Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment presented a fascinating recreation of Baroque music and dance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. There was a glimpse of the glamour at the Court of Versailles and the Sun King’s obsession with elegant ballet, performed here with historical and refined accuracy, the three dancers dressed in pastel silks, with forty short pieces of music gathered thematically into scenes describing the course of a love affair.
The first, ‘Idyllic Delight’, featured music from Lully operas, notably Thésée, and set an amorous, carefree tone, but Anna Dennis’s full and flexible soprano almost overwhelmed Nick Pritchard’s light tenor. The dancers visually described the allure of courtship and the excerpt from Les noces de village (1663) was particularly beguiling, flute and drums perfectly matching the choreography’s delicate steps.
‘Seduction’ featured music by Campra, with more emotional content than the formal style of Lully. Pritchard’s ‘Dom Pedro’ aria impressed, convincingly conveying the hesitation and torment of young love. Gavottes and Passacailles followed by Rameau and Lully, every intricacy beautifully executed by Les Corps Eloquents. The first half concluded with the most theatrical and exciting piece, from Marais’s Alcione (1733), complete with drum-rolls and thunderclaps.
‘From Loss and Despair’ to ‘Frolics and Mischief’ were the concluding scenes, plenty of variety. Dennis was more than at ease, and often stunningly effective; she thrilled as she trilled. The dance too took on a more dynamic air, Harlequin making an appearance as a rival in love with comic, slapstick business. Costumes and choreography, all based on authentic descriptions, started to show the way towards Romantic Ballet. The extensive programme notes were extremely informative and explained the crucial role of dance and music during Louis XIV’s reign; and persuasively brought off, combining scholarship with entertainment, an OAE hallmark.