Embodying the Menuet flow



If performed in accordance with the historical sources, the tempo of the Menuet may seem surprisingly fast for a contemporary listener or performer. I still remember my initial shock when introduced to the historical Menuet tempo. But it did not take long to embrace the tempo not only 'historically', but rather, in the musical sense it made of the score. Essentially, in such a tempo it will be easier to feel a two-bar phrase, which, as I will show in the next section (V2cT2), aligns better with the dance steps.

A Soundist will shape the two-bar structure by applying the sonic devices of dynamics and articulation. The first bar will continuously crescendo towards the second bar, which will be marked by an accent.


Ex. 1 & Aud. 1 The first four bars of the ‘Menuet’ in Rebel’s Les Caractères de la danse, (Rebel, 1715). Here, a Soundist may conceive of the two bar phrase structure through dynamic shapes and accentuation.


In the dance workshop, I experienced the Menuet character at the workshops as more horizontally flowing and ‘closer to the floor’ than other joyful fast dances. I learned that the two lifts distributed in-between the six beats of the two-bar pattern

1 (2) 3 4 5 (6)

are in fact not jumps, but rather a combination of a plié (a bend, bracketed in the pattern above) and élevé (a lift, underlined) which always stay close to the floor, thereby generating a busy but rather horizontal flow.

If I were to spend as much time dancing the Menuet as Tormod Dalen (2013), I would perhaps experience how ‘the essential sensation is that of continuous flow and grace. At the same time the frequent counter-rhythms sometimes give the impression of a playful game of hide-and-seek between music and dance’ (Dalen, 2013, p. 22).

By applying a bouncy body movement, which similarly stays close to the floor, also within the metrical structure of the music (1-2-3 & 1-2-3), a different quality in the performance of the downbeats is created and thereby the Menuet is clearly distinguished from, for instance, a waltz.


Vid. 1 The Menuet steps.


In order to activate my body when playing the Menuet I devise a beat-box that mirrors the polyrhythmic relation between the musical structure and the dance step pattern. In my Gesturist rendition, body movement connects the two bars with a bounce close to the floor to allow the horizontal flow of the busy 'short-cut' dance steps/bow strokes.


Ex. 2 & Aud. 2: A Gesturist will highlight the two-bar structure in body movement.


The activation of body movements creates a physical context for the bow action. Since the dance structures in a musical performance lack the reference to the actual dance steps, a Gesturist may enact the polyrhythmic game that is so essential in a Menuet through the interplay between the body (dancing) and the bow action (musical structure). If a Soundist achieves the Menuet’s musical identity by accents and dynamics, a Gesturist will rather capture the excitement of an embodied interaction with a dancer 'in absentia'.






Back to video essay V2c






Back to video essay V2c