Monday, April 2, 2007

Shall we dance?

In Valhalla, Ludwig meets the ghost of Marie Antoinette in his Hall of Mirrors, and the pair do a quick gavotte - a dance which originated as a French folk dance (above, a Breton version), and took its name from the Gavot peasants of the Alpine Pays de Gap region. The gavotte is notated in 4/4 or 2/2 time, and in its original form, its musical phrases began in the middle of the bar, creating a half-measure upbeat. Dancers generally faced each other either in lines or a circle with joined hands, but steps varied widely, as did floor patterns and such pantomimes as bowing to the leader of the dance; a distinguishing feature of the gavotte, however, was that when moving sideways, dancers were required to cross their feet in a step pattern, rather than bringing their feet together. The maneuver was generally accompanied by a little hop or skip. In some versions, the dance ended with an exchange of kisses.

The gavotte became popular with the nobility in the court of Louis XIV, where Jean-Baptiste Lully, the leading composer, made the dance more decorous and stately. Other composers of the Baroque period, including J.S. Bach, then incorporated the dance into the standard instrumental suite of the era. The gavotte had faded somewhat in popularity by the nineteenth century; its inclusion in Valhalla is some indication of Ludwig’s essentially backward-looking mindset – or perhaps of his awareness of the customs of Marie Antoinette's day.

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