It is hard to be conclusive when one feels that one’s work has barely begun. In the course of three years of Baroque dance practice I spent a lot of time learning the basics; though, in fact, I barely started to touch on the subtleties and richness of this style. Indeed, I would have preferred to have gained considerably more experience in Baroque dance before venturing to offer conclusions of any kind.
On a personal note, I can say that working with this project fundamentally changed the way I approach and understand music. I became a more ‘physical’ player in the sense that I developed an increased bodily or kinaesthetic feeling for the phrases and gestures of music. This is true not only for the Bach cello suites but for just about any music from the Baroque era.1
The regular dance practice transformed my body posture and general body awareness to an extent that I did not expect, revealing to me and thus obliging me to face my shortcomings in this domain. In this sense, the project was an intense and rewarding process of personal growth that continues to bear fruits.
My cello technique was also influenced by the project work, especially the instrument hold, which became more flexible and came to bear a certain resemblance to the iconography depicting eighteenth-century cellists. Whether this corresponds to the ‘playing experience’ of a musician of Bach’s time is of course impossible to tell, but the continuous work with Baroque dance changed my physical experience of playing the cello in a way that may be related to that of an eighteenth-century musician.
Through this project I also gained a familiarity with the Bach cello suites that would not have been attainable in any other way; I am convinced that the practice of Baroque dance is an essential resource for a better understanding of this music. By thoroughly investigating the dance aspect of this music, we can appreciate even more Bach’s extraordinary accomplishment even more. He transcended the physical basics of dance music, while preserving the essential aspects of the individual dances. In doing so, he created immortal music.
It is my hope that other musicians will take up the challenge of applying this method of kinaesthetic investigation to other repertoires. It would be very interesting to hear a performance of Chopin’s music by a pianist who is also able to dance the polonaise, mazurka, or waltz of the period. One can also dream of a performance of the ball scene in Mozart’s Don Giovanni by musicians with actual physical experience of the late eighteenth-century minuet, contradanse, and German dance.2
I also believe the experiences from this project have a pedagogic potential on many educational levels, without necessarily going as far as I have done. Even brief contact with Baroque dance can help students discover essential aspects of dance character, especially when focusing on the comprehension of specific dances, without the aim to master complete choreographies. It needs to be well presented, taking into consideration each student’s level of skill. I would be very pleased if this project’s insights serve as a reference for those who teach Baroque dance to musicians and for musicians who desire to explore dance character as a step in their own artistic development.