collections

The Dances of the Ages (1913)

This delightful short from Edison Manufacturing Co. features the dancers Norma Gould and Ted Shawn (with troupe in tow) performing a range of “historical” dances, not upon the stage but, via the magic of special effects, miniaturised upon a banqueting table top. Flanking either side of the table-sized stage are a bevy of beer drinking men — one of whom is meant to be an old dancing master — making merry to the beat of the dances before them.

In order of appearance:
Stone Age. Dance of Primitive Man
Egypt 1200 BC. Dance of the Priest of Ra
Greece 400 BC. The Bacchanalia
Orient 200 AD
England 1760. The Minuet
France 1850. The Carnival
America 1898. The Cakewalk
America 1913. Ragtime

Despite its look back through the ages (and being made more than a century ago) there is something oddly futuristic about the scene, as though at once also an accidental window into the future advances in holography. This special effect of miniaturisation, whereby some actors appear in miniature while others are normally sized, was a popular technique of early cinema (see also Princess Nicotine from 1909, and The Cheese Mites from 1901).

The short presented here is one of few dance-related films appearing on a compilation of footage belonging to the Denishawn Video Archive at the New York Public Library. Founded in 1915, the L.A.-based Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, was the brainchild of dancers (and married couple) Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn and became the first dance academy in the United States to produce a professional dance company.