The extensive collection of rare dance books in the Early Music, Dance and Theatre Archive in Melbourne is not only a primary source of reference for the Rippon Lea Renaissance and Baroque Dancers, it is also increasingly used by outside researchers.
Administered by the Early Arts Guild of Victoria, the dance collection has been assembled as a result of twenty-one annual teaching and research tours in Europe by Helga Hill, the founder of the Rippon Lea Renaissance Dancers.
Among the collection's milestones of dance literature are the 15th Century writings of Michel Toulouze, Antonio Cornazano, Dominico da Piacenza and Guglielmo Ebreo. These are followed by Caroso's Il Ballarino (1581) and his Nobilta Di Dame (1600), Arbeau's Orchesography (1589) and Negri's Le Gratie d'Amore (1602). John Playford's The English Dancing Master (1651) provides a useful link between Renaissance and Baroque Dance.
The 18th Century is strongly represented with the choreographies of Feuillet, Pecour, Rameau, Tomlinson, Labbe and Magny - among others.
Many of these writings are in facsimile editions, others are on microfilms. Collectively, they give fascinating insights into the development of dance language and steps. Of special interest are the earliest attempts to devise dance notations, starting with the laborious descriptions of steps and patterns in the Italian sources of the 15th and 16th centuries, leading to Arbeau's precise correlation of steps to music in Orchesography.
It was Louis XIV's dance master, Pierre Beauchamp, who finally established a dance notation which was further developed and published by Raoul Auger Feuillet.
Apart from such major items, the dance archive is rich in lesser, more obscure, findings gleaned during research in Vienna, London, Munich, Wolfenbuttel, Salzburg, Paris, and Florence. These range from photos of handwritten manuscripts in the Biblioteca Nazionale Firenze, to rare dance photos taken from Maximilian's Freydal manuscript (c.1500) in the Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna.
Another unusual item, only recently added to the archive, is an original page from the Encyclopedie by Diderot and d'Alembert (1765) showing the choreographic notation for dance steps of the period.
The collection also includes many more recent publications and articles on Early Dance that are now out of print. Among these are copies of the authoritative Dance Index and Dance Perspectives, from America, dating back to the mid-1900's. A catalogue of the famous Derra de Moroda Dance Archive in Salzburg is also of value to researchers.
Iconographic evidence of the development of Early Dance - and the more recent - is a major theme throughout the collection. In this regard the Dancing in Prints Folio (1634-1870) issued in 1964 by the New York Public Library must count as one of the highlights.
As its title indicates, the Early Music, Dance and Theatre Archive is not only about dance. From the beginning of her involvement in Early Arts, Helga Hill and those working with her have insisted that the presentation of one historic art cannot approach authenticity without reference to other closely related art forms. Thus music, dance, costume and gesture are as one.
For students and researchers there is probably little elsewhere in Australia to match the Early Music, Dance and Theatre Archive, with its musical instruments, as-original court garments, books and artifacts. That the collection was assembled without business sponsorship or government funding makes its existence all the more remarkable.
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