June 12, 2020

Castanets in Baroque Choreography

The use of castanets in 17th and 18th century baroque choreography

Opera Atelier has produced Lully’s Persée three times, twice in Toronto (beautifully filmed by Marc Stone in 2004) and once at the Opéra Royal in Versailles. As in most French baroque operas, dancing plays an important role in Persée, and Marshall and I felt that the “Dance of the Warrior Nymphs” would provide a perfect opportunity to have dancers on stage, playing castanets and finger cymbals. The music has a rather martial quality and the inclusion of dancers playing percussive instruments both adds to this atmosphere and emphasizes the strong, graceful femininity of the Warrior Nymphs. 

I used simple rhythms that matched the mood of the music, along with athletic baroque dance steps, patterned in a quasi-military style. The dancers provided an introduction for the singing Warrior Nymph, who presents Perseus with the shield which will help him to conquer Medusa. It is a wonderful characteristic of French baroque opera that singers and dancers work together in a perfectly integrated fashion to further the drama and enhance the storytelling. 

Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg

Opera Atelier Co-Artistic Director & Choreographer

PHOTO: 17th century French engravings of baroque dancers accompanying themselves with castanets

"Dance of the Warrior Nymphs” from Opera Atelier’s production of Lully’s Persée - choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg. Guest Conductor Hervé Niquet leads Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Film Director Marc Stone.

With kind permission of EuroArts Music International GmbH. Persée is available on DVD on the EuroArts label.