Baroque court dances are the foundation of ballet. But often, as seen today, the lively and mathematically precise dances do little to connect with the human heart. Compagnie fetes galantes changes that with “Let My Joy Remain.” As the opening event of SummerScape at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College this past weekend, this dance not only depicts unbridled joy, but sends its viewers home with wide smiles and irrepressible cheer.
Choreographed by Artistic Director Beatrice Massin, this baroque-inspired dance is set to the equally jubilant music of J.S. Bach. (Interestingly, baroque music does arouse glee. Perhaps that is what kept baroque dance from descending into complete obscurity.) Massin, an authority on this dance for kings, begins the work with her 10 dancers entering one by one. In silence, they stand about, as if spectators to a courtly divertissement. As the music, a cantata, begins, the dancers step lively. Dressed in garb that hints of the 17th century, including stylish heels that are adorned with buckles or bows, their steps are small and quick. Their jumps are low. So too are their turns, taken in plié. Their moves, though appearing modest, are intricate, outlining circles, lines and triangles with their toes.
Their bodily patterns are staggering too. They weave in and out, back and forth, mostly in lines that are hypnotic. And as the 60-minute dance proceeds, “Let My Joy Remain,” deepens with meaning and amplifies with enthusiasm. Massin enlarges the steps as they go, from low and sweeping degages to high-flying grande battements. Better yet, as the steps grow bigger, so does the dancers’ infectious abandon.
Massin boldly has her dancers play in silence, too, (amazingly, as baroque dance is not meant to be separated from the music.) On a quiet stage, she composes a romantic, delicate trio as well as a section for the ensemble in which the unified tapping of the heels serves as the rhythm. Both are delightful — the trio for its gentle coaxing of affection and the group work for its power wrought in precision.
Of course, when Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto begins and Massin employs the 2nd, 3rd and 6th, the elation abounds. Near the end, one dancer appears to be infected with a fever. Her leg shivers and she shudders and staggers. Others strip off their elegantly tailored jackets. And then they kick off their shoes. With whoops and hollers, “Let My Joy Remain” turns into a hoedown. At first, it appears out of whack with the majesty of what precedes it. But the exultant feeling is undeniable. The dancers end by running to and fro, in and out of view, in a rush of pure ecstasy.
Consequently, long after the curtain comes down, “Let My Joy Remain” merrily lingers.