Bassa Ducale

[ This article appeared in volume 3 of the Letter of Dance. ]

A Balletto in praise of the illustrious and excellent lady, the Duchess of Branswich

From Fabrito Caroso's Il Ballarino

by Fideleco de Rocheforte

Bassa Ducale is one of the many Italian ballettos composed by Fabrito Caroso for his 1581 treatise Il Ballarino. It is a showy exhibition dance for one couple performing for an onlooking audience of ardent admirers awaiting their turn in the spotlight.

For the record, I first learned this dance at the Amherst Early Music Workshop in August of 1990, under the teaching of Dorothy Olson of New York City. Afterwards, I went to interlibrary loan and obtained my own copy of the Broude Brothers facsimile in Italian so I could recreate it for myself. Anyone who knows as little of the Italian language as I will be amazed how little it has changed over the years compared to French and Spanish, let alone English.

Not that anyone needs reminding, but our modern legs are longer than those of our Italian ancestors, so take small steps -- only a clod would take long steps.

The Dance

Part 1:

A1[Face up the hall, take inside hands.] Riverenza grave.
A2Two Continenze (left, right).
B1[Face partner, palm right hands, travel in circle.] Two Seguiti semidoppileft, right). [Drop hands.] Three Trabuchetti presti (left, right, left), close.
B2[Palm left hands, travel in circle.] Two Seguiti semidoppi (right, left). [Drop hands.] Three Trabuchetti presti (right, left, right).

Part 2:

A1[Face up the hall, take inside hands, travel up the hall.] Two Seguiti ordinary (left, right).
A2Two Seguiti ordinary (left, right).
B1[Face partner, palm right hands, travel in circle.] Two Seguiti spezzati (left, right). Two Tranghi (left, right). [Drop hands, turn over left shoulder.] One Seguito spezzato (left). Cadenza.
B2[Palm left hands, travel in circle.] Two Seguiti spezzati (right, left). Two Tranghi (right, left). [Drop hands, turn over right shoulder.] One Seguito spezzato (right). Cadenza.

Part 3:

A1[Face partner. Lord only, flanking backwards.] Two Seguiti ordinary (left, right).
A2Volto (over left shoulder). [Forward, to place.] Three Trabuchetti presti (right, left, right).
B1[Lord advancing, Lady retreating.] Four Seguiti spezzati [begin Lord left foot, right shoulder.] [In place.] Three Trabuchetti (left, right, left).
B2[Lord retreating, Lady advancing.] Four Seguiti spezzati. [In place.] Three Trabuchetti (right, left, right).

Part 4:

Same as Part 3, except the Lady begins.

Part 5 (tempo change):

C1[Face partner, palm right hands, circle to own left.] Two Seguiti spezzati(left, right). [Drop hands, continue circle.] Two Seguiti spezzati (left, right) to place.
C2[Palm left hands, circle to own right.] Two Seguiti spezzati (right, left). [Drop hands, continue circle.] Two Seguiti spezzati (right, left) to place.
D1[Face partner.] Two Reprise (left, left). Two Trabuchetti (right, left). [Turn over right shoulder.] One Seguito spezzato (right). Cadenza (to places).
D2Two Reprise (right, right). Two Trabuchetti (left, right). [Turn over left shoulder.] One Seguito spezzato (left). Cadenza (to places).

Final chord: [Face the presence, join inside hands.] Riverenza grave.

The Music


The music should be played 4x(AA BB) 1x(CC DD). The lute tablature in Caroso contains a few choice strumming chords as an underlay. Each measure in Parts C & D takes the same amount of time as in Parts A & B. Parts A & C contain 8 beats, and Parts B & D contain 12 beats.

How to Do the Individual Steps

The official-sounding stuff is from Julia Sutton's English translation of Nobilta di Dame (1600, 1605), also by Caroso. The pictures and such are mine.

Cadenza: (Galliard Cadence): First raise your left foot forward, drawing yourself back and simultaneously rising somewhat off the ground, and then come down, landing with both feet on the ground (that is, with your left foot backward and your right foot forward).


(Cadenzaleft, Cadenza right. It is simply the last part of the standard five-step galliard.)

Continenze: (Semigrave Continence): Before beginning it, raise your left foot slightly, and [then] move it sideways to your left, with one foot four or five fingerbreadths apart from the other. Before moving it, bend your left hip a little; be sure to keep your head erect; and do not drop your left shoulder, but give it a touch of grace. ...Bring your right (to it); while [thus] joining your feet bend your body slightly, and then straighten up gracefully, strutting slightly toward the side on which you are doing it; this effect is usually obtained by raising your heels a little, and immediately dropping them in time to the music.


Reprise: First take one the left with your left foot...lift your right (which was behind) and put it in place of your left foot (which is on its toe with its heel raised), simultaneously raising your left. [Given as: Sottopiede, "foot under", in translation.]


Riverenza grave: (Grave Reverence): ...keeping your body and legs quite straight, with half of your left foot ahead of your right to the extent that the toes of the aforesaid right foot are just level with the arch of your left foot, the feet being about four fingerbreadths apart. And be sure to avoid what most do, [which is] to point one foot south and the other north, so that they seem to have been born with crooked feet, for this produces a most ugly sight. ...slightly raise the toe of your left foot (which is forward), and then move it straight back, ...then note whether, in moving your left foot back, its toes are even with your right heel; now keep it [your foot] flat on the ground, and do not raise your heel at all. This done, gracefully bend your knees a little, and raise your left heel. Now in moving your foot backward, draw your body back slightly, spreading your knees a little, and while bending them keep your head ever erect; ...straighten up...and return your left toe to your right arch, in such a way that it [your left foot] can proceed to do the movements of the two continenza.


Seguito ordinario: (Ordinary sequence): Do this...with two minim steps (that is, fast) and one semibreve [step], at the end of which gracefully raise the heel of your following foot, as well as your body; ...With respect to this, begin in the following fashion: first raise your left toe and extend your knee quite well, and then immediately lower it to the ground; be careful not to put it down flatly. ...Then take another [little step] with your right foot, so that the arch of that foot is level with your left toe. The last step, which is a semibreve, you thrust forward, making sure it is flat but not forcing it.


Seguiti semidoppi: (Half-double sequence): First do two...steps...and then do one Seguito spezzato...


Seguito spezzato: (Broken sequence): First do a step with your left foot, thrusting it forward a half step, but flatly, and two fingerbreadths from the right; then put your right toe behind your left heel...; do not put it beside [your heel]...raise your left foot gracefully, keeping your leg and body straight, and then let it fall straight down.


Trabuchetto: (Falling jump): ...raise the foot you have [just] joined, or the one which is behind, to one side with a small jump; that is, [move[ your left foot some distance away from your right foot, and the moment your left foot touches the ground, raise your right foot, bringing it within about two fingerbreadths of your left. Be careful, however, not to place it on the ground...


Trango: (Pulled step): ...moving your left foot, thrusting it almost in a straight line one handbreadth ahead of your right [foot], yet flankingly; in putting it down, bend both knees simultaneously, separating them a little; and conclude by raising your right heel somewhat... Then immediately raise your right foot and your left heel, putting it down in the course of the same beat.


Volto: spinning over left shoulder once around [not given in Nobilta text].



Caroso, Marco Frabrizio, Il Ballarino, Broude Brothers, New York.

Caroso, Fabrito, translated by J. Sutton, Nobilta di Dame, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Personal notes from Amherst Early Music Workshop class taught by Dorothy Olson, August 1990.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (