The NYBDC revives the operas, salon performances, court balls and street shows of the 17th and 18th century. We hold steadfast to the notion of the dancer-scholar, valuing both extensive research and rigorous performance training, to ensure that our productions are both historically accurate and living, engaging works of theater.
The process starts with a consultation of original sources, and chief among these are the more than 300 ballets from the 18th century preserved in Feuillet notation. This system was devised at the behest of King Louis XIV of France by the dancing master Pierre Beauchamp and refined by the dancing master Raoul Auger Feuillet. Feuillet notation illustrates the floor-pattern traveled by the dancers, and a series of ticks and curves delineates the steps and their rhythm. The corresponding bars of music run across the top of the page.
Knowledge of how to read these complex notations goes hand-in-hand with an understanding of the unique vocabulary of steps from the 18th century, and our dancers have been trained – by Catherine Turocy, by other teachers, and through their own research – to understand the subtleties of the period style as well as the nuances of the notation system. We acquire copies of these rare notations from online collections, and from libraries and special collections from around the world.
But while the Feuillet notation gives a thorough sense of the dances, we believe strongly in consulting other primary sources to gain a more complete picture. We examine relevant engravings and paintings, read correspondences and publications describing original productions, read acting manuals, dance manuals, treatises on etiquette, and when possible, visit theaters, ballrooms and gardens to gain a sense of the space in which these dances took place. In addition to training in the baroque dance technique, our dancers study commedia dell’arte – the dominant comedic form from the period – as well as the gestural systems of various 18 th century movement theorists.
Our work thus starts in the library, but moves soon to the rehearsal studio, where we weave together the information from our primary sources and labor to reconstruct dances that don’t feel dry and academic, but are dramatically compelling and offer an engaging glimpse into the past. Sometimes, of course, there is a paucity of primary sources – no surviving Feuilllet notation, for example – and this is where what we do is more properly called a recreation:
we search out as many primary sources as possible, and then create new choreography that draws on the fragments of information available, and fleshes out the rest in a manner that adheres to the conventions of the period.
We then join with musicians – and we are fortunate to work with a variety of baroque specialists who also value both scholarship and vitality – and seek to harmonize our half of the equation with theirs.