This performance has now been canceled
By Peter Alexander March 11 at 12 noon
Would you want to see West Side Story without the dancing?
Amanda Balestrieri, director of the Seicento Baroque Ensemble in Boulder, says that’s the effect of hearing French Baroque music without dance. “If you have the music without the dance, it’s not complete,” she says. “It would be like going to see musical theater without the dance and chorus numbers.”
To illustrate that point, Seicento has brought in a French Baroque singer/dancer, Elena Mullins, for their next concert. “Airs and Graces” will be performed in Denver Friday and in Longmont Sunday (March 13 and 15). The program will include numbers for Mullins as well as solo vocal pieces and full choral numbers with orchestra.
Several local singers will perform as soloists. Tenor Alex King and bass Allen Adair will take roles in scenes from French opera and a cantata. Soprano Kendall Baldwin, a senior at Fairview High School in Boulder, will perform alongside 5th-grade students from Escuale Bilingüe Pioneer in Lafayette.
Dance and music were closely related throughout the Baroque era, but especially so in France. Entertainment at the French court, including opera, featured extensive dance as well as singing, performed by professionals as well as members of the court, including the king. The dances were highly refined, with many moves and gestures that conveyed coded meanings to the audiences, and eventually led to the development of classical ballet.
Today Baroque music from Germany and Italy has eclipsed French music of the period, which has become more and more of a specialized field. Even less well known than French Baroque music is the dance that went with it.. “This is an esoteric corner of an esoteric art,” Balestrieri says.
As far as Balestrieri knows, this will be first time in the Boulder area that French Baroque music has been performed together with authentic dances. She wanted to showcase the two together, for both Seicento members and the audience. “I wanted this to be an encompassing concert,” she says.
“I wanted the choir to have the experience of the music. I wanted the dancer to give that element for people to understand the visual side, and also the fact that it was combined with singing and music.”
Like performers at the French court, Mullins is both a singer and a dancer. She will appear in the first piece on the program, singing La Musique (the allegorical character of music) in an excerpt from Les arts flourissants (The flourishing arts), a chamber opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
She will then appear as a dancer, performing a series of standardized Baroque dances, in Les caractères de la dance by Jean-Féry Rebel. “‘The Characters of the dance’ was a famous piece from the time that was supposed to show you all the different dance styles,” Balestrieri says. It includes a courante, menuet, bourrée, sarabande and gavotte, among other courtly dances that also found their way into the instrumental music of the period.
The rest of the program will feature examples of French Baroque music, performed without choreography. There will be several excerpts from the opera Bellérophon by Jean-Baptiste Lully, who was composer and music director to the court of King Louis XIV, as we’ll as a dancer. One particularly entertaining scene features a trio of sorcerers with a chorus of sorcerers and sorceresses. “It’s really clever, very hard for the chorus,” Balestrieri says.
To open the second half of the program, Balestrieri will sing two airs de cours (courtly airs) about the pain and pleasure of love. Baldwin and the 5th-grade students will sing Plaisir d’amour by Jean-Paul Égide Martini, a song that has been popular for more than two centuries, and that became the basis of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t help falling in love with you.”
“The other piece I’m excited about is the cantata by Montéclair called The Triumph of Love,” Balestrieri says. The cantata features three singers—a narrator with Bacchus and Cupid, the gods of wine and of love.
“The scene is a hillside where Bacchus commands his grape pickers,” Balestrieri explains. “He’s in control, and then Cupid flies in and interferes by making everybody fall in love and languish. He has a fight with Bacchus, [until] Bacchus falls in love and accepts love in his court. They agree to cooperate, and then we sing, ‘Just grab a bottle of wine and rekindle the fires of love.’ I love it—it’s so fantastically French!”
Balestrieri wanted to include the children in the performance as a way of spreading knowledge of the French Baroque as well as enriching their education. “The kids who do this don’t yet know how fabulous this is,” she says. “But when they come in and they see this dancer in costume and they hear this music, they will never, ever forget it. And that is important, because you never know who is going to be smitten with this art.”
But the combination of music and dance is not an easy thing pull off. It requires not only specialists in the French Baroque style, it requires dedicated performers who can learn complex music, and it requires a specialist in both the singing and the dance of the French court. Even in major cities, opportunities to see and hear an authentic music and dance performance of this repertoire are rare.
“We have something that will not appear here again anytime soon,” Balestrieri says. “If people want to see it, now’s the time to come!”
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Airs and Graces: Song & Dance in the French Baroque
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri conductor
With guest artists Elena Mullins, Baroque dancer and soprano; Alex King, tenor; Allen Adair, bass; Kendall Baldwin, soprano; students from Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer; and instrumental ensemble
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13, Claver Recital Hall, Regis University, Denver
3 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum, Longmont
Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Excerpts from Les arts florissants
Jean-Féry Rebel: Lex caractères de la danse: Fantasie
Jean-Baptiste Lully: Excerpts from Bellérophon
Jean-Paul Égide Martini: Plaisir d’amous
Michel Pignolet de Montéclair: Le triomphe de l’Amour