Monday, February 26, 2007

Born Free?

My brother- and sister- in- law treat us well when we visit. That usually includes complete breakfasts in the mornings. Such breakfasts often include eggs. I'm going somewhere; wait for it.

My sister-in-law purchased some rather special eggs which were served when we last visited. All-natural, vegetarian-fed eggs under the brand name "Born Free" in fact. It's a very impressive label. You might even get the impression that they were from free-range chickens. If you got that impression, you'd be wrong.

Here's the basic label. Note that it says "Born Free" in very large characters.

Note also that it says "from caged hens" in rather small, white characters on a very light background.

Let me emphasize that for you if you're having trouble reading it.

Despite being called "Born Free", these are not free ranged chickens. The eggs come from "caged hens". While you might be interested in eggs from chickens fed an all-vegetarian diet (and my good lady wife points out that feeding hens corn is actually typical), you wouldn't want to buy these eggs on the assumption that they're coming from free-range chickens.

Have we learned to read the fine print, now?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Anatomy of a Dance Reconstruction, Part 3

In our last entry, we defined the steps that we would be using in this dance.

Continenze Move the left foot four inches away from the right, then close, including a smooth dipping motion. A continenza takes four counts.
Doppio presto A double with rising and lowering of the heels, done in two counts.
Passi grave Single steps that take two beats each
Passi presti Single steps that take one beat each
Riprese From feet even, move the left foot 4 inches away from the right, raising both the heels a little; then close, lower both heals. A ripresa, takes two counts.
Riverenze graveFor the riverenza grave, draw your left foot back in a straight line until the toe is even with your right heel, then bend and widen at the knees to descend. Rise by straightening at the knees while bringing your left foot forward until it’s even with your right. The whole motion takes eight counts.
Seguito grave Three passi in three counts, followed by a pause on the fourth count.
Seguito ordinario Move the left foot forward so the heel is even with the right toe; advance the right foot similarly in the second beat; the left advances again in the third beat, and the right falls even on the fourth. This is essentially a double in four counts.
Seguito semidoppio Two passi presti and one seguito spezzato. The whole sequence takes four counts.
Seguito spezzato Place the left foot a half step forward; in the second beat, place the right toe next to the left heel and raise both heels, then settle.
Trabuchetti gravi From a standing start with your feet even, hop a little to your left, leaving all your weight on your left foot and keeping your right foot up. Then hop back to your right, landing on your right foot and keeping your left up. Be careful not to let one foot slip behind the other during the trabuchetti; both feet should remain even from a front-to-back perspective. All of this takes place in two counts.

With those sorted out, we can now try to make them fit the music (you can download a brief sample from the Dragonscale Consort's album page). Of course, one of the first things that you’ll notice when listening to the music is that it isn’t arranged in measures of eight or sixteen counts. It’s arranged in measures of twelve or twenty-four counts. Consequently, a step that usually takes four beats will take six beats in this particular dance.

Again, we’ll want to work with just a manageable portion of the text, so we’ll go with the introductory portion of the dance.

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,
We begin with our starting positions. We have three couples arranged “in the wheel”, but we’re left wondering what Caroso means by a wheel. It’s undoubtedly some kind of circular arrangement, but we don’t really have enough information to know whether everyone’s facing inward, or the couples are facing around clockwise, or what. We’ll have to see what follows to determine the details.

and all without taking hands will do together the Riverenza grave,
This is our first actual movement direction. The couples are not holding hands. They all perform a Riverenza grave, which we learned in the last post would normally take eight ordinary beats. For this dance, then, the move will take twelve ordinary beats.

and 2 Seguiti ordinarii turned to the left:

Next, we have two ordinary sequences, which are ornamented doubles. An ordinario normally takes four counts, so in this dance they will take six. Since an ordinario consists for four steps, we’ll have to figure out a way to space them out over six beats. For me, that usually means taking the steps in the first four beats and then resting on the last two.

and walking in the wheel, moreover to the left, they will do 2 Passi gravi, and 1 Seguito semidoppio;
Passi gravi typically take two beats each, so these will take three beats each. The seguito semidoppio normally takes four beats, so it will take six in this dance: three beats for the initial two passi presti and three more for the spezzato.

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.
Two more passi gravi will take another six counts, and three trabuchetti will take another six.

They will return to do the same walk another turn.
And at this point we repeat everything we’ve already done except the opening Riverenza, which has nothing to do with us walking in the wheel.

12Riverenza grave
122 Seguito Ordinario (doubles)
62 Passi Grave (slow singles)
62 Seguito semidoppio (two quick singles and a spezzato)
62 Passi Grave (slow singles)
63 Trabuchetti (one hop to each foot per trabuchetto)
36Repeat from Seguiti Ordinarii

Unfortunately, at no point have we actually determined which dancers are going in which direction while “walking in the wheel”. Having no visual reference for how the dance was performed in period, this will be a matter of interpretation, which we’ll examine in a future post.

On to Part 4.

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.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Too Damn Cute

I used to have a dachsund that would have been perfect for this...

In unrelated news, Skeptics' Circle 54 is up.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Anatomy of a Dance Reconstruction, Part 1

I have no idea whether anyone would be interested in how I go about such things, but I figured I might as well do a post on how I personally go about researching a Renaissance dance for reconstruction.

Step one, of course, is to settle upon a dance to reconstruct. I typically start by looking through my collection of recorded music, since the music is essential to both the reconstruction and performance of the dance. I’m looking for three features at this stage:
  1. I like the music,
  2. the dance isn’t commonly performed in my kingdom, and
  3. a period description of the dance is readily available.
In my most recent project, I settled on Contrapasso Nuovo, a sixteenth-century Italian dance by Fabritio Caroso, published in Il Ballarino. The music is available from The Dragonscale Consort on their album, "A Consort of Dance". This music is, incidentally, the same music used for the dance Contrapasso (often called “Contrapasso in Due”, and so named on the album). This is a very nice, romantic piece of music which is available to many dancers in the SCA, so it fulfills criterion #1.

Contrapasso has been researched before, both by myself and others, but I’ve yet to see Contrapasso Nuovo on a dance list anywhere, so it fulfills criterion #2.

Finally, the entire text of Il Ballarino is available on the internet in facsimile, transcription, and translation. Easy access to source material is a huge bonus, especially if you want to demonstrate your process to an internet audience. This dance easily meets criterion #3.

This concludes the first stage of dance reconstruction -- choosing the dance. I’m going to stop here for the moment, since I plan to milk this topic for at least three posts.

The process continues in Part 2.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Amber Hnefatafl Pieces

Aardvarchaeology has posted an article about some amber game pieces uncovered at a boat grave dig in Sweden. His find leads to an interesting hypothesis about the people who played hnefatafl in 9th-10th century Sweden.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pewter Casting Resources

I had a comment from "Rhiannon" that asked...

Hi there, I've been trying to find out how/where to learn to cast pewter, in the high hope of casting a set of pieces for a game a little like chess, only with dragons and mages.

Would you be able to tell me how you learned (or perhaps give me some pointers)?

I can't seem to find her comment anywhere in the blog anymore, but I did get the email notification in late January, so for anyone else who might be wondering, I found an article about Pewter Casting in Soapstone Molds on the internet.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Fear the French!

There can be no greater terror...

...than a French Dalek!

On an unrelated note, I did have a good time at Saltare. I'm hoping to get some video from Rhys to make a good post about it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007