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Allan, Maud [real name Ulla Maude Durrant]free

  • Jane Pritchard

Maud Allan (1873–1956), by Foulsham & Banfield, c. 1908

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Allan, Maud [real name Ulla Maude Durrant] (1873–1956), dancer, was born in Toronto, Canada, on 27 August 1873. Her name was registered as Ulla Maude Durrant, the daughter of William Allan Durrant (1851–1917), a shoemaker, and his wife, Isa (or Isabella) Matilda, née Hutchinson (1853–1929). Her paternal grandfather, Thomas Durrant, a farm worker from Holt, Norfolk, had emigrated from Britain to Canada. The background of her domineering mother is uncertain. The Durrant family moved to San Francisco in 1880 where Maud acquired her love of theatre and music. She studied at the San Francisco School of Music and in February 1895 travelled to Berlin’s Royal High School of Music to further her studies as a concert pianist and vocalist. In April 1895, while she was in Germany, her elder brother (William Henry) Theodore Durrant, a medical student, carried out the gruesome murder of two women at the Baptist church in San Francisco attended by the family. Convicted of murder in July 1895, he was executed in January 1898.

In Berlin she adopted the name Maud Allan and funded her studies by working in the corsetry business and by illustrating a two-volume manual for women, Illustriertes Konversations-Lexikon der Frau (1900). Her mother joined her during 1899–1900 to travel in Europe. At the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, she was inspired by Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera, the Return of Spring to turn to free dance to visualize music as her medium of expression. She improvised barefoot dances in lightweight tunics, and was influenced by the teachings of François Delsarte concerning the relationship between body and spirit, and was inspired by the revival of interest in ancient Greece and its dances as represented in art. She knew of the dance innovations of Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, and Ruth St Denis, and briefly toured with Fuller just prior to their independent creations of Salome. Fuller later recorded that ‘both Isadora Duncan and Maud Allan repaired to her in the early stages of their development for advice and instruction’ (Chicago Tribune, 20 Sept 1908, quoted in R. Nelson and M. E. Nelson, Loie Fuller, Goddess of Light, 1997, 194).

Allan’s first performances were at the Conservatory of Music, Vienna, in 1903. The programme included four scores to which she would dance throughout her career: Ave Maria, Valse-caprice, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Spring Song, which was later included in her feature film, The Rugmaker’s Daughter (1915), expressed joy and idealized youth; Frederic Chopin’s Marche funèbre conveyed grief and loss of fatherland.

After performing in central Europe, Allan met the Belgian Marcel Rémy and together they created the dance with which she was most closely associated, The Vision of Salome, which she first performed in Vienna in December 1906. Rémy’s score drew on ‘old Oriental melodies’ and the dance showed ‘Salome’s moody half-conscious remembrance, her tragic reverie, of what has gone before’ (undated souvenir programme for the Palace Theatre, London). Allan’s comments on her Salome were altered for specific audiences: on the continent the source was Oscar Wilde’s play; in the USA the Bible; while in England she insisted in interviews that ‘My Salome dance is not a reproduction of the dance given before Herod, but is the “Vision” of Salome after it is over—a retrospection…’ (Strand Magazine). Allan’s controversial costume for this dance was a bejewelled bra-like top, a transparent, ankle-length skirt cut low on the hips, a pearl headdress, and bare feet.

In September 1907 Allan was invited to perform her Salome for Edward VII at Marienbad. Although some reports suggest the king instructed Sir Alfred Butt, manager of the Palace Theatre, London, to book her act, it is more probable that reports from the agent, Braff, led to the engagement. The Palace Theatre of Varieties prided itself on being the top venue for new and innovative variety acts for its mixed bills—including ballet and dance—scouted from all over Europe and America. Continuing royal and society patronage, including that of Margot Asquith and her husband, the future prime minister H. H. Asquith, together with her involvement in charity galas, helped to promote her career. Initially engaged at the Palace for two weeks from 6 March 1908 she was continuously on the bill, when she sprained her ankle and from 19 March there was a series of special Maud Allan matinées. On 14 October 1908 she gave her 250th performance at the Palace, which was marked by the publication of a souvenir edition of her autobiography, My Life and Dancing, in which she explained that her aim was ‘To try to express in movement the emotions and thoughts stirred by melody, beautiful pictures and sculpture’ (Allan, 53).

Allan became a celebrity and her appearances at the London Olympic Games and garden parties attracted crowds. Her Salome was in demand throughout Britain although in certain cities, including Manchester, caressing the head of John the Baptist was banned. Almost immediately Allan’s Salome dance was sent up by comedians and referenced in popular theatre. Hers was one of the most influential versions, though a tour of Russia in 1909 was unsuccessful and when she took Salome to the USA in 1910 it seemed out of date: there, ‘schools for Salomes’ had been sending out dancers around the country for two years. She returned to London where she made her home at West Wing, Holford House, Regent’s Park, leased for her by Margot Asquith. Appearing again at the Palace in February 1911, she set out for a tour of South Africa in November 1911, and during 1913–14 toured in India and Australia. From 1915 to 1917 she was in the USA.

In 1917 Allan returned to London where she appeared at the St Martin’s Theatre over the winter. The impresario J. T. Grein offered her the lead role in a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome and in February 1918 a private performance at his Independent Theatre was announced. This made her a target for the inventor and MP Noel Pemberton Billing in his drive to cleanse the British establishment of those whom he accused of undermining national morale. His paper The Vigilante (16 Feb 1918) alleged that those attending Allan’s performance were likely to include many of the 47,000 influential British figures whose names were said to be listed in a black book in the possession of the Germans and who could be open to blackmail on account of their sexual deviance. Allan herself was named as a leader of what the paper labelled the ‘Cult of the Clitoris’.

