The Fatal Princess and the Forgotten Pandemic – the True Story of Oscar Wilde’s Salome and the Dance of the Seven Veils
The story of the Judean princess who danced for King Herod and won the head of John the Baptist is well known. Since her legend was first written down, no more than 40 years after she allegedly took to the floor, Salome – one of the Bible’s bad girls – has inspired poets and painters, none more so than Oscar Wilde who created his definitive tragedy in 1891. That play went on to inspire the Salomaniaof the early 20th century in which famous actresses and dancers vied with each other to bring their personal vision of Wilde’s fatal princess to the stage.
Wilde used the age-old story to craft a brutal play in which he explored the inescapable, destructive nature of his own forbidden desires, and, inspired by ancient Babylonian tales of the goddess Ishtar, penned the second most famous stage direction in history: Salome dances the dance of the seven veils.
But what if these are modern myths; and histories written by the victors? This talk looks at what else was happening in Paris in 1891 that might have led to the writing of Salome, taking you back to a time of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and corrupt politicians on the make, to a land where women faced increasing attempts by Society to exert total control over their bodies, and a Coronavirus pandemic stalked the streets…
The past is a strange and troubled place – but even if we haven’t learned its lessons, we may discover precisely what Wilde imagined when he created his notorious dance. We may also discover why some of the most famous and influential women of the 19th century have been entirely erased from the history books.
Independant folklorist, storyteller, and dance historian Jo Hirons McAvoy lives in Hebden Bridge. She writes regularly for UK dance journals, and Before the Pandemic was the technical director and photographer for Funoon, the UK’s only touring folkloric dance troupe dedicated to the arts of the Middle East and North Africa. She also presented her dance-and-storytelling stage show Tales From the Souk, and people with even longer memories might remember her dancing with local bands. Forced into early retirement post-Covid, her book, Beautiful Fatmas – Middle Eastern and North African Dancers in Europe 1865-1895, will be published in 2023.