This week I've been mildly obsessed with the great 18th c. father and son dancers Gaeton and Auguste Vestris, writing about them here and here. (And yes, after going off on this true Nerdy History Girl tangent, I can pretty much guarantee that a fictionalized version of the family will be turning up soon in one of my books.) One of our Anonymous commenters wrote that it was a shame that we had no video of Auguste, so that we could enjoy his dancing today.
Obviously, there isn't any video from 1781. However, I did discover a performance by one of the modern era's greatest dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikov, dancing in a style inspired by Auguste Vestris. This video itself almost qualifies as historical: it dates from 1969 when Baryshnikov was only 21 - the same age as Vestris when he took London by storm in 1781.
I believe the video is from Russian television. It begins with a brief segment entirely in Russian, showing Baryshnikov working with the ballet's choreographer, Leonid Jakobson, to develop characterization. I don't begin to understand what is being said (and if anyone out there does, please let me know!) but it's still fascinating to watch. The Vestris ballet was first presented at the International Dance Competition in Moscow; Baryshnikov earned a gold medal for his performance. The entire ballet follows at approximately 2:25 if you want to skip ahead.
Auguste Vestris was an innovator in several ways. He was one of the first dancers to rely on his own facial expressions instead of a mask, and amazed audiences by how swiftly he could change from one character to the next. Baryshnikov does this as well, and it's astonishing. Vestris was also famous for the athleticism of his leaps and spins, another talent that Baryshnikov shares. Most of all, both dancers delighted their audiences with their performances. I hope you enjoy this, too.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.