Allan and Grein brought a prosecution for criminal libel against Pemberton Billing as proprietor of the Vigilante, leading to a trial lasting five days from the end of May 1918. The case was hugely publicized because it involved such figures as the former prime minister’s wife, and it gave Pemberton Billing further opportunity to hint at ‘perverse’ and enemy influences among the British élite. He conducted his own defence, exposing Allan as sister of Theodore Durrant and drawing attention to her association with Margot Asquith. He was acquitted.

Allan was by now in her mid-forties, and her performance career never quite recovered from the adverse publicity of the trial, but she continued to teach dance in the UK and in America. She went to California and in 1920 toured South America; after returning to London, where she appeared at the Coliseum in October 1921, she was in Egypt and Malta in 1923. From 1925 to 1927 she was in California, and was again in London from 1927, living at the West Wing with her secretary and companion, Verna Aldrich. She continued performing until 1934, including as the Abbess in Max Reinhardt’s The Miracle at the Lyceum in London in 1932. Towards the end of her career she taught dance at her Regent’s Park home. During the Second World War she drove an ambulance in the UK then, returning to California, undertook work making technical drawings at Douglas Aircraft Co. She died in Los Angeles on 7 October 1956.

Maud Allan successfully moved between popular and more élite audiences: her performances in the UK popularized ‘new’ dance. She worked with the music of more than a dozen composers and was accompanied by talented pianists and musicians, including the Cherniavsky trio. Her repertoire comprised more than fifty-five dances or suites of dances (to music from The Nutcracker, Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt, and Luigini’s Egyptian Suite). Although her work was embedded within, rather than leading, developments in modernist ‘natural’ dance in the early decades of the twentieth century, her Salome, and her later involvement in the famous Pemberton Billing libel case, made her a significant figure in readings of performance culture in the early twentieth century. The powerful image of her Salome featured in the poster designed by Tom Wilkes for the Monterey international pop festival in June 1967.


  • M. Allan, My life and dancing (1908)
  • ‘A chat with Maud Allan: the famous dancer talks about her art’, Dancing Times (July 1916), 274–6
  • T. Bentley, Sisters of Salome (2002)
  • F. Cherniavsky, The Salome dancer: the life and times of Maud Allan (1991)
  • E. Weigand, ‘Maud Allan and Debussy’, diss., Antioch College, Ohio (March 1978)
  • E. Weigand, ‘Maud Allan and J. T. Grein’, Society of Dance History Scholars Proceedings (1983)
  • E. Weigand, ‘The rugmaker’s daughter, Maud Allan’s 1915 silent film’, Dance Chronicle (9 Feb 2008)
  • C. Caffin and C. Caffin, Dancing and dancers of today: the modern revival of dancing as an art (1912)
  • J. E. C. Flitch, Modern dancing and dancers (1911)
  • A. L. Haskell, ‘Balletomane’s log book III: freedom and restraint’, Dancing Times (March 1935)
  • A. Koritz, ‘Dancing the orient for England: Maud Allan’s vision of Salomé’, Theatre Journal (March 1994)
  • L. McDearmon, ‘Maud Allan: the public record’, Dance Chronicle, 2 (1978), 85–105
  • E. R. Simmons and D. J. Holland, ‘Salome and the king: an important encounter’, Dance Magazine (Nov 1967), 52–3
  • J. Walkowitz, ‘The “Vision of Salome”: cosmopolitanism and erotic dancing in central London, 1908–1918’, American Historical Review 108/2 (2003), 337–76
  • ANB
  • Who’s Who in the Theatre (1914)
  • The Times (8 April 1918); (30 May 1918); (8 Oct 1956); (9 Oct 1956)
  • birth registrations, Toronto, Ontario


  • photographs, repro. in Allan, My life and dancing (1908)
  • photograph, repro. in H. V. Morton, The pageant of the century (1934)
  • D. Allen & Sons Ltd., photograph, 1908, V&A
  • W. and D. Downey, photographs, 1900s, V&A
  • Foulsham and Banfield, photographs, 1900s, V&A
  • Grenberger of Prague, photographs, 1900s, V&A
  • photographs, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, NYPL for the Performing Arts
  • R. G. Mathews, charcoal and chalk, c.1908, NPG
  • R. G. Mathews, pastel on paper, 1908, Bartley Drey Gallery
  • Foulsham and Banfield, four postcard prints, c.1900–1908, NPG [see illus.]
  • Foulsham and Banfield, tear sheet, 1908, NPG
  • Reutlinger, two postcard prints, c.1900–1908, NPG
  • Gerlach, two postcard prints, c.1908, NPG
  • J. Beagles & Co., postcard print, 1908, NPG
  • Bassano Ltd, bromide print, 1913, NPG
  • W. & D. Downey, postcard print, 1900s, NPG
  • A. Bock, sculpture, c.1905, Tubingen
  • F. von Stuck, oils, Munich Municipal Gallery
  • Smith Collection, photographs, 1908, NYPL
  • E. Steichen, photograph, repro. in Vanity Fair (1932)
  • Stringer, photographs, c.1910–1920, Hult. Arch.
  • F. Matania, lithograph, c.1908, priv. coll.
  • photograph, c.1915, Bridgeman Images
  • photograph, repro. in The Sketch (1908), Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans Picture Library
  • photograph, repro. in Dancing World Magazine (1922)