Dancing Digitally - Exploring Baroque with Elizabeth Kurylo

Elizabeth Kurylo is a dancer, choreographer, and retired physical therapist currently residing in Corinth, Vermont. She spoke with VDA this month about her work and love of baroque dance, and the satisfying challenge of the form.

To see a sample of Elizabeth’s work:

Elizabeth’s career in dance has spanned decades and crossed continents. From her upbringing and early work in France, at ballet and contemporary dance companies, to the United States, studying and working in both the dance and medical fields, Elizabeth has been rooted in Vermont since 2015.

After many years dancing professionally, Elizabeth has come to realize that choreographing is where her true passion lies. She is grateful for Vermont Dance Alliance’s support of her creative projects, especially since being chosen as one of six choreographers for VDA’s 2019 Gala. Of her current choreographic focus, she says: “I’ve been studying and am fascinated by baroque dance of the late seventeenth / early eighteenth century—the court dance in the time of Louis XIV and the precursor for ballet.” In her own work, Elizabeth borrows the baroque style as a language, but the structure of her work is greatly influenced by master choreographers such as Merce Cunningham and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. She also considers how to include greater emotionality. She cites the poetry of Pina Bausch as a strong artistic influence: “I’m using some of these tools but adding the drama.”

Integral to Elizabeth’s process is working with others: “I’m not so interested in just doing solos. I like the interaction of a lot of dancers.” Her choreography, she explains, “is very refined in the steps--the relationship of the steps to the music, and the relationship of the pattern of the dance with the space.”

The shelter-in-place orders and social distancing required by the current pandemic is forcing Elizabeth to put much of her choreographic research on hold. “I can think about concept, but the next steps are difficult.” Like many, she says, she has been engaging occasionally with online Zoom classes to keep in shape and stay connected with other artists. “It’s nice that it’s available,” she explains, but she finds interacting online to be not nearly as fulfilling as the in-person work she was practicing before the spread of COVID-19. As an alternative to a purely online focus, Elizabeth mentions that the inactivity has allowed her to view her later work with a more discerning eye. She’s found it helpful to return back to her choreography with new inspiration. “Creating has mostly stopped, but reviewing” has been useful.

Elizabeth was set to perform her dance, “Phrases and Phases” for the 2020 Gala. This piece borrows from the minuet form: a sequence of steps in a triple meter over two measures. “There are six beats in a phrase,” Elizabeth explains. “Each count is a step, but the steps are not symmetrical.” She describes the complexity of choreographing with two tempos at the same time, with dancers switching from the fast to the slow tempo throughout the dance.

For the Dancing Digitally project, Elizabeth is choosing to demonstrate a short, baroque-style choreography with her friend, Ruth, as well as a few variations from “Phrases and Phases” that she encourages the VDA community to try for themselves. She emphasizes that baroque dance is complex in its intricate steps but hopes people will find enjoyment in the challenge! Even as a professional ballet dancer, Elizabeth says: “I started baroque and could not believe how lost I was!”

Below is Elizabeth’s written walk-through of her choreography, as well as her video, demonstrating the “Phrases and Phases” variations.

Phrases and Phases:


Listen along:

“PHRASES” relates to the sequencing of the dance steps and “PHASES” relates to the evolving patterns of the sequences at different tempi.

The musical form of the piece is the minuet. A minuet has a triple meter rhythm but the musical phrase extends over two measures, therefore it takes six beats to do a minuet step.

*Ruth demonstrates (first video clip)*

You will notice that the ups and downs are not symmetrical and the first step always begins with the right foot. The directions can be forward, backward or sideways but always the same basic structure (up-down-up-up-up-down):

1- right rise
2- right bend
3- left rise
4- right rise
5- left rise
6- left bend

The minuet dance was very popular as a ballroom dance in the early 18th century. Typically, it was performed in pairs, usually a man and a woman, holding hands. The path on the floor is often circular or in a Z shape.

There are two other steps commonly associated with the minuet, one is the glisse-saute and the other is a balance. Ruth and I will show you a small sequence of a classic minuet which includes those added steps. This short minuet was choreographed by Begonia del Valle on the music of “Les Characteres de la Danse” by Jean Fery Rebel.

*Elizabeth and Ruth demonstrate (second video clip)*

Phrases and Phases begins with a section of simple minuet steps at a 72-bpm tempo… This is followed by a repeat of the steps performed at a 120-bpm tempo; in later sections, variations on the minuet rhythm are performed simultaneously at a slow and fast tempo… the ratio fast to slow is 5:3 (or 5 measures of fast for 3 measures of slow). There are three essential and distinct variations on which the piece is built.

*Anna and Emilie will demonstrate the first variation at a slow and fast tempo.*

I would encourage VDA dancers who want to try out the variations to first practice the minuet step. The second section of the first variation is repeated at a slow tempo for clarity (clip 5).

Once you have mastered the steps, you can try it on the music at either a fast or slow tempo. If you have a partner, have one of you try the slow and the other the fast, simultaneously.

*Emilie and Anna demonstrate first variation (third, fourth and fifth video clips).*

The second and third variations are shown in the same order as the first one, slow first then fast, then slow and fast combined.

*Julie, Marguerite, Anna and Emilie demonstrate second and third variations (6th to 11th video clips)*

Layered upon the complexity of the choreography is an attempt to establish a growing tension where slow and fast movements struggle for dominance. In the first half of Phrases and Phases, the variations are discrete: fast and slow always come together at the end. In the middle of the piece there is an abrupt change in the musical composition, akin to a strident alarm which has for effect of resetting the initial order of the choreography. A reorganization followed where the series of variations merge into a continuous stream performed at increasing speed.

For the break section I have chosen to use a very fast version of a minuet, called a “passepied”.

*Julie and I will demonstrate the passepied step. (Last video clip)*

Baroque dance is a highly coded dance form, with rules about foot and arm position, step execution, musical timing and the symmetry of the dance figures. I have borrowed elements of the baroque style for this piece but its character is essentially contemporary. For example, you will notice that the minuet steps forward are always performed with feet in parallel as opposed to the usual toeing out in the true baroque style.

A huge thank you to my dancers who bring this work to you and without who this piece has little meaning: Anna Goodling, Emilie Curran, Julie Frew, Marguerite Ames and Ruth Mayer.

Many thanks also to my husband, Edward Childs for composing this mind twisting minuet.

And finally, a grateful thank to VDA for allowing me reach out to you, and allowing you to peer into the making of Phrases and Phases.

Options for responses:
- Write about your experience trying Elizabeth’s variation. Share a page of your journal, certain images, or language that surfaced for you after this experience.
- Choose a few steps you've learned from Elizabeth's video and create and share your own sequence.

Please email responses to msauer@middlebury.edu by August 15. Thank you!

Tag @vermontdance or use the hashtag, #dancingdigitally to connect with us on social media!

*Join us at 3pm on Sunday, July 19 for a community Zoom practice of Elizabeth's score* (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89582496184?pwd=SXFJUFcvRXVmUVplblNpWFQ3WHVxdz09
Password: vda)

We are pleased to announce that this project is supported in part by the Vermont Humanities Council. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed do not necessarily represent those of Vermont Humanities Council.

Posted by

Maia Sauer is a dancer and writer driven by a deep love of the body and its poetry. She is interested in the change-making capacity of storytelling through movement, words, and the untidy categories in between. Through her artistic work, she seeks to infuse audiences with a renewed curiosity about the nature and practice of their own presence and relationships. She is fascinated by embodied exchanges—how we shape and are shaped by our environments, how we learn collectively, and how we construct networks of empathy and care. Maia currently studies Dance and English & American Literatures at Middlebury College and is a Summer 2020 VDA Intern.

Participating artists

Born and raised in France, Elizabeth studied ballet, Russian character and modern dance in Paris. In the 80’s, she moved to New York City and study with Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber, Maggy Black. After 15 years hiatus to raise a family and work as a physical therapist, she returned to her former passion. Since, she danced with the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble in Hanover, NH and What’s Written Within in Edgartown, MA. She choreographed most of her work with the latter with productions for Built on Stilts, the Yard and the Hebrew Center in Martha’s Vineyard, and for the 2019 Vermont Dance Alliance Winter Gala . She is a passionate of baroque dance and performed with Ken Pierce Baroque group in Boston MA. My choreographies are the result of a close collaboration with the dancers. With them, and depending on their skills and abilities, I shape an initial concept into a finished product by using simple step phrases and modifying their patterns, directions, timing and speed, resulting in a multilayered composition. My motto? "Everyone can dance"


July 13 – August 15, 2020




Published July 9, 2020