Those who have seen Cecil B. DeMille’s extravagant 1930 musical Madam Satan will not soon forget the hallucinatory “ballet mécanique” improbably performed for a party of socialites aboard a dirigible anchored over Central Park (in a thunderstorm). At the center of the ballet is a striking figure with lightning bolts shooting from his head and hands—“The Spirit of Electricity” as danced by Theodore Kosloff, a veteran of the Ballets Russes whose friendship with DeMille dated to the 1916 The Woman God Forgot and continued until the dancer’s death in 1956. Dance critic Debra Levine tells the story of this enduring, unlikely friendship, and the astounding moment of cinema it produced, in an illustrated lecture, followed by a screening of the complete, see-it-to-believe-it film.
Madam Satan 1930. USA. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Screenplay by Jeanie Macpherson, Gladys Unger, Elsie Janis. With Kay Johnson, Reginald Denny, Lilian Roth, Roland Young. Preserved print courtesy Warner Bros. 116 min.