Ken Pierce

This very basic web page provides links related to current projects and recent work. Most of the links are to copyrighted material. The availability of material here in no way implies permission to violate copyright terms and constraints. Feel free to contact me with questions: kpierce@mit.edu

For information about the Ken Pierce Baroque Dance Company (which, despite its name, also offers performances of Renaissance dance), please visit my creativeground.org web page (opens in new tab or window).



Below are a bio and questions and answers with links to various resources related to baroque dance. Much of this is lifted from material developed for MIT's Dance Theatre Ensemble.

Ken Pierce trained in ballet and modern dance, studying on scholarship at both the American Ballet Theatre School and the Merce Cunningham studio. He has specialized in early dance -- especially, late-Renaissance and Baroque dance -- for over twenty-five years, as choreographer, reconstructor, performer, and teacher. Companies he has performed with include the Court Dance Company of New York, the New York Baroque Dance Company, Ris et Danceries (Paris), Danse Baroque Toronto, and the baroque dance trio Hémiole (Paris), of which he was a co-founder. He directs his own company, the Ken Pierce Baroque Dance Company, for which he has choreographed or reconstructed dances for performances with Tafelmusik, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Concerto Copenhagen, The King's Noyse, and the Handel & Haydn Society (Boston). Recent choreographies include dances for Les Élémens, Les Festes d'Hébé, Tirsi e Clori, and les Festes de l'Amour et de Bacchus; his choreographic credits also include King Arthur at the Boston Early Music Festival, and such twentieth-century premières as Le Carnavale Mascarade; Les Plaisirs de Versailles, with Ex Machina Baroque Opera Ensemble; the masque Oberon, at Case Western Reserve University; and le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos at the Amherst Early Music Festival. He was assistant choreographer for Quelques pas graves de Baptiste, Francine Lancelot's baroque-style piece for the Paris Opera Ballet, whose cast included Rudolph Nureyev. Mr. Pierce has taught at summer dance and music workshops in the U.S. and abroad. He directs the early dance program at the Longy School of Music of Bard College (Cambridge). Since 2010, he has been a member of the board of directors of the Society of Dance History Scholars.


Examples

Here's a link that leads to three video clips of baroque dance, which accompany article "The dances in Lully's Persée" in the Journal of Seventeenth Century Music, on dances in Persée. Authors, and dancers, are Jennifer Thorp and me.

Questions and answers about baroque dance

What is baroque dance?

The term is used to refer to ballroom and theatrical dance of France, other Western European countries, and their colonies during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Is baroque dance baroque (that is, highly decorated, ornamented, and so on)?

Well, sometimes. The steps can be highly decorated, curved shapes and paths are often used, and the choreographic thread is sometimes elaborately nonlinear. But it can also have elements of classical order and symmetry, and even simplicity.

So why is it called baroque dance?

Presumably, partly by analogy with music and other arts of roughly the same period, and partly because it does have baroque elements.

How do we know what dance was like way back then?

There are treatises from the period describing the dance style and giving instructions for many of the basic steps, and there were notation systems developed in the late seventeenth century which were used to record dances. Many of these notated dances have survived, and we can study and learn from them.

Here's a sample page of dance notation, the first plate of The Pastoral by Mr. Isaac. Notice the symmetrical floor pattern.

What are some of these treatises?

Some of the more common ones are available via the very useful Library of Congress web site at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/dihtml/dihome.html:

Where can I learn more about baroque dance notation?

The most straightforward way is to read the documentation:

Are there other notated dances available?

Yes. Some are available on the LOC site, and others have been published in facsimile. The Harvard Theatre Collection and the Boston Public library have originals of notated dances. Photocopies of other sources can usually be obtained.