia were her next targets.[4] Many reviews compared her to Isadora Duncan and criticized her lack of poise in comparison to Duncan's work. The reviews highlighted her passion and efforts, but the Russian audience craved more professionalism and cleanness in movement. Some of her most notable guests were the Czar and Czarina of Russia.[3]

The following year, Allan began touring the United States in Boston. A dancer by the name of Gertrude Hoffman had been sent to study Allan's show in London and perform it in New York six weeks before Allan arrived to tour in the states.[3] Many theatres had banned Allan's Vision of Salome performance before she travelled to the United States because of Hoffman's performance of the dance. This ended up working in favour of Allan because it made people wonder why a performance was being banned, which caused more people to attend her shows where she was allowed to perform.[3] The New York Times coined this national intrigue,"Salomania", which propelled Allan into international stardom. Her tour travelled to New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Kansas City, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Sacramento, Stockton, San Jose, Rochester, and San Diego.[4]

After Allan returned to London from her tour in the States, she commissioned Debussy to make the music for a new show she had created called Khamma to replace The Vision of Salome in her act. The story focuses on an Egyptian dancing girl, Khamma, who gave herself as a sacrifice to the god Amun-Re. Khamma was much more ambitious than The Vision of Salome because Allan included other dancers all choreographed by her, a full symphony, and possibly singers. She began working in collaboration with Debussy in 1911 while continuing to perform in London.[4]

Between 1912 to 1915 she travelled to South Africa, India, the Far East, and Australasia performing numbers in her existing repertoire. Her performances were generally well received by audiences and critics, but the stark cultural differences and religious intolerance for indecency caused some outroar in the press.[4]

At the end of 1915 she returned to the United States to stay with her parents who were living in Los Angeles.[4] It was here that she appeared in the silent movie The Rug Maker's Daughter, where she performed excerpts of The Vision of Salome on screen. She began another North American tour in 1916 which led to a disaster.[clarification needed][3] She appointed her friend and manager Charles Macmillen as the head of the Maud Allan Concert Agency in New York to manage the second North American tour.[7] She hired her own orchestra and a group of dancers to make this tour much more elaborate than the previous one.[3] Allan began this tour on September 28, 1916, in Albany and then made her way up into Canada.[7] Despite this, the tour collapsed due to lack of funds. She completed her second tour in North America in April 1917 by travelling to New York and performing at the Palace Theatre for two weeks. The second week featured the Vision of Salome which was critically dismissed and never performed again.[7]

Libel suit and later years[edit]

She returned to London in 1918 and took the lead role of Salome in Jack Grien's production of Oscar Wilde's Salome.[4] Grien's rendition of the play was not a public performance and required patrons to apply to attend the performance to get around the law that Biblical characters could not be portrayed in art.[8] This performance prompted British MP Noel Pemberton Billing to publish an article called "The Cult of the Clitoris" in his own journal Vigilante.[8] The article accused Allan of being a lesbian associate of German wartime conspirators. Even though same-sex relationships between women were never illegal in England, they were considered to be deplorable throughout society. Billing speculated that many attendees in the "Black Book" where the names of applicants were recorded, were homosexuals that occupied high-status positions in society.[8] He believed that people who were included in this book were being blackmailed by the German government for being gay, and they were gathering information about British high society, in exchange for Germans keeping their sexuality secret.[8]

Allen sued Billing for libel based on the following counts: the act of publishing a defamatory article about Allan and Grien, and the act of including obscenities within the article. The trial became a national news story and lasted between 5–6 days.[8] Billings represented himself and called on high profile defense witnesses, including Eileen Villiers-Stewart, who was his mistress.[8] He also introduced evidence of Allan's insanity through exhibits highlighting her brother Theo's murder trial and subsequent execution.[8] He justified this through suggesting that Allan's insanity was hereditary.[7] Allan stated that she knew little about Salome, but thought that Oscar Wilde was a great artist. The judge was not concerned with the libel suit, as much as he was concerned with how Wilde's play ended up being performed in the first place. The jury found Billing not guilty which caused intense public scrutiny of the play, Oscar Wilde, and Maud Allan herself.[8] The trial and the public outcry against Allan contributed, among other factors, to the demise of her career in Europe.[7]

