“Song and Dance in the French Baroque” available online Friday
By Peter Alexander Nov. 18 at 10:45 p.m.
Amanda Balestrieri wanted to bring French Baroque music and dance together to Boulder audiences.
“I absolutely love this repertoire,” the artistic director of Boulder’s Seicento Baroque Ensemble says. She is speaking of music that came out of France in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly opera and other forms that mixed song and dance.
To that end, she created a program titled “Airs and Graces: Song & Dance in the French Baroque,” featuring the Seicento chorus as well as guest singers, instrumentalists and Elena Mullins, a guest artist trained in both the singing and the dance of the French Baroque period.
The artists were all assembled in Boulder last March, and rehearsals were well under way at Boulder’s First United Methodist Church. And then COVID happened, and the performance was cancelled at the last minute. “We just finished preparing to do the concert, so we decided to record it without an audience,” Balestrieri says. “I felt if we could at least record it, we could present it at a later time.”
That recording will be available online for the first time Friday (Nov. 20) at 6 p.m. It will be accessible through the Seicento Facebook page, in return for a donation of any amount.
Including dance in the program was crucial because it was such an important part of French music at the time. “I wanted to present the concept of having visual representation of the gesture and the meaning in the dance, because it’s really an integral part of the music,” Balestrieri says.
Most Baroque music derives from dance to some extent, but that was especially so in France, where dance was a cherished courtly activity. King Louis XIV, famed as “The Sun King” and the builder of Versailles, was an accomplished dancer, as was the court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. French Baroque dance is also important historically as the source of classical ballet.
“We have to understand this music in its complete form,” Balestrieri says. “If you have the body involved in the music, it becomes human and it becomes something that is related to us. That’s a very important thing. It’s part of the genre.
“At the time the whole point of the music was to reach the passions. So the dance is very much in relation to the audience. It is supposed to relate not to [something] abstract but to real human dilemmas and fears and love and grief.”
Her interest in the art of French music and dance came from her own experience as a performer. “I have been on stage with French Baroque dancers and admired their expertise,” she says. “I know the music very well.”
To bring the music and dance to life, Balestrieri picked a program that included scenes from operas by Lully (1632–1687) and Marc Antoine Charpentier (1643–1704). Other works are an anthology of the most popular dance types of the times by Jean-Féry Rebel (1666–1747), the cantata Le triomphe de l’Amour by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667–1737), and courtly songs of love.
Balestrieri wanted the performance to be a learning experience for the audience, so that they could see the dance movements that underlay the music that they would hear, but also for the singers in the chorus. “I wanted the choir to have the experience of the music enough to get it,” she says. “I wanted the dancer to give that element and for people to understand the visual side that was combined with the music.”
She admits that the program and its presentation are well outside the mainstream, even of Baroque music, but that was the point. “This is an esoteric corner of an esoteric art,” she says. “Our whole mission with Seicento is perform lesser-known music, to present things that you wouldn’t otherwise see.”
When the decision was made to record the final rehearsal for later streaming, Seicento hired Michael Quam as their video engineer. Quam has recorded videos for the Boulder Philharmonic, the Colorado Music Festival and other organizations in the area. Several cameras were set up to record the performers from different angles.
Because viewers won’t have access to the texts in a printed program, Balestrieri herself added titles with French and English texts. “I learned how to use Adobe Premiere Pro and I beat my head against the wall for about a week,” she says. She also added the names of the individual dances as well. “You can watch and say ‘So that’s a bourrée! I never knew that!’”
The performances are all straight takes, with no corrections added afterwards. The absence of an audience was a challenge for the amateur singers in the chorus. “Feeling like you are connecting with live performance electricity—you have to imagine it,” Balestrieri says.
Nevertheless, she says she is happy with the final result. “It’s going to be very lovely to watch,” she says.
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“Airs and Graces: Song & Dance in the French Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director
With Elena Mullins, soprano and dancer
Guest vocalists and instrumentalists
Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Excerpt from Les arts florissants
Jean-Féry Rebel: Les caractères de la danse: Fantasie
Jean-Baptiste Lully: Excerpts from Bellérophon
Michel Lambert: and Christophe Ballard: Two airs de cour
Jean-Paul Égide Martini: Plaisir d’Amour
Michel Pignolet de Montéclair: Le triomphe de l’Amour
Available at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20 through the Seicento Facebook page
Stream will include a live post-concert conversation with guest artist