Baroque Dance at the Orient-Institut Istanbul: Dance Historians Explore Aspects of Orientalism

Baroque Dance at the Orient-Institut Istanbul: Dance Historians Explore Aspects of Orientalism

Authors: Irène Feste, Hubert Hazebroucq, Gerrit Berenike Heiter

13 July 2023

This blog contribution by historical dance scholars and performers Irène Feste, Hubert Hazebroucq, and Gerrit Berenike Heiter focuses on a lecture demonstration that was presented during the online event “Music and Mirrored Hybridities: Cultural Communities Converging in French, German, and Turkish Stage Productions (17th–20th Century)”. The workshop was held on 28–29 May 2021 at the Orient-Institut Istanbul in cooperation with the University of Music and Theatre “Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy” Leipzig, and the Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. The following offers some context for the workshop as well as the descriptions and dance videos below.

Representations of Turks and Ottomans have been popular with European audiences for centuries, and for good reason. In early modern France, musico-theatrical patterns of portraying the foreign ‘Other’ (later called ‘Turquerie’, ‘exoticism’ or ‘Orientalism’) helped shape bilateral relations with the Ottoman Empire. Accordingly, hybridity has to be understood as a processual and dynamic practice playing with cultural mixtures and borrowings, albeit possibly (re-)producing inequalities, misunderstandings and clichés. There is no claim of cultural—or musical—authenticity in these works; rather, they appear as musical features emerging out of vague inspirations derived from Ottoman/Turkish music, creating a particular sound that could easily be understood as ‘Ottoman’ or ‘Turkish’ by contemporary French listeners.

During the event, international scholars of various disciplines—musicology as well as dance, theatre, and translation studies—discussed the convergence of cultural communities on stage, and the conditions and contexts of this convergence. The iconic ‘Turkish scene’ from Lully/Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) served as a point of departure for investigations of intentions and images, strategies of representation, and exoticist implications. The workshop brought together researchers including those whose cultures had been represented as ‘Other’, along with researchers whose own cultures had portrayed foreign cultures as ‘Other’ in an attempt to facilitate critical engagement with these historical and cultural representations. With the example of the iconic ‘Turkish ceremony’ from Lully/Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) as point of departure, the workshop addressed the topic of intercultural perception and its outcomes in various art forms, from the comedy’s immediate aftermath to the present.

The Bourgeois gentilhomme contains problematic concepts, wordings, and images, as do many other musical, theatrical, literary, and visual artworks with exoticist/Orientalist content. As such, it is necessary for humanities scholars in a historically oriented discipline to engage with outdated, incorrect, and even outright offensive content to be able to understand the past, albeit with full awareness of the problematic nature behind the issues. Evaluating ‘othering’ and expressions of mockery in their own historical context required all participants to take a critical stance towards the problematic material. These issues were discussed in personal conversations leading up to the workshop as well as during the workshop itself. We have sought to demonstrate our awareness of these sensitive and problematic terms with quotation marks (‘Turkish ceremony’, ‘dervishes’). Quotation marks clarify that the ‘Mufti’ in Molière’s play has nothing to do with a real Islamic jurist, a Muftī, and that the ‘ceremony’ has nothing whatsoever to do with real ceremonial actions. The use of italics for Turkish ceremony designates the formal unit inside the Bourgeois gentilhomme, analogously to an act or a scene in a play. Quotes from sources or scholarly literature may deal with this differently, but are clearly marked as such.

A conference volume is currently being prepared for publication in the Orient-Institut Istanbul’s series Istanbuler Texte und Studien (ITS): Judith I. Haug & Hanna Walsdorf: Reconstructing Mama mouchij / Mama Mouchy F-PO RES 817(19). Irène Feste, Hubert Hazebroucq, Gerrit Berenike Heiter.

The Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra de Paris holds a manuscript collection of 26 theatrical solo choreographies notated in Beauchamps-Feuillet notation by different anonymous persons, (F-Po Res-817). No. 19 is a male solo choreography with the enigmatic title Mama mouchij (also spelled Mama Mouchy, Mama mouchy, or Mamamouchy) (https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k8599351) that points to a fictitious ‘Turkish’ honorary title in Molière’s play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. The dance tune is notated on top of each of its eight pages.

Historical dance specialists and dancers Irène Feste and Hubert Hazebroucq reconstructed the choreography from the dance notation. The meaning or the characterisation of this dance is not determined by its step vocabulary, since it lacks unique features and presents only few uncommon choreographic elements, such as some notational signs for the arm positions. However, a comparison with other theatrical dances from the notated repertoire, e.g. ‘peasant’ dances or another ‘Turkish’ dance, allows to conclude that this dance belongs to the grotesque genre, and mixes typical elements for theatrical ‘peasant’ dances with more complex and virtuosic features. Some comparisons to identify peculiarities in the dance composition were also made with excerpts of other dances in the manuscript collection, which were probably written by the same person who notated Mama Mouchy, assuming that he might have created the dance. The obvious theatricality of the dance has to be taken into account in the process of reconstruction. Therefore, Irène Feste and Hubert Hazebroucq propose two versions for this Mama Mouchy: namely, an interpretation following the rules of the noble danse sérieuse displaying no specific character, and a more characterised version portraying a fictitious ‘Turkish’ stage character.

