SPIDER DANCE: celebrating the transgressive lives & performances of Fanny Kelly & Lola Montez



Come on a fantastical journey through the lives and loves, romances and revolutions,
and conquests of one of the great women of the nineteenth century, and the woman who was her muse.

Fanny Kelly ran London’s first drama school from her Royalty Theatre in Soho. Her
cross-dressed performances enthralled and appalled in equal measure. She was a
noted and notorious Drag King a hundred years before the term first appeared in print.

You are very partial to a disguised Male Dress but let me not experience any more of your Folly!‘ – shouted by an audience member as he shot her with his pistol.
Lola Montez was a stimulant and inspiration to all who saw her perform on the stages of the world. From the Outback of Australia, through the Opera Houses of Europe, to the Wildest West of America, Lola Montez shocked, scandalised, enthralled, delighted, amazed and offended all who saw her dance. She started revolutions.
Watch Fanny Kelly’s gender fluid performances and Lola Montez’s transgressive
dances. Hear their words and be astonished by what is presented before you.

‘utterly subversive to all ideas of public morality.’
‘A tigress, the very comet of her sex.’
Sunday 26th January 2020 CRAZY COQS & Friday 7th February 2020 NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY


80662030_113495153490156_8975644654003290112_oIrish-born, Soho educated, mistress of artists and kings, catalyst of revolution, political firebrand, and celebrated creator of contemporary dance, Lola Montez was most famous woman of her age.

She was born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in County Limerick in 1821. She was sent to England to be educated but at the age of 16 eloped for a short-lived marriage that ended in divorce six months later. By then she was in Calcutta, A return to London was her transform herself into an exotic Spanish dancer by the name of Lola Montez. With her new identity she began a life as a dancer, performer, writer and courtesan. She had relationships with some of the most famous men of the age, and some of the women as well. The Ludwig of Bavaria created her Countess of Landsfeld in gratitude for her companionship. She travelled the world, with fame not just in Europe but in Australia and America as well. By the time of her death at the age of forty in 1861, she was noted and notorious having shocked the world with her passions, her performances, and her politics.



Fanny Kelly was born in Brighton to Irish parents. She became one of the most popular actors and singers of her age. An article entitled ‘Actresses’ in the 3rd Edition of

Encyclopædia Britannica so enraged her with its derogatory comments about the female
performer, that she opened her own drama school, exclusively for women. It was at Fanny Kelly’s Royalty Theatre in Soho’s Dean Street that Marie Gilbert learned to dance and became Lola Montez. The theatre was the home to Miss Kelly’s Theatre and Dramatic School – the first drama school in London. Kelly herself was a virtuoso transgender per-
former, confusing audiences, admirers and even lovers as to her actual sex.

Leigh Hunt said of her: ‘If an actress succeeds in her study of male representation, she will never entirely get rid of her manhood with it attire.’


Lola Montez was famed for her Spider Dance, an extraordinary creation that was
part Tarantella, part crazed trance-dance, part erotic performance. It was uniquely the beginnings of both Burlesque and Contemporary dance pre-echoing artists as diverse as Isadora Duncan, Gipsy Rose Lee and Josephine Baker.


This production brings to life Fanny Kelley’s Drag King performances and Lola Montez’s Spider Dances. Recreated with the original music composed for Lola’s performances, and interwoven with stories, advice and anecdotes from contemporary accounts. Three dancers are joined by one accordion player in an evening that promises to be as raucous, eye-popping and revolutionary as those given by Fanny Kelley and Lola Montez themselves.

Director: Luke Dixon
Producer: Clare Lynch
Choreographer: Jane Turner
Musical Director: Tyrone Landau


Fiona McKinnon, Penelope Dimond, Theresa Hoffmann

Accordion Player: Nia Davies with The Academy of Gesture

Sun 26th Jan 2020 CRAZY COQS tickets £15 (£10 concessions) & Fri 7th Feb 2020 NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY (SOLD OUT)
Contact: Clare Lynch 07979 971 251 / clarelynchred@gmail.com
for press images & to arrange interviews with director/cast

Instagram: @fannykellyandlolamontez

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