Recently a leaf with verbal dance instructions was discovered: It is preserved together with loose sheets of “operatic” music and an associated manuscript libretto from the Fugger court in the southern Holy Roman Empire with five “Ballets” for six dancers. The source poses a number of issues: The music for the dances is apparently missing, the exact placement in the play is at least open to interpretation, decoding the meaning of the period-style and dialect-coloured German written in a difficult hand can be hard, and interpreting the elliptical instructions, which mention few steps, but instead – similarly to English Country Dances – focus on group figures, poses its own challenges.
The paper will present an overview of what has been uncovered regarding this new dance source. Especially since they occur in a play with music on an English historical subject (a Catholic take of the martyrdom of Thomas More), the question whether and how these dances may relate to the English Country Dance tradition or rather a broader European group stage dance tradition is subsequently considered.
Giles Bennett is a historian at the Centre for Holocaust Studies at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, Germany. He is a dancer in the La Danza München historical dance ensemble headed by Jadwiga Nowaczek. Coeditor of “Baroque dance and the transfer of culture between France and Germany” 2008, author of various articles on early dance.