Isaac’s Rigadoon: the choreography

Isaac’s Rigadoon is one of 31 notated dances which either are or include a rigaudon (three more dances are labelled as rigaudons but are in fact gavottes). Among these 14 were published in London, of which 8 (Including Isaac’s Rigadoon) are rigaudons throughout. As I said in my previous post on this dance, it was first published in 1706 but may have been created some years earlier. Isaac choreographed a second rigaudon, The Rigadoon Royal, in 1711.

What made Isaac’s Rigadoon so admired and, apparently, so popular? Music theorists of the time characterised the rigaudon as ‘rustic’ and suggested that it was a fast dance. I have a delightful recording (made for rehearsal purposes some years ago) which is both and really brings the duet to life. The dance, in duple time, is quite long. The musical structure is the conventional AABB (A has 4 bars and B has 6) played through four times, so there are 80 bars of dancing. The choreography is lively. More than half of the steps incorporate small jumps, which are notated as such. There are no demi-jettés and only a few steps with a terminating demi-coupé to give a sense of suspension rather than a lilt. The step vocabulary is relatively limited, but Isaac’s use of variants on basic steps and his combinations of these demand swift reactions and rhythmic clarity. This can only be achieved through good underlying technique, particularly placement (or aplomb) and control over the mouvements that provide vertical articulation between and within the steps. The music needs some rustic heaviness (though not too much) but the steps need a feeling of upward spring. If the Rigadoon is as fast as I think it should be, it is not an easy dance and needs much practice to get it right. It must have been an agreeable challenge to able amateur dancers.

John Weaver identified four steps in Isaac’s Rigadoon that were rarely, if ever, found in other dances. All occur on the first plate of the notation, the first AABB section of the dance. Was Weaver (if not Mr Isaac himself) deliberately appealing not only to the contemporary love of novelty but also to a desire for ‘English Dancing’?

Weaver Step Suplement detail

Feuillet transl. Weaver. Orchesography (1706), ‘A Suplement of Steps’, detail.

Isaac Rigadoon 1 detail

Mr Isaac. The Rigadoon (1706), first plate, detail.

Weaver’s reference to ‘the so frequent use of them’ in the Rigadoon is a little puzzling. The ‘boree wth. a bound’ does appear throughout the dance. Feuillet gives notations for a large number of variants on the pas de bourée but none has either a final demi-jetté or jetté, even though Rameau refers to the former in Le Maître a danser. Weaver makes no reference to Isaac’s variant pas de bourée which has a pas glissé as the final step. The ‘contretem wth. a bound’ is used only four times by the man in the Rigadoon (the lady has three). There is nothing similar in Feuillet’s ‘Table des Contre-temps’. Although Rameau refers to a ‘contre-tems à deux mouvemens’ he actually means a contretemps balonné. My impression, from working through quite a number of notated choreographies over the years, is that the ‘contretem wth. a bound’ is quite widely used elsewhere, but I need to check this out. The ‘sissonne wth. a Contre temps’ occurs only at the very beginning of the Rigadoon. All the other sissonnes in the dance are the conventional version, as notated by Feuillet at the beginning of his ‘Table des Pas de Sissonne’ and described by Rameau. Isaac’s ‘contretems wth. a slide’ occurs only once, in the first B section near the beginning of the dance’. It is not recorded by either Feuillet or Rameau.

The contradiction between Weaver’s statement about ‘the so frequent use’ of these steps and the actual inclusion of them in his notation of Isaac’s Rigadoon raises questions. Could Weaver’s notation be inaccurate in some places? Did he perhaps use Feuillet’s standard notation instead of recording Isaac’s variant steps? Or was the dance as notated made more conventional to accommodate a greater range of amateur dance skills?

I meant this post to be a discussion of the difficulties, and the pleasures, to be encountered while learning Isaac’s Rigadoon, but I am still only about half-way through the choreography. A proper appraisal will have to wait for a little while longer.



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