Baroque evokes a French accent as ornate as the chandeliers hanging over Mt Claremont’s Montgomery Hall, where HIP Company combined dance and music from the 17th and 18th centuries for Let Us Dance on Monday.
Seven dancers and six musicians, working to the discipline of “historically informed performance”, gave a flavour of those times with authentically styled instruments and choreography by Andries Weideman in the tradition of “La Belle Dance”, a precursor to modern ballet.
French composers dominated the program, in homage to the “Sun King”, Louis XIV, whose opulent patronage turbo-charged the genre.
Breathy flute, rustling harpsichord and strings announced Premiere Entrée, by Louis’ protégé Jean-Baptiste Lully.
Cellist Krista Low and violinist Sarah Papadopoulos joined Stewart Smith on harpsichord, flautist Andy Skinner and Jet Kye Chong on percussion; gut strings, wooden flute and minimalist beat barely there yet ringing clear in the benign acoustic of the high vaulted ceiling.
Montgomery Hall, built early last century and renovated three years ago, has hosted few concerts since reopening and so made a novel setting in a heritage ambience.
Enter soprano Bonnie de la Hunty and dancers for the show number, Henry Purcell’s Let Us Dance.
“Let us Revel and play, And rejoyce whilst we may, Since old Time these delights will remove,” she sang as the troupe tripped around the central floor with delicate, semi-balletic steps.
An allemande followed, a more stately promenade by Francois Couperon which made show of the costumes: black breeches with white shirt and hose for the guys; girls sporting a brief crinoline, embroidered blouse and a posy in the hair.
Dancers paired up for two courantes by the same composer — livelier steps to a three-beat rhythm.
Castanets then dialled up Spain with a sarabande by Lully, and more recognisable ballet steps, though still shy of the classical style.
A short continuo led to a period favourite, Lascia ch’io pianga, from Handel’s opera Rinaldo; De la Hunty sweetly mournful in the spotlight, sparse strings highlighting her character’s lonely plight.
Dancers added a poignant touch, gently scattering petals in her wake. De la Hunty has sung this many times but rarely with such drama, moving in the round to the ebb and flow of music and emotion, voice filling out the acoustic space; processing solemnly at the end.
Gigue pour femme seule — a solo jig for ballerina — was instantly more playful, hand claps and finger clicks punctuating the whirling, swirling sound of Andre Campra’s music.
Aupres du feu l’on fait l’amour — by the fire we make love — offered a torch song in 17th century style, De la Hunty duetting with flute to Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s tune.
A chaconne by Jean-Marie Leclair brought the focus to the ensemble; a stately, minor-key composition with an early-modern ambience to the flute; flute and violin then duetting vigorously over cello and harpsichord, tapering deftly to close.
Castanets returned for a shepherd’s song by Michel Lambert, soprano effortless in trills and sustained melody.
A march by Jean-Phillipe Rameau brought a dramatic lighting change, emerald hints replacing pastel shades that glinted on the sheer white walls and fluting through the evening. Tambour emphasized the martial metre, voice echoing the timbre of the ensemble introduction.
A gavotte by Charpentier started with unadorned voice, joined by harpsichord before a dancing jester burst on the scene, cavorting and somersaulting, mugging to the audience with comedy and energy.
Familiar strains of Bach and Purcell introduced two minuets: the first a chance for harpsichord to shine in meditative mode; the second a florid vocal solo with minimal accompaniment.
Marin Marais, Purcell and Charpentier wound up the program, dancers saving their athletic best to last in driving rhythms and vigorous steps around a floor festooned with crepe-paper streamers; a bucolic and breezy finale reaping raucous applause and even foot stamping.