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Baroque Dance Notation Systems


How do we know the choreography for Baroque dances?
Luckily, several systems of dance notation were being developed in France during the 1680s and a limited number of ballroom, theatre, and country dances were preserved in publications and manuscripts. Compare the examples of the three notation systems shown side by side below and then proceed to the discussion of each. The Favier and Lorin notations are discussed briefly and the Feuillet notation in greater detail, as it was the most widely used.

Favier Notation

Lorin Notation

Feuillet Notation

Favier notation lorin notation feuillet notation

Favier Notation
jeté onto the right

Lorin Notation
jeté onto the left, jeté onto the right

Feuillet Notation
jeté onto the right

favier jete
lorin jete
feuillet jete

Continue to Favier Notation

 

 

 

 

 

 

I. Favier Notation

In 1688, choreographer Jean Favier l'aîné notated an entire comic mascarade, Le Marriage de la Grosse Cathos, complete with singers, dancers, two actors, and an onstage oboe band. Instructions for deciphering the notation were not included in the mascarade manuscript and reading it remained illusive until scholars Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol Marsh realized the notation was discussed in an article on "Chorégraphie" in Diderot's Encyclopédie dating from the mid-1700s. Dancing manuals contemporary with the notation (1680s) are lacking, so we must speculate on the exact technique of the steps.

Read the example from top to bottom:

  • title of dance
  • top stave contains notes of the music
  • dance type is indicated below music: Gigue
  • middle stave contains location, use of right or left foot - d for droit (right) or g for gauche (left), and facing of the dancer who begins on stage left, notice that there are precise movements lined up under specific beats of the music
  • bottom stave contains the same information for the dancer who begins on stage right
  • and symbols below the staves indicate the movement.
  • Not shown in the example: notation for arm movement, which is limited to use of the letter "m" for taking hands (mains) and use of the letter "b," presumably for use of the arms (bras) which is not described precisely

Not shown or readily apparent in the notation:

  • obvious visual representation of path through space
  • obvious visual representation of the steps/movements

Ia. Learn more about Favier Notation

Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV - Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos by Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol G. Marsh and published by Cambridge University Press in 1994 contains a facsimile and an excellent analysis of Favier's notation.

 


Favier Notation Example

favier notation


Pro: Because movements are lined up directly under the music notes, dance rhythm can be notated very precisely. Also, because performers are assigned their own staves, dances for multiple dancers can be notated more easily than with Lorin or Feuillet notation which rely on mapping the spatial patterns in a diagram - the diagrams for multiple dancers could become very confusing.

Con: Reading Favier notation can be a tedious chore, as one must constantly move from stave to movement to decifer which foot performs an action for each beat and from stave to stave to understand spatial relationships between multiple dancers. Only after you have pieced together the movement beat by beat do you actually understand the larger sequence of movements within the measure of music and your path through space. The big picture is not quickly apparent.


Continue to Lorin Notation

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II. Lorin Notation

Two manuscripts by André Lorin survive from the same time period, one from c.1685 and one dated 1688. Lorin notates country dances that he learned during a trip to England and writes that he has "improved" them with the addition of French steps. Lorin included a key to the step abbreviations in the c.1685 manuscript, but dancing manuals from this decade are lacking and so we must speculate on the exact technique of the steps he names in the key.

Read the example from top to bottom:

  • dedicatee (Le Duc de Bourgogne) and title of dance (Menuet Anglois)
  • music
  • letters below the music representing the steps
  • diagram below the music and steps shows the dancers' paths through space
  • Not shown in the example: notation for arm movements, although symbols exist for showing when dancers are to take or let go of hands, to clap, and to doff one's hat

Not shown or readily apparent in the notation:

  • progression through space according to the music measure
  • specific step rhythms and timing with the music within a measure of music

Pro: Provides a record of English country dances brought to France and the French steps Lorin used in the dances. Useful as a comparison with Playford's versions of some of the same dances and with some that are notated almost twenty years later in 1706 by Feuillet in Recüeil de Contredances. Feuillet lists the steps being used in contredanses at that time in his introductory instructions.

Con: Lorin's system was used to notate contredanses, and therefore describe a limited step vocabulary. Progression through space according to timing measure by measure is rarely indicated - most of Lorin's spatial diagrams lack music measure marks. Precise information on step timing within a measure of music is lacking.

IIa. Learn more about Country Dance and Contredance

•Playford, John. The Dancing Master. London: John Playford, 1651.

•Lorin, André. Livre de contredance présenté au roy [c. 1685], manuscript; and Livre de la contredance du Roy (1688), manuscript.

•Feuillet, Raoul-Auger. Recueil de Contredances. Paris: 1706; New York: Broude Brothers, 1968. Facsimile. Access online at Library of Congress. Translated by John Essex as For the Furthur [sic] Improvement of Dancing…Translated from the French of Monsr. Feuillet…by John Essex dancing master. London, 1710. Access online at Library of Congress.


Lorin Notation Example

Lorin notation

 

Lorin jetté
Lorin's notation of two pas jettés

The J. on the left side of the vertical line indicates a jetté with the left foot while the J. on the right side indicates a jetté with the right foot. This would be placed under the measure where the jettés should occur.


Continue to Feuillet Notation

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III. Feuillet Notation

In 1700 Raoul-Auger Feuillet published a system of notating dances in a book titled Chorégraphie. It was translated into English by dancing master John Weaver in 1706: Orchesography. Pierre Beauchamps, the director of the Académie Royale de Danse and dancing master to the king until Jean-Baptiste Lully's death in 1687, filed a formal complaint in 1704 claiming that Feuillet and Lorin had been given credit for inventing dance notation when in fact he had done so earlier. He was unable to substantiate his claims, though, as he had failed to publish his work. Many dancing masters and music writers credited Beauchamps in print with the initial creation of a notation system for this style of dance. (Harris-Warrick and Marsh discuss this in their study of Favier's notation previously mentioned, pp. 84-85.) Scholar Régine Astier, currently working on a translation of the complaint documents, recently indicated to me in a private communication that it is unclear whether Beauchamps' system resembled any of the notations published later.

 

IIIa. Inventories of Feuillet Notations

The Feuillet system was the most widely used of the three notation systems and over 300 theatrical and ballroom dances were recorded, providing courts all over Europe easy access to the most fashionable dances. The extant notations are meticulously catalogued in two publications:

•Lancelot, Francine. La Belle Dance: Catalogue Raisonné des Chorégraphies Françaises en Notation Feuillet. Paris: Van Dieren Éditeur, 1996.

•Little, Meredith Ellis and Carol G. Marsh. La Danse Noble: An Inventory of Dances and Sources. Williamstown, New York, Nabburg: Broude Brothers Ltd., 1992.

 

IIIb. Read the Feuillet Notation example to the right from top to bottom:

  • A = dance rhythm type: bourée
  • B = music for this figure or page of notation, important note: the music is always situated in the DOWNSTAGE position, in other words, the page of notation must always be held with the music situated DOWNSTAGE even when the dancer turns
  • dance title: la Bacchante, and in this case, the choreographer is identified: Mr. Pecour
  • measure marks: small lines across the floor path or tract indicate music bar lines and movement between two bar lines takes place in one measure of music; there are 8 measure marks on each dancer's floor path indicating 8 measures of movement in this figure (exactly coinciding with 8 measures of music across the top of the page)
  • spatial path or tract for the two dancers with the steps notated measure by measure
  • notation for the male dancer (left) and female dancer (right) in their beginning location and facing, each figure or page of the dance will show the beginning position of the dancers in space, in relation to each other, and their facings: in the example, the dancers begin upstage and are facing downstage
  • notation symbols for arm movements (port de bras) were developed but rarely used on dance notations (Feuillet, p. 89; Weaver, p. 96)
  • notation for symbols showing when dancers are to take or let go of hands are used (see notation for hands below)

Not shown or readily apparent in the notation:

  • port de bras or arm movement, except the taking and letting go of hands (see reference above concerning existence of notation for port de bras that was rarely used)

Feuillet Notation Example

feuillet notation

 

Pro: This system relays the most information of the three in a visual format that can be read quickly.

Con: Arm movements are not usually notated. It is difficult to notate multiple dancers.


Proceed to the Basics of Reading Feuillet Notation

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Basics of Reading Feuillet Notation

Follow this procedure:

1. Establish the dancing space, facing, dancers - click here

2. Identify the starting position and spatial path or tract - click here

3. Read the foot, step, and movement symbols to decipher the actions for each measure - click here

  • Supplemental study: apply the movement symbols to step units - Step Tables (new window will open)

4. Look for other information such as clues about Step Timing: lines of liaison and rests - click here

5. Read Dancing Manuals to interpret the actual technique and style of the movements - click here

Continue to 1. Dancing Space, Facing, Dancers

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1. Establish the dancing space, facing, dancers:

  • locate the dancers and their facing in the dancing space on each figure or page of the dance so that you know where the dancers start in space and in relation to others
  • remember that the music across the top of the page is always located downstage
man facing
downstage
man
woman
woman facing
upstage
room
Dancer's Facing:
facing

2. Identify the starting position and spatial path or tract:

  • starting position of the feet is usually shown on the first figure of the dance only
  • look for the dancers' path through space so that you know where to travel
  • NOTE: when a path is retraced or when movements occur in one place they cannot be notated on top of each other, so dotted tract lines are used to indicate that the notation must move but the dancer does not: "dot, dot, dot, hold that spot" (my saying), see the last example below

 

4 steps forward
starting with R foot

forward

*Steps forward and backward are taken in 4th position.


 

4 steps backward
starting with R foot
backward


4 steps sideways to R starting with R foot,
(L foot crosses in front of R foot)

sideways

*Steps opening sideways are taken in 2nd position, while steps that cross before or behind are taken in 5th position.



7 steps in circular path counterclockwise
starting with the R foot round

Dotted Tract Lines (dot, dot, dot, hold that spot)

In the example to the right, the dancer moves forward, backward, forward, and backward on the same up and downstage tract, or "right line." The steps cannot be notated in layers on top of the previous movement symbols, so the dotted tract lines are used to show that the dancer does not move sideways with the dotted lines, but begins the following movements from the same spot.

dotted tract lines

Continue to 3. Symbols

Back to Basics of Reading Feuillet Notation

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3. Read the foot, step, and movement symbols to decipher the actions:

Foot symbols can indicate

  • positions of the feet at the beginning or end of movements
  • that a foot is stationary while the other foot is moving as in a beat against the other foot (see coupé bâttu in Step Tables - new window will open)
  • when movement symbols are applied to the foot symbol, that the movement(s) occurs without travelling, such as a jump in 1st position (example is shown below in Movement Symbols Applied to Step Symbols - scroll down)

Positions of the Feet

positions

 

Foot Symbols

foot
dot

Notice that the foot symbol above begins with a hollow, or white circle...

and that the step symbol below begins with a filled, or black circle.

This is an important distinction and will help indicate when a foot is stationary (hollow circle)
and when it moves through space (filled circle).

Step Symbol
(indicates motion through space)

step symbol

*NOTE: Step symbols should be read starting from the black circle (letter A) and ending with the foot symbol (letter C).

 

Movement Symbols Applied to Step Symbols

walking step
plain walking step (L)

sink
pas plié or sink

rise
pas élevé or rise

sauter
pas sauté or spring

tombé
pas tombé or fall

slide
pas glissé or slide

foot up
foot in the air forward

point
point the toe forward

caper
pas cabriollé or caper

Movement Symbols
Applied to Foot Symbols

sauter in first position
sink and spring in 1st position
(there is no travelling forward, sideways, or backward)

 

Placement of Movement Symbols on the Step Symbol

sink before moving
sink before moving

*NOTE: This sink occurs on the left leg before the right foot steps forward. The left leg must be the weight bearing leg before the right foot can move forward, so it is implied that the sink is on the left leg.

slide in moving
slide in moving

 

plié after moving
sink after moving

*NOTE: This sink occurs on the right leg after the right foot moves forward and the weight is transferred onto the right.

tems de courante
tems de courante

*Remember to read the movement symbols starting at the black circle, or position of the foot. This is where the step begins.

  1. sink on left
  2. rise on left
  3. slide R forward
  4. step or transfer weight onto R

 

Turn Symbols

quarter turn
half turn
3/4 turn
whole turn
1/4 turn
counterclockwise
1/2 turn
counterclockwise
3/4 turn clockwise
whole turn clockwise
starting from the dot


Hand Symbols

take hands
let go of hands

Continue to 4. Other Information: Step Timing

Back to Reading Feuillet Notation

Additional Notation Study: Step Tables (new window will open)

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4. Look for other information, including clues about Step Timing: lines of liaison and rests

Lines of liaison often connect the individual steps within a measure and can give clues about the timing of the steps.

The time signature is 3/4 in the examples below.

Single Lines of Liaison

Ex. 1: two pas de bourées over two measures. The three steps in each pas de bourée are connected with a single line of liaison, so the steps have equal time value, or 1 quarter note each.
single lines of liaision
Steps connected with a single line of liaison have equal value. Count Ex. 1: 1 - 2 - 3, 1 - 2 - 3

 

Double Lines of Liaison

Ex. 2: A pas de bourée vîte, or pas de bourée - jeté. The first two steps of the pas de bourée are connected with a double line of liaison, so they are twice as fast (eighth note) as a singly connected step (quarter note): in this measure, the movements equal two eighth notes followed by two quarter notes.

double line of liaison

Steps connected with a double line of liaison are twice as fast as the steps connected with single lines of liaison.
Count Ex. 2: 1 & - 2 - 3.

 

Unconnected Lines of Liaison

Ex. 3: coupé avec rond de jambe (bend & step on R with a rise and circle the L in the air). The line of liaison touches the first step but not the rond de jambe, so the rond de jambe takes up twice the time value as the first step: quarter note - half note.

unconnected line of liaison

The step with the unconnected line of liaison takes up twice the time value of the connected step.
Count Ex. 3: 1 - 2 3

Rests

restone measure rest
half measure rest

 

Links to more information about step timing:

Additional information about step timing is often imbedded within the verbal descriptions of the steps provided in various dancing manuals.


Continue to Dancing Manuals

Back to Basics of Reading Feuillet Notation

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Baroque Dancing Manuals

In addition to preserving their work through dance notation, a number of dancing masters published dancing manuals in which steps, style, arm movements, and ballroom etiquette were described verbally.

Access a List of Recommended Early 18th-Century Dancing Manuals

Access a Presentation on "How to Read a Dance Manual"
at the Library of Congress Dance Manual Collection

The excerpt below from Rameau's Le Maître à Danser demonstrates information found in dancing manuals, in this case: a description of the preparatory movements for a demi-coupé.

 

Rameau line drawing

"Ainsi pour commencer ce demi-coupé vous apportez le pied droit contre le gauche à la premiere position, & vous pliez également les deux genoux, ayant toujours le corps posé sur le pied gauche…mais le corps posé sur le gauche…le droit en l'air…les deux genoux sont pliez également & tournez en dehors la ceinture non pliée, & la tête sort en arriere."

Rameau, Le Maître à Danser, 1725, p. 72

 

"Therefore to begin this half coupee, you bring the right Foot up to the Left, in the first Position, and bend both Knees equally together, keeping the Body on the left Foot…the Body all the while on the Left, the Right off the Ground, both the Knees equally bent, and turned outwards, the Waste steady, and the Head upright."

Essex's translation of Rameau, 1728, p. 41


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Feuillet Notation

Content ©2010 by Paige Whitley-Bauguess

updated 7/1/10