Dance as a symbol of society and the cosmos

Published 14 October 2008


A public lecture at the University of New England next week will take the audience back to an age when dance was – in the words of the lecturer – “woven into the very fabric of public life”.

“Dance in the late medieval and Renaissance period was a symbol of civilised, educated behaviour, a demonstration of moral virtue, a display of power and authority, and a precise mark of caste and class,” says Dr Jennifer Nevile, who will present this year’s Gordon Athol Anderson Memorial Lecture on Wednesday 22 October.

Her lecture, titled “Dance, Society and the Cosmos in Late Medieval and Renaissance Europe”, will recreate a world of courtly ceremony in which, she says, “dance also had a moral and ethical component, since movements of the body were seen as the outward manifestation of movements of the soul”.

Dr Nevile, the author of The Eloquent Body: Dance and Humanist Culture in Fifteenth-Century Italy (Indiana University Press, 2004) is a performer, choreographer and teacher of early dance as well as a leading scholar. She has participated in many performances of Renaissance and Baroque dance with The Early Dance Consort, including performances in the Concert Hall of Sydney Opera House (with the Brandenburg Ensemble and The Ensemble of the Golden Age). For several performances she reconstructed choreography and composed additional musical parts.

In 1999 she was present at the first performance in 500 years of English dances from the late fifteenth century, for which she had reconstructed the choreography. That performance, by the Capriol Dancers, was in the Banqueting Hall of the late-medieval Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, England.

Dr Nevile is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of English, Media and Performing Arts (Music) at the University of NSW. Her research – on the transformation of intellectual ideas into dance movements during the early modern period – is truly interdisciplinary, bridging the scholarly traditions of music, dance, and social history.

Her lecture next Wednesday, at 7.30 pm in UNE’s Oorala Aboriginal Centre, will be followed by a light supper. The event is free, and everyone is welcome. For more information, and to register attendance, phone (02) 6773 3638 or e-mail

Professor Gordon Anderson was the first Australian academic to make an international impact on the study of medieval music. He held a personal Chair in Music at UNE from 1979 until his death in 1981. UNE inaugurated the Gordon Athol Anderson Lecture series in 1983, and it has continued every year since then.