Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The 18th Century: Social Dance

There are several scenes in So Faithful a Heart where social dancing takes center stage. Both Mozart and Nancy Storace were known as excellent dancers and were often seen at the balls and dances which were held in Vienna's many dance halls and court ballrooms.

The following paragraphs describe the development of social dancing in late 18th century Europe. (Taken from Dance Instruction Manuels-Late 18th Century Social Dance)

"In the late eighteenth century there was a departure from the complicated and often technically difficult danses à deux and a movement toward larger group dances, specifically figure dances called contredanses (also spelled contredances). Usually, but not always, these dances were designed for four couples facing in a square. Feuillet notation, which so beautifully aided dancers in learning the early Baroque dance repertory, was not efficient for notating the larger group dances.

Execution of the contredanse (known throughout France as the contredanse francaise) involved dancing a specific sequence of figures. Additional figures, called changes, usually twelve in number, alternated with the main figure of the dance--and the dance concluded when all the changes had been performed. These figure dances, called cotillon in England and the United States, were often performed with two- or four-bar step combinations, as were contredanses.

When Marie Antoinette arrived in Paris as queen to Louis XIV in 1774, she brought Viennese dances, including the contredanse allemande. It was performed in much the same manner as the contredanse francaise, except that at least one figure required partners to turn while changing arm positions. Both forms of contredanse were performed in France until the Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century (1789-1799)."


The following is a dance sequence taken from Chapter 13 of So Faithful a Heart. 
When they arrived at the palace, they were announced as they entered the ballroom, and greeted by the Emperor and his guests of honor. Mozart puffed up with pride as His Majesty complemented both of them, once again, on the successful opening of Figaro, and then he escorted his lovely Susanna to the middle of the floor to begin the allemande.

The ballroom at Laxenburg was decorated in typical ornate Baroque fashion, the walls lined with white Corinthian columns sporting gold sconces with heavy lead crystals hanging from each globe. The wall panels were ornately gilded on the edges and painted with lush, pastoral scenes in soft pastels, of lovely young men and women dancing and playing flutes and guitars. The ceilings were frescoed with pastel pink and blue skies and puffy white clouds with fat cherubs perched upon them, peering down to gaze upon the dancers on the floor below. Two enormous and ornate crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings, illuminating the entire room with the bright but soft glow of the hundreds of candles contained in each of them.

All eyes were on Mozart and his pretty partner as they bowed and curtseyed to each another, and began to dance. As they fell into two lines, the ladies on one side and the gentlemen on the other, they turned shoulder to shoulder and stepped forward in sync several steps, before facing one another as the gentlemen took their partners by the hand and twirled them gracefully until they ended up on the opposite side. Then they all stepped to one side, the gentlemen to the right and the ladies to the left and, extending their hands across the divide, they took the hand of the lady or gentleman in front of them and made a skip-hop step to the right. Then the left-over lady and gentleman on the opposite ends skipped into the divide and took one another’s hands and faced forward to promenade down the middle of the two lines, each couple following suit until they were back in their original places with their original partners. Each time Nancy returned to Mozart, she beamed with delight.

Dance scenes from the 2005 film, Pride and Prejudice.

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