Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dancing with Jane Austen

From The Guardian:
In Pride and Prejudice, the complicated mutual attraction of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy is established through their behaviour towards each other at a succession of balls. They approach and retreat, tease and repel each other, as in an elaborate dance. Among the many media events marking the bicentenary of the publication of Austen's most popular novel, none is more elaborate than BBC2's restaging of the most important of these, the Netherfield ball given by Mr Bingley. It is a gorgeous, telegenic enactment, but also reveals the conventions on which Austen's narrative relies.

She takes it for granted that all her readers will know what a ball is like and will see the manoeuvres of her characters as clearly as she does herself. She does not tell us what dances were performed, what music was played, or what food was eaten. Yet from other publications of the age – including the copious instructions of contemporary dance masters – it is entirely possible to reconstruct such an event. We are used to the glimpses given in film adaptations, but never have dancers been made to perform exactly as Bingley's guests must have done. "Every savage can dance," observes Mr Darcy sardonically, and when you see it happening in a thronged ballroom you certainly notice the physicality. Individual dances last up to 15 minutes and, in a room lit only by candles, the heat soon rivals any Ibizan dancefloor. The performers are dance students from the University of Surrey, and probably more athletic than the average denizen of Meryton in 1813, but soon the sweat is pouring off them. You begin to feel the force of Austen's observations that, at the earlier assembly ball in Pride and Prejudice, Mr Bingley "danced every dance". He was clearly a thoroughly vigorous young man. (Read entire article.)

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