sionandreas (sionandreas) wrote,

Rostiboli Gioioso: A Staging (Performance notes ; Italian 15th century)

Rostiboli Gioioso

Staging for a presentation by four couples

of the Shire of Mynydd Seren,

to be presented for the entertainment of

Their Majesties Jafar and Catherine

and of Their newly-proclaim’d Highnesses

Finn and Garlanda

as well as for the diversion and enlightenment

of all other nobles and gentlefolk present

at the feast of Crown Tournament

October AS 28


Messer Sion Andreas o Wynedd.


This performance was designed to be part of an on-going project to get presentational dance, that is to say dance beyond the social dance arena, back in the eyes of the Middle Kingdom. The things I take into consideration in choosing a dance to present included:

1) The piece must be a period dance.
2) The dance must be easily taught to a large group of people.
3) The dance must look like a team effort.
4) The dance must be able to catch the audience's imagination.

Luckily I was literally handed the dance that ended up being used.

I was reintroduced to the Rostiboli Gioioso by Rosina del Bosco Chiaro from L'lsle du Dragon Dormant in the summer of 1993. She had two versions of the music: one from the CD Mesura & l'arte del ballo and the second from the CD Music from the age of Leonardo. The "Leonardo" music was superior, in my opinion, because it was easy to follow, evocative and just plain fun to dance to. This rendition of the music veritably forced one not just to dance but to dance well.

I must own that prior to anything else I went back to the original and reinterpreted the dance. As a result, the version I was taught and the version we performed do not agree in several points although they are clearly the same dance.

At that point I started the real work, first securing permission from the autocrat to do the performance, second teaching the dance straight to the dancers, third developing the new blocking, and lastly getting the whole thing put together by Crown Tourney. The entire effort took three months.

The first part of the job was easy. The autocrat was very agreeable to the concept of performances like this, and we discussed putting the performance at either the revel or the feast. I opted for feast entertainment for a very good reason. In the Midrealm, if there is a part of the event that has to be cut, that part will be the revel, and after years of experience, one finds one can count on either the tourney, the feast or the court to run over. Most often all three do, and this year was no exception, which made me feel better about my choice.

On the other hand, feast entertainment is not the most friendly environment. One is competing for the audience's attention over the food and one's neighbor's conversation. Poor acoustics are a given, and the performance area is strictly determined by how many people the hosting group is trying to feed. I took this into account and requested that a serving "runway" be kept clear up the middle of the hall, a layout which is commonplace at most Midrealm feasts. I requested that the runway be 12 to 15 feet wide and that it be open to the head table at one end and not closed of fat the other. Again, this is the usual Midrealm layout, and the autocrat told me that he would do his best, but that the runway might only be 10 to 12 feet wide. So be it.

The second part was easy as well. We started teaching the dance over the summer to the people who stayed in shire over summer break. The dance nearly taught itself. It was fun, and I couldn't keep people from dancing it. We had people at something approaching performance standard on the straight, un-blocked dance in just a session or two.

The third part was more difficult. I had to make a new blocking which would fit my ideas of the 15th century ideas of proportion and the aesthetic of figure. It also had to fit in the space we had and use that space to the best ability, and it had to hang together logically and agree with the mood being set by the music. This took a month to work out, the problem being what to do with the saltarello and movimento sections, and the second repetition was a sore trial to my sense of proportion.

The fourth part was the real test, both of the troupe's ability to learn the blocking and my ability to control both the choreography and the troupe. The dancers were at a decided disadvantage. While I was teaching the new blocking of the solo and volta tonda sections I had no idea what the saltarello and movimento sections looked like. When I had added those, I still had not good idea of how the second repetition would work out.

When I had the blocking all worked out and taught, I had to stand by it and make it work, to entice, convince and if necessary pontificate to get the performance to come together.

It worked.

