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Baroque Dance Videos

The production quality of the videos presented is not of high quality and the compilation is modest. In my background, it was not possible to interfere with the audience experience and hence resulted in limited camera locations and lighting. Further, for proprietary reasons, recordings from unionised houses could not be included, e.g., The Getty Museum in Los Angeles where I did a male solo sarabande for which a staff member kept visiting during rehearsal even though she was not required to be there so often. Later she admitted she found it very sensual – a sarabande is supposed to be, hence why it was sometimes banned. In the 18th century in Episcopal Principality of Salzburg dance was considered a corrupting influence for the lower classes and was often banned (although the Prince Bishop did have a palace built for his mistress, but there was some distance maintained – the palace for her was on the opposite side of the Salzach River). The concept of dance as licentious was taken further by playwright and social commentator Bernard Shaw who on seeing the introduction of the tango into the ballroom dance repertoire in the early 20th century expressed that it seemed a vertical desire of a horizontal expression. (Or perhaps being in his 60s he was resentful that he could no longer dance with that intensity.)

Masque of Queens 1&2

Masque of Queens: original text, composition and staging by Ben Jonson 1609-16; period music adapted and bridging music composed by Michael Purves-Smith 2006; stage direction, choreography and dancer Edgar Tumak. This work explores the anti-masque subsection of the larger work and the role of a coven a witches seeking to destroy the noble order (of course they are not successful, even though using tropes of witchery that we still see in stage and film performances to this day). The choreography reflects a period of transition in Western European dance from the Renaissance to Baroque when there was little documentation regarding dance technique, but here there was consideration of where the two merged which allowed options for creativity in this work, such as from accounts of Kings Louis XIII of France (reigned 1610-43) who greatly enjoyed dance, and to which the English Royal House was closely related. While Louis XIII enjoyed dance, his son Louis XIV took it to a magnificent level making it a state institution and presentation for his abilities as the Sun King modeled after Apollo. The first Académie Francaise – of any of the Académies, was for dance in 1661. The Academy of Language or Science came later.

In this presentation the dancing non-singing attendant to the leader of the coven (referred to as Ignorance) is presented as a simpering sycophant (a situation many courtiers would have known). He/she is asexual, and protocol norms of the time are not respected, such as diminutive arms and footwork, pronounced shoulder movement (for the time), greeting with the left hand, bending to authority on the left, not the right knee, and of course a focus on stage left entrances and exits.

These would have been understood at the time as malevolent – if not already detected by a cauldron, incantations, and non-noble attire. However, the French court had long been considered tolerant of gender bending whether with the royal sons of long serving regent Marie de Medici (mother-in-law of Mary Queen of Scots later mother of James I of England and VI of Scotland – also more on the gay side of bisexual), or later French heirs Louis XIII, and even the brother of Louis XIV.

Edgar and Michael (composition and musical direction, Wilfrid Laurier University) co-directed the revival of several other little known operas, such as: Egisto (1642, Francesco Cavalli music, Giovanni Faustini libretto). Cavalli composed music for the wedding of King Louis XIV. There were also opera-like productions known as vaudevilles (Baroque era compositions where popular tunes were adapted by a period composer with new texts provided): Cythère Assiégée (1759, C.W. Gluck music, Charles-Simon Favart text), Le Diable a Quattre (1759, C.W. Gluck music, Michel-Jean Sedaine text).

Turkish March

Türkish Dance: Choreography Anthony L'Abbé (1725); music André Campra; L'Europe galante (“La Turquie,” 1697)

This dance evolved from the comédie-ballet Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme of 1670 by playwright Molière following the presentation of the Turkish Ambassador to the Court of Versailles and the disastrous but costly French approach to do things ‘Turkish’ for the reception of the Turkish ambassador. Rather than admit a faux pas, the talents of Molière were used to amuse the court and help mollify the anger of King Louis XIV, as it featured a plot line exploiting a Turkish connection. Despite the rough start the French and Turks remained allies in wars involving Austria and Britain, and hence for France, Turkey was included as a noble European state in L’Europe galante.

Chacone of Galathee

Chacone of Galathee: choreography Anthony L'Abbé (ca. 1727); music Jean-Baptiste Lully (from the opera Acis et Galatée, 1686)

The Chacone of Galathee, or chaconne, stems from the pastorale-héroïque opera composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully. It was still frequently performed in the mid-18th century with Madame de Pompadour, King Louis XV’s very public mistress and confidante appearing in the opera in 1749. The choreographer for this dance interpretation was, despite his name, mostly based in England and served as the dancing master to the English royal family. To gain any status as a choreographer and dancing master it was beneficial to have a French name. In the world of opera it helped to have Italian association, experience or stylistic expression. Georg Friedrich Handel did not change his name but often composed in the Italian style. Soon after relocating to England in 1717 Handel would compose his own version of Acis and Galatea hence the continued interest by L’Abbé to choreograph on the theme in the 1720s.

This notated version of Chacone of Galathee is a virtuosic duet of the era. One may notice at times that the male and female present a notably different step. This was intended and clearly notated in the choreography (e.g., the male presenting an entrechat six, while the woman performs a tour en l’air). Also of note is that Baroque dance of the noble style was required to appear effortless, hence absolutely perfect conclusions to jumps, turns and other complicated manoeuvres.


Harlequin: choreography F. Le Rousseau (ca. 1728), music Marc-Antoine Charpentier (for the play Le malade imaginaire, Moliére, 1673)

Masked roles of the era were often based on the earlier Italian tradition of the commedia dell’arte, of which one of the best known characters today is that of Harlequin. Commedia dell-arte was a comedic improvisatory art originating in what is now Italy, and it often allowed for social or political criticism that was censored in more formalised stage presentations.


Harlequin was a mischievous rascal and was always wanting to wangle his way into the hearts of women. Unlike most choreographies this for Harlequin notates the arm, hand, hat and even face gestures – something very rare in the Feuillet-Beauchamp notation system. A recent presentation of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants shows one performer providing the face gestures notated in the choreography of 1728. The notation is for a solo male, but in this performance has been adapted as a duet with a statement and response or echo effect.

Peasant Dance Suite for Theatre

- Entrée pour un Berger & une Bergere: choreography Louis-Guillaume Pécour (1713); music Marin Marais, Sémélé, (1709)

- Entreé de paysan: choreography: Anon.; music Jean-Baptiste Lully (from the opera Roland, 1685)

These are stage versions of noble impressions of dances representing shepherds, shepherdesses and peasants. At the Court of Versailles, Marie-Antoinette had a peasant hamlet created on the grounds of the palace where she could shed Court stress and escape its stultifying formality. There she could enjoy pastoral pursuits such as milking cows. Of course the cows were scrubbed to an inch of their life, and she wore the finest of linen or silk aprons and the milk was collected in Sèvres porcelain bowls.

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