Commedia Dell’Arte A Colgate: Harlequin Unmasked

Commedia Dell'Arte A Colgate: Harlequin Unmasked

Meaghan Duncan

Memorial Chapel played host to another uniquely talented group of musicians last Sunday as part of the ongoing Colgate Concert Series. The performance, entitled Harlequin Unmasked: Music and Dance of Commedia Dell’arte, combined the special talents of the Baroque Dancers and REBEL, a musical ensemble for Baroque music.

Thomas Baird and Paige Whitley-Bauguess, founders of the Baroque dance troupe, have worked together as partners for over fourteen years, interpreting and recreating the Baroque style of theatrical dance. As part of their routine, they wear elaborate costumes and perform numbers in the 17th century style of dance favored by the French nobility.

REBEL, formed in the Netherlands in 1991 in honor of the French Baroque composer Jean-Gery Rebel, is an ensemble essentially made up of two violins, a recorder/traverso, a cello/viola da gamba and a harpsichord/organ. The troupe has performed to rave reviews at such illustrious venues as Da Camera Society and the Library of Congress.

The program began with a rendition of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Overture Burlesque in B Flat major, a number that uses more serious tones to serve as a foil for the lighthearted and entertaining melodies, creating a fitting musical backdrop for the dances performed by the characters of the commedia dell’arte. The recorder was added to the grouping of instruments on the next song, Concerto op.10, no. 5 in F major, adding an ethereal tone to the slightly harsher, pre-existing countermelodies.

The dance suite for L’Europe Galante served as the introduction for the Baroque dancers, who performed three numbers detailing the adventures of the characters Harlequin and Harlequina, drawn from scenarios depicted in the commedia dell’arte, specifically referred to as The Venetian Lady, The Love Letter and the Portrait.

Historically, commedia dell’arte was an extremely physically demanding form of improvisational Italian theater in which certain stock characters would be portrayed in a variety of situations, all determined in the spur of the moment by the actors portraying them.

The afternoon’s program concluded with the Serenata con alter arie composed by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and performed by the string section of REBEL. The dancers also participated in this number, depicting the birth of Harlequin, a dance originally envisioned and choreographed by the famous English Harlequin, John Rich.

In light of the bitter cold and the lathargic lull of the Sunday afternoon, the concert had an impressive turnout, boasting an audience composed of both students and Hamilton residents alike. Everyone present appeared to enjoy the slightly unusual and nostalgic sounds produced by the instruments and the fluid motion of the dancers.

The performance, on the whole, had the vague quality of transporting the audience into a long-forgotten and rarely experienced era, providing observers with the unique opportunity to time travel while staying firmly seated in the Chapel.