Unlike most pieces of feast hall entertainment, we ended up with nearly absolute quiet and had the attention of most of the feasters including the Crown. We teased the audience. The music was evocative; the dance and the music together seductive. The dancers worked well together and telegraphed the mood of the music beyond my wildest expectations. We were discrete in our movements and contained. Unlike the Near Eastern dancers who were the only other dance performance that evening, our dance enticed in a European manner, and it captured the audience without our even looking at them once.

We also worked a little piece of stage magic. The blocking called for the dance to be done twice. The first time through, two couples would do the dance, and two more couples would add in for the second time through the music. The magic was nothing more than the simple trick of having the first set of couples come to the center at the end of the first repetition. This made it possible for the second set of couples to seem to materialize almost out of thin air. That, added to the novelty of watching a four couple set dance that was not an English Country Dance, the subtle interweavings of the dancers and the gentle gracefulness that is European dance, carried the performance.

We were still on the performance high from that evening for weeks, and we had every right to be. Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble.....


Barbara Sparti gives the following transcription of the text for Rostiboli Gioioso in Guglieimo:

Inprima due riprese, l'una sul sinistro ell'altra sul dritto. etpoi l'huomo se parta dalla donna con doi sempij et doi doppij cominciando col pie sinistro. & poifaccia due riprese, una sul sinistro ell'altra sul dritto. et in quel tempo la donna anchorafaccia ie riprese insieme con l'huomo. etpoi l'huomo faccia anchora doi sempij & doi doppij, & poi doi riprese, l'una sul sinistro ell'altra sul dritto, & l'huom[o] sifermi. etpoi la donna faccia tutto quello hafatto l'huomo. etpoi si pigliano per mono, &facciano due riprese, l'una sul sinistro ell'altra sul dritto. et poifacciano doi sempij & tre doppij cominiciando col pie sinistro. etpoi diano una volta tonda con doi sempij cominciando col pie dritto, & una ripresa sul dritto. et tutto questofacciano un'altrafiata. et poifaciano sedici tempi di saltarello cominciando col pie sinistro. etpoi sifermano, et l'huomo faccia uno schosso, ella donna gli responda. et l'huomo vada inanzi con un doppio partendo col sinistro. ella donna facia un scosso, ell'huomo gli responda, et vada la donna apresso l'huomo partendosi col sinistro. & faccia unpasso doppio, elli schossi altri tanto con un doppio chome ditto.

For the translation I refer you to the text in: De practica seu arte tripudii = On the art of dancing / Guglieimo Ebreo of Pesaro ;ed., tr and introduced by Barbara Sparti ; poems tr. by Michael Sullivan. Oxford: Clarendon Press, c 1993. ISBN 0-19-816233-2

The dance sounds as though it is originally for a couple to do alone, and it falls nicely into four parts.

We begin and end the dance, as the music allows, with full, to-the-floor riverenze,but these fall outside the dance itself and are pure window-dressing.

Our steps began following the Sparti interpretation, because that is what fit our music, but over time I decided that her strict performance style was not what was wanted for this performance. Accordingly, we went to a looser interpretation, timing our steps to the real music and not to an abstract musicological construct. As this is an article about staging, and not about step reconstruction, I shall leave the interpretation of what is the appropriate way to do the steps to others, advising that one do whatever one feels is right.

In the first part, the dancers begin by doing two riprese, left and right, and then the man leaves the lady with two scempi and two doppi. Next, they do two riprese again, and in the version Rosina taught, and in mine, the man does a meza volta with the first ripresa. It doesn't say to do this in the text, but it works nicely, especially as, after the riprese, the man does two more scempi and two more doppi. The text says simply that the man does these steps again, and the impression is that they might be meant to be done going away from the woman again. In "Rosina's version" he comes back to his partner, to the right-hand side of the woman, an interpretation which is not supported by the text. In mine I have him came straight back to place on the woman's left-hand side. This is not supported by the text either, but I like the recursive aspect of the return, and, given that, the maintenance of radial symmetry in the dance. I have no good reason for preferring this, it just seems nicer to me.

