Interview with Irène Feste, specialist in ancient dances from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth centuries

The dancer and choreographer Irène Feste, endowed with a scientific mind and a master's degree in telecommunications and network engineering, has a predisposition for research. All he needed was one meeting, the one with Christine Bayle in 2005, to take an interest in the history of dance.

Having herself received the teachings of the creator of the company Laughs and Danceries Francine Lancelot, Christine Bayle trains Irène Feste in baroque dance and allows her to join the company The Radiance of the Muses. Irène fondly remembers her first lessons with Christine Bayle, whose values ​​of sharing and transmission she praises, which brought her so much. Other women, such as Nathalie Lecomte, Eugénia Roucher, Virginie Garandeau, all three dance historians, also aroused in her a curiosity for ancient dances.

Irène Feste is passionate about these disciplines until she becomes an expert. She did us the honor of teaching us more about Baroque dance, which was practiced by the entire court when the Hôtel de Berlize was built, where the Marais Dance Center now sits.

Dancer and choreographer, specializing in ancient dances from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth centuriesCDDM Questions / Answers

If the private mansion was built at the time of the great vogue for baroque dance, it is legitimate to wonder if we practiced Beautiful Dance in the Marais, and perhaps even in the Hôtel de Berlize. What do you think Irene?

At the time, the Marais was home to many mansions and welcomed large noble families. It therefore seems certain that dancing masters come to teach in the neighborhood. We still have the names of some of them today. In particular, we keep the surname of those who have gravitated in the entourage of the royal family, such as Jacques Cordier dit Bocan, François Verpré, Henry Prevost, Guillaume Raynal. Some are veritable dynasties, such as the Faviers or the Déserts. Their role is important, because dancing is part of a gentleman's education, just like fencing or horse riding. In fact, it is a physical activity that makes you agile in time of war, flexible for horseback riding and able to present yourself at court.

Where does the term baroque come from?

The term baroque is a contemporary term used from the 1960s to designate the court dance of the 1690th and 1750th centuries. The expression comes from Anglo-Saxon musicologists. To speak of Baroque dance today therefore comes down to speaking of French court dance over the period XNUMX-XNUMX.

The term baroque is however not used in the 1581th century. At the time, the dancers said they practiced the Belle Danse. During the Grand Siècle, the expression therefore designated court and theater dance. In these disciplines, staging has something innovative. However, we already put on ballets before. The name Ballet Comique de la Reyne (XNUMX) is often remembered as the first great ballet. Directed by Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx, it is given in front of Henri III and his mother Catherine de Médicis.

In what circumstance do we dance the baroque?

The Belle Danse is practiced during major events at court, grand balls or noble weddings. The festivities are sometimes held over several days, where shows and invitations to dance are intertwined. Louis XIV in particular uses it to put himself in representation, for purposes of political propaganda.

From the age of 15, he presented himself as the Sun King. He thus gains legitimacy over the time of a dance. The idea of ​​representation is also reserved for men because it is part of a political strategy of glorification. Women dance at the ball without staging themselves in the same way.

What is the part of Louis XIV in the success of the beautiful dance ?

The influence of Louis XIV on the practice comes from his effort to codify the discipline. In 1661, the king announced that he wanted to govern alone. One of his first decisions was to create the Royal Academy of Dance. He enjoins his masters to dance to meet to theorize the dance. In 1669, he founded the Royal Academy of Music, current Paris Opera, whose challenge is more to create shows than to standardize dance.

These institutions shine in Europe, by the diffusion of ideas via the travels of the masters to dance in the various European courts promoting a certain unity which homogenizes the practice of baroque dance. The Louis XIV period is pivotal in this: it establishes this unity, to the point of allowing us to say that Belle Danse is practiced everywhere in Europe. This teaching also travels through the circulation of works such as choreographic collections.

How do you remount baroque dances?

We know the steps and the music used thanks to the collections of dances, which allows us to approach the reconstruction. The challenge is to abandon automatisms to re-examine the movement. It is a real research work, which involves reading the history of dance and taking into account the choreographic writings before the implementation. One can rely on works such as the one published by Raoul-Auger Feuillet in 1700: Chorégraphie ou l'art describing dance by characters, figures and demonstrative signs with which one easily learns all sorts of Dances on one's own.

In a different sense from that most often given to it today, the term choreography then designates the writing of dance. It is a movement notation system that can be written down and then deciphered as one would read a musical score. On the sketches, the measurement is indicated by a small line perpendicular to the line indicating the route to be taken and we thus know how to distribute the steps to the music.

However, the writing has limits and restricts the indications on the arms for example. They are more plentiful in Le maître à danser which teaches how to do all the different dance steps with all the regularity of the art and how to lead the arms with each step of Pierre Rameau (1725). Some chapters are entirely dedicated to the movement of the arms. In the light of this work, we can thus recompose the steps with more precision. The whole is embellished with some engravings. Finally, the dress implies a certain gesture. The woman in particular, very corseted, carries her arms quite low.

How does the clergy position itself in the face of the beautiful dance ?

His attitude is ambiguous. The clergy opposes an uncontrolled practice of dance but tends to favor a discipline that encourages better control of body and mind. It appears that the clergy condemns popular dances more than court ones. In Jesuit schools in particular, students perform during ballet, on the occasion of award ceremonies, for example.

What happens during the Revolution?

In the second half of the XNUMXth century, the balls continued and people still danced at court. It is the idea of ​​representation that is lost: we no longer dance two by two in front of an audience as we used to do before. More social dances, where one comes into more contact with the partner by holding hands, for example, are developing: these are contredanses.

One might think that during the Revolution, there was a break in the dance, but this is not the case, the taste for it increases when going down the street. Many public balls are born.

Who keeps baroque dance alive today?

Rediscovered by Francine Lancelot in the 1970s and 1980s, baroque dance lives through the company Laughs and Danceries which she founded. A federation of ancient dance professionals unites the actors of these disciplines, promotes this heritage and gives it visibility in Europe. We still love dancing baroque today because it tells and brings a story to life.
It is a different pleasure compared to the classic because the baroque is practiced with tighter movements. The range of movements is reduced, the jump less high and the rhythm more marked. The interest comes from the dynamic of attraction/repulsion that plays out in the embodied presence of the dancers, the fact of turning their backs and sometimes shaking hands. We attract each other and we move away to get closer. These dances are known thanks to the nearly 300 ballroom and theater dances listed by Francine Lancelot in her catalog raisonné. The Beautiful Dance. It still happens that we hear that a choreographic dance has been found in such a country or such a library. Passionate about history, art history or dance enthusiasts, many people love Baroque balls which can be very festive. We are also lucky to have baroque music to dance to.

One might think that during the Revolution, there was a break in the dance, but this is not the case, the taste for it increases when going down the street. Many public balls are born.

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