As choreographer for this work I tried to imagine the first performance of Dido and Aeneas at a girl’s school in Chelsea in 1689. I thought of the freshness of youth and the excitement of the young ladies on the cusp of womanhood as they portrayed the tragic story of Dido. Their dance training was intended to prepare them not for the stage, but for society where they were expected to dance a graceful minuet. They also studied the art of declamation and gesture. Performing the dances in the opera gave the young students an opportunity to show their parents how they mastered these subjects. The figured dances of Act I demand a knowledge of geometry, rhythmic complexity, musicality and an understanding of ballroom dance steps. The pantomime dances in Acts II and III ask for a command of gesture, expressive posture and the courage to stand out as a character playing a role. The Baske dance performed to the chorus “Fear no Danger” is specifically indicated in the original score. This dance type was originally performed with swords but for a girl’s school in 17th century England it was common to replace the swords with flowered branches. Eventually the branches were replaced with garlands and became a part of the May celebrations.
I was very happy to have the experience of working with the students of the School of Contemporary Ballet Dallas over these past two months. Learning a new dance style and dancing in corseted dresses with hooped skirts and in heels is quite a change from leotards, tights, ballet slippers and toe shoes. However, they met the challenge and were able to tell the story with purity, spontaneity and a sense of “wonder” which added to the charm of the evening. Some comments from the audience:
“This is the best concert from the DBS I have ever seen. And the girls were not dancing to be seen for their own talents, they were dancing as a group to tell the story. They had such integrity and dignity, it is inspiring to see this in girls so young, very unexpected and refreshing. It was so beautiful! “
“The dancing brought a sense of magic to the stage. The young dancers’ presence underscored the simplicity of the musical structure and matched the symmetry in the poetry. It was just beautiful!
I am also delighted Glenda Norcross was able to be a guest artist from our company. She was not only an inspiration to the dancers, she also coached them along with their teachers, Valerie Shelton Tabor and Lindsay DiGiuseppe Bowman. The young girls ranged in age from 11-13 years.