The entire first part then repeats with the woman doing the solo processionals. Again, I have the woman go out and come back to place.

The second part goes twice through and is a unison processional: two scempi and three doppi followed by a volta tonda comprising two scempi and a ripresa. We all agree on this reconstruction.

The third part is sixteen tempi di saltarello. Guglieimo does not state where these steps go, or if there is a figure to them, so for social dancing I may take these saltarelli anywhere.

The last part is two scossi, man's and woman's, followed by the man doing a doppio forwards. This is then repeated with the woman beginning the scossi and doing the doppio to join her partner. These steps are then done a last time and the dance, according to the text, ends. Since our music goes through twice, we repeat the dance with the woman beginning the soli parts and the man following, as Rosina taught. It works; it is proportional; I like it; we do it.

Most of the steps are well enough described, but we had a problem interpreting the scossi in the last part. These are often given as movimenti = movements. Scosso means a shake, which Sparti has interpreted as a shake of the foot. In the Nuremburg Ms. the word used for these scossi is Alzada. This is not a German word but an Italian one, which implies height. Arms held up in an arch are said to be in alzata, and therefore we opted to do little continenza-like movements for the scossi. From a performer's viewpoint, our step was visible, and the shaking of the foot not only invisible, but wrong in the feel it gave the dance.


The first two couples placed themselves at opposite ends of the runway, facing into the middle. This ought to have them staring approximately SSDDDS from that middle, or about the length of the usual feast middle aisle.

There is an introduction in the music, an introduction some three measures long. The first measure is a string arpeggio, and it simply warns the dancers that the music has begun, giving them at the same time the tempo. On the second measure, the man sinks to one knee as the lady bends her knees slightly to acknowledge him. On the third two measures he rises, she rises and they face inward.


Part I Solos

Run through the dance according to the usual progression. That is to say, the man goes out on the first procession, then returns to his place on the second. The woman then goes out on the third and returns to her place on the fourth. This procession is done towards the middle.

The dancers should try to keep the proportions similar on both ends of the dance, and between men and ladies' solos. Dancers should make their meze volte of similar proportion as well, and they should hold hands whenever possible. Loose hands, don't drop hands, as one departs from a partner. Take up hands on the first step after you come back together. Reinforce the unity of the dancing couple by "reaching" for one another, not only with hands but with eyes as well, and step into hand holds naturally.

Part 2 VoltaTonda

The first time through, the dancers shall come to just shy of the middle, say a doppio or three scempi apart, and there they will do the volta tonda of two scempi and a meza volta, making sure to keep the proportions the same for all four dancers.

The second time through, couples will drop hands as they pass through each other with the ladies to the inside (or pass by the right shoulder.) At the end of this second time through, the couples ought to be at opposite ends of the runway and they will end facing out.

Part 3 Saltarello
(16 D in Saltarello)

Partners will "cast" and separate, and they will weave to the other end of the runway. The sixteen steps will be divided into four groups of four. The first and second steps of a group will be for traveling down the outside of the runway, the third will initiate a crossover, and the fourth will end a crossover. Sixteen steps, four groups, four crossovers. The lady will always pass to the outside of the man, and by outside I mean the dancers to understand that the ends of the runway are "out."

When the opposite end of the runway is reached, the dancers will pass into place and face in. The woman can just walk into place; the man will have to make a three-quarters turn to do so.

Part 4 Movimento
(MM DD in salt., MM DD in salt., MM DD in salt., MM DD in salt.)

This part is somewhat changed from what Guglieimo gives. In the original, the two doppi in saltarello that are called for above were originally one doppio in Bassadanza (?.) For this performance we need the distance the two doppi in saltarello provide.

When the lady joins the man for the second time, they should both execute a turn towards each other so as to face outwards. In this way, they will find themselves regarding the new couples who have just joined the dance.

