Pier Jacopo Martello on national styles in theatrical dance
In his dialogue Della tragedia antica e moderna (1715), Pier Jacopo Martello, a distinguished Italian playwright and theorist of the stage, offers a brief discussion of national dance styles in relation to the contemporary debate on a theory of tragedy suitable for the contemporary theatre. The character with whom Martello’s fictional persona dialogues is a pseudo-Aristotelian figure --an impostor who pretends to be Aristotle himself-- who argues for an interpretation of the aesthetic principles of the Poetics that is applicable to contemporary trends in the composition and performance of tragedy. In the course of the dialogue, Martello describes approaches to the composition and performance of tragic dance that are peculiar to different national cultures and offers his readers a concise account of the idea of national style in the performing arts. He distinguishes between universal principles of style common to all dance cultures and specific principles peculiar to each nation. In his discussion Martello describes stylistic features of dance in terms of national mores, costumes, styles of recitation, theatre history, and dramatic theory. My purpose in this paper is to examine Martello’s view of national dance style in relation to the idea of movement culture that it presupposes, against the background of the dominant theories of performance in the early 18th century, and in the context of the evolving role of Aristotelianism in the post-baroque theory of the stage.