Tag Archives: early dance

Historical dance resources page (Richard Powers)

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Illustration of quadrille formation from Howe’s Drawing Room Dances (1859) available to download from Richard Powers’ site. 

Now and again I come across resources on the web that make me wonder how it was possible to have missed them all this time. Richard Powers’ website about historical dance is one of those.

I was looking for an online translation of Domenico da Piacenza’s 15th century treatise on dance. I might as well say why, while I’m at it. It’s because in Michael Baxandall’s  Painting and Experience in fifteenth century Italy, there is the most wonderful description of maniera, and definition of rhythm: 

Maniera, according to Domenico, is ‘a moderate movement, not too much and not too little, but so smooth that the figure is like a gondola oared by two oars through the little waves of a calm sea, these waves rising slowly and falling quickly.’ Misura is rhythm, but flexible rhythm, ‘slowness compensated by quickness.’  (Baxandall 1988, pg. 78) 

I love this so much,  I wanted to find the original, see the context, and give a more detailed reference to the original work if I could. I didn’t find the translation (eventually I managed to look at one on Google Books), but I did find on Powers’ site a table, in chronological order, of nearly 1600 dance manuals from the years 1425–2000, the first being da Piacenza’s De arte saltandi et choreas ducendi.  He has a private collection of 1,950 such manuals, 108 of which he has made available on his downloads page. These are not the same manuals that are available from the Library of Congress site, or others. 

As it happens, I was also looking for quadrille music for a workshop (on quadrilles) that I did recently at Tring Park School for the RAD, with Nicola Gaines. Although I had plenty of quadrilles from IMSLP, I wanted to make sure I had a different set to the ones I had used last time. On Powers’ site, on the downloads page, I found Elias Howe’s 1859 Drawing Room Dances, which has several quadrilles in it, of many different types. Several other dance manuals or descriptions on the downloads page have sheet music included, so it is well worth looking here. 

Also well worth reading are his teaching guidelines, especially the section on music. It is astonishing how little advice or information there is out there on using music in dance teaching. Although this isn’t specifically about ballet teaching (but about historical dance), everything he says could be usefully applied to ballet teaching. The following observation, for example, is so true, yet I have never seen it written down before: 

Tempo warning: There may come the day when you think to yourself, “That music feels too fast. I think I’ll slow it down for them.”  Or, “I can’t believe I’ve been teaching it that fast all of these years!”  No, the music isn’t too fast; you’re just slowing down.  If your class is comprised of younger people, don’t slow the class down to a tempo which works for an older teacher.

Also well worth reading is his “How to be a better dance DJ“—by which he means selecting and putting on music for social dances. But a lot of what he says is applicable to teachers selecting music for ballet classes, or for pianists preparing music for them. 

Powers is wonderfully generous with his resources, and for my taste, represents the best of the web—it makes me feel a little nostalgic for the early days (I’m talking 20 years ago) when people saw the web as an opportunity to share, rather than monetize. 

References

Baxandall, M. (1988). Painting and experience in fifteenth century Italy: a primer in the social history of pictorial style (2nd ed). Oxford [Oxfordshire] ; New York: Oxford University Press.

 

Learn quadrilles for a day in Charing, Kent, 28th April 2019

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Here’s a lovely idea for a Sunday in April—come to Charing in Kent for a day of learning to dance 19th century quadrilles with early dance expert Nicola Gaines.

Nicola and I have done a few of these workshops before, and they are great fun, but also a wonderful challenge, as there are so many variants and possible embellishments of the basic idea. They’re also just very jolly and social.

The day runs as follows:

10.45 Registration and coffee

11.15 Session One – Warm up, Steps and Patterns

1.15 Lunch – please bring snacks

2.00 Session Two – learning the first set and adaptations for use in class

4.15 Finish

It’s a bargain at £35 for the day, £25 for concessions, £20 for observers.

Download flyer with more information and application form

Location of Charing Parish Hall

Quadrilles — some background on the music

Readers of this site will know that I have a bit of a fascination for quadrilles. The interest began when I realised how much of the 19th century ballet repertoire owed to the rhythms and structures of quadrilles. Like other ballet pianists, I had searched the classical repertoire I knew for pieces that were suitable for battements glissés exercises and petit allegros in 2/4 or 6/8, and found very little. The day I discovered quadrilles, I realised I’d been looking in the wrong place all the time. (see earlier quadrille post).

Quadrille music is kind of the Hooked On Classics of the 19th century. Composers threw together all the best tunes from opera, operettas, and ballets, making cuts and changes of tempo or time signature just so you could carry on dancing to it in the form of the dance that you were expecting. Sometimes, you have to listen twice to realise that some deadly serious tune has been turned into a 32-count galop, or conversely—as in the article on Rossini below—you are taken aback to realise that “serious music” in fact has all the hallmarks of a quadrille (Odette’s 6/8 coda in Act II of Swan Lake is a prime example—it’s prime jigging-about music).

Any production of ROSSINI must bear his mark upon it, and must breathe his spirit: what that is may be best understood from the appearance of a set of “Stabat Mater Quadrilles.” This publication—a gross outrage upon decency, it must be confessed—shows the sort of ideas which ROSSINI’S music generates: and it shows also that those ideas are the very reverse of those which are conveyed in the words. Why is not PURCELL’S Burial-Service turned into a set of quadrille?—Not probably, from any regard to decorum if the speculation would be a profitable one, but simply because the thing is impossible.

(From The Spectator, No. 749, week ending Saturday November 5th, 1842, p. 1068)