After Allan's trial, she returned to America to be with her mother after her father died. She decided to tour South America in 1920 and bring her mother along.[4] Over the next decade, she performed in London, Brussels, Paris, San Francisco, and Los Angeles a few more times, with few notable press references. She moves her mother to London in 1928 and spends the next two years of her life with her mother until her mother, Isabella Durrant, died in 1930. After her mother's death, Allan established the West Wing School of Dancing where she taught dance to underprivileged children in London as well as other private pupils. The school eventually ran into financial troubles due to a lack of funding.[7]

In 1936 she performed publicly for the last time in Los Angeles at the Redlands Community Music Association. In 1942, she abandoned the West Wing School of Dancing after it sustained bomb damage. She became a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross. The following year, Allan relocated to Los Angeles and spent 13 years working as a draughtswoman at Macdonald Aircraft in Santa Monica. On October 7, 1956, Allan died in a nursing home.[4]

Allan never disclosed her precise sexual orientation due to societal expectations of heterosexuality, but there is sufficient evidence to conclude that she was involved with women throughout her life, most notably Margot Asquith and Verna Aldrich. Asquith was married to Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908–1916.[9] Asquith also paid for Allan's apartment overlooking Regent's Park for twenty years from 1910 onward. Her relationship with Allan solidified that she was sexually divergent in the minds of many upper-class socialites in London. After Herbert's death in 1928, Margot stopped paying for Allan's apartment and Allan began to have an affair with her secretary Aldrich.[9] Aldrich was Allan's secretary when she was working in London at the West Wing School of Dance, and she lived with Allan for ten years at her Regent's Park apartment.[10] Aldrich was twenty years younger than Allan which allowed Allan to emotionally abuse Aldrich with her demands and paranoia.[9] In 1930, Aldrich received a marriage proposal from a widowed man which threw Allan into a tantrum resulting in her threatening to expose Aldrich as a lesbian and then commit suicide.[9] Additionally, after Asquith stopped paying for Allan's apartment, Allan got Aldrich to pay the lease while they lived together. Even after their engagement ended, Allan lived in the apartment until it was bombed in The Blitz. After Verna's money had run out from independently financing Allan and herself, their engagement ended, and Allan searched out Aldrich's wealthy relatives to fund her life. Their relationship formally ended when Allan accused Aldrich of stealing from her and threatened to sue her.[7]

As suffragette[edit]

A suffragette supporter gave Allan's name (as an alias) on arrest by a suffragette arrested near Stirling, Scotland for an attack on Prime Minister Asquith.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Birthname given as Ulah Maud Alma Durrant
    McConnell, Virginia A. Sympathy for the Devil: The Emmanuel Baptist Murders of Old San Francisco, University of Nebraska Press (January 1, 2005), page 294
  2. ^ "Maud Allan". www.dcd.ca. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Cherniavsky, Felix (1991). The Salome dancer : the life and times of Maud Allan. Toronto, Ontario: M & S. ISBN 9780771019579.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Cherniavsky, Felix (1998). Maud Allan and her art. Toronto: Dance Collection Danse Press/es. ISBN 9780929003351.
  5. ^ a b c McDearmon, Lacy (January 1978). "Maud Allan: The public record". Dance Chronicle. 2 (2): 85–105. doi:10.1080/01472527808568721.
  6. ^ Simkin, John. "Eileen Villiers-Stuart". Spartacus Educational.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Cherniavsky, Felix (1986). "Maud Allan, Part V: The Years of Decline, 1915-1956". Dance Chronicle. Taylor & Francis. 9 (2): 177–236. doi:10.1080/01472528508568922. JSTOR 1567554.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Iglikowski-Broad, Vicky (14 February 2019). "LGBTQ+ history: Maud Allan and 'unnatural practices among women'". The National Archives blog. The National Archives. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d Rolle, Elisa. "Holford House, Avenue Road & Outer Cir, St John's Wood, London NW1 4RT, UK". Queer Places. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  10. ^ Gillan, Don. "Maud Allan (1873–1956)". www.stagebeauty.net. Stage Beauty. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  11. ^ Atkinson, Diane (2018). Rise Up Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes. London, UK: Bloomsbury. p. 445. ISBN 978140884404-5.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]