When French director Stéphanie Di Giusto set out to create a film about Loie Fuller, the modern dancer (1862–1928) known for her groundbreaking work with fabric and lighting design, Di Giusto came to Jody Sperling for advice. For the past 17 years, Sperling has made a name for herself as an expert on “La Loïe” by breathing new life into Fuller’s work via Sperling’s small company, Time Lapse Dance. She and her dancers masterfully re-create Fuller’s serpentine, otherworldly style—a process that requires considerable upper-body strength to manipulate voluminous, cape-like costumes.
La Danseuse, which premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival last May, explores Fuller’s bon vivant expatriate life in Paris. Granted, says Sperling, the film “takes a lot of license with history,” but Di Giusto wasn’t interested in a strict retelling. “She didn’t want to do a museum piece,” says Sperling. “She wanted to tell Loie’s story in a way that would speak to a contemporary audience.”
Training: BA in dance and Italian from Wesleyan University; MA in performance studies from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts
Performance: Founded Time Lapse Dance in 2000; served as choreographer and consultant for the 2016 film La Danseuse
On training French singer-songwriter/actress SoKo to dance “I worked with SoKo [as Loie] every day but Sunday, between five and six hours a day, for five weeks. She’d never had any dance training before. I’d do my own practice in the morning, and then she’d come in, and I would give her a dance class. She had this spontaneous energy but not the balance or control. She was a fantastic student, very focused and motivated.”
Seeing her research on Loie Fuller come to life “I gave a broad range of input for the costuming and the lighting. There’s a scene in the movie with charts on the wall, which are basically copied from my notebook—for example, how to draw the costume. And in the movie Loie [the character] tells the costume woman, ‘I don’t want it to be like number 77. I want it to be like 79.'”
The biggest training surprise “The feet were so important. You think it’s all in the arms—the director wanted me to work on SoKo’s arm strength—but what’s going to make the difference is the mobility in your ankles and the depth of your plié. How you’re transferring weight is amplified by the fabric.”