In 1906, Maud Allan (Canada 1873- USA 1956) debuted in Vienna, her own production of “Vision of Salomé”, based on Oscar Wilde’s play, and with a score by composer Marcel Rémy. Her version of the dance of the seven veils became famous and she was billed as “The Salomé Dancer”.
Moving to England in 1908, Allan gave 265 performances of “Vision of Salomé” in one year, packing the seats and aisles of London’s 1700-seat Palace Theatre from March through November, commanding £500 a week”.
Maud Adam’s Salomé costume, which she designed herself, delighted many and shocked others. Some people were so offended that they saw the show twice, to get the details right for their letters to the editor. The brevity of the outfit, combined with Miss Allan’s barefoot twirling, held audiences spellbound.
Moving to England in 1908, Allan gave 265 performances of “Vision of Salomé” in one year, packing the seats and aisles of London’s 1700-seat Palace Theatre from March through November, commanding £500 a week
A reporter for the New York Sun, writing from London, described the Allan performed early in her program, but shifted into another gear for her entrance as Salome:
“Her hair is now black, Orientally arranged and surmounted by a headdress of Eastern fashion. Her breast shows the circular plates seen in pictures of Amazons. Across the front of the torso swing two or three pendants. From a waistband supported by the hips hangs a skirt of some black gauze. Just below the waist is some sort of undergarment of the kind usually worn by ballet dancers when they appear in tights”.
But he saved his best prose for the appearance of the head of John the Baptist:
“Suddenly the dancer springs to her full height and swinging the head at arm’s length brings it above her face. Then she suddenly drops the white lips upon her own and for a moment seems to drink obscene kisses from them as from the brim of a cup. Then follows a writhing revulsion. She puts the head behind her, hides her face with one arm and creeps back toward the pedestal. In another moment she drops it behind the pedestal and falls shuddering to her knees”.
A production of the play led to a libel case in 1918, when Allan was accused of promoting sexual immorality by Noel Pemberton Billing, through his article titled “The Cult of The Clitoris” published in The Vigilante. The article attacked Allan, suggesting that the performance was part of a German wartime plot against the British. During the trial, the article’s author claimed that he had seen a “Black Book” containing the names of 47,000 English “perverts” who could be used as secret agents. The German would, it was suggested, use “sodomy, sadism and lesbianism… to bring the English people into bondage”. Allan lost the case and gained a reputation for sexual licentiousness and immorality.
Artist Claude Cahun (France 1894-1954) wrote about the trial in an article titled “The Salomé of Oscar Wilde, the Billing trial and 47,000 Black Book Perverts”, that was published in the Mercure de France. She suggested that The Vigilante article took aim not only Allan but al “all admires of Wilde, even those with a mild interest for him,” thus implying that from the point of view of the Vigilante article’s author, anyone who sympathized with Wilde (the homosexual) was a corruptor of morals. In addition to its implicit attack on what we might today describe as queer sexuality, Cahun saw the article as a general attack on artistic and intellectual freedom: “one we find here, the thesis these puritans who invoking a state of war want, under the guise of a reform of customs, deny all freedom of artistic expression and a thought”.