Like the music of the baroque period, baroque dance fell out of fashion as composers and choreographers pushed their art forward in the 19th century. Unlike the music, however, the dance form didn't enjoy a resurgence in popularity.
"What we know as baroque dance was very much intertwined with court etiquette," says dancer/choreographer Carlos Fittante. He and Robin Gilbert will perform to Apollo's Fire's period-style rendition of the dance music from Mozart's Idomeneo this weekend. Acclaimed pianist Sergei Babayan makes his period-instrument debut on the same program.
"In the baroque period, dance was an aspiration to reflect what Europeans thought was a golden age of western culture," says Fittante. "The reason this appeals to me is because it is a world of fantasy being presented publicly." Through movement, the aristocracy could present themselves as gods.
The steps of baroque dance are a fusion of ballroom and ballet — a formal, schooled style, but using movements most bodies can perform. There are no splits, no athletic leaps, just an upright carriage and a set of refined gestures. "There was literal belief that someone who moved gracefully had a special refinement innate in their soul," says Fittante.
His choreography for Idomeneo focuses on the love interest between two characters, Ilia and Idamante. He treats theirs as the archetypical relationship between damsel and knight. Since the opera dates to the Age of Enlightenment, he's using more evolved values to inform the movement. "There's a little feminist point of view," says Fittante. "At the end, the knight dies, and the damsel rescues herself."