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500 Years of Italian Dance: Treasures from the Cia Fornaroli Collection pays tribute to the multifaceted history of Italian dance and to one of The New York Public Library's richest collections. Assembled by Walter Toscanini (1898-1971), the Cia Fornaroli Collection documents the full sweep of Italian dance history from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. It underscores his belief that Italy played a seminal role in the genesis and development of Western theatrical dance and exerted a profound influence on performance, choreographic, and pedagogical traditions throughout Europe and in the United States, on stages both elite and popular.
Fifteenth-century Italy--a patchwork of kingdoms, duchies, principalities, and states--produced the earliest known treatises on the art of the dance. Some were manuscripts, others splendid published volumes recording the dances performed at festive and ceremonial occasions by the aristocracy. (For conservation reasons only a few of the collection's very oldest treasures are exhibited.) Formal, elegant, and refined, these court dances linked physical control with elevated class status, and laid the foundation for the danza seria or danse noble, the heroic style that gave birth to classical ballet and its ideology. Still other treatises evoked the popular traditions of the commedia dell'arte, with its tumbling and comic antics, brought to heights of virtuosity by the grotteschi or "grotesque" dancers of the eighteenth century. In no other country were these styles so highly developed; in no other country would they commingle so freely and create so compelling a synthesis.