Reasons to be Bored by Early Dance.  VI: Cultural Snobbery

Dancers in the UK early dance world are, it goes without saying, very cultured people. There are, in fact, two sources of true culture in historical dancing. One is the definitively high culture of classical music. The other is the indisputably low culture of folk music and dancing. Isn’t there a chasm between the two? Aren’t they mutually opposed cultural worlds? I’ll explore a bit further.

There are those in UK early dance, a sizeable minority I would say, who are devoted to proper music. They avoid any horrible modern styles of dancing because of the awful music. ‘Pop’ or ‘Rock’ – who needs those? Never mind all the latest styles (which I’ll leave others younger and more enlightened than I am to enumerate). I confess myself puzzled by the ‘high culture’ group. I am trying to think of any major classical composers whose music is actually used in early dance. In the world of baroque dance, we are talking about music by the likes of Lully, Campra, or other equally obscure and third-rate composers. Bach never wrote actual dance music. Although Handel was foolish enough to compose ballet music from time to time, who ever listens to it?

Much of the music for early dance was written by the dancing masters themselves, so does it qualify as folk music? The fons et origo of folk dance music is, of course, John Playford’s The English Dancing Master of 1651. These tunes are well known to derive from classical antiquity, when folk really were folk and totally traditional in their tastes. With such a pedigree, who would want to be listening to modern, vulgar popular music? This is the well-founded opinion of the folk music and dancing people who form the majority in UK early dance.

So far as I can tell, with music for folk dancing (or as the early dance world has it, country dancing), the instruments are really important. Now here we reach a small problem. Nowadays, music for folk dancing demands an accordion – but this instrument cannot be claimed as truly historical even so recently as the mid-19th century.  What to do? The answer is to play all the tunes on a scratchy fiddle, as slowly as possible. Cultural authenticity at a stroke!

It is the fiddle (or violin, if we wish to appeal to the other wing of UK early dance) that unites the ‘high’ classical and ‘low’ folk cultural aficionados. This could return us our very first reason to be bored by early dance – the music – but in my next post I will not go backwards, I will move on.

Contextualizing Mr Isaac’s Minuets

I thought it would be interesting, and perhaps informative, to try to place Mr Isaac’s minuets within the context of other minuet choreographies of approximately the same period. It isn’t easy to date the French notated dances, other than by their dates of publication, but given that some use music that appeared earlier they, too, may have been created a few years before their first appearance in print. I have taken my investigation as far as 1709, the year that Isaac’s The Royal Portuguez was published. Apart from the minuet in Favier’s Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos of 1688, which I include here, there are six other minuets to be explored. Some are minuets only, while others are minuet sections within multi-partite dances.

La Bourée d’Achille was first published in Feuillet’s Recueil de dances composées par Mr. Pecour in Paris in 1700, one of the first two collections of dances to appear in notation. The minuet is the central section of the dance, with 48 bars of music in 3/4 time (2xAABB A=4 B=8), preceded and followed by a bourrée. The music is from Achille et Polixène, the opera begun by Lully and completed after his death by Colasse. It was first performed in 1687 and then not revived until 1712. So, the duet must antedate 1700 and could belong to the mid to late 1690s.

The Menuet à Deux was published by Feuillet in Recueil de dances contenant un tres grand nombres, de meillieures entrées de ballet de Mr. Pecour which appeared in Paris in 1704. This was the first collection of dances closely linked to the Paris Opéra (Feuillet had published a collection of his own ‘theatrical’ choreographies in 1700, but these seem not to have been associated with dancers on the professional stage). It was danced by Dumoulin l’aîné and Mlle Victoire in Campra’s Fragments de Mr de Lully in 1702 and the choreography obviously belongs to that date. As its title suggests, this is a minuet throughout which has 48 bars in 3/4 time (AABB A=8 B=16)

The Entrée pour un homme et une femme was also choreographed by Pecour and included in the 1704 Recueil de dances. The music is from Destouches’s opera Omphale, first given at the Paris Opéra in 1701 and then at court in 1702 (after which it was not revived until 1721). The notation declares that this duet was performed by Ballon and Mlle Subligny. It was, of course, a minuet for the stage rather than the ballroom with 68 bars of music in 3/4 time (a rondeau, ABACA A=16 B=8 C=12)

La Bavière, choreographed by Pecour, appeared in the IIIIe Recueil de dances de bal pour l’année 1706 published in Paris the previous year. This is a minuet followed by a forlana, to music from La Barre’s La Vénitienne first given at the Paris Opéra in 1705, so this ballroom dance must surely have been created with speedy publication in mind. The minuet has 32 bars of music in 3/4 time (AABB A=B=8)

The Brawl of Audenarde, by Siris, was published individually in London as his ‘new Dance for the year 1709’ and was obviously intended to celebrate the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at the Battle of Oudenarde as part of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1708. The title page says ‘The Tune by Mr. G.’, John Ernest Galliard, and the music was published separately the same year. This dance is a courante followed by a minuet and then a gigue, so it has structural affinities with some of Mr Isaac’s choreographies. The minuet has 32 bars of music in 3/4 time (ABAB A=B=8).

Le Menuet d’Alcide, another choreography by Pecour, was also published in 1709 but in Paris within the VIIe Recüeil de dances pour l’année 1709. Its music is from the opera Alcide by Louis Lully and Marin Marais, first performed at the Paris Opéra in 1693 and revived in 1705 (according to Francine Lancelot’s catalogue La Belle Dance (entry FL/1709.1/02) the music was also used in Ariane et Bacchus by Marais in 1696). This is another minuet throughout with 54 bars of music in 6/4 (3xAABB’ A=4 B=6 B’=4). It is possible, but perhaps unlikely, that Pecour’s choreography dates to the mid to late 1690s.

Leaving aside issues of dating, do any of these minuets have steps or figures in common with those by Mr Isaac that I explored in my earlier post?

Favier’s minuet ‘Entrée des 2. Garçons et des 2. filles de la Nopce’ in Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos is analysed in detail by Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol Marsh in their 1994 book Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV (see particularly pages 144-148). This choreography uses pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet, plus a single coupé and assemblé combination. The pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet differ from later versions, both in their component steps and their timing (see Harris-Warrick and Marsh, pp. 109, 111). There is no reference to any of the later conventional figures of the ballroom minuet. This ‘Entrée’ is a stage choreography performed within a work which uses music, songs and dances to portray an event – the marriage of ‘Fat Kate’. It is, perhaps, more surprising that it uses a standard and restricted vocabulary of steps than that it ignores the usual figures of the minuet, if these had indeed been established by 1688.

The French ballroom dances published in the early 1700s all reflect the menuet ordinaire as known from Rameau’s Le Maître à danser of 1725. The minuets in La Bourée d’Achille and La Bavière, as well as Le Menuet d’Alcide, all predominantly use the pas de menuet with some contretemps du menuet and occasional grace steps. In La Bourée d’Achille the pas de menuet à trois mouvements is favoured, while in Le Menuet d’Alcide preference is given to the pas de menuet à deux mouvements. The figures of these two minuets (particularly the latter) recognisably relate to the conventional figures of the ballroom minuet, but the minuet section in La Bavière is too short to do other than allude to the opening figure before moving on to another short figure which simply gets the dancers to their places to begin the following forlana.

Of the two minuets for the stage, the Menuet à Deux danced by Dumoulin l’aîné and Mlle Victoire is the most conventional. Of the twenty-four pas composés in this dance (which are written as if in 6/4), ten are pas de menuet à deux mouvements and eight are contretemps du menuet. Pecour begins the dance with a coupé sideways as the couple face each other, followed by a pas tombé and a jetté. The first B section of the music begins with the couple facing one another on a right line for a pas balancé forwards and backwards, incorporating a beat and an ouverture de jambe, before moving sideways away from each other with a fleuret and a pas balonné. They then repeat this sequence. Despite his choice of steps, Pecour seems not to reflect any of the ballroom minuet’s figures within his choreography – although this dance has quite a strong inward focus between the two dancers which is interesting in the context of a stage performance. Here is the first plate.

The Entrée pour un homme et une femme, danced by Ballon and Mlle Subligny in Omphale, has a far more varied vocabulary of steps with only four pas de menuet à deux mouvements and two contretemps du menuet. Otherwise Pecour uses pas composés based on a wider range of basic steps, some of which play with conventional steps from the minuet, for example the demi-contretemps followed by a pas tombé and a jetté, while others come together into sequences which echo those he uses in other dance types, like the coupé à deux mouvements followed by a coupé sans poser as the couple move sideways away from each other. There are no clear references to the conventional figures of the minuet, although the final retreat does have a contretemps du menuet as the pair move backwards upstage. Here is the final plate of this duet.

It is worth noting that this dance is far more outwardly focussed than Pecour’s Menuet à Deux. It is less easy to identify as a minuet from its choreography, but I suspect that a subtle relationship with the conventions of the ballroom minuet might emerge in the course of detailed reconstruction of the duet.

The last of the minuets seems to relate most closely to those by Mr Isaac, perhaps because Siris was working in London as well, or maybe because he was trying to emulate some aspects of Isaac’s choreographic style. Here is plate two of The Brawl of Audenarde with the whole of the minuet section.

The notation and engraving styles are strikingly different from those of the French notations and resemble those of Isaac’s dances (the printer John Walsh produced both Isaac’s and Siris’s dances). The dancers have just completed the courante, the opening section of the duet, and are facing each other offset across the dancing space. They begin by moving onto the same diametrical line with a variant of the pas de bourrée in which the last step is a pas glissé, recognisable from Isaac’s minuet for The Britannia, to which Siris adds a final plié. This is joined to a hop and a jetté, the final elements of the contretemps du menuet, to make a new hybrid pas composé emulating the sort of steps created by Isaac. Siris makes copious use of the pas de menuet à deux mouvements – there are seven in all within this 16-bar minuet (although the music is notated in 3/4, the dance steps are written in 6/4) and four are given small variations. There is a grace step, the pas de courante, which appears once in its usual guise of a tems de courante followed by a demi-jetté battu and then in an ornamented version (performed by the woman as well as the man) which has a double beat. The latter comes close to the end of the minuet section, by which time the couple are in mirror symmetry and so dancing on opposite feet. Like La Bavière, the minuet section of The Brawl of Audenarde is too short to include even allusions to the figures of the ballroom minuet. It ends with the man and woman side by side facing the presence, but improper, ready to begin the gigue with which the duet ends.

On the evidence of this small selection of early notated minuets, six French and one English (or, at least, published in London), Mr Isaac’s choreography was very idiosyncratic. The nearest to him in style is Siris. Should we read anything into the fact that, in his own translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie entitled The Art of Dancing, Demonstrated by Characters and Figures and published in London in 1706, Siris claimed that he had been taught the notation by its inventor Pierre Beauchamp in the late 1680s? As we now know, Mr Isaac had begun his career in Paris by the early 1670s and was undoubtedly acquainted with Beauchamp. Did he and Siris enjoy similar early training in belle danse, contributing to the similarities between their approaches to choreography?

Reasons to be Bored by Early Dance. V: Those Who Can’t Dance Versus Those Who Can

How can you tell the dancers from the non-dancers in UK early dance? This is a difficult question to answer. Politeness and authenticity demand a very particular approach to dancing, whatever period you are doing. They affect everything.

  • How you should walk;
  • How you should do the steps;
  • How you should relate to your partner;
  • How you should relate to the others in a group or country dance;
  • How your movements should relate to whatever music is going on at the time.

Those who have had the misfortune to be trained in some modern dance form or other (ballet, ballroom & Latin, contemporary dance come immediately to mind) may mistakenly believe that what they see before them in a UK early dance workshop is bad dancing. This is completely wrong. What they fail to realise is the truly polite and authentic dancing that is being graciously proffered for their delectation. (NOTE: delectation has NOTHING to do with pleasure)

If you are being continually told off for dancing with too much energy, for trying to do the steps properly, for wanting to learn the dances quickly, for being eager to do more difficult steps and figures and for wanting to practice, you are obviously trying too hard. It is suspiciously likely that you are a ‘dancer’ of one of these abhorrent modern techniques. If you are, then you will never be polite and authentic and you can never reach the distinction of truly belonging within the UK early dance world.

Mr Isaac’s Minuets

Four of Mr Isaac’s duets published in notation include minuets:

The Rondeau and The Britannia from A collection of ball-dances perform’d at court published in 1706. The Rondeau may date to 1693, while The Britannia was danced in celebration of Queen Anne’s birthday in 1706.

The Marlborough, apparently not published until 1710 although it was a ‘new dance’ in 1705 when it was performed to celebrate Queen Anne’s birthday.

The Royal Portuguez, a ‘New Dance made for her Majesty’s BirthDay’ in 1709 and published the same year. The title may refer to Maria Anna of Austria, who was escorted to Portugal in an English navy vessel for her marriage to João V of Portugal in 1708. She arrived at Spithead from Holland on 24 September 1708 in the Royal Anne.

I am reconstructing these minuets from their notations and all are springing surprises. Here, I will look at them in order of their dates of composition.

The Rondeau

In this duet, the musical structure of the concluding minuet reflects that of the preceding triple and duple time sections. It, too, is a rondeau, running AABACAA (A=B=C=8) and so has 56 bars in 3/4 time. The dance notation is also barred in triple time.

Only about a third of the steps in this minuet are recognisable as belonging to the vocabulary reserved for the dance type. There are some conventional pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet (notated as if in 6/4, but with a bar line part way through the step). There are also some ‘Grace’ steps, or variants of these. I will return to Isaac’s steps more generally towards the end of this post.

It is generally accepted that the partners in a ballroom minuet both begin their steps on the right foot and maintain this throughout the dance. In The Rondeau, as in his other minuets, Isaac ignores this convention at will. The minuet begins with the couple facing one another across the dancing space, before they turn to dance two pas de menuet upstage side-by-side and then turn to face one another again with a pas balancé. They only turn to face the presence as they change to mirror symmetry (the first of two such sequences) and perform two jettés backwards. This change gives the woman a contretemps du menuet on the left foot, shown in this first plate of the minuet.

The first floor patterns on the next plate could be interpreted as a variation of the ‘Z’  figure, as the couple face one another and move apart sideways, before returning on the same line and then passing right shoulders – all of which is done on an orientation which has been moved through forty-five degrees so it is sideways on to the presence. At the end of the dance, shown in the plate below, the figure resembles the taking of both hands (although no hand holds are included in the notation) before a final retreat with the man moving backwards and the woman forwards in more conventional minuet steps.

The Marlborough

In this dance, ostensibly created just a year before The Britannia, it is not easy to see the triple-time section as a minuet. The musical structure is difficult to analyse. It seems to be AABACBAC (A=4 B=8 C=4), but (as a non-musician) I am happy to be corrected on this. There are, in any case, 40 bars of music. The minuet follows a march, to which the choreography returns for a final reprise.

The dancers begin facing one another on a right line, the man backing the presence, and they travel backwards away from one another with steps that can perhaps be interpreted as a variation on the pas de menuet. None of the subsequent figures seem to make any reference to the conventional figures of the minuet and few of the steps clearly seem to be variants of minuet steps, although several resemble those in Isaac’s other couple minuets. In the final figures, before the return to the march, both travel sideways upstage with contretemps and pas de bourrée before facing each other on a diametrical line for pas de sissonne and coupé variants. They end facing each other ready to begin the last duple-time section. Here are the opening and conclusion of the minuet in The Marlborough.

The Britannia

Like The Rondeau, Isaac’s The Britannia has the musical structure AABACAA (A=B=C=8) although in this case neither of the preceding sections – in triple time followed by a bourrée in duple time – are musical rondeaus. Although the music is written in 3/4, the dance notation is actually barred in 6/4. There are 56 bars of triple time music. About a third of the steps can be recognised as pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet, although in The Britannia these are mostly in variant form.

The minuet section begins with the couple facing one another across the dancing space and then moving diagonally, the man downstage and the woman upstage, to end facing one another on a right line with the man backing the presence. In much of The Britannia, the partners are on the same foot, but there are two sequences in mirror symmetry. One comes on plate 10, following a short sequence with faint echoes of the ‘Z’ figure, while the other is in the closing bars immediately after the couple have taken both hands. Here is the final sequence, which differs from a conventional minuet in that both the man and the woman are travelling forwards towards upstage.

The Royal Portuguez

This is the latest of Isaac’s ballroom dances to include a minuet, although it comes only three years after The Britannia (Isaac would continue to create ballroom dances until at least 1714). It follows a loure, which resembles one of the ‘Spanish’ loures to be found in the French repertoire of notated dances (rather than Pecour’s Aimable Vainqueur or Isaac’s The Pastoral, both of which could be described as ‘French’). The loure is, perhaps, meant to honour the new Queen of Portugal, for whom the dance is named. The minuet has a musical structure AABB (A=8 B=12) which is rather different from the other three couple minuets, and the dance notation calls for ‘Brisk Minuet time’. Both the music and the dance notation are barred in triple-time and there are 40 bars altogether.

If its steps are unconventional, the figures of the minuet in The Royal Portuguez at least refer to some of the expected figures of the minuet. It begins with the couple side-by-side facing the presence for a passage on a right line downstage (with steps that might be construed as variants on the pas de menuet, although the dancers are in mirror symmetry). They briefly face each other before turning back to the presence and then travel sideways away from each other on a shallow diagonal. Apart from this opening sequence and another to end the dance, the couple dance on the same foot throughout. A couple of the figures hint at the ‘Z’ figure, although the dancers pass by left shoulders. The final figure begins with the couple facing one another on a diametrical line before travelling on a circular path anti-clockwise. They take hands as they perform a variant on the pas de sissonne to face one another on a right line, before a very short passage upstage to finish. Like The Marlborough, there is little to underline that this is a minuet. Here are the opening and closing plates of the minuet section of The Royal Portuguez.

Mr Isaac’s ‘Minuet’ Steps

Mr Isaac does use recognisable pas de menuet – these have three movements ending with a demi-coupé – although only The Rondeau and The Britannia include them. The contretemps du menuet appears in the same two dances. There are occasional ‘Grace’ steps, a pas balancé in The Rondeau, a pas de courante in The Britannia and paired pas de bourrée in The Rondeau and The Marlborough. Isaac seems to have liked pas composé beginning with a jumping step and ending with a pas de bourrée, which provided him with a range of variations on the pas de menuet à deux mouvements. His most often used versions were:

  • Two jettés and a pas de bourrée, which appears in The Rondeau, The Marlborough, The Britannia and The Royal Portuguez;
  • A coupé followed by a pas de bourrée, which is used in The Rondeau, The Britannia and The Royal Portuguez.

Isaac also makes quite frequent use of the jetté-chassé as an element within a pas composé. Most of these are specific to the dance in which they appear, although a coupé followed by two jettés-chassé is used in both The Royal Portuguez and The Marlborough. The jettés-chassé themselves differ, in relation to the extension (or not) of the working leg), as shown in these versions from plate 8 of The Britannia (on the left) and plate 14 of The Royal Portuguez (on the right).

It is particularly interesting that the minuet sections of three of these dances – The Rondeau, The Britannia and The Marlborough – each have several steps that appear to be unique to them.

My work on Mr Isaac’s couple minuets has called into question much of what I thought I knew about this dance. These earlier minuets range far from the conventional steps and figures set out by Rameau in Le Maître à danser and Tomlinson in The art of dancing some decades later. What does this mean for our understanding of the minuet or, indeed, other dance types among the ballroom duets.

English Court Balls, 1685 – 1702

Back in 2019, I wrote a couple of posts about dancing at the English court – The Restoration Court Ball and Catherine of Braganza: a Dancing Queen. Recent research has taken me back to the topic of court balls and I thought I would pursue birthday balls in particular up to the accession of Queen Anne. Charles II’s queen undoubtedly helped to establish the convention of balls to celebrate royal birthdays following the Restoration in 1660. As I said in my post about her, the first ball that we know of celebrating Catherine of Braganza’s birthday was held on 15 November 1666, some four years after her arrival and marriage. Several others are known from subsequent years.

By contrast, there is evidence for only one ball in honour of Charles II’s birthday, held on 29 May 1675. There may be several reasons for this (not least that the King’s restoration coincided with his birthday) but the lack of such celebrations is still worth further research.

Charles II died on 6 February 1685 and was succeeded by his brother James, Duke of York. James II was crowned on 23 April 1685 and the Hall Theatre at Whitehall Palace was apparently first prepared for a ball the following October. The new King’s birthday was on 14 October, while that of his Queen Mary of Modena was on 5 October.

Preparations for a ball in the Hall Theatre are recorded in October 1686, but there are no indications of similar work the following year. By October 1688, Britain was in crisis – William of Orange landed at Torbay on 5 November and on 23 December James II sailed to exile in France.

Researchers seem to have paid little attention to court balls during the reign of William III and Mary II, although surviving evidence indicates that such entertainments continued. The couple were reported to have danced at a ‘greate Ball’ held at the court of Charles II on 15 November 1677, not long after their marriage on 4 November. Despite his evident seriousness, William of Orange is reported to have been a good dancer.

Following their joint acceptance of the throne on 13 February 1689 and their coronation on 11 April that year, it was several months before court entertainments settled into a pattern. There was a ball to celebrate William III’s birthday on 4 November 1689, the first of what would become a series. There seems to have been no parallel entertainment for Mary II’s birthday on 30 April the following year, or indeed in later years, although the Queen apparently hosted a ball for her sister Princess Anne’s birthday on 6 February 1691. William III’s birthday was accompanied by a ball at Whitehall Palace in November 1691, November 1693 and November 1694. There may well have been a ball in November 1692 as well but direct evidence that would confirm this does not survive.

The death of Queen Mary II on 28 December 1694 brought court entertainments to a halt. In November 1695 there was no ball for the birthday of the widowed King. In November 1696, William III’s sister-in-law Princess Anne – who had taken on her late sister’s role of court ‘hostess’ – gave a ball for the King’s birthday and there were further such balls in 1697, 1698 and 1699.

Princess Anne’s birthday was celebrated by a ball at Kensington House on 6 February 1698, although this seems to have been an isolated occasion. I have recently been investigating some of the choreographies by Mr Isaac, dancing master to Princess Anne, and it is possible that those that can plausibly be dated to the 1690s include some that were originally performed at the birthday balls for William III.

It is worth reiterating that the birthday balls that were a feature of Queen Anne’s reign and continued throughout the ensuing Georgian era had their beginning in the 1660s, perhaps under the auspices of the royal dancing master Jerome Gahory (Mr Isaac’s uncle). William III himself tacitly acknowledged the importance of French dancing at his court, continuing the precedent set by Charles II, when Le Palais des Plaisirs was given at Kensington House in 1698 and again when the French dancers Claude Ballon and Anthony L’Abbé danced there before him in 1699. L’Abbé was Isaac’s brother-in-law and would continue the line of royal dancing masters when he was appointed to that post by George I around 1715.

Further research among a range of primary sources is needed on this topic. For this post, I have mainly relied on the following secondary sources:

John van der Kiste. William and Mary (Stroud, 2008)

Anne Somerset. Queen Anne: the politics of passion (London, 2012)

Eleanore Boswell. The Restoration court stage, 1660-1702 (London, 1966). Reprint of the 1932 ed.

A register of English theatrical documents 1660-1737, compiled and ed. Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume. 2 vols. (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1991)

See also:

Moira Goff. ‘The testament and last will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4 (November 2010), pp. 537-542

Jennifer Thorp. ‘Monsieur L’Abbé and Le Palais des Plaisirs: a new source for a London spectacle’, Proceedings of the SDHS Conference 2010, pp. 335-343.

Mr. Isaac’s Choreography: The Six Dances – Motifs and Steps

In my previous post, I looked at the opening and closing sections in each of Mr Isaac’s six dances published in 1706. Here, I turn my attention to some of his choreographic motifs and his versions of some of the basic steps of baroque dance.

Choreographic Motifs: The Right Line

As I work on each of these six dances (a project which is still in progress), I am taking note of one of Isaac’s choreographic motifs in particular. In all of the six dances, except for The Rigadoon, there is at least one sequence danced on a right line. In Orchesography, Weaver describes a ‘Right Line’ as ‘that which extends itself in Length, from one end of the Room to the other’ and illustrates it as running from the presence to the far end of the room in the centre of the dancing space. He is, of course, simply translating what Feuillet says (and illustrates) as his ‘ligne droite’. The feature which makes Isaac’s motif surprising is that the couple face one another and dance along this ‘Right Line’, so one of them has their back to the presence and screens the other from view. (I am assuming, perhaps wrongly, that the presence is on the same level as the dancers and not above them).

The Richmond

The Richmond has one sequence on a right line, roughly half way through the choreography, which begins on plate 3 and finishes on plate 4.

Plate 3
Plate 4 (sequences at top and bottom)

With the woman backing the presence, they approach one another and then retreat.  Each then travels to the right for another sequence in which they move towards one another again on a right line, although they are now offset so both dancers can be seen from the front. The sequence of steps is complex, in keeping with this English hornpipe.

The Rondeau

The Rondeau also has a single sequence on a right line, this time around halfway through the minuet section with which the dance ends.

Plate 6 (the sequence begins on the central vertical line)

The man has his back to the presence. The pair approach one another and then retreat to begin a circular line (on the next plate) which will bring them face to face again, this time on a diametrical line.

The Favorite

The Favorite has two sequences on a right line. The first occurs in the chaconne with the lady backing the presence (plate 2). The second is in the first part of the bourrée with the man backing the presence (plate 5)

Plate 2
Plate 5

This was the dance that drew my attention to the motif, simply because in the chaconne the woman performs a coupé battu to the presence before she turns her back to face her partner (at the top of the detail from plate 2) and this includes a plié on the pas battu which makes it seem like a courtesy. (The man does the same step facing upstage). This figure is followed by another on a diametrical line. The second of these motifs, in the bourrée, has the man with his back to the presence and brings the two dancers together to take right hands for a circular figure.

The Spanheim

The Spanheim also has two figures on a right line. The first comes about a quarter of the way through the dance and the second just over half-way, within the full repeat of the music.

Plate 1
Plate 3

The first of these figures takes only three bars, while the second lasts for five bars. The first time, the woman has her back to the presence and the second time she faces it. The notation for the second right line shows the dancers as slightly offset, although their preceding steps and figure indicate that they are indeed face to face.

The Britannia

The last of the six dances, The Britannia, has three sequences on a right line. The first comes within the first half of the bourrée, with the woman backing the presence, and has the couple approaching one another, turning their backs and turning to face each other again.

Plate 4

The second and third right line figures are within the early sections of the minuet. Both are fleeting and the dancers face the sides of the dancing space (or even the presence and end of the room) as much as each other. In the second, the man is closest to the presence and in the third it is the woman.

Plate 7
Plate 8

There is even the hint of yet another figure on a right line, in the form of a single step just a little further on in the minuet, with the man closest to the presence.

Plate 9

Isaac reveals some preferences in his choice of steps for these right line figures. He uses paired jettés-chassés in The Richmond, The Rondeau and The Britannia, and he also turns to pas de bourrée incorporating an emboîté and a plié. Similarly, he likes to use a coupé with an emboîté and an ouverture de jambe leading to a pas sauté – either a jetté, a jetté-chassé or a sissonne (the vertical jump from two feet to one that completes the pas de sissonne).

Isaac’s Steps

For Orchesography, Weaver evidently used the 1701 second edition of Feuillet’s Choregraphie with its ‘Supplement de pas’ (Feuillet had neglected to include the pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet, alongside a variety of other steps in the notation tables of his first edition). Weaver’s ‘Suplement’ is limited to minuet steps, including some of the ‘grace’ steps, but he also includes four pas composés which he attributes to Mr. Isaac.

Weaver’s claim that these steps are ‘seldom, or ever found in any other Dances whatsoever’ needs to be explored in detail. They aren’t in Feuillet’s step tables but it would be worth checking where and when they occur in dances other than those by Isaac.

Looking through the six dances, some other individual steps stand out. Here are some examples.

The Richmond

Plate 3 (an extension with variation of the jetté-chassé).

Plate 5 (the first pas simple continues that of the preceding pas composé, note the additional ornamentation on the right, the man’s side).

The Rondeau

Plate 1 (this can be described as a coupé battu with an added temps and is a step used in other dances. It comes from the opening triple time section).

Plate 3 (a jetté followed by a coupé soutenue, but perhaps also related to Isaac’s fondness for the sort of variations shown in Weaver’s examples of his steps. This is from the second duple time section).

The Favorite

Plate 3 (two pas de bourrée with variations, from the chaconne).

The notation suggests subtle adjustments to the step as the foot moves, as well as directional changes in relation to the partner – assuming that it represents Weaver’s notation rather than the engraver’s interpretation of it.

Plate 5 (a coupé simple emboîté paired with a variant on the coupé avec ouverture de jambe, from the bourrée).

The Rigadoon

In The Rigadoon it is the sequences of steps that are unusual, rather than the individual pas composés. The most famous sequence is that of plate 2, with its glissades and pas de bourrée tracing a square or rectangular figure.

The glissades (paired coupés soutenues travelling sideways) are a feature of the step vocabulary of The Rigadoon and can be found in other dances as well, notably The Favorite.

There is also the rhythmic challenge posed by a sequence on plate 4. Three successive steps, each of which has a different number and placing of demi-coupés.

The couple travel sideways towards each other and are, at this point in the figure, quite close to the presence.

The Spanheim

Plate 3 (the two steps on the left can each be described as a pas de bourrée with a beat as well as the concluding jetté – here an assemblé – with added changes of direction).

The Britannia

Plate 1 (two jettés-chassés followed by a jetté, from the opening triple time section).

Plate 2 (a hop ornamented with a rond de jambe followed by a demi-coupé. The next step is two demi-coupés in succession. These are from the triple time section).

Plate 4 (two pas de bourrée with emboîté, ending in a plié leading to a sissonne, from the bourrée).

I hope to look at Isaac’s minuets in The Rondeau and The Britannia separately as both use a vocabulary of steps which go beyond the usual variations on and around the pas de menuet, contretemps du menuet and grace steps.

In all these steps, we can see Isaac not only constructing new pas composés from otherwise familiar elements, combining these in new ways, but also ornamenting these compound steps spatially as well as dynamically. It takes time and practice to master Isaac’s steps and sequences, which are an integral part of his idiosyncratic approach to the choreography of ballroom danses à deux.

Mr Isaac’s Choreography: The Six Dances – Opening and Closing Figures

Apart from a solo Chacone and Minuet for a girl (perhaps two separate solos), Mr Isaac’s choreography survives in twenty-one ballroom duets published between 1706 and 1716. Of these, eleven were said to have been ‘Perform’d at Court’ (another, The Northumberland, may also have been danced at court), while another seven were advertised as ‘Made for Her Majesty’s Birth Day’. Two were called a ‘new Dance for the Year’ – they were danced on stage and may have been originally intended for that purpose.

In her 1985 thesis (p. 229), French Court Dance in England: A Study of the Sources, Carol Marsh identified nine country dances that used music from Isaac’s ballroom dances (some used only one section from the music for a multi-partite dance). There appears to be no suggestion that these were created by Mr Isaac himself, although most were published close in date to his ballroom duets. There is also Isaac’s Maggot, in the ninth edition of The Dancing-Master published in 1695, which might be by him. I don’t intend to pursue any of these here or in future posts, although they may well be worth further research by those well-versed in country dances and their history.

In this post, I will look at two of the choreographic conventions demonstrated, or disregarded, in the six of Isaac’s dances published together in 1706. I will investigate some of his more idiosyncratic figures and steps in my next post. Behind this line of enquiry lies the issue of the notation, what it can (and can’t) notate, notational errors and (with Isaac’s other dances) the different approaches of individual notators and engravers. John Weaver was the notator of the six Isaac dances (which were published the same year as Orchesography, Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie), but at least two engravers prepared the plates from which they were printed. I will touch on these issues in my analyses, although work on the styles and practices of engravers, and notators, really needs to be done through close examination of the originals.

Early in my involvement in baroque dance, I encountered what were identified as choreographic conventions within the genre. There were two in particular: dances opened with a passage travelling downstage towards the audience, or for ballroom dances – the presence; they ended with another passage travelling upstage so that the dancers returned to their starting point. These conventions provide a useful starting point for a brief analysis of Isaac’s six dances.

Here are the opening and closing figures for each of the six dances.

The Richmond:

In the opening A section of the music for The Richmond (4 bars), the two dancers move downstage on a diagonal but quickly turn to face each other. They move sideways for one step, then turn to face the presence for two steps. Isaac divides the focus of the dancers between each other and the presence. They are closer together than appears on the notation.

The closing sequence (the final 4 bars, a petite reprise to the last section of the music) has the couple (who are improper) take inside hands as the man moves upstage and lady downstage. They then turn and repeat their pas composé taking other hands. On the next, penultimate, step they let go hands and change sides for their final step in which the man dances backwards and the lady dances forwards. She makes a half turn on the coupé soutenu into fourth position, with which they both finish.

The Rondeau:

Apart from one step, in bar 3, in which the couple face each other for a brief acknowledgement, the convention of facing and travelling downstage towards the presence is observed throughout the first 8-bar musical section. The two coupés sans poser sideways (in bars 4 and 5) would have travelled less than the notation suggests.

The Rondeau ends with a minuet and the closing figure uses the convention of the man travelling backwards, while his lady travels forwards – as if they had taken both hands, although no hand holds are shown on the notation. His final coupé soutenu ends in fourth position, while hers ends in first position implying that they immediately perform an honour.

The Rigadoon:

Isaac gives The Rigadoon, his most famous dance, an entirely conventional opening sequence, with the two dancers travelling downstage side-by-side towards the presence throughout the first A section (before turning their backs as they begin the second A).

The closing sequence is actually a repeat, with variations, of the steps from the opening of The Rigadoon. The man moves backwards as the woman dances forwards and she turns to face the presence only on her final step – both ending with a coupé soutenu into fourth position.

The Favorite:

Apart from their initial steps in The Favorite, which include coupés sideways towards and away from each other, the couple travel directly downstage side-by-side towards the presence, making this a conventional opening.

The Favorite is another dance for which the music ends with a petite reprise. In these final four bars, the two dancers face each other or upstage, travelling upstage on a diagonal before ending with a quarter-turn (not indicated on the notation) into a coupé soutenu into fourth position.

The Spanheim:

In The Spanheim the dancers face one another on their first step and travel sideways downstage on the next, before turning to face the presence to continue travelling downstage with their next two steps to complete the first A section of the music.

The final musical section of The Spanheim has six bars. For the first three the couple travel upstage together, turning to face the presence at the end of their second step. The floor pattern for the last three bars is more complex, using diagonals and a curving track before they make a quarter turn to face the presence at the very end. The man does a coupé soutenu into fourth position and the woman into first, so this dance also seems to end with an immediate honour.

The Britannia:

The A section in The Britannia is longer than usual, with 10 bars, and begins unconventionally with the dancers facing one another for the first 5 bars, before turning to face the presence for a sequence which travels sideways moving away, towards and away from each other.

The Britannia ends with a minuet, like The Rondeau, and Isaac also uses a variation on the taking of both hands (in this dance the notation indicates that the couple do take hands). Their final retreat is shorter (three bars of music – equivalent to one and a half minuet steps) and ends with coupés soutenus into fourth and first respectively, so presumably straight into an honour.

Although each of these dances keep to the general conventions in their opening and closing passages, Isaac is inventive in his variations of these. In all but The Rigadoon, his dancers acknowledge each other in some way. In The Richmond, The Spanheim and The Britannia their opening steps and figures are directed to each other and they only turn to the presence some way into the opening section. I am wondering whether these differences, subtle as they may seem, point to different contexts for their performance or perhaps to Isaac interpretating a theme within his music or the dance’s title. As I work on these choreographies, I question how formal were the balls at which they were performed. Were some of them danced at private or semi-private events before a small royal and aristocratic group, rather than at royal balls given before a wider audience?

The variations in the closing steps are interesting. In Le Maître à danser, published some twenty and more years later than the creation of Isaac’s six dances, Rameau specifies that at the ‘grand Bal du Roy’ and ‘Bals reglez’ honours must be made at both the beginning and end of each couple dance (pages 54, 56-57). These honours are rarely notated in the surviving dances and Weaver’s notations for Isaac seem to hint at differences in practice, signalled by the finishing position of the woman. Do these, too, point to a less formal context for the performance of some of the dances?

Monsieur Gherardi and the Couple Allemande

Looking back over my various Dance in History posts, I can see that I have written next to nothing about the couple allemande which became popular in the ballroom (and on the stage) in the late 1760s. This is probably because I have had very few opportunities either to learn or dance it, although quite some time ago I did bring together a folder of research notes about this duet. I am currently involved in some research which is concerned with ballroom dancing in the late 1700s and early 1800s and my attention was caught by what Monsieur Gherardi had to say in his Twelve new allemandes and twelve new minuets, published in London in 1770. This is actually a collection of pieces of dance music, to which Gherardi prefixes some quite lengthy remarks on the couple allemande, which I here transcribe in full.

“To the Lovers of the Allemande Dances.

The satisfaction, which every one expressed, who saw the Allemande Dances two Years ago, gave me room to hope a diversion, so much in fashion throughout the major part of Europe, would, at last, take place in the public, and private Balls of this kingdom also: I had the greater reason for this agreable supposition, on account of the repeated and continual encomiums they met with from almost – and, indeed, I might say, entirely – all whom I then had the honour of instructing.

Consequences however have deceived me; I am in hopes therefore it will not be unacceptable if I endeavour to point out the cause of this disappointment; especially as my principal motive is to remove those Impediments which obstruct the enjoyment of one of the most elegant and innocent amusements of the polite world.

As a Professor of dancing, I could impute it to several circumstances, of which I have had ocular experience during the course of my Instructions; the principal of which is, a fundamental error in the generality of Masters, which, perhaps, operating with the too common negligence in Pupils of attending even to the best directions, has chiefly contributed to the disparagement both of the Art in question, and of its Instructor likewise.

As I address myself to the lovers of the Allemande Dances, I do not apprehend the censure of obtruding the following Reflections and Advice; my earnest and only desire being, to furnish them with the most certain and effectual methods, of arriving at a masterly execution in this elegant diversion: a Point which, when obtained, cannot fail of adding to their pleasure, and of removing, or, at least diminishing, their fatigue.

The Allemande comprehends a number of minutiæ, in which, all, who pretend to any knowledge of it, should be instructed, which must necessarily concur to its perfection.

In the first Place; the Gentleman and his Partner must never close their hands, or fingers: they must, on the contrary, keep them almost disengaged, so as to turn easily within each other: & above all, take care not to loose their hold during the passes unless the necessity of the case requires it.

They must also be match’d as much as possible in point of height; by which means the passes will be render’d more facile, and consequently less fatiguing; or if there must be a difference in their size, the Man’s being a little taller than his Partner will occasion no material inconvenience, provided he shews his Judgment (which if he is adroit he may) by making use of his advantage, in point of height, in favouring the steps of the Lady, who may not be so skilfull as himself.

In order to dance the Allemande well, a nice knowledge of the different steps is also necessary: it has but few for such as make it only the amusement of the Evening; but for those who aspire after excellence, there are a sufficient number to be employed at quitting and joining hands, & also during the momentary interval of separation; which are properly the critical times for displaying the address and ingenuity of the Artist.

But what astonishes me is, that in a Country where the National dance is so extreamly lively and animated, a kind of Allemande, which being much more so, seems better suited to the taste and genius of the People, should have been wholly omitted: the kind I am speaking of, is called Boiteuse; it is in great esteem at Strasburgh, where they dance it to perfection: the Air of it is brisk and sudden, and has its particular steps and passes: to dwell upon its beauties would be unnecessary; they may be discovered by looking over the Airs themselves, for which purpose I have inserted several of them in my collection.

There are still two other kinds of Allemandes called Troteuse and Sauteuse, or the Trotting and Leaping kinds; but as each of these includes several subdivisions also, I shall defer any consideration of them to another opportunity.

Notwithstanding several Masters of this Metropolis (in order to distinguish their Scholars) have endeavour’d to mix the natural steps of the Hornpipe, with those of the Allemande, and which they have effected in the Contre dances Francioises [sic], or Cotillons, I will venture, without design of prejudicing their reputation or their interest, to warn such as desire really to distinguish themselves, from following this method; it being entirely repugnant to the true Allemande; in which nothing but an uniformity in the Steps, and an easy performance of the Passes, can procure perfection or applause: in fact, is it not ridiculous to see a Dance between two Persons, executed in one way by the Gentleman, and in another by the Lady? and which must very frequently be the unavoidable Consequence in the present Case.

It is upon long experience that all my remarks are founded. In Germany, where I resided at the Margrave of Baireith’s, in quality of Ballet-Master, principal Dancer, and dancing master to the Court, and to the reigning Dutchess of Wirtemburg, the Margrave’s Daughter, I never observed, either among the Saxons, Suabians, or Strasburghers, other than a perfect correspondence between the steps of the Gentleman and his fair Partner; and if these People, the first in the World for Allemande Dances, did not put a proper Value upon this correspondence, may we not suppose their Masters would be directed to furnish them with the requisite varieties; for which Task they are certainly as capable as those of this Nation!

The following are therefore the directions I would recommend to be observ’d in the Allemande. The Gentleman must, in the first place, take care not to make his Allemande too long, and 2dly. to avoid every pass which being in the least difficult to him, must be so likewise to the Lady; and the passes to be rejected, are such as, where the body being half bent, the Man turns three or four times round, under his own and the Lady’s Arms; a Position which, besides the indelicacy of it, subjects her to the almost inevitable necessity of spoiling her cloathes by the Powder and Pomatum in his Hair; not to mention the consequent disagreable discomposure of that material part of the dress of the Gentleman; giving his Head the same elegant appearance as if he had just popped it out of a Sack.

We must therefore endeavour to conform to the present prevailing taste amongst those who Pique themselves on dancing the Allemande well; which is, to make but few passes, and even those very easy too: such as we call Mirroirs, or Regards, are, for their great facility, extreamly in use, and, on that account, very proper for the Ladies.

In a tour which I made last Year to Paris, I was present at an Assembly, and saw a tall Gentleman dance the Allemande with a Lady only ten years of age, for at least a quarter of an Hour, without once passing under her Arms; every figure was in Mirroir, the execution was elegant and pleased me infinitely! I must likewise observe the advantage there is of previously practising every dance at home, under the inspection of a Master; by this means each party, being more thoroughly acquainted with the necessary passes, is more certain and easy in the execution of what they so well know; and every thing becomes , of course, greatly more agreable.

To evince what I assert, we need only reflect on the Allemandes of the Stage Dancers, who acquire the Judgment, and Agility, they display, in the execution of their art, by nothing so much as by the mere dint of frequent repetitions of the same Dance; and as a proof still more convincing, it will not be improper to instance the astonishing approbation and success which the Allemande has met with during the space of two Years it has been danced in London at the Public Theatres; and are still, and deservedly, seen with new delight.

I recommend to the Admirers and Learners of the Allemandes, to weigh the few foregoing Observations, and if they find the Theory (as I flatter myself they will) founded on Reason and Judgment, to avail themselves of it in the Practice: for in what-ever situation of Life a Person may be, if he attempts a Science, and does not study it with assiduity and precision, so as to attain to some degree of perfection, he certainly throws a damp on Emulation in others; and thereby injures that very Science, which as a Student therein, it should be his warmest Endeavour to advance.

Persuaded of this truth from the earliest part of Life; I have, for many Years past, devoted my whole time and study to the Profession in which I am engaged, with a view of rendering myself, in my little Province, useful to, and deserving the countenance and approbation of, the Public in general; but more particularly of those who have already honoured, or do at present honour me, with their commands, and presence at my Academy, held twice a Week at my own House.”

Who was Gherardi? He provides some information about his career in his remarks, describing himself as ‘Ballet-Master, principal Dancer, and dancing master’ to the Margrave of Bayreuth and his daughter the Duchess of Württemburg, although he does not tell us when or how long he worked for them. His patrons were evidently Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1711-1763) and Elisabeth Fredericke Sophie of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1732-1780) who married Charles Eugene, Duke of Württemburg in 1748. Her mother was Princess Wilhelmine of Prussia, sister of Frederick the Great.

On the title pages of his various collections, Gherardi also describes himself as ‘One of the Principal Dancers of ye Opera at Paris’ and ‘Ballet Master and principal Dancer of the Opera in London’. The Biographical Dictionary of Actors describes Gherardi as dancing and then becoming ballet master at London’s opera house, the King’s Theatre, between 1760 and 1765. The same source suggests that he was the son of Jean-Baptiste Gherardi (b.1696) of the Comédie Italienne in Paris and the grandson of Evariste Gherardi (1663-1700), who had been Harlequin and the author of numerous comedies for the famous commedia dell’arte troupe based in Paris until its expulsion by Louis XIV in 1697. Gherardi himself seems to have been a Harlequin, as well as a dancer, at the Paris Opéra between 1740 and 1746 and subsequently to have danced at various other European theatres. In her book The Pre-Romantic Ballet, Marian Hannah Winter records that Gherardi’s father had sent him for training to Louis ‘le grand’ Dupré before entering the Paris Opéra (although she does not cite her source). Gherardi was still teaching in London in 1774, for the Public Advertiser for 3 March 1774 carried a notice for his ball at Carlisle House, Soho Square – he was presumably still at Rathbone Place in Soho, as shown in his earlier publications. He is certainly worth further research to document more fully his career in Paris and Europe as well as in London.

Gherardi’s remarks on the couple allemande are of particular interest because they go beyond the information to be found in the various contemporary French treatises on this dance. He mentions that the allemande has a number of steps, associated particularly with the ‘Boiteuse’ allemande as danced in Strasbourg. He refers to ‘Troteuse’ and ‘Sauteuse’ allemