La Vita di Cholino by Giovannino

[ This article appeared in volume 4 of the Letter of Dance. ]

Reconstruction by Mistress Rosina del Bosco Chiaro

La Vita di Cholino is an Italian dance from around 1500. It occurs in 3 sources: the Nurnberg manuscript (where the dance is only vaguely similiar), the 'Il Papa' manuscript, and the Giorgio manuscript. This reconstruction is based primarily on the latter, in the edition by A. William Smith. The 'Il Papa' version is quite similiar, and is the only one to attribute it. None of these sources includes the music, but a song, "La Vida de Culin", found in the manuscript Montecassino 871 no 22, can be made to fit the dance with some modification.

The title of the dance, La Vita di Cholino, means The Life of Colin, which is from the words to the song. It probably has no bearing on the meaning of the dance. Other dances which are named for and use the tune of popular songs are La Fia Guielmina and Rossina (or Voltate in Ca Rosina).

Vita di Cholino, unlike the Italian balli of the fifteenth-century, has a verse-chorus format. Rossina also has verses which use the same music, but has no repetitive chorus. The two dances share many of the same figures. Both start with the three dancers standing together, facing in the same direction, but soon seperate the center dancer from the two side dancers, having them move in opposite directions. The sides mirror or repeat each others' actions, and both dances have an "arming" figure and a hey.

This dance makes a good introduction to early Italian dance for people who are familiar with the Playford repertoire. The chorus is similiar to the English country set-and-turn figure; one of the five verses is nearly identical to the arming figure; another verse is somewhat similiar to siding; and the final verse is a hey.

The Steps For the Dance

Standard Disclaimer: These are my current reconstructions of the steps. They are subject to change without notice, do not necessarily hold for any other dance, and will probably not be the same as the steps when taught by anyone else.

The descriptions are given for the left foot. For the right, switch everything.

All measures are 4 beats long in this dance.

Sempio: Half measure 1 = step forward on the left, 2 = none.
Doppio: One measure. 1= step left, 2 = step right, 3 = step left, 4 = none.
Piva: (Plural is pive) Half measure 1 = step left, and = cut right (i.e. put right toes under left heel), 2= step left
Gallop: (Doppio ghalopato) One measure 1=step on left, and=cut right, 2=step left, and=cut right, 3= step left, and =cut right, 4=step left.
Continenza: Half measure Very small step to the left, transferring weight.
Ripresa: One measure 1=step sideways to the left, 2=cut right, 3=step sideways to the left, 4=none.
Reverenza: One measure Kneel on left knee, keeping upper body straight. It isn't necessary to descend low enough to touch the floor with the knee.

The Dance

Start: Man 1 on left, Woman in middle, Man 2 on right, holding hands.

Verse I (4 bars in 4/4) - Introduction
Bar Description
1 Continenza Left, Continenza Right.
2 Woman Sempio Left, Sempio Right, as Men short Reverenza Left (half bar), step back left and right.
3-4 Woman pivots on the right foot to face the men, and all Ripresa Left, Ripresa Right.
Chorus (3 bars in 4/4)
1 Woman and man to her right (Man 1, this time), Reverenza Left.
2 Woman and man to her left Reverenza Right.
3 All turn in a circle clockwise, using a Doppio Right.
Verse II - Arming
1-2 Woman and Man 1 take right hands and circle each other with Gallop Left and Gallop Right.
3-4 Woman and Man 2 do the same, with left hands.
Chorus (as before)
Verse III - Doubling
1-2 Gallop Left and Gallop Right, so Woman passes between men.
3-4 Pivot on right foot, and do Ripresa Left, Ripresa Right.
Chorus (This time, Man 2 will do the reverenza first, as he is now on the woman's right.)
Verse IV - Siding
1-3 Doppio Left walking forward at an angle to the left, Doppio Right at an angle to the right, Doppio. Left at an angle to the right, the woman passing between the two men.
4 Pivot on left foot, and Doppio Right, together.

Diagram of Siding figure [diagram of siding]

Chorus (This time, Woman and Man 1 touch right hands while reverencing, and Woman and Man 2 touch left hands.)
Verse V - Hey
1-4 8 Pive, starting with a Piva Left, doing a hey for three, Woman and Man 1 start by passing right shoulders. End in same places as started hey.
Last Chorus
1 Woman and Man 1 Reverenza Left.
2 Woman and Man 2 Reverenza Right.
3 Woman turns clockwise with a Doppio Right, as Men Doppio Right, and pivot, so end side by side with the woman in the middle.

The only changes I made from the orginal are in bar 2 of the first verse. The woman's sempii are actually given as sempii fioriti, which are presumably some sort of ornamented sempio. Also, the men are instructed to end bar 2 by putting the right foot forward. This would necessitate a fast weight change, and seemed to serve no purpose in the choreography. When teaching the dance to beginners, I find it easier to simplify this section even more, dispense with the men's short reverenza, and just have them do two sempii backward, as the woman does her two forward. (When working with beginners and casual dancers, I also find it easier to use doppii in place of the gallops.)

The only other decision I made was the feet on which the reverenze are done in the chorus. No feet are given in Giorgio, but in the dance Moza di Bischare, which has a nearly identical chorus, the first reverenza is done on the left, and the second on the right. Vita from "Il Papa" also has the woman doing the first on the left, and the second on the right, but gives the first man as doing his on the right, and gives no mention of the foot used by the second man.

The Music

The music needs very few changes to make it usable for the dance. I worked with the version found in Smith & Kanazawa, which has been converted to modern notation.

I left out the third section of the music (not given here), as it was not needed for the dance. I changed the time signature, so that one bar of 4/4 would be equivelant to one doppio in the dance, which necessitated halving the note values throughout. And I changed the placement of the barlines, so that the music starts with an upbeat.

[Music for La Vita di Cholino]

Recordings: I don't know of any commercial recordings available. The song does occur on some recordings, but includes the eight extra bars at the end of each repeat of the music, which I didn't use in this reconstruction.


A. William Smith, Fifteenth-Century Dance and Music, Pendragon Press, Stuvyesant, NY. 1995

Isabel Smith & Masakata Kanazawa (ed), The Musical Manuscript Montecassino 871.. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1978. (See especially Appendix I, by Ingrid Brainard, where a musical relationship with Arbeau's Branle de la Haye is noted.)

Transcription of "la Vita" by Joseph Casazza and Elizabeth Cain from Manoscritto di balletti composti da Giovannino e Il Lanzino e Il Papa; scritto da Cosimo Ticcio (New York Public Library Dance Collection (S) *MGZMB-Res. 72-255 )

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (