You are here

Dance a better passamezzo: mess with the rhythm in mutanze

This is something I'm learning to do: I'm practicing, and I hope that with a lot more practice I might become good at it. It's fun.

The floor-patterns (and partner-interactions that follow) and variety of steps in the mutanze of the passo e mezo are often delighfully varied, and really fun. The rhythm - or the most obvious rhythm - can get a bit boring.

Galliards and canaries have a syncopated rhythm built into their music that keeps interest even without any further effort from the dancer (and which often inspires further variation from the dancer); passamezzi have no such device. The music, as it appears in our dance-manuals, is straightforward, unvarying duple*: it's a lovely piece, but the beauty doesn't come from an exciting rhythm.

A passamezzo mutanza, performed always exactly on the beat, with the steps arranged in the most natural way to fit the music, can become a little rhythmically boring. Beautiful, exciting variety in the steps can be reduced to "jump, jump, jump, jump, jump, jump, JUMP ... [repeat]".

One solution to this - especially in the denser, more complex mutanze (where you typically do something on every available beat) - is to deliberately move some steps just off the beat: linger over some, hesitate before performing others, rush a little here, wait a little there, and perform some passages exactly on the beat for variety. For a given mutanza, there are a lot of options that will produce an elegant, witty or pleasing result without overdoing it to the point of tastelessness.

In practice, I find that I learn a mutanza first - memorise it, get it into my feet - by dancing it very "straight". I memorise a patter so I can call it for myself, and dance it in a straightforward way, without much concern at first for elegance or variety. Once I can execute the steps easily and with barely any conscious thought, I start to play with the rhythm, and I try many different options. Sometimes I settle on one favourite, sometimes I try something new each time.

Here's the man's first mutanza in Caroso's Paso e mezo from Il Ballarino, and my current-favourite way to adapt the rhythm:

  1. riverenza presta - raising the left foot in the air in front, then draw it back, bending the right knee a bit (start raising it in front a little in advance, on the up-beat; hesitate before drawing it back)
  2. zoppetto raising the left, passo raising the right (both of these slightly off the beat, coming a little closer together, accelerating into the cadenza)
  3. cadenza, with right foot behind (soooo much time for this, so it can be both high, and unhurried, with a long pause after)
  4. groppo left (smack on the beat, with each element of the groppo)
  5. [rest of the groppo]
  6. 2 riverenza presta (hesitate with the left foot behind, knee bent; swiftly bring it forwards and rise each time, after the beat)
  7. [second riverenza presta]
  8. trabuchetto left, sottopiede right (smack on the beat; already unlike the other parts of this mutanze by the two-part sottopiede)
  9. 2 punta e calcagnio (punta on the beat, calcagnio as soon as possible after leaving a pause before the next)
  10. [second punta e calcagnio]
  11. trabuchetto left, sottopiede left (hesitate on trab, fall neatly into sottopiede after the beat)
  12. riverenza presta (linger with foot back, knee bent; but not quite as much as above, and flow smoothly into prep for cadenza)
  13. cadenza left (some preparation happens in beat above; lots of time; make it high and unhurried)
  14. zoppetto left, passo right (smack on the beat)
  15. cadenza, with even feet (two beats for this, so no anticipation needed for height; make the landing - on even feet - dramatic)
  16. - (any pause after cadenza landing can be used for a dramatic pose, make the most of the end of the mutanza, before relaxing into passegio)

I think the trick is to introduce enough variation to keep interest and show skill, without so much that it appears random, or seems that you can't find the beat. Some well-chosen passages precisely on the beat demonstrate that any deviation is intentional. Some repetition (e.g. hesitating on the first part of the riverenza presta in several places in the mutanza above) gives a sense of unity. Returning to the beat for the finale finishes things off cleanly, and can be dramatic.


* There are instrumental passamezzi from the period that are rhythmically exciting: e.g. Diego Ortiz' variations on the passamezzo antico - he uses many suspensions, melodic phrases which start on off-beats and run across bass-line phrases, and one entire section which changes abruptly from duple to triple time.