westdance: Thoughts on 15c Italian for KWDS?

Matthew Larsen matt1.larsen at gmail.com
Wed May 16 09:13:58 PDT 2007

Well, there's a lot of interesting threads here!  In the spirit of
keeping a good discussion going, here goes... :-)

On 5/15/07, Carey Cates <isabel at aands.org> wrote:
> > Do you have any idea yet what you'd like to teach?
>        Yes, people will soon be inflicted with bits and pices of
> Mercanzia and/or Sobria while I work out some bugs.  No, I've never
> danced those, so I'm having to reconstruct them again.  I do have a
> couple other people's articles on them too, as well as the concordance
> from Smith.  There are still the questions of does the geometry really
> work like I think it will, and questions of which of two
> interpretations of left/right direction seems most plausible, etc.  So, you're all forewarned now!

This sounds cool!  If you are alive enough to make it to dance
practice tonight, you can take over as much of it as you like!

> Now for a few observations, in no particular order:
> ...
> = There are lots and lots of 15c Italian dances written up.  Most of
> them are written up in more than one source.  (There's two for Sobria,
> and eight for Mercanzia, for example.)  I do not know, but I suspect
> that we have more sources offering multiple glimpses of the same dance
> than we do for 16c Italian dances.  If that's really true, it will
> inherently give us a different view on those dances.

Hmmm...  The extra sources are both helpful and not helpful, in my
opinion.  We have a lot of sources, but there are still relatively few
authors.  Does a difference between two versions of Guglielmo's
description of a dance mean that he changed the dance between the two
sources?  Or does it mean that he just gave more detail, or different
details?  It's a different problem than with most of the 16th c.
dances, but I don't know if it's an easier problem.  I think it does
make it easier to identify scribal errors, at least.

It might be worth some thought to see if there are useful techniques
that can be applied, like looking at portions of a dance in multiple
versions, where they're laid out in the order of the dates of the

In any case, I certainly agree that it gives us a different view on
the dances, and that's interesting in itself.

> - With multiple manuscripts covering the same dance, with variations
> in the steps, amount of music / time needed, and with old and new
> dances (labelled vecchio and nuovo) that change the number of dancers
> as well as the steps/figures they make, I have come to the realization
> that there probably wasn't one true way of doing the steps either.
> Looking for the one, correct interpretation of the steps might not be
> a useful endeavor.  (I'm still thinking about that - it might be
> interesting to look for correlations with how a manuscript describes
> the steps and how it describes the choreographies before contrasting
> those correlations between manuscripts.  That might be interesting,
> but it'd be a fair bit of work.)

Oh boy...  this is a huge discussion all by itself...  I think I'll
just let this go for the moment.  Maybe we can come back and discuss
this in depth later... :-)

> - There are lots of 15c Italian dances.  We do very few of them.  The
> thing we lack is music - there aren't so many dances that have both a
> description and music.  I now think the music is the bottleneck in
> introducing more of these dances to the SCA.

I think this is true.  The Bassadanza are a tiny bit less of a
problem, because you can at least find a tenor line that will have the
right number of measures in the Burgundian sources (though there are
problems with that, too).

Even for the dances that we do have some music for, it's much harder
to get good multi-part arrangements of the music.  While that doesn't
affect making a reconstruction, it can affect making the dance

Also, having music that you know the dance is supposed to fit to is a
good check on any reconstruction.  If a reconstructed passage doesn't
fit to the music, that's a pretty good clue that your reconstruction
has a problem. :-)  But if there isn't any music, you just don't get
that check.


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