Thursday, June 07, 2012

"300 Years On: A Dance Collection from the Reign of Louis XIV"

presented by The SF Early Music Society in association with Musica Pacifica
June 6, 2012

The historic origins of ballet are well-documented in textbooks, museums, literary and performance journals and on film and television.  But we hardly ever get a chance to see a live performance of early choreography - there's just not enough current companies who seek to interpret and re-stage court dances of the 1600 and 1700s.  This made last night's production of "300 Years On: A Dance Collection from the Reign of Louis XIV" such a rare delight.  Here was Baroque music (performed by Musica Pacifica) combined with a number of that same period's set dances (passepied, sarabande, gigue, rigaudon, etc.).  For a couple of hours, the audience was transported back in time and journeyed to a place of opulence, sophistication and placed movement.

Throughout the evening, Musica Pacifica switched back and forth between solo pieces and dance accompaniment, each work demonstrating their unique Baroque sound.  In addition, they managed to evoke a broad cultural sense in the music - like a royal court and the peasant countryside all at the same time.  This chamber group is committed to maintaining the authenticity of the Baroque compositions, though they do inject some interesting influences from later periods as well.  During the 'Airs Suite', there were true moments of rubato, or 'robbed time'; a technique most commonly associated with the Romantic era in music, where time is borrowed from one measure and then replaced in another.  Its tempting to dismiss these adjustments as ritardando/a tempo markings in the score, but they were much more complex than that.  If you listened closely, there were clear and definite rubatos being juxtaposed against the Baroque sensibility.

Photo: Nicholas Kish
Four dancers (Linda Tomko, Olsi Gjeci, Ken Pierce and Jennifer Thorp) took the stage following the overture, performing their first set of diverse enchaînements.  So much was happening during each individual dance, though the most common and compelling element was the footwork.  Changement, assemblé, pas de boureé, glissade, sissone, and jeté were present in many of the short dances (though the jumps here were very low, barely leaving the ground at all).  Despite ballet's significant evolution over hundreds of years, these intricate steps from Louis XIV's era remain in the lexicon and inform today's petit allegro vocabulary.  It was fascinating to see them at this early stage of development.   

Equally interesting were the differences.  As illustrated by Tomko, Gjeci, Pierce and Thorp, third position of the feet was prevalent, almost the "home" position for the Baroque dancer.  We still have third position, but today it is more of a teaching tool; the fully crossed fifth having replaced and surpassed third to some degree.  The use of the arms was another noteworthy difference.  This choreography initiated arm motions from the wrist, whereas now, we think of the arms starting from the back.  Two different approaches with very different visual results.

No comments: