2010 – Bonnets and Bullshit: the effect of popular and participative culture on the interpretation, understanding and presentation of early dance

Click here to read the paper.

This argument falls into three sections briefly outlined below.

The effect of popular mediums’ use of and presentation of early dance, principally TV and the theatre.

The public’s expectations and willingness to accept, enjoy or even watch presentations of strictly “authentic” early dance, which was only rarely a spectator-orientated activity.

The desires, skills and background of the current participants whether choreographers, dancers or re-creators.

• Modern theatre uses early dance principally as light relief in or a coda to period plays having the actors participate, while opera tends to use trained ballet dancers with little background in period movement . The result, illustrated by anecdote, is a very limited and arbitralilly interpreted range of dances. TV on the other hand (video examples to be used) falls either into the “swirling skirts fill the screen” mode or the ignore authenticity and propel the narrative process. This combines with the whitewash effect of romanticising period drama ( Larkrise to Candleford was written as a bitter condemnation of the poverty and repression of the rural poor in 19century Oxfordshire. On TV it is a bonneted soap) to create an out of focus image of early dance at best.

• Modern audiences understanding of the physical and social context of dancing as couples let alone a group is limited by a lack of experience or education. Their expectation and willingness as spectators is also conditioned (as above) by what they see as entertainment. Much early dance was not created or performed for audiences (as opposed to other participants) and so both in its style and orientation makes for difficult performance conventions if strictly “authentic”. This will include a short but detailed exposition of one of Nonsuch’s ‘telling history with dance’ sequences with video.

• Modern participants come to early dance in its widest sense from a diversity of backgrounds. Some are dancers already, whether ballet, ballroom or country. Some have an academic interest and others like dressing up and playing (seriously or not) at history. What none of them are is a basically aristocratic group using dance for social definition, exercise and sexual and political opportunity. That puts the question of authenticity on a fairly unstable base to begin with, though dressing up may have had attractions to both early and modern practitioners. Belinda Quirey’s views on the Duke of Plaza Toro style will be discussed and some practical experiences of from teaching a not strictly authentic but enthusiastic group. as well as the physical limitations on renaissance people. The limitations for example of clothes held together with pins and the effects of frequent pregnancy on the majority of women.

A brief summary and look at a forward strategy will conclude the talk. The future depends on people regarding early dance as Fun. The challenge is to help and educate then in context, style and performance without destroying the pleasure.

Click here to read the paper.

Michael Bukht