Monday, February 19, 2007

Anatomy of a Dance Reconstruction, Part 2

If you're just joining us, you may want to read Part 1 before proceeding.

For dance reconstruction purposes, we needn’t bother with the facsimile and transcription of the dance right away; we’re primarily interested in the translation. The other pieces are only important if we want to include them in A&S documentation.

With the translation in hand, we’ll want to start trying to match the steps to the rhythm of the music, so we’ll look at the first paragraph of description.
To do this Contrapasso, 6 people will befall you, 3 men, and 3 ladies; the which will stand in the wheel with this order, that is, 1 man and 1 woman, and all without taking hands will do together the Riverenza grave, and 2 Seguiti ordinarii turned to the left: and walking in the wheel, moreover to the left, they will do 2 Passi gravi, and 1 Seguito semidoppio; then turning back facing, with finding them in the manner which they were standing in the start, they will do 2 Passi gravi and 3 Trabuchetti, starting it with the right and concluding to feet even. They will return to do the same walk another turn.
Immediately, we start to encounter a good bit of dance jargon. Unless we know what the author means by Riverenza grave and Seguiti ordinarii, we’re not going to get very far. Caroso describes the common steps used in his dances separately from the dances themselves, so at this point we need to start looking up the definitions of the steps used in this dance. Rather than do them all in detail, we’ll take a look at his description of the Riverenza grave. The description is quite verbose, but it contains various important bits of information, so we’ll break it into manageable chunks.
The Riverenza grave is done keeping the body and the legs well straight, with the middle of the left foot most in front of the right, and 4 inches distant from it, being careful that the points of both feet stand well straight.
The opening statement provides a general description of our starting position. We stand up straight, feet slightly apart, left foot leading some, and toes pointed forward.
And because in the major part of the Balletti happen 8 perfect beats of music, which are 16 ordinary beats;
This may seem innocuous, but it’s actually pretty useful to know. Not all of Caroso’s dances have this timing, so you need to be ready to adapt. In fact, we’ll be doing it in this very dance.
but have to know that in the first 4 beats begin and finish all the Riverenza: and in the last four, the 2 Continenze, as I will say to you later.
Caroso has left us with a bit of a quandary, here. When he says that the Riverenza takes 4 beats, he doesn’t say whether he means “perfect” beats or “ordinary” beats (this is the sort of oversight that offends me as a technical writer). When the time comes, we simply have to figure out which way works to the music. Having heard the music, I can say with assurance that, in this case, he means “perfect” beats.
The first time, stand in perspective with the left foot forward, as was said, and with your facing turned towards that of the lady: and not as it is done by others, who keep turned towards the bystanders, who stand opposite: in that manner it seems that they despise the lady with whom they wish to dance: and that here with each effect whom they owe always to revere and to honor:
Bow to your partner, not to the audience. It should be clear that any bow you make to the audience is not part of the dance. In the first of our four perfect beats, your left foot should be in front of you.
In the second, draw back the left foot in a straight line, until the point of this is even with the right heel: keeping it level on the floor, and not elevating the heel: be careful in the drawing back the foot, of bowing a little with the head, and the body, accompanying this act with what grace which would better favor it, and having both the knees well extended.
In the second of the four perfect beats, you draw your left foot back until your toe is even with your right heel, keeping your foot flat on the floor. Incline your head slightly at this point.
The third, one owes to diminish down the legs together with the body, widening the knees some with beautiful grace.
In the third beat, bend at the knees to lower your body.
The fourth and final, one must advance it, returning the left foot to even with the right, and raising the body and the head together
In the fourth beat, rise back up, straighten your head, and bring your feet even.
We have started the Riverenza with the left foot, because the pattern of revering of the body of the heart; and also because the constancy, and stability of our body is the right foot: the which must not move ever before we have done the Riverenza, nor less in the dance. Be careful now, which each act, or movement in the start of the Balli always must be done with the left foot.
This particular statement gives useful guidance for all step reconstructions; it tells us that the opening moves of all of Caroso’s dances (and 16th century Italian dances in general) will begin with the left foot.
Nor do I wish to let go of to say, which of the many ways this Riverenza will be diversely done, forsomuch as that some people finding themselves with feet even at the start, draw the left foot back flaking instead of in a straight line, and standing with the legs straight and with the point of said foot on the ground: others, drawing a little back, cross it around the right: others, drawing it purely back, rest with the point of that behind the heel of the right: and others pulling it turn their body, and keeping with the point behind on the ground: the which manners all, because they are extremely clumsy and foul, have resolved to note for caution everyone to avoid this, and to shun them.
Here Caroso notes that there are many variations on the performance of the Riverenza, although he doesn’t approve of them. From this we might conclude that we shouldn’t panic if we don’t perform the step exactly as he teaches, nor should we be surprised if we find another 16th century dance master (like Cesare Negri) describing a step differently from Caroso. Putting all these details together, we have four “perfect” beats or eight “ordinary” beats to complete the Riverenza grave. From a standing position with our feet slightly apart and toes pointed forward, we do the following…
  1. Extend the left foot forward slightly.
  2. Draw the left foot back until its toe is even with the right heel, keeping the foot flat on the floor. Also, incline the head slightly.
  3. Bend at the knees to lower the body.
  4. Rise back up, straightening the head, and bringing the feet even.

Remember that you are showing reverence to your partner, not to the audience.

I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to reconstruct the other steps used in the dance, including the Seguito ordinario, Passo grave, Seguito semidoppio, Trabuchetto, Seguito grave, Continenze, Doppio presto, and Riprese.

Continue to Part 3.

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