I am currently reconstructing La Mariée, one of the most famous ballroom dances of the early 18th century. I have performed many notated ballroom dances over the years, but this is my first encounter with Pecour’s much-loved duet. So far, it has been a bit of a struggle! In my own defence, one hour a week with no dancing partner is not the easiest way to learn such a long and complex choreography.
When I began on La Mariée, I had been working on a couple of English solos ‘for a Girl’. Turning to Pecour’s dance I felt like I was grappling with a completely different language – which, of course, I was. The only recording of the music I could find initially was too fast to use while I was learning the steps. I subsequently found another much slower version, but it only had the music once through instead of twice as required by the choreography. Such problems, of tempo and repeat structure, are all too common with commercial recordings of baroque dance music. Still, at least I have the music. There are far too many dances for which there is no recorded music at all.
After several weeks, I am finally getting to grips with this dance. I’ve pretty well committed to memory the steps and figures and my body is beginning to learn these too. Now, I’m ready to make decisions about how I want to perform the steps and sequences. Since I began to take baroque dance seriously, I have worked with many different teachers – all of whom have their own approaches to dance style and technique. I have drawn something from each of them. The various ways in which steps might be performed provide a wide range of interpretations for individual choreographies. Even in a single dance, I might perform particular step differently when it occurs within new context, although I do try to find a unified style.
My version of La Mariée will be shaped by the fast recording. At my last session working on the dance, I found myself considering how I should perform the pas de sissonne that punctuate the choreography. Should I follow the teacher who took the first assemblée to a small fourth position with the working leg on the following saut in a low attitude? Or should I go back to my earlier lessons (and, apparently, the notation) with an assemblée into fifth position and the raised foot on the saut close to the supporting ankle? I obviously need to go back to Rameau’s Le Maître a danser to see what he says. At the moment, I’m inclining to the more compact approach with an emphasis on the upward motion of the springs.
Whatever I decide to do with the individual steps, I want to create a lively and dynamically varied performing version of a teasing and witty choreography.