For the second couples, the integration into the dance is easy, but also rather spectacular. The audience will be watching the first couples, and when they turn to face a new set of couples, it will seem as though the second materialized out of nowhere.

The second couples join the first in this way. When the second time through the movimenti begins, the couples lead in from the ladies' sides. They will take their places just as the lady joins her partner the second time.

In this second run through of the music, the first couples will have their places reversed, which is to say that the ladies will begin the solos and the Movimento section. This manages to keep a pleasant symmetry going through the dance.


Part I Solos

Do as called for above. Try to keep the proportions similar between all dancers. The moving man and woman will not necessarily meet in the middle, but the distances they achieve from each other's partners must be similar.

Part 2 VoltaTonda

The first time through, the second couples will pass through the first couples by the right shoulder, and they will come to just shy of the middle, say a doppio or three scempi apart, while the first couples will have come to the end of the runway. They will do the volta tonda, making sure to keep the proportions the same for all eight dancers.

The second time through the phrase, the second couples will drop hands and pass through each other by the left shoulder. The first couples will do their two riprese, turning on the first, and then come back up the hall to the center, passing through the couple they meet by the right shoulder. At the end of this second time through, the second couples ought to be at opposite ends of the runway facing out, and the first couples ought to be in the middle of the hall facing one another.

Part 3 Saltarello
(16 D in Saltarello)

Partners of the second couples will cast and separate, and then they will weave to the other end of the runway using the same formula as was given in the first repetition. The first couples shall pass through passing right shoulders, into each others place with two steps and turn halfway round with two more steps, the lady leading and the man going backwards. Then they will fall back with two backwards steps, practically desmarches in saltarello (and there ought to be little to NO ombreggiare in these backwards doppi in saltarello,) and come forwards the same to face again. Then they will pass through again and turn as above, with four steps all together, and finally fall back and come forward again with four steps all together. Thus they face at the end of the saltarello section.

Part 4 Movimento
(MM DD in salt., MM DD in salt., MM DD in salt., MM DD in salt.)

This section has the steps as were done above, but there is more moving past and though. Just to confuse things, don't you know?

In the first portion, the second couples do what was done in the first repetition, that is to say the men go forward with two doppi in saltarello. In the first couples, the ladies begin the movimenti and will pass right shoulders into each others' places on the doppi.

In the second portion, the ladies of the second couples join their partners. In the first couples, the men pass right shoulders into each others' places with the two doppi.

In the third portion, the ladies of the first couples and men of the second couples will pass by left shoulders into each others' places with the two doppi.

In the fourth and final portion, the men of the first couples and ladies of the second couples will pass by left shoulders into each others' places with the two doppi. As the couples come together again, they should turn to face each other across the runway, in preparation for the final riverenza.

At the end of the dance, all men should fall into a full riverenza. The music is tricky, but there is a moment in which to recover, or take a step to be even with one's partner. Then there is a descending set of notes, on which the men should sink to their knee. When the ascending set of notes sounds, the men should rise. The ladies should do the men honour as well, but only with a slight bending of the knees.

When the men have risen from the riverenza, all couples should hold position until the applause begins - if it begins. At that point, we went forward, honoured the head table with a full riverenza and then split, men and women to their own sides and went back down the length of the runway to exit.

And thus we did the Rostiboli Gioioso to applause and acclaim. Feel free to use this blocking for performances of your own. I can't justify the blocking and don't claim common sense interpretation as intellectual property. I only ask that if you use this blocking, just remember to give poor Uncle Sion credit for it: SCAdian in the Society, mundane in the "Real World." I gotta get that retirement fund inflated, you know.

And now, as Rosina would say, Balliamo!

1) The dancers in this performance were: Annabel Carnegie and Seanan O’Daire, Diago and Catriona ni Seamus, Urraca Yriarte de Gamboa and Dougal MacFinlay, Gwendolyn the Graceful and myself.

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