Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Issues of Dance Notation: Domenico da Piacenza's Dance Writing in Fifteenth-Century Italy

posted on 2024-06-12, 23:24 authored by Spedding, Chloe

Dance is an art form that is traditionally taught through physical demonstration. Choreography is forgotten if it is not practised repetitively, as dancers must rely on physical memory without the help of a written score to remind them of the steps. So many great works have been lost over time as choreographers have neglected to preserve their routines in written form. To prevent this, multiple notation systems have been created but none of them have ever become as popular or standardised as music notation. Many of these systems involve symbols that can only be understood by those who have studied the system in depth and are therefore inaccessible to the everyday dancer or choreographer. The origins of dance notation in Western culture come from fifteenth-century Italy. Dance masters who served at the many courts of the country recognised the need for dance to be intellectually understood as well as performed. The popularity of manuals as a way to discuss art, music, philosophy and many other subjects that formed the education of the elite during the Renaissance led to the writing of dance manuals. Domenico da Piacenza (c.1400-1476) was the first to do this, and his treatise De arte saltandi et choreas ducendi (c.1455) is an eloquently written model text for all dance manuals that followed. Domenico does not notate his dances with symbols, but rather uses word descriptions to explain his choreography. His manual includes sixteen chapters which discuss the qualities one should aspire to achieve when dancing, the nature of the different misure (speeds) of the music, and how one should dance to each of these. This is followed by descriptions of eighteen of Domenico’s balli accompanied with his self-composed music, and five bassadanze. By examining closely three of Domenico’s balli, and attempting to reconstruct them, this thesis engages with issues regarding the preservation of dance and how effective the use of the written word is for doing so. Although there are several flaws in Domenico’s system, the idea of using the written word to notate dance still seems the most practical to date. The method created by Domenico in fifteenth-century Italy for his court dances is still the most common way for modern dance forms such as ballet and ballroom to be notated, transmitted to others and learned by dancers today.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Masters Dissertation



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Languages and Cultures


Bernardi, Claudia