Review: William Ruff
A perfect 18th century marriage of music and dance
Please don’t worry if you don’t know your chaconne from your passacaille. Apparently even Handel didn’t. But if you’re ever a contestant on an 18th century version of Strictly, you would definitely have to practise your courante, bourée and passepied, being careful not to confuse them with your rigaudon, sarabande and gavotte.
Nearly everything I now know about baroque dance was picked up at Lakeside on Thursday night. The London Handel Players were there to provide the music and dancers Mary Collins and Steven Player elegantly strutted their stuff bedecked in wigs and period costume.
Dance was big 300 years ago: Louis IV made sure of that. He was obsessed, a champion dancer since the age of 14 and someone who set up his own Royal Dance Academy to make sure that France ruled the dancing world. If you weren’t light on your feet at Louis’ court, your chances of success in life were slim. Louis’ obsession spread well beyond Versailles and dominated European culture, so it’s not surprising that composers built dances into their music.
Until Thursday the dance names were, for me, just that: vague clues as to speeds and rhythms. However, seeing them danced so delightfully in this concert was a revelation, the physical expression of the music informing the way it was played. In the first half there was sequence of music by court composers such as Lully, Marais, Campra and Rebel, involving much gorgeously stylish playing and dancing which ranged from the tender to the slapstick.
The second half showed what a huge impact Louis’ dance craze had on Bach, Handel and Corelli and ensured that no one in the audience will ever be able to hear their great suites and partitas from now on without their feet itching to do the dance steps.
London Handel Players with guest dancers Mary Collins and Steven Player