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Ken PierceFeb. 22, 2019

Dances of Love and War

by Ken Pierce, faculty

As in past years, the dance component of the 2019 Early Music Week will be devoted primarily to Italian dance repertory from circa 1600, though we may also glance at French and English repertory from around the same period.

There are several reasons for focusing on late-Renaissance Italian repertory. On the one hand, there are plenty of sources available. These document a reasonably well-defined general style of dance, with a rich enough step vocabulary and repertory to keep us busy for a week, and with enough technical detail to challenge even highly trained dancers.  On the other hand, the late-Renaissance style is relatively accessible at a basic level even to those without dance training or prior early dance experience.

This year’s theme, “Love and War”, offers several possibilities for choosing repertory for the week.  One approach, as to love, would be to say that _all_ of the Italian ballroom dances are implicitly about love, because they involve mixed gender couples involved in a sort of ritualized preening and flirting. Or we could decide that any dance by Negri -- there are over 40 -- would be appropriate, because of the title of his treatise, _Le Gratie d’Amore_ (The Graces of Love).  Or we could decide to look only at dances whose titles include the word “Amore” or its variants: Contentezza D’Amore, Gratia D’Amore, Leggiadria D’Amore, Nido d’Amore, La Fedeltà d’Amore, Bizzarria d’Amore, La Caccia d’Amore, and so on.  (I count about 30 such dances.)

None of these approaches is particularly useful in limiting the choice of repertory. But it is certainly instructive to see, in these titles and in the dance descriptions themselves, the strong connections between the ideas of love and dance. The connections are superficial in the dance titles, though not meaningless. They are more substantive in the dances themselves, with the various habitual courtesies -- hat doffing, feigned hand kissing, reverent bows -- that the dancers exhibit toward one another.  (These courtesies do not mean that the dancers must be in love; they mean that the dancers must know how to behave as if they were -- or, importantly, to know how to behave appropriately even when under love’s influence.  Courtesy, honor, respect: subjects worthy of study in these parlous times.)

Some of the Italian dances, in their titles at least, touch on the subject of war.  These dances are “La Battaglia”, “Torneo Amoroso”, and “Barriera”.  The title “Barriera” may require some explanation: during the sixteenth century, the notion of fighting across a barricade or barrier, for example at a narrow gate or passageway, was developed into a sort of exhibition of mock combat in which participants wielding swords or staffs engaged one another across an artificial barrier, about waist high. The dances titled “Barriera” (there are five) incorporate genteel references to this mock combat, with hand claps in place of swordplay.  Similarly, each “Torneo Amoroso” (Tournament of Love) or “ Battaglia” (The Battle) includes elements of mock combat.

Because they are relatively few, and with a clear connection to the workshop theme, I plan to include some of them in this year’s repertory.  Note that these dances are not about actual war or its accompanying horrors.  Rather, they are allusive, with elements associated with battle: patrolling, advancing and retreating, engaging and parrying.

The notion of a danced battle between the sexes should cause some discomfort to anyone who’s been living in the 21st century.  And the thought of even mock fighting across an artificial barrier should give us pause, in this time when artificial emergency.  Let me offer at least the reassurance that the roles in these dances are essentially equal, with all dancers performing the same steps and actions, either at the same time or in alternation. (There is one exception in the Barriera from the Santucci manuscript, in which the galliard variations are different for man and woman.) Nobody gets beat up or humiliated, and when the dance ends the dancers bow with mutual respect.

On to practical matters: The first dance class each day will begin with a thorough warmup suitable for Renaissance dance.  The warmup will lead into work on steps and step sequences drawn from the repertory under study.  Beginning in the first class and continuing through subsequent classes, we will work on repertory from among the dances described above (and possibly others).  I will seek to help students hone technical skill, refine understanding of stylistic subtleties, develop as artists and performers, and coalesce as a group and learn from one another.  Students who wish to do so will have the opportunity to perform in one of the end-of-week concerts.

Recent posts:

EMW 2019:
Dances of Love and War, by Ken Pierce

EMW 2018:
Transformative Dance, by Ken Pierce

Transformation, by Larry Wallach

Music: A Transformative Art, by Pamela Dellal

EMW 2017:
Music and nature, by Larry Wallach

Images of Nature in Dance, by Ken Pierce

EMW 2016:
Dancing to music, by Ken Pierce

Playing for historical dance, by Jane Hershey

EMW 2015:
Language, by Pamela Dellal

Genre, by Larry Wallach

Legacy, by Larry Wallach

EMW 2014:
The Spanish Golden Age in the Netherlands,
by Anne Legêne

Sephardic Music, by Jay Rosenberg

Ensalada by Salomé Sandoval