British music specialist Dorothy de Val steps into the spotlight with her English country dance music ensemble Playford’s Pleasure in "Flirting with Mr. Darcy", the third performance in the Faculty Concert Series of York University’s Department of Music. Revisit romance with an evening of lighthearted dance music from the age of Jane Austen in York’s Tribute Communities Recital Hall tonight at 7:30pm.
Playford’s Pleasure are inspired improvisers, putting a delightful modern spin on popular tunes of bygone times. Pianist de Val, fiddler Stephen Fuller and York music instructor and flautist Barbara Ackerman will perform songs from the era of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. The program includes pieces issued by the renowned 17th-century music publisher John Playford as well as works by Henry Purcell, Nathaniel Kynaston and a host of anonymous composers.
Left: Dorothy de Val
Playford’s Pleasure will be joined on stage by The Regency Dancers, led by York graduate student, dance historian and caller Karen Millyard. The dancers will perform to the live music for several numbers including The Physical Snob (c.1800), Grimstock (1652), Shrewsbury Lasses (1765) and The Fandango (1774).
Thanks to the published instructions in dance collections and manuals of the day, English country dance is one of the earliest re-creatable social dance forms. The style is rooted in the 17th-century gentry and courts of England and France. The tunes themselves were derived from everything from ballads to operas, with a wide variety of styles spanning from sweet and melodic, to melancholic, to lively and rhythmic. Though it may be more than 300 years old, the music – and the flowing, graceful social dances set to it – remain accessible and engaging to contemporary audiences. Toronto has a number of thriving clubs with monthly dances and concerts, where traditional performance mingles with the new.
"It’s been said that if you can walk and you know your left from your right, you already know the basics of English country dance," says de Val. "And with the caller giving directions, dancers don’t need to rely on memorization. This helps account for the art form’s continuing popularity."
De Val’s research into the British folksong revival introduced her to Millyard and Toronto’s English country dance community two years ago. She formed her trio Playford’s Pleasure shortly after.
De Val studied piano in Toronto with Boris Berlin and Pierre Souvairan and graduated with distinction from the Royal College of Music performance program in London, England. Appointed to the college’s internationally renowned Museum of Instruments, she began performing on the collection’s fine harpsichords and early pianos. Her research on the folk music revival in England in the early 20th century includes publications on the scholar and collector Lucy Broadwood and the composer Percy Grainger. De Val taught at the Royal Academy of Music and at the University of Oxford before joining York’s Department of Music, where she is professor of musicology.
Tickets for this performance are $15 or $5 for students and seniors, and are available through the York University Box Office Web site or by calling ext. 55888.