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Allan, Maud (1873-1956)  
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In the early years of the twentieth century Maud Allan achieved worldwide renown as the "Salome Dancer" for her stunning performances of the best-known piece in her repertoire, The Vision of Salome. She is also remembered for a lawsuit that she brought against a newspaper publisher for alleging that she was a lesbian. Although it was Allan who charged libel, in court her opponent tried to put both her and Oscar Wilde's play Salome on trial.

Early Life and Education

Born Beulah Maud Durrant in 1873 in Toronto, Allan was the daughter of William Allan Durrant, a shoemaker, and Isa (also known as Isabella) Matilda Hutchinson Durrant. Three years later William Durrant moved to San Francisco, where he bounced from job to job, mainly in the shoe manufacturing industry. In 1879 Isabella Durrant followed with their two children, Maud and her brother William Henry Theodore (usually known as Theo).

As a youngster Allan excelled at arts and crafts--carving, clay modeling, sketching and sewing. She also showed talent for music and studied to be a concert pianist. It may be that the dream of a career for Allan on the concert stage was at least as much her mother's as her own, but the young woman showed sufficient promise that her teacher, Eugene Bonelli of the San Francisco Grand Academy of Music, advised her to go to Germany to complete her musical studies.

In February 1895 Allan set off for Berlin, where she was admitted to the Hochschule für Musik. Hardly had she begun her studies, however, when she received the shocking news that her brother had been arrested for murder.

In April the bodies of two young women were discovered in San Francisco's Emmanuel Baptist Church, where Theo Durrant was the assistant Sunday School superintendent. The grisly murders, which were compared to the crimes of Jack the Ripper, received sensational and sometimes speculative coverage in the California press. Over 3,600 potential jurors needed to be examined before twelve could be chosen to hear the case.

On November 1, the jury found Durrant guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to be put to death on February 21, 1896, but appeals of the case caused the execution to be put off three times. Durrant was finally hanged for murder on January 7, 1898.

Throughout this entire period Maud Allan, at her brother's request, remained in Europe. The siblings, who had always been extremely close, kept in frequent contact by letter. Allan held out hope for a reprieve until the very end, and she never stopped asserting her belief in her brother's innocence.

With little money coming from her family in America, Allan needed to work while pursuing her studies. She sometimes gave English lessons but earned little in this way. She had greater success when she joined with several other people in a corset-making business. (Allan designed, sewed and even modeled the product.) On one occasion she put her drawing skills to use, illustrating a sex manual for women, Illustriertes Konversations-Lexikon der Frau (1900).

Dancing Career

Although Allan continued her piano studies as her mother wished, she had become intrigued with the idea of "dancing as an art of poetical and musical expression." A pivotal point in her career came when she met Belgian musician and critic Marcel Rémy, who encouraged her to explore and develop her thoughts on dance and who wrote the music for The Vision of Salome, the performance piece for which Allan would become famous.

Allan would always emphasize that she had never taken a dancing lesson and insist that her style of dancing was entirely her own creation. What rankled her especially was to be compared to Isadora Duncan, whom she strongly disliked. While Allan's claims were overstated, she did show great imagination and creativity. These, combined with her unconventional costumes (which she designed and sometimes sewed herself), lent originality to her art. Her musicality and natural grace allowed her to suit her movements to music most effectively. As one reviewer put it, "she simply alchemized a piece of music for you."

Although Allan's repertoire consisted of a wide variety of pieces including Mendelssohn's Spring Song, Schubert's Ave Maria, and Chopin's Marche funèbre, it was Rémy's The Vision of Salome that made her reputation and earned her the nickname "the Salome Dancer." Her interpretation of the piece was all the more powerful because Rémy had caused her to associate the execution of John the Baptist with that of her own brother, thus evoking an especially passionate performance of this work.

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Maud Allan playing the title role in Oscar Wilde's Salome (ca 1906-1910).
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