Rebel’s Les Caractères de la danse
(Introduction on the page 'Dance V2')
Rebel enjoyed a long and successful career as violinist, harpsichordist, and composer. His 'choreographed symphony' Les Caractères de la danse was premiered in Paris in 1715 as a collaboration with Françoise Prévost, the leading ballerina of the day (1680–1741). Two of Prévost’s most celebrated pupils—Marie Sallé (ca. 1707–1756) and Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo (1710–1770) retained Les Caractères in their repertory; Sallé even took it to London, where she danced it under Handel’s musical direction in 1734 (Fuchs, 2007).
’Rebel was the first French composer to give dance a place of its own outside dramatic spectacles’ (Cessac, 2007, n.p.). Les Caractères de la danse is a suite of brief dances of contrasting character in unbroken succession. The novelty of writing is evidently a result of compositional process being directly inspired by the dancer Françoise Prévost (Cessac, 2007). Although we have no specific information about the premiere in 1715, the suite obviously calls for a virtuoso dancer with a strong dramatic sense.
The dance mastery of Prévost’s pupil Marie Sallé is described precisely in these terms, and brings forth how she gave ’a new graciousness and interest to the simplest dances, while her gestures and mimetic actions were always perfectly fitted to the dramatic situation’ (Cudworth, 1959, p. 120). Sallé became Handel’s dance muse. After performing Les Caractères together in London in 1734, Handel engaged Sallé in dance scenes of several operas during the 1734-1735 season. From the autograph sketches and manuscript sources it is evident that, inspired by Sallé’s renowned mimic talents, Handel wrote more dance music than was actually included in the operas. ’Whether any of the changes seen in some of the dance scenes were the result of direct consultation with Sallé is unknown, but the musical sources suggest that writing for dancers was a task Handel approached with his usual sensitivity to the skills of the artists at hand’ (McCleave, 2007, p. 28).
Rebel’s engraved score from 1715 consists only of two treble parts and a bass line. For my musical analysis I use the manuscript copy by Georg Pisendel (1687-1755), who provided the middle voices as well, most probably copied from an earlier fully scored manuscript by Rebel. Pisendel’s manuscript is found at the Sächsisches Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden (Rebel/Pisendel, 1715).
Collaborations between composers and dancers, as described above, are intriguing. In what ways has Prévost influenced Rebel’s composition within the standard dance forms? Has Sallé’s dancing influenced Handel’s writing in general? And from the perspective of this thesis, how can a collaboration between a violinist and a dancer inform and transform the performance of these dances? The spirit of experimentation implied in such collaborations  has also influenced the trajectory of my enquiry in Section 'Dance' V2. Rather than aiming at the historical reconstruction of dance forms, I approach the assimilation of dance patterns into my performance on the violin as a springboard for exploring the kinaesthetic affordances in the expressive body movements of a violinist. Instead of learning to dance and applying that knowledge in my playing (see e.g., Dalen 2013), I explore these dances from within, and through violin playing.
For each dance in Rebel’s Les Caractères de la danse I identify a characteristic body movement which allows me to develop an embodied understanding of structurally significant materials in the music. These body movements are drawn from my observations of the corresponding dance in workshops with the Italian dancer, choreographer and stage director Deda Cristina Colonna. Inspired by the structure of the dance, I construct the identity of each movement in various experimental situations, as a combination of movement qualities derived from the musical notation and the character of the dance, as described in historical sources.
There are 5 video essays in the Video Group 2 'Dance', each named (similarly as in V1 Don Quichotte) after the applied characteristic body movement.
In V2cT3 I discuss the apparent coherence of the collaborative strategies of baroque composers and dancers, bound by the stylized dance forms, in contrast to the modernistic deconstruction of the relationship between music and dance, as manifested in the collaborations of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, or Lucinda Childs and Philip Glass.