(First in a series of seven posts.)
L'Alliance was published in Vienna in 1856 as "invented and described" by Johann Raab, a Vienna ballet master and professor of dance. It is a quadrille-like six-figure dance commemorating people and events of the Crimean War (1853-1856). As an American, that war holds no special emotional resonance for me -- my strongest mental association with it is Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" -- but I am extremely fond of the dance!
I learned L'Alliance originally from Viennese dance teacher Hannelore Unfried at Newport Vintage Dance Week in 2006 and was intrigued enough to dig up the source for myself. My reconstruction is about 95% the same as Hannelore's, and I am indebted to her for her excellent instruction and generous provision of the diagrams of the various figures. I am also extremely grateful to my long-suffering translator, Irene Urban, for both translating from the German and transcribing the figures from the original Fraktur typeface.
Raab states that L'Alliance is performed in a line of pairs of facing couples but can also be danced in a standard quadrille square with the head and side couples alternating. The music, composed by Kapellmeister Philipp Fahrbach, is in slow 3/4 time with a mazurka accent.
In his introductory material, Raab gives the basic positions of the feet, the steps needed for the dance, some notes on sequences, and information about how to read his diagrams. Since the five positions of the feet should be familiar to anyone attemping L'Alliance, I'll skip straight to the steps.
Raab describes only two steps for L'Alliance:
1. Polka-mazur-pas: (to the right): slide right foot to second, close left in third behind, then hop on the left foot while raising the right foot sideways and then striking it with bent knee to the calf of the left. To go to the left, simply reverse the feet. The short English version is "slide-close/raise-hop/strike" or the shorter mnemonic "slide-cut-hop".
2. Balancé-pas: (to the right): slide right foot to second, close left in third behind, then leap onto the right foot, raising the left foot and striking it with bent knee to the calf of the right. To go to the left, simply reverse the feet. The short English version is "slide-close/raise-leap/strike", or the shorter "slide-cut-leap".
Raab's usage is somewhat non-standard; his "Balancé-pas" is more or less what is generally known as a polka redowa step, albeit without its common initiating hop. A polka mazurka step is generally much like a combination of Raab's two steps in sequence (Polka-mazur-pas + Balancé-pas).
Raab makes the raising of the first foot in the Polka-mazur-pas part of the third "tempo" of the Polka-mazur-pas rather than part of the simultaneous "cut" movement on the second beat more typically found in the polka, but that may more be a difference of perception than technique; even in a "cut", the rising foot moves slightly later than the closing one and whether that counts as slightly after the second beat or slightly before the third is splitting hairs. But the difference is there, so here's the possible distinction between the typical slide-cut-hop and what may be Raab's version:
Typical: (1) slide (2) cut/raise (3) hop/strike
Raab(?): (1) slide (2) close (&) raise (3) hop/strike
I find the terre-à-terre feel of the first two beats of the latter annoying but the slightly delayed timing of the extension intriguing. Overall, however, I think it more likely that Raab's technique is the standard one even if his manner of counting is a little odd. I also don't have much appetite for making students learn a special variant timing just for this dance!
In my reconstruction of the figures, to avoid causing confusion with Raab's non-standard "Polka-mazur" and "Balancé" usage for people who think of the polka mazurka step as a combination of the two, I will instead give the actual movements, "slide-cut-hop" (abbreviated as SCHop) and "slide-cut-leap" (SCLeap). The striking of the raised foot against the calf should be assumed throughout. The actual instructions typically just say "pas" without specifying the details.
A galop step (not described in the introduction) is used only in the sixth figure and will be discussed in the post on that figure.
Raab gives a couple of brief notes on interpreting his instructions:
When there are four pas to one side or the other, it will be three Polka-mazur-pas and one Balancé-pas, which I will shorthand to SCHop-SCHop-SCHop-SCLeap. Two pas to one side will be SCHop-SCLeap.
A four-measure Balancé (back and forth twice) will be four Balancé-pas, which I will notate as SCLeap-SCLeap-SCLeap-SCLeap.
The other common step-sequence is SCHop-SCLeap-SCHop-SCLeap, which is used for several different turns and figures.
Frequently it is necessary for one of the dancers to "fudge" their feet to change from partners dancing on opposite feet to same feet or vice-versa. This is accomplished by substituting a SCHop for a SCLeap. I will note in the figures where this is necessary and for whom. After some experience with the dance, these little cheats will become instinctive.
Reading the Diagrams
Along with a transcription of the original German text and a translation into English, I will also include the original diagrams for each figure in this series of posts. I'll discuss them in more detail as I go through the figures, but here's a quick key:
- The black circles represent the gentlemen and the hollow circles the ladies
- The gentlemen's paths are represented by solid lines, the ladies' by dotted lines; if the paths end in a dot, the figure ends exactly where it began.
- Lines of various configurations between the gentlemen's and ladies' symbols represent holding one (near or mirror) or both hands crossed. This appears to be some sort of boilerplate section; neither mirror nor crossed hands are ever actually used in L'Alliance, and what looks like holding both hands is explained in the text as a waltz (closed position) hold.
- The little ">" signs point the way the dancers are facing.
I do not have a copy of the sheet music for this dance; I use the excellent recording of Fahrbach's music created and distributed by Hannelore. Please make inquiries about purchases of the recording directly to her; if you have trouble reaching her, contact me privately and I will see what I can do to assist.
Edited 9/9/2014 to add: for those interested in obtaining the sheet music for L'Alliance, a copy may be found at the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek). Thanks to Dmitry in the comments for the link!