westdance: Thoughts on 15c Italian for KWDS?

Matthew Larsen matt1.larsen at gmail.com
Tue May 8 17:50:17 PDT 2007

On 5/8/07, Greg Lindahl <lindahl at pbm.com> wrote:
> On Tue, May 08, 2007 at 01:54:13PM -0700, Matthew Larsen wrote:
> > Yes...  but while we have more current descriptions of pivas and
> > saltarellos than of estampi steps, it's not like we have descriptions
> > that give the kind of detail that you get for galliard steps in the
> > later sources.
> Why do you think that the saltarello *step* in the improvised
> saltarello is anything other than the saltarello step? That's what the
> sources pretty plainly would lead you to conclude.
> Yes, we have hundreds of galliard steps, but the galliard is a dance
> in which you do many kinds of step. There's no hint that the
> saltarello is like that.
> It's the pattern you make on the floor that we don't know, in either
> case. In the galliard case you can look at choreographed galliards for
> clues, but those are choreographed ones, of course. There are some
> similar clues for figures you do in choreographed 15c piva and
> saltarello sections of balli. (Rostibolia doesn't have figures for the
> saltarello section, but there are others that do, and Smith has
> provided a lovely way to look for them. That's the major thing that
> is missing from Judith's article on the matter.)

Interesting...  When I think of improvisation, I generally think of
stringing step variations together, or replacing steps with more
complex steps.  That's true whether the dance is a galliard, a
bransle, a waltz, swing, tango, whatever.  I can't think off hand of
any kind of dance where the variation part is just the pattern you're
making on the floor.  I guess I have to open up that category to
include that, at least conceptually.

Though to make that argument, you have to argue that improvisation for
the 15th c. dancer was something fundamentally different than it has
been for all European dance since then...  I'm not sure I would want
to make that argument (though I can think of at least one good
argument in support of it, so I'm not sure I want to rule it out,

It's also true that the 15th c. stuff _does_ include at least a
modicum of what I generally consider improvisation (step
improvisation?  Is that a useful term?), at the least in the
movemento.  Not sure what, if anything, that means to this

As Spock would say "facinating..." :-)

> In short, there's a wealth of information in both cases compared to
> the lack of information for the estampie. The galliard may have a bit
> more evidence, but the estampie has nearly nothing.

I'm not sure I would class the 15th c. information as a weath of
evidence in comparison to the "bit more" evidence for galliard
variations.  If you just counted the number of words in the various
descriptions, I think the galliard information will outstrip the 15th
c. information by several orders of magnitude.  Not sure that's a good
measure, but...

> > Even with Pavans, we at least have Arbeau's discussion of several
> > things you can do,
> That's what I call a "vague idea", since he only describes moving
> forward and a conversion for turning around.

I guess I need to look at Arbeau again!  :-)  I thought he included
forward, backward, an inovation and going around each other, at least.

> And for the Almain you
> have that kissing game, again only a "vague idea".
> > With Almans, we have a number of complete choreographies,
> The complete choreograhpies are from England. By "improvised Alman" I
> meant the thing described by Arbeau. I wouldn't mush the two together.

Good point.  I'm not sure whether I would want to defend that or not
at the moment.  We _do_ use Arbeau's information in our
reconstructions of the Inns of Court dances.  Is it reasonable to also
bring his improvisation thoughts forward as well?  Not clear,
particularly as the Inns of Court dances are clearly a fixed set of
dances (including a fixed order).  Though I believe galliards are in
the list of dances, if only as "sinkapace", so there may be some
argument for the presence of improvisation within the Inns of Court
corpus as well.  Not sure _that_ argument is germain to the original
one on 15th c. improvisation...

> > Sorry for getting all stuffy purist on your parade, Greg.  I wish I
> > had an answer I liked. :-(
> The only thing that bothers me is equating our complete lack of
> knowledge of the estampie to the reasonably good evidence of 15c
> Italian dances. That's making perfection the enemy of the good.

I guess our difference lies in the phrase "reasonably good evidence".
:-)  I'm not convinced yet that the level of information in the 15th
c. sources is what I would call reasonably good.  I agree it's more
than the near total lack of information about the estampie, but it
doesn't approach the volume of information we have on improvisation on
the galliard.  I'm not sure it's even as good as the rather vague
information we have in Arbeau on improvisation in bransles, though
that's a closer call.

In any case, a very thought provoking discussion.


More information about the westdance mailing list