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Questions for Catherine Turocy, Baroque Dancer

A look at the background and working life of one the world's great baroque dancers.

Catherine Turocy is one of the world’s great baroque dancers. She is also a choreographer and stage director,  as well as artistic director and a founder of the New York Baroque Dance Company.

I recently asked Catherine some questions about her background in baroque dance, her company, and some upcoming projects.

What is baroque dance?

I prefer to use “late 17th century dance” or “early 18th century dance.” In general, it refers to the dance style in vogue during the reign of Louis XIV in France, both social and theatrical. In the dance world it is defined by the Feuillet notations and dance treatises published at the turn of the century (17th to 18th).

However, as one pays more attention to what was being danced in Spain and Italy in the late 17th century, it is difficult to label all those dances in the same breath with the French.

As the theatrical dances were moving from being danced only by the dancing nobility to the bodies of the purely professional dancers in the 1680’s, many changes in the athleticism and dramatic execution of the dance style and step vocabulary began to change.

How did you become interested in it?

Before my ballet lessons in Cleveland I had an hour to go to the Public Library and I read all the books in their Dance collection. I stumbled upon the biographies of 18th century ballerinas and was charmed by their portraits and dance poses. I was still in high school and performing in a semi-professional ballet company.

Having read the entire collection by the time I graduated from high school I knew there was more to learn about dance before going to NYC to begin my career so I enrolled at Ohio State University. I signed up for Dance History taught by Shirley Wynne and soon, with six other dancers, we formed the Baroque Dance Ensemble.

It was great fun to be delving into the Baroque while still exploring modern dance styles, ballet, African dance, traditional folk dance forms, composition, improvisation, notation and general courses in the related arts and sciences.

When did you establish the New York Baroque Dance Company?

After my student life at OSU the Baroque Dance Ensemble moved to Santa Cruz, California where Shirley took up a new teaching position. By 1975 it became clear that the company was not surviving. I was the last to leave and I went to NYC to join Ann Jacoby (former dancer with the BDE).

By 1976 we had requests to perform with Concert Royal directed by James Richman and with the Smithsonian musicians directed by James Weaver. Some concerts were just Ann and myself while others involved a larger cast. I always wanted to be a choreographer with her own company so we established the NYBDC in August of 1976 and were incorporated in 1979.

Is there much baroque dance being practiced in the United States?

Yes, some former members of the NYBDC have gone on to establish their groups or areas of expertise, including Thomas Baird, Paige Whitley-Bauguess, Carlos Fittante, Luisa Meshekoff, Ken Pierce and former dancer, now conductor, Hugh Murphy.

Members of our company today also working on independent projects in the US and Europe include Patricia Beaman, Caroline Copeland, Sarah Edgar, Rachel List and Ani Udovicki. Alan Jones is doing important research in Europe and joins us in some performances as well as keeping up a busy schedule with his own projects.

There are also the students of Wendy Hilton who are continuing their own teaching, lecturing and performing. Linda Tomko is very active at UC Riverside and Regine Astier is teaching very young students in Santa Barbara, training them in dance, notation, choreography, French history and costuming. Jane Peck is working in Minneapolis.

These are only a few of the artists working in the field and I wish I could name them all.

What are some of your upcoming projects?

I have been commissioned to choreograph Gluck’s Armide for performances at the Kennedy Center and at Lincoln Center next month. Our company will be dancing with Opera Lafayette Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Ryan Brown.

I am also working on an educational project this year and next involving the French and Indian War with residencies for the company at the C.W. Post in New York.

Stage direction and a film of a Handel opera in Germany are in the planning stages. I am also working on Rameau’s Zephyre for a production with Concert Royal conducted by James Richman to be performed in NYC next fall.

Of course the usual teaching and lecturing is woven around these projects and will take me to Oxford and the University of Stockholm.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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