The following videos were produced to illustrate the multiple methodical comparisons with other extant theatrical dance compositions, the choreographic analysis and reconstruction, and the interpretation hypotheses presented in the forthcoming article “Tracing Mama mouchij – Multiple Migrations of a Dance and its Tune.”

Video 1:

Mama Mouchy noble F-Po RES-817(19)

This version of the dance has no specific characterisation. The use of masks was conventional for male theatrical dance roles in the first half of the 18th century.

[WATCH VIDEO HERE]

Dancer: Irène Feste

The music is played by Patrick Oliva (violin) and Marouan Mankar-Bennis (harpsichord).

The instrumentation in a theatrical context would have more likely been an ensemble of violins (from treble to bass).

Video 2:

Choreographic sequences of Mama Mouchy F-Po RES-817(19) and no. 27 F-Po RES-817(27) as well as no. 26 F-Po RES-817(26)

The first sequence of this video clip is part of another dance from the same manuscript dance collection F-Po RES-817, probably written by the same person who notated Mama Mouchy. It is performed by two dancers simultaneously – one dancing in a noble style, and the other one adding more characterisation. The same sequence is then danced again (in a noble style) while a similar choreographic sequence in Mama Mouchy is performed in a characterised style. The third and last sequence provides an excerpt from another dance, again probably by the same notator, performed in a noble and in a more characterised style. It begins with a combination of steps very similar to those in the other sequences presented previously in this clip and continues by adding some elements which are typical for a theatrical ‘peasant’ dance.

[WATCH VIDEO HERE]

Dancers: Irène Feste, Hubert Hazebroucq

Musicians: Patrick Oliva, Marouan Mankar-Bennis

Video 3:

Choreographic sequences in Mama Mouchy F-Po RES-817(19) and the Entrée for two French Country Men Compos’d by Mr Roussau GB-Eu MS La. III 673

The two step sequences at the beginning of these two dances, performed simultaneously, show the similarity of vocabulary and composition between Mama Mouchy and a typical grotesque ‘peasant’ dance.

[WATCH VIDEO HERE]

Dancers: Irène Feste, Hubert Hazebroucq

Musicians: Patrick Oliva, Marouan Mankar-Bennis

Video 4:

Choreographic sequences in Entrée de Paysan from Roland F-Po RES-817 (6) and Mama Mouchy F-Po RES-817(19)

The sequence of two opposite circles in a theatrical dance for a ‘peasant’, followed by a sequence in Mama Mouchij that resembles it, reveals the likeness in the floor pattern as well as the repetitiveness of the step vocabulary associated with it.

[WATCH VIDEO HERE]

Musicians: Patrick Oliva, Marouan Mankar-Bennis

The music for the Entrée de Paysan from Roland by Jean-Baptiste Lully is taken from the CD recording Musiques à danser à la Cour et à l’Opéra by Les Talens Lyriques (dir. Christophe Rousset) and appears with the kind permission of Erato-Warner Classics and Les Talens Lyriques.

Dancers: Irène Feste, Hubert Hazebroucq

Video 5:

Excerpt of Turkish Dance Performed by Mr Desnoyer and Mrs Younger GB-Lbl K.11.c.5.

This short excerpt of a male solo for a theatrical dance role with a ‘Turkish’ connotation exemplifies the serious high style applied to an ‘exotic’ character. Compared to the sequences in Mama Mouchij, it displays a richer step combination, requiring more subtlety and virtuosity in the interpretation.

[WATCH VIDEO HERE]

Dancer: Hubert Hazebroucq

The music is played by the musicologist and harpsichordist Matthieu Franchin.

Video 6:

Mama Mouchy noble and Mama Mouchy caractérisé F-Po RES-817(19)

The two versions of the same dance are performed simultaneously in order to allow a comparison between a noble interpretation and a characterised one, the latter showing less of the usual ‘academic’ coordination (according to the codified rules of the noble danse sérieuse), including higher or bent legs and jumps.

[WATCH VIDEO HERE]

Dancers: Irène Feste, Hubert Hazebroucq

Musicians: Patrick Oliva, Marouan Mankar-Bennis


Irène Feste (Compagnie Danses au (Pas)sé) is a choreographer, dancer and teacher for classical ballet and historical dance from the Renaissance to late 19th century.

Hubert Hazebroucq (Compagnie Les Corps éloquents) is a choreographer, dancer, pedagogue and researcher specialising in Early dance from 15th to late 18th century. He teaches at the Conservatoire Régional de Paris.

Gerrit Berenike Heiter (University of Vienna) is a performer, theatre pedagogue and researcher specialising in mask theatre, commedia dell’arte, baroque theatre and historical dance.

Citation: Irène Feste; Hubert Hazebroucq; Gerrit Berenike Heiter, Baroque Dance at the Orient-Institut Istanbul: Dance Historians Explore Aspects of Orientalism, Orient-Institut Istanbul Blog, 13 July 2023, https://www.oiist.org/baroque-dance-at-the-orient-institut-istanbul-dance-historians-explore-aspects-of-orientalism/

Ottoman Empire; 17th century; research project; theatrical dance; dance notation; OII-Music


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