Dancetime Publications // 2011 // 48 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // March 5th, 2011
"Baroque dance is the masterful manipulation of a living puppet, and I am that puppet."
Baroque Dance Unmasked is a glimpse into a dance workshop headed by Catherine Turocy, artistic director of the New York Baroque Dance Company and one of the leading authorities on Baroque dance. Not quite a documentary or an instructional video, Baroque Dance Unmasked provides a brief summary of the art form for newcomers, as well as an overview of the dance workshop process.
Baroque dance differs from contemporary ballet and dance in that, rather than attempting to modernize and reinvent itself, its goal is to reconstruct and preserve a form of dance that is nearly 300 years old. This reconstruction is no mean feat -- while we have examples of Baroque era painting and sculpture, and sheets of music scores to tell us how Baroque music should be played, how does one faithfully replicate dance movements and gestures that no one has witnessed in centuries?
Turocy and other students of Baroque dance therefore refer to themselves as dance reconstructors, investigators who delve into the writings of the time in search of dance treatises, notation systems, ballet transcripts, and any reports or descriptions of dances they can find. From the available evidence, they have resurrected this long-dead art form and the culture around it, recreating a small, vivid piece of the past.
Being completely ignorant of Baroque dance, I was afraid this DVD would be impenetrably esoteric, but Turocy and company do a terrific job of introducing the topic to a newcomer. The program gives us a nickel tour of the workshop process, with instructional segments by the workshop coaches -- Turocy, Deda Cristina Colonna, Carlos Fittante, and Derek Clifford -- and workshop participants, explaining the philosophy, structure, and techniques of Baroque dance.
What I found most fascinating about Baroque dance is that it's not just a particular style of dance, but an entire lifestyle; in order to fully inhabit the aesthetic of the Baroque period, participants must practice many different, integrated skills -- dance, acting, fencing, singing, and music. Just as the gentlemen and ladies of this period were expected to be familiar with all aspects of Baroque culture, so do the present-day practitioners of Baroque style completely immerse themselves in this world.
Baroque Dance Unmasked does an excellent job of describing Baroque culture, and the philosophy and ideas behind Baroque dance. This style of dance is all about storytelling -- Baroque dances were physical representations of story-poems, and every gesture was imbued with meaning -- upward motions signifying nobility, for instance, while downward movements implied cowardice. In the workshop practice scenes, we see how the dancers train their limbs and facial expressions to be intimately connected to the story they're telling, and it's remarkable to see excerpts of the actual dances and see how that body consciousness so powerfully conveys emotion.
The DVD of Baroque Dance Unmasked is a digital transfer of an older, apparently VHS program, and looks pretty dated, with a soft image, scan lines, and slightly washed out colors. However, it's still extremely watchable, without any evident defects beyond the limitations of its source. Audio, likewise, is a little flat, but not to the point of distraction. The DVD is divided into a "Workshop Menu" (the main feature) and a "Performance Menu," a selection of excerpts from a Baroque dance performance which comprises the disc's extra features.
As someone who has next to no knowledge of the subject, and isn't a fan of dance in general, I was surprised to find myself engrossed and engaged by this DVD. It's fascinating to see people challenging their bodies to inhabit a persona and world from centuries past. And it's a pretty amazing thing that there are still people who are interested in this art form, and committing their lives to reconstructing, learning and performing it. It may not be the most accessible of the arts, but there's much about it that is compelling, and so much of its traditions and values are largely unknown to our culture today.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dancetime Publications
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 48 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Dance Excerpts
* Official Site