Round dance has been a dance figure in its own right since time immemorial. A myriad of paintings discovered on the walls of caves testifies: men formed a circle, performed a round dance around each other. In these types of gatherings, the question that comes to mind is that of the centre.
As the performers contemplate the centre, this dance is directed towards the focal point that bonds the community together. Its means of transmission builds on the social aspect, corporal reflexes and a movement pattern that liberates the conscious memory of the group.
The round is frequently linked, in our minds, to “traditional” dances or to “folk” dances. Does it have a role to play in 20th and 21st century choreographic art, qualified as contemporary and performative? In other words, is it still a key figure of dance today?
Dance is inseparable from the community’s socio-cultural events for the Aka pygmies. It is part and parcel of ceremonies related to the inauguration of new encampments, hunting expeditions and funerals, and plays an essential role in group cohesion. The gesture is, above all, assimilated to hunters, farmers, warriors, but not to dancers. The notion of style is quite imperceptibly evoked; good performers are essentially performers who persevere, who put their energy to work for structuring social life.
The round expresses senses, feelings but also desire: individual pleasure and ecstasy are subject to the desire of the whole group. It is this mechanism that is at work in the Rond de Saint-Vincent, which became popular in the 90s when Breton fest-noz took off. The Rond de Saint-Vincent, now danced far beyond the boundaries of Brittany, reproduces the steps of country folk, in particular when they trample the ground, and their never-ending backwards and forwards movements between the right foot and the left foot.
What happens to the round when the vital, collective impulse yields under the pressure of the spirit that claims to represent it? Much more than just an expression of taste, for the young Louis, dance was an indication of his status as King. As shown in l’Entrée d’Apollon, the Prince did more than just dance, he let his presence be felt and showcased himself frontally to a gathering, where he had the intention of “shining”, of making his mark. The art of dance involves organizing steps, establishing an order for ensembles, composing variations, with his soloist performers, his subjects, his young subjects, based on corps de ballet logic... The choreographic art was to become an affair of State and of the image that was desired.
Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) - Vaslav Nijinsky
In The Rite of Spring, a choreographic ritual, Vaslav Nijinsky centre stages a community organization where the circle and the round are the keystones. The dance develops constantly around a driving force and shows little or no regard for the outside body postures :feet en-dedans, head tilted to the side, bodies bent from the pelvis. Yet, dance of the Chosen One in the last scene reiterates and condenses all the gestures of the community and then scatters them around the space to the point of exhaustion. She implodes the round once and for all and amplifies a contour-free world.
D’Après une Histoire Vraie – Christian Rizzo
In D’Après une Histoire Vraie, it is also about collectively accomplishing a ritual in public but, unlike the Rite of Spring, no officiate, no chosen one disturbs the community explosion in action on the stage. The round haunts the entire performance, most often outlined, then immediately undone because Christian Rizzo does not intend to exhume folkloric styles so as to revitalize them but rather to imagine new “primal” gestures, against a backdrop of rock & roll drums, gestures which, beyond cultures and codes, fuel a new contemporary tradition.
In more depth
BEAUSSANT, Philippe. Louis XIV Artiste. Paris : Payot, 1999. 287 p. (Portraits intimes).
GLON, Marie (dir.), LAUNAY, Isabelle (dir.). Histoires de gestes. Arles : Actes Sud, 2012. 304 p. (Textes de Théâtre).
ROUSIER, Claire (dir.). Danses et identités : de Bombay à Tokyo. Paris : Centre National de la Danse, 2009. 272 p. (Recherches).
ROUSIER, Claire (dir.). Etre ensemble: Figures de la communauté en danse depuis le XXe siècle. Paris : Centre National de la Danse, 2003. 384 p. (Recherches).
KAHANE, Martine. Nijinsky, 1889-1950 : Exposition 2000-2001. Catalogue d’exposition (Paris, Musée d’Orsay, octobre 2000 - février 2001). Paris : Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000. 286 p.
Holder of an MA of Arts from the University of Bristol, Associate of English, Olivier Lefebvre is a dance historian, lecturer and editor. He collaborates, among other things, on the development of the online dance video library Numeridanse.tv as well as the lecture program of the Popular University in Normandy.
Texts and bibliography selection
Maison de la Danse
The "Round dance" Parcours was launched thanks to the support of the Secretariat General of the French Ministry for Culture and Communication – Service de la Coordination des politiques Culturelles et de l'Innovation (SCPCI Cultural Policy Coordination and Innovation Division)