Since I will be referring to terms and concepts that are not widely known outside specialist circles, I consider it useful to give a rather extensive historical background to my project.
Paradigm, n.: 1. A pattern or model, an exemplar; (also) a typical instance of something, an example.1
I grew up in the 1970s and early 80s, when disco music and dance were in fashion. My first experiences on the dance floor came from trying to imitate dancers from American films such as Saturday Night Fever, Fame, or Flashdance, emulating their attitudes and body postures. These, along with the music and its rhythms, are fixed in my bodily memory and can be recalled at will. For someone growing up in the suburbs of Paris today, body movement and posture are likely to be influenced by the different styles of hip hop dance.2 These tacit models for the use of the body in a given time and place I call body paradigms.
The body paradigm of the Baroque period is well described in dance instruction manuals. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, dance training was considered fundamental to education and generally started early (figure 1). The German dancing master Gottfried Taubert sums it up nicely in his Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister published in Leipzig in 1717:
Dancing being that which gives graceful motions all the life, and above all things manliness, and a becoming confidence to young children, I think it cannot be learnt too early, after they are once of an age and strength capable of it. (Russell 2012: 840)3
The dance tutors from the period show that one of the chief concerns of dance instructors was correct posture and presentation (figure 2). Rameau opens his Maître à danser with the chapter ‘Of the Manner of Disposing the Body’, which describes the postural ideal of the time:
The Head must be upright, without being stiff; the Shoulders falling back, which extends the Breast, and gives a greater Grace to the Body; the Arms hanging by the Side, the Hands neither quite open nor shut, the Waste [sic] steady, the Legs extended, and the Feet turned outwards … a just Carriage [requires] nothing more than a natural, free, and easy Air, which is to be only gained by Dancing. (Rameau 1725: 2, as translated in Essex 1728: 2)4
This posture was deemed essential in polite society. As Tomlinson (1735: 3) writes:
I apprehend it to be necessary to consider the Grace and Air so highly required in our Position, when we stand in Company; for, having formed a true Notion of this, there remains nothing farther to be observed, when we enter upon the stage of Life, either in Walking or in Dancing, than to preserve the same.
And Taubert explains how to obtain it:
Because the graceful art of dancing … is based in its execution on mathematics, agility and swiftness are systematized, so that all unproportional or clumsy movements in standing, walking, and dancing, etc., are eliminated and radically reformed, as is seen every day in people who are well instructed, [in the way] they walk and dance with a correct and decorous regularity, with ease and an absence of extraordinary effort. (Russell 2012: 293)
Indeed, Rameau, in his method, devotes the first 70 out of 270 pages to descriptions of general body use, walking, and various types of reverences before even starting to deal with the basics of dancing.
If we observe paintings and engravings from the period, we can see that this paradigmatic body use permeates the whole society. Depictions of musicians are no different; playing positions reflect the contemporary ideals of decorum and poise.
In the two images on the right, depicting eighteenth-century cellists, we observe that the neck of the instrument is held at a greater distance from the upper body than is the case in a ‘modern’ cello playing position (figures 3 and 4). Jean Rousseau (1687: 28), in his Traité de la viole, actually warns players against letting the neck fall against the shoulder. In this way, the left hand can rest in a relaxed position without the risk of raising the shoulder. This pose is also reminiscent of the plié des bras, or ‘bend of the elbow’ (figure 5), and reminds us that the instruments of the violin family were strongly associated with dance and dancing masters.
La belle danse
The grand siècle in France, which corresponds to the reign of Louis XIV (1643–1715), was obsessed with aesthetics; it is thus unsurprising that this period saw the birth of la belle danse (Louison-Lassablière 2007: 137). This style of dance, developed at the court of Louis le Grand in the 1650–60s, was seen as an expression of the moral, social, and aesthetic criteria that the Sun King wanted to impose as an ideal image of his reign. In the same way that nature was cultivated in the jardin à la française, the body was to be tempered by reason and will, conforming to the contemporary ideals of elegance, grace, majesty, and noblesse. These were thought of as originating in geometrical rules governing the world on all levels – from the celestial bodies, via the body of the state, to the inner workings of the human body. Embodying these rules was seen as the expression of a great inner quality in a human being (Russell 2012: 293); and, since the influence could work both ways, educating one’s body by dancing was in itself a moral education and an uplifting of the spirit (ibid.: 294).
This period also saw the development of the first graphic notation of dance steps, the so-called Feuillet notation. Published in 1700 by Raul-Auger Feuillet, Chorégraphie, ou l’art d’écrire la danse was followed in the next ten years by fourteen collections of choreographies, principally by Feuillet himself and Louis Pécour, the Compositeur des ballets of the Paris Opéra. These collections, along with others, assured the fame and dissemination of la belle danse, which, as an element of French cultural propaganda, participated in the growing French influence throughout Europe during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
The relationship between music and dance
Today, where opportunities for entertainment present themselves in all possible situations, it is hard to imagine the place dance occupied in people’s lives in the early eighteenth century. To quote Eric McKee (1999: 235), ‘whenever and wherever people got together, there was bound to be dancing.’ Naturally, this intense activity required music. Consequently, eighteenth-century musicians spent much of their time accompanying dancers. This may seem a banal observation, but it had a great influence on the performance of music. It required musicians to be trained in dance in order to perform their métier well; several sources of information on performance practice in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany stress the importance of dance practice for the understanding of music.5
Dance instruction manuals also insist that an understanding of music is indispensable for a good dancer – Taubert states categorically that ‘a compleat dancing master must be a good musician’ (Russell 2012: 819).
In the spirit of the time, the two arts thus complemented each other. In Rameau’s words: ‘[The steps] are placed in different manners, and so properly, that it seems that the legs express the notes; which proves the harmony, or rather the imitation of music with dancing’ (Rameau 1725: 141, as translated in Essex 1728: 81).6
Dance and Bach
By the early eighteenth century, la belle danse had long established its influence at the numerous German courts. As these courts strived to emulate the refinement of French culture (Stauffer 1993: 259), they frequently employed French dancing masters and French musicians in order to bring the proper style to their events.7 Dance training was an essential ingredient of daily life at court; the nobility diligently practised their dance steps up to several hours every day.
The enthusiasm for the French style also spread to the cities, where court etiquette and manners were imitated both in civil ceremonies and in social gatherings such as private balls (Little and Jenne 1991: 10–11). During the first twenty years of the eighteenth century, the increasing demand for dance instruction resulted in the publication of no less than ten dancing methods in Germany (Schroedter, Mourey, and Bennett 2008: 413–15).8
It was considered important for professional musicians to have a practical knowledge of fashionable dances; to ensure a proper training, many German musicians even spent time in Paris. At the very least, they made sure they were familiar with the latest music and dances from the French capital, as these dances were widely circulated in Germany as manuscripts and prints in Feuillet notation.9
This is the culture within which Bach evolved, and it seems safe to assume that French culture in general and dance in particular influenced the development of his musical concepts. According to C. P. E. Bach, his father loved and studied the ‘good old French composers’; as early as J. S. Bach’s studies in Lüneburg from 1700 to 1703 (Schulze 1985; see also Little and Jenne 1991: 9–14), the presence of the dancing master Thomas de la Selle and the French musicians of the Duke of Celle’s string band gave the young musician ample occasion to discover the latest fashion in French music and dance. In the course of his career, Bach went on to write twenty bourrées, eighteen gavottes, twenty-eight minuets, four passepieds, thirty-nine sarabandes, thirty-six courantes, forty gigues, three loures, one forlana, three polonaises, two chaconnes, and one passacaglia (Little and Jenne 1991: 204–16). In addition, many movements that do not have dance titles borrow rhythmic or structural characteristics from a dance form (ibid.: 217–21), and each of these pieces shows a thorough knowledge of the character of French dance.
Even if direct evidence is lacking, it is thus very likely that Bach was an adequate dancer himself, perfectly able to dance a minuet, perhaps also a bourrée and a gavotte, even a courante. Given the fashion for contredanses or englische Tänze, one would also expect Bach to have practised these in merry company.
The cello suites
‘The creation date of the cello suites is unknown.’ With this laconic comment, Hans Eppstein (1990: 31) opens the chapter on the genesis of the suites in the Kritischer Bericht of the NBA edition. It seems most likely that they were composed somewhere between 1717 and 1723, while Bach was employed in Köthen, but certain movements may have been composed independently, at different times. The presence of two excellent cellists10 in the Hofkapelle is often cited as a favourable condition that could have inspired Bach to compose these works; nevertheless, he could also have written them for his own use, to play on an arm-held instrument like the viola pomposa.11 This is not the place for discussing which instrument Bach favoured for the suites (eighteenth-century musicians may have been less obsessed by such questions), but I consider it fruitful to reflect upon the original performance situation of these pieces. Were they composed for a court occasion, or were they intended for domestic music making? One can easily imagine Bach writing short dances for cello to be inserted between more substantial works in musical entertainments, or simply to be used in more intimate settings at court. From studying Bach’s compositional processes, we know that he often collected, transformed, and completed earlier works for reuse or to create collections for publication or teaching purposes (see, e.g., Williams 2007: 143–45; Schwemer and Woodfull-Harris 2000: 9–10). At a certain point, perhaps inspired by his work with the violin partitas, Bach may have started collecting the cello movements, adding newly written pieces, adapting and transcribing others to form suites for pedagogical use.12 This is of course mere speculation, but, in the context of this study, looking at the cello suites as practical, down-to-earth, everyday music has helped me gain some distance from the sacralising modern tradition and make these masterworks seem more intimate and human.
Since many other writers treat the individual dances in detail (e.g., Little and Jenne 1991; Mather 1988; Hilton 1997), I will limit my comments to what I feel is useful in relevance to the performance of the suites. I also touch upon the history of the dances, which in some cases gives a rather chaotic picture (not as tidy as programme notes and CD booklets often will have it). It is sometimes difficult to draw conclusions about how the dance character relates to Bach’s music; but, rather than being disturbed by this fact, I see it as a challenge and an opportunity for interpretation, imagination, and questioning.
I have listed the dance forms in an order mirroring the affinity to dance that I perceive in the cello suite movements, the most dance-like first. (This is a personal preference and I am aware that this criterion is difficult to quantify.) They naturally fall into three groups:
- Movements that consistently rely upon choreographic models: the minuet, the sarabande, the bourrée, and the gavotte.
- Movements that show dance origins only in certain of the suites: the gigue and the courante.
- The movement for which Bach almost certainly did not have an actual dance in mind: the allemande.
I have included dance-step descriptions where it seemed important for understanding the dance’s character. It may be useful for the reader to try them out on the floor to get a feeling for the dance movements. I have followed Tomlinson’s usage in translating the French terms into English.
The minuet was an indispensable element of the formal ball from the mid-seventeenth to the late eighteenth century, and the most common of the dances in Bach’s time. The social importance of being able to dance a good minuet cannot be overstated, and dance tutors pointed out that it was more important to learn the minuet really well than to waste one’s time acquiring a large repertoire of dance types (Russell 2012: 548). The main key to the minuet’s success was that it could be danced by people with different levels of dance skills. Once the basic step had been mastered and the obligatory floor patterns memorised, one could perform an honourable minuet with any partner at a ball.
The most striking aspect of the danced minuet, and the one most often singled out in modern descriptions, is the rhythmic discrepancy between the steps and the music (see, e.g., Hilton 1997: 191; Little and Jenne 1991: 64; Marckx 1998: 28). The ‘minuet step’, or pas de menuet takes six beats, that is to say two bars of music. The performance of this basic step already allows for some variation in the rhythmic distribution. The most common way, described by Rameau, forms a hemiola (2 + 2 + 2),14 whereas the music is mostly notated in three-quarter time (3 + 3), thus creating continuous counter-rhythms.15 The dancers may also vary their minuet steps by introducing the leaping variety, the contretemps de menuet, accentuating the first, fourth, and sixth beat (3 + 2 + 1) with springs and bounds (video 1).
Table 1 on the right presents in a visual form the rhythmical distribution of emphasis in the different minuet step variants. Bar lines in both music and dance are marked in bold, and the emphasised time units are grey. I have abbreviated pas de menuet to ‘Pdm’.
Minuet music also often contains hemiolas at various points, typically in bar 6–7 of an 8-bar section. These tend to overlap the dance steps or dance-bars, creating further counter-rhythms. Table 2 attempts to visualise this phenomenon.
In this complex rhythmical relationship between music and dance, the moments where the metric stresses coincide take on a special importance; several scholars have remarked on the typical two-bar groupings in minuet music (Hilton 1997: 191; Russell 1992: 134). Eric McKee (1999: 238), in a study of the minuets in Bach’s French suites also notes that the impression of danceability is enhanced by ‘a prominent two-bar hypermetre’ in most of the pieces.
When dancing the minuet, the essential sensation is that of continuous flow and grace. At the same time the frequent counter-rhythms give the impression of a playful game of hide-and-seek between music and dance. The dancer needs to stay alert to the two-bar groupings of the music, paying close attention to his or her partner while giving the impression of relaxed nobility. The musician can reflect this feeling of flow in his or her performance of minuets, while constantly keeping the two-bar groups in mind, and looking to bring out interesting counter-rhythms.16
In its belle danse incarnation, the sarabande seems far removed from its Latin American and Spanish origins, where it was known as a swift sensual dance with erotic overtones, accompanied by castanets and guitars (Gstrein 1997: 15). The version known to us from eighteenth-century choreographies is much more restrained, but still retains a potential for expressing a variety of emotions. The dance employs a diversity of steps, but few hops or bounds (Lancelot 1995: lii), and solos for male dancers are full of virtuosic leg gestures.
This is perhaps the movement where the modern tradition of music performance has strayed furthest from the character of the original dance. Historical tempo indications are up to twice as fast as today’s standard sarabande tempos.17 Applying these tempos to performance can act as a sort of ‘shock therapy’ that helps re-evaluate our instrumental habits.
Another received truth about sarabande performance is that the accent lies on the second beat. While it is true that the second beat often receives an emphasis in the dance, it is not so much a question of accentuation as of a change in velocity. Extant choreographies also reveal that the two do not always coincide. In other words, the emphasis on the second beat is not always reinforced or mirrored by the dance, and vice versa.
Trying out the coupé à deux mouvements and pas grave will help give us a feeling for the quality of the emphasis on the second beat. In the case of the coupé à deux mouvements, the second beat receives an upward and forward movement, or acceleration as it were, whereas in the pas grave, the gliding part of the step conveys a feeling of resistance and density of texture (video 2).
This dance in duple metre probably originated in the Auvergne area in France, although Taubert and Mattheson seem to agree on its Spanish origins (Russell 2012: 326; Harriss 1981: 454).18 The bourrée is still danced in Auvergne as well as in other French regions. It has given the name to the pas de bourrée, also called fleuret, which is the most used of all dance steps in la belle danse. Feuillet, in his Chorégraphie (1700: 63–70), lists ninety-four ways of performing it. This basic step gives the original, simple bourrée a flowing motion, highlighted by its predominantly curved floor path.19 In the later choreographies, lively bounds, hops, and skipping steps constantly interrupt the basic step (video 3).
Dancing an eighteenth-century bourrée like the Bourrée d’Achille (FL/1700.2/06) or La Carignan (FL/1703.1/02) is a highly dynamic experience, and the frequent hops and springs have an uplifting, even exhilarating effect. These are valuable qualities to bring to the instrumental performance of bourrées, along with the incessant forward motion of the pas de bourrée.
The two bourrée sets in Bach’s cello suites are very different from each other. Whereas the two bourrées in the third suite stay quite close to danced models in structure and character, the forth suite is one of these occasions where Bach pushes the form to its limits. The first bourrée shows its playful accents already in the explosive four-semiquaver upbeat. This ubiquitous figure, along with frequent imitations and echo effects, contributes to the bourrée’s theatrical, almost burlesque character.20
Another dance of popular French origin, the gavotte is documented from the late sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth century in different forms. It first appears as a folk dance in the south of France, then in the ballroom and on the stage in the mid-seventeenth century.21 During the first half of the eighteenth century it was more frequently found as a theatrical dance, but the ‘gavotte step’ was still used as a basic step for the contredanses in the middle of the century (Lancelot 1996: xliii).
Like the bourrée, it is in duple metre, but in its classical, French form it starts with a half-bar anacrusis. Despite the somewhat brisk tempo, its character is calm and balanced, with regular four-bar phrases. Quantz (1752: 275) says it is more moderate in tempo than the bourrée, and Mattheson (1739: 225) describes the character as ‘a right exultant joy’ (my translation; Ihr Affect ist wircklich eine rechte Jauchzende Freude). Mattheson (1717: 191) says it is played sometimes fast, sometimes slow; however, I wonder whether he also includes here another, Italian type of gavotte, which is generally faster and sometimes without the minim upbeat.22
The gavotte has its own step sequence, called the contretemps de gavotte, or pas de gavotte. It covers two bars of music beginning on the first full bar and consists of a hop followed by two walking steps, ending by a jump to a ‘close’, or an assemblé. There is often, but not always an extra ‘marched step’, or demi-coupé, to cover the transition between the pas de gavotte. See video 4 for an example of a danced gavotte.
Important lessons from dancing gavottes, seen from a performer’s perspective:
- The upbeat is not danced.
- The ‘close’ tends to favour a strong accent on the first beat of the second whole bar.
- The constant skipping is exhausting if the tempo is too quick, but almost impossible if it is too slow. Moderation is the key.
The moderate tempo and simple structures lend themselves well to pastoral characters, and Bach emphasises the rustic character with a drone-like effect in the gavotte of the sixth suite. In the second gavotte of the fifth suite, he writes a French double in triplets on a ‘missing’ simple, which could easily be mistaken for an Italian giga.23
This dance probably developed from the English ‘jig’. As with so many of the dances, from the mid-seventeenth century it shows two distinct styles: French and Italian. Whereas the French type has numerous choreographic models, the Italian gigue, or giga, appears as an exclusively instrumental form with abundant examples in both Italian and German music (Harriss 1981: 457). As dance music, it can still appear in disguise: La Forlana (FL/1700.2/08) from Feuillet’s 1700 collection of dances, for example, is found in an English source (Pemberton 1711) where it is called ‘A Jigg by M. Pecour’ (LM/4500); this choreography indeed appears similar to other French gigues from the period (video 5). Features from Italian style gigas can also be found in music for contredanses from the first half of the eighteenth century.24
Described as a light, happy dance (Lancelot 1996: lvii), and possessing a ‘fiery and volatile zeal’ (Mattheson 1739: 228, my translation; Einen hitzigen und flüchtigen Eifer), the French gigues present characteristic dotted quaver–semiquaver–quaver figures, often with irregular phrase lengths. The choreographies have an abundance of skips, hops, bounds, and other vigorous steps.
Maybe as a reflection of the heterogeneous history of this dance, Bach’s gigues in the cello suites show more variety in metre than any of the other movements (6/8, 3/8, 3/8, 12/8, 3/8, 6/8, respectively). The Italian type dominates, however, and only the fifth suite has a typical French gigue.
One needs to be in quite good shape to dance a gigue at full speed, with its leaps and hops. Personally, I had to resort to the technological aid of the digital speed reducer to be able to perform all the steps along with the music. Unfortunately, reducing the tempo makes the proper execution of the leaps and bounds impossible, as there is a limit to how long one can stay suspended in the air. In the end, I found that accompanying a ‘real’ dancer was the best way to capture the spirit of the dance, and to experience its exiting, forward-driven character.
Two types of courantes coexisted in the early eighteenth century: the French courante and the Italian corrente. The terminology is sometimes confusing, and one cannot always determine the style of a dance from the language form of its title. This is the case with Bach, who uses the French title in all the cello suites, regardless of the musical style of the movement.
It is probable that both types originated with the Italian corrente of the sixteenth century. This dance is characterised by a rapid tempo and alternating hops and steps. At some point in the seventeenth century, the French courante developed into a slower, elegant and dignified dance that became Louis XIV’s favourite. Unfortunately, we have no choreographic sources for French courantes before 1700, by which time it was already going out of fashion. It was nevertheless still taught by the dancing masters, and regarded as the best way to acquire a good foundation in the art of dancing.
Rameau writes, ‘it is a very solemn Dance, and gives a more grand and noble Air than other Dances [and it] has always been look’d upon as a very necessary one to learn to dance’ (Rameau 1725: 110–11, as translated in Essex 1728: 63).25 Taubert (1717) confirms, ‘it is the hardest, finest, requiring much time, diligence and effort before one can learn [it]’ (Russell 2012: 480), and ‘whoever rightly understands and dances it can learn all other dances’ (ibid.: 481).
The basic step unit, the pas court de courante, or ‘short courante step’ has a ‘sink-and-rise’ on the spot, one gliding step forward, and ends with a ‘half bound’ (a pas grave with a demi-jeté). There is a second type, the pas long de courante, or ‘long courante step’, which adds a marched step forward while rising before continuing with the gliding step (a coupé instead of the pas grave). These are the dominant steps in all French courantes, and are not used in any other dances.
The pas de courante is difficult to execute well, and is simple in appearance only. For me, it appears as one of the most subtle step combinations in la belle danse; performing it offers a succession of physical sensations in each bar. It starts with an impression of immobility and dignity (‘sink’ on the upbeat, ‘rise’ on the downbeat), continues with a gliding step forwards to the second beat (here you feel the resistance of the floor), and ends with a feeling of release with the ‘half bound’ on the third beat of the bar. When one succeeds in performing a succession of pas de courantes in a phrase, it procures a feeling of dignity and majesty that is of great help in understanding the character of the French courantes (video 6).
The Italian corrente lived on in instrumental music, but no choreographies survive after the early seventeenth century. Its character is lively and virtuosic. Mattheson (1739: 231, my translation) writes, ‘on the violin (the viola da gamba not excluded) it has almost no limits, but seeks to fully justify its name by perpetually running: yet in a way that it be done charmingly and gently.’26
In the cello suites, Bach uses mostly the Italian corrente types; only the fifth suite is clearly a French courante. The courante in the second suite, however, invariably described as Italian,27 is in my opinion a ‘double’ based on a French courante.28
This is the movement that is the most difficult to connect with Baroque dancing. The allemande appeared in southern Germany around 1540 and was quickly adopted in the rest of Europe, where it was variously baptised almande, almain, or balletto tedesco.29 Extant choreographies from the late sixteenth century are found in Thoinot Arbeau’s Orchesographie (1589), and in the manuscripts from the London Inns of Court dating from about 1570 to 1640 (Temperley and others 2013). It appears to be a moderately slow piece with a stately character, danced by couples in procession. According to Talbot (1690) it has ‘the same time as the Pavan, but its movement is somewhat quicker and more Airy’. The Inns of Court choreographies give one ‘double’ (three walking steps, then bringing the feet together) or two ‘singles’ (one walking step, then together) per bar. Sometimes there is a hop after the last step of the ‘double’, and Arbeau indicates that each step terminates with a grève, or pied en l’air (lifting the foot in the air), but without jumping.30
In the early seventeenth century, the allemande seems to have lost its importance as a social dance; Mersenne, in his Harmonie Universelle of 1636, after pointing out its similarity to the pavane, informs us that the allemande is no longer danced at balls (Hudson 2009: 147–49). In instrumental music it remained, however, eventually taking the place of the pavane as the first movement of the suite. In France, it developed into an elaborate solo composition that incorporated musical motives of noble and majestic character, which suggests a slow, solemn tempo (ibid.: 151). This is confirmed by Sébastien de Brossard, who in his Dictionaire de musique calls it a ‘symphonie grave’ (ibid.: 148); Johann Gottfried Walther says it is should be played ‘seriously and gravely’ (Walther 1732: 28, my translation; ernsthaft und gravitätisch).
No further examples of allemande choreographies exist until the Allemande Dance Nouvelle appears in Feuillet’s 1702 collection (FL/1702.2). This dance turns out to be quite different from the instrumental allemandes: a rapid dance with frequent leaps, Feuillet gives detailed descriptions of particular ways of joining both hands and resting them on the hips.31 Mattheson (1739: 232) describes it as resembling the rigaudon,32 which may be the reason for him stating that ‘an allemande for playing and an allemande for dancing are as different as heaven and earth’ (Mattheson 1717: 138).33 Later, the term ‘allemande’ is found in the instructions for contredanses describing different ways of joining hands. In this form it has survived to this day in British and American folk dances (country dance, square dance) (Root and others 2013).
The allemande as Bach knew it was therefore no longer a piece of music that was danced to; it is hard to imagine that he should have thought of a Renaissance choreography to such essentially instrumental pieces.34 The dance heritage of the movement is undeniable, however: the step patterns may have survived in the musical structure as relics of the earlier practice. Applying the Renaissance dance steps to Bach’s music could therefore possibly bring out surviving characteristics of its danced predecessor.
Following this idea, I decided to try to adapt the steps from Arbeau or the Inns of Court onto Bach’s allemandes (see also Qureshi 1994: 17–21; Dimitriadou 2011: 15–17). It turned out that the underlying rhythms and the melodic profile sometimes coincided neatly with the dance steps. This can be seen in video 7 on the right, where the Allemande from the second suite is combined with Arbeau’s step sequence double–grève.
The problem with using Renaissance steps, though, is the general character of the dance. Running the risk of oversimplification, one could say that la belle danse marks time by pushing upwards on half toe from the ‘sink’, continually defying gravity, whereas Renaissance dance marks the time by sinking into the step, thus accepting gravity. Especially when adding the grève to the ‘double’, the heel is somewhat forced into the ground, giving a very different feeling from the movements in la belle danse.
This gave me the idea of attempting the Baroque equivalent of the ‘simple–simple–double’ sequence (demi coupé–demi coupé–pas de bourrée) which can be seen in video 8. Even though it is not based on any historical model, I found this to be more successful. This step sequence combines the stately regularity of the Renaissance step with the body use typical of la belle danse. It can be useful for revealing the underlying structure of the bars, and provides a bodily sensation that can serve as a metaphor and inspiration in performance of Bach’s allemandes.