- Creolizing Contradance in the Caribbean
Among the many legacies of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European colonization was the introduction and practice of European social dance worldwide, specifically contradances and quadrilles. All the rage throughout Europe for over a century, these dances moved fluidly between social classes and across oceans, where, in the Caribbean, European melodic material and dance choreographies eventually met Central and West African rhythms and body movement, resulting in new, creolized forms. Contradances and quadrilles were popular throughout much of the Caribbean, where they were often performed in both social contexts and ritual functions and adapted to reflect local musical and dance aesthetics.
While individual Caribbean contradance and quadrille styles have received some scholarly attention over the years,1 a full-scale pan-regional perspective has been lacking. Creolizing Contradance in the Caribbean, edited by Peter Manuel, sets out to remedy this lacuna in Caribbean ethnomusicological scholarship. Covering both major and minor contradance and quadrille traditions throughout the Spanish-, French- and English-speaking Caribbean, this volume seeks to treat each area consistently, focusing on historical development and musical and choreographic aspects of these traditions, as well as relevant sociocultural themes.
In fact, most of the articles in this collection focus primarily on the social history of contradance and quadrille, drawing valuable connections between the development and changes in these cultural expressions in response to large- and small-scale economic, social, and political developments. The contributing authors often present in-depth musical analyses including transcriptions and, to a lesser extent, choreographic analyses. Largely missing from this otherwise highly informative book is a sense of current practice of Caribbean contradance when possible (given that contradance is defunct in many of these island cultures) as [End Page 501] well as ethnographic information that so often enlivens and brings a deeper understanding of the individuals and community to studies of the expressive arts.
Creolizing Contradance in the Caribbean features an excellent introduction, followed by an extremely long chapter on Cuban contradanza. Considerably shorter chapters examine contradance (or equivalent traditions) in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, respectively. Another essay focuses on the music, history, and performance of quadrilles in Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, and St. Lucia, and the entire English-speaking Caribbean is encapsulated in the final essay of the book.
Peter Manuel's introductory chapter cogently lays out the emergence of contradance in the late 1500s first as European country dancing that spread initially to France and then to Spain, and eventually to the Caribbean. Caribbean contradance and quadrille music features a diverse range of instruments. The most Afro-Caribbean end of this spectrum comprises percussion ensembles with call-and-response singing (e.g., the bèlè linò of Martinique). More hybridized ensembles include a European instrument such as the violin accompanied by polyrhythmic percussion instruments (e.g., quadrille dancing in Carriacou, Grenada), and even more formally composed contradance music performed by a single pianist or small orchestral ensemble, documenting an interplay between art music and folk music. Caribbean contradances and quadrilles also exhibit a range of rhythms, including African-derived polyrhythms as well as creole rhythms—habanera, cinquillo, tresillo, and amphibrach more commonly associated with the Creole elite.
With the early European origins of contradance and quadrille covered in the introduction, subsequent chapters of the book present the history and practice of these genres in the specific Caribbean locales. Peter Manuel's essay "Cuba: From Contradanza to Danzón," for example, makes the case that much of Cuban contemporary popular music and dance can be traced to the collectively danced contradanza, a style that emerged in Cuba in the early 1800s and eventually gave way to the couple dance, danza. Arguing for a "revision of conventional Cuban music history" (76), Manuel offers detailed historical musical analyses in support of the direct link between contradanza and the popular Cuban song style son. Also in this chapter are portraits of four notable Cuban contradanza composers—Manuel Saumell, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Ignacio Cervantes, and Ernesto Lecuona—as well as transcriptions and analyses...