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John Garden and Earthly Delights
The Lost Dances of Earthly Delights
John Garden, 2000 (
4-CD set and 152-page book

This is a truly impressive piece of work, a mixture of scholarship, historical fiction, dance annotation, tune composition and musical performance. Formed in 1995,, Earthly Delights is an Australian band from Canberra who specialize in playing music inspired by a variety of European dance music traditions. The five members play flutes, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, viola, zither, clarinets, recorder, assorted percussion, violin, cello and guitar and do their own dance calling. Leading member John Garden has devoted much of the last two decades learning dances from around the world, and then teaching them in various contexts around Canberra. This is his second book (the first "A Country Dance Companion," covered the social dances of western Europe).

The body of work here is 64 tracks, 64 dances (16 for each season), 202 tunes and close to 5 hours of music. It presents the whole of something called "Pleasures for Four Seasons," originally attributed to a character called Jan D'Honger who inhabited a mid-European culture referred to here as the "Bordonians." Each of the dances is accompanied by the commentary of a certain Henrj Nagod, who had a clear tendency to write and think about dance in a rather broad and sometimes tangential manner. The comments on the Bordonians not only build up an impressive body of information about this hitherto-unknown culture, but also offer sideways references to the traditions of social dance across time and space.

The tunes are a mixture of Celtic, central European and early music influences. There is a bit of Playford, a bit of Breton, and a bit of klezmer. The tunes are in keys reflecting the nature of the main instruments in the band. Whereas fiddle tunes are often in D, A or G, many of these are in C or Bb or Eb. This gives them a more medieval feeling, and anyone who has wandered through old manuscripts such as Playford's Dancing Master will know that those were prevalent keys centuries ago. The tunes are well within the scope of appropriate social dance material. There are familiar melodic passages as well as bright flashes. Their execution on the CDs is respectful, precise and well-adapted for dance.

There are several pages near the beginning of the book on dance notation, providing tips for both dancers and teachers of dance. Each of the 64 dances are explained in turn, and the music for the dances is reproduced in standard notation on an adjoining page. Guitar chords are also included, for the benefit of guitar players (who sometimes get impatient when the music does not tell them exactly where to put their fingers on the fretboard).

It is hard to know what to do with this package first. You can read it, dance it, play it or listen to it. And at about $50 US, this is a necessary item for American dance enthusiasts. As Garden noted during one of our correspondences, "I've had fun in exploring in the work questions to do with the malleability of knowledge, the variability of perceptions, the complexity of self-identity, the nature of tradition, difficulties in folk-transmission and the contradictions in cultural maintenance!" But don't worry, this is not simply some grand post-modernist hoax. This is a work of substance, painstakingly written and compiled as a labor of devotion to the dance traditions which have nurtured so many cultures of the past. - Ivan Emke

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