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The dancer Tilly Losch 1932

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Directory: Fine Art: Prints: Photographs: Pre 1940: item # 519306

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The dancer Tilly Losch 1932
The dancer Tilly Losch on "points,” against an abstract art deco stage design.

Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Portrait by White of New York, signed, date pencilled below 1932

Tilly Losch (1907-1975)
From her first dance appearance at the age of six, she grew up in the embrace and discipline of the Vienna Imperial Opera ballet school. Tilly became a full member of the ballet corps at the unusually young age of fifteen, and by twenty was one of Vienna's most popular dancers. She quickly developed a reputation for innovation and modernism. It was at this time that Tilly received an invitation from acclaimed theater director Max Reinhardt to dance the role of First Fairy in his 1927 Salzburg Festival production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Max Reinhardt, then at the pinnacle of his fame, asked the young dancer to join his Berlin and Salzburg ensembles for a tour in the United States. While visiting America had long been a dream, strict contractual commitments to the Vienna State Ballet precluded any sort of independent career. After her request for an extended leave of absence was denied, Tilly reluctantly resigned from the Vienna Ballet and ultimately traveled to New York with Reinhardt's troupe for a successful 1927-28 season. Losch's choreography had many elements in common with the directorial style of her mentor, Reinhardt. As she listened with her “inner” ear, dreamlike movement sequences began to take visual form. Figures in her mind moved in response to the music, generating kaleidoscopic patterns seen first in the imagination before being worked out concretely in detailed steps.

While dancing at the Salzburg Festival in 1927, she caught the eye of English impresario Charles B. Cochran, who managed some of the great names in the world of entertainment. She made her London debut in Noel Coward's musical review This Year of Grace in 1928, and the following season appeared in Charles B. Cockran's revue Wake Up and Dream. This successful production was subsequently brought to the United States. In the New York production, Tilly also performed a solo number entitled "Arabesque" or "Dance of the Hands," set to music by Ravel. In America Tilly was kept busy choreographing the ballet for The Gang's All Here (1931) and dancing in the company of Fred Astaire in The Bandwagon (1931).

In the early 1930s, Losch was featured in recitals with Harald Kreuzberg at New York's Columbus Circle Theater. These avant-garde performances showcased the artistic modernism then prevalent in Central and Western Europe. Tilly's first husband, financier and collector Edward James, who befriended both Dali and Magritte, created several notable dance productions expressly for her, particularly Les Ballets 1933. Although having only a short Paris run, Les Ballets nevertheless had a seminal influence on American dance in that it featured collaborators such as composer Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, and choreographer George Balanchine. Another of Tilly's triumphs was her creation of the dancing Anna to Lotte Lenya's singing Anna for Berthold Brecht's The Seven Deadly Sins. She danced with the Russian Ballet under George Balanchine, where she shared the post of premiere danseuse with Toumanova.

At this time Tilly's personal popularity was said to equal that of Sarah Bernhardt in her prime. French poet Jean Cocteau called her the greatest performing artist since Eleonora Duse, who at the end of a distinguished acting career had made notable guest appearances during the first decade of the twentieth century in Reinhardt's Berlin theaters. Hollywood film producers, too, were impressed with Losch's exotic beauty as much as with her dancing and acting ability. She made several brief but promising screen appearances--as a dancing girl in The Garden of Allah (1936), as Lotus in The Good Earth (1937), and as a Native American dancer in Duel in the Sun (1946). Disenchanted with Hollywood, Losch returned to the East Coast, where she danced briefly with the American Ballet, did summer stock in Connecticut, and landed an occasional role on Broadway.

Tilly's first marriage to bon vivant Edward James ended in 1934, amid great scandal. Five years later she married the Earl of Carnarvon, son of the discoverer of King Tutankhamen's tomb. Almost overnight Tilly Losch became Lady Carnarvon, an English Countess. Her close friends were the Sitwells, Cecil Beaton and Pavel Tchelitchev. Due to her precarious health, and the dangers of war, Carnarvon in shipped his wife off to the United States. Tilly's newly acquired social status proved to be of great advantage in American society and in the furtherance of her career. As might be expected, the marriage did not survive wartime dislocation and ended in divorce eight years later. Tilly lived out her remaining years commuting between London and New York, where she died in 1975. - Herbert Poetzl

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