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Reviews/Dance/Music

Baroque dance music comes alive

19 May 2021

HIP Company create a sublime sensory experience in their program of Baroque dance repertoire, says Rosalind Appleby.

Let Us Dance”, HIP Company ·
Montgomery Hall, 17 May 2021 ·

Every music student learns that a Minuet is a dance in triple time, from a collection of dances known as a Suite. It’s one thing to learn the theory, quite another to witness the dance itself.

On Monday night HIP Company (an ensemble founded in 2020 and specialising in Baroque music) reconstructed a Suite, complete with dancers in French period costumes and atmospheric lighting. The performance was held in the magnificent Montgomery Hall in Mt Claremont, with its enormous chandeliers rivalling the extravagance of Versailles.

The evening opened with a brief prelude “Premiere Entrée” from by Lully’s Ballet de l’impatience, which introduced the ensemble musicians, violinist Sarah Papadopoulos, cellist Krista Low, flutist Andy Skinner and Stewart Smith on harpsichord. This was immediately followed by Purcell’s bright “Let Us Dance”, sung by soprano Bonnie de la Hunty and heralding the arrival of the dancers. Three couples promenaded into the hall, the men in black and white, the women dressed in knee-length tulle over wide hoop skirts and heeled shoes.

The Suite unfolded with an allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue and so on from French composers such as Couperin, Lully and Leclair. These are all pieces written for dancers yet this is the first time in attending countless Baroque concerts that I’ve seen the dance steps designed to go with them. Choreographer Andries Weidemann reconstructed the “French Noble Style” established during the reign of King Louis IV, and it was fascinating to see the way the gestures of the dancers (students and graduates from the WA Academy of Performing Arts) highlighted the structure of the music: the genteel promenading of the Allemande, the sliding steps emphasising the first beat of the bar in the Courante and the strong one-two pulse of the March. Gestures were regal and refined; the couples often dancing in mirror image of each other, moving through elegant poses that gave glimpses of the origins of classical ballet.

Bonnie de la Hunty sings vocal music inspired by dance. Photo: Partografia Photography & Film

The dance pieces were supplemented by vocal numbers inspired by dance, sung by soprano Bonnie de la Hunty. The highlight of these was “Lascia ch’io pianga”, from Handel’s opera Rinaldo.  I had never connected this sorrowful aria, in slow triple time, with a sarabande, but heard immediately after Lully’s “Premiere Air des Espagnols”, also a sarabande, it made perfect sense. It was sung with immense poise by de la Hunty, spot lit on the stage with the dancers clustered sympathetically around her. De la Hunty embellished Handel’s achingly sorrowful lines with lovely ornaments and Low’s sighing cello was a sonorous accompaniment. The intense drama of this moment – captured in every sound and gesture – epitomised the Baroque aesthetic of awakening an emotion or affect through art.

Each movement of the Suite highlighted a different aesthetic; Leclair’s “Chaconne” had a storminess with its minor key and duelling flute and violin, and was a great showcase of the pristine technique of the musicians. Their 17th century replica instruments brought out the ripe harmonies inherent in the tuning system of the Baroque era, and the dense energy generated from the continue accompaniment by Smith and Low was thrilling.

Campra’s “Gigue” was a complete contrast, with the dancers bringing cheeky playfulness to this lilting dance with claps, clicks and small kicks (as much as a hoop skirt and courtly etiquette can allow!), supplemented by dexterous tambourin playing by Jet Kye Chong. The light-hearted gavotte from Charpentier’s Chanson a danser featured a male dancer in the theatrical danse grotesque style, prancing and pirouetting in his attempts to woo a lover.

The program items unfolded like a degustation menu, each piece exquisitely crafted, its flavours all too fleeting. After this sublime sensory experience the Suite will never be the same again! It must have taken immense work to construct this program, and I’m grateful the performance, originally cancelled due to COVID restrictions, was able to be rescheduled.

HIP Company is going from strength to strength and I suspect tickets to their June concert will be hot property. Get in early!

HIP Company’s next performance is with Irwin Street Collective on 26 June.

Pictured top: Baroque dancers perform with HIP Company in “Let Us Dance”. Photo: Partografia Photography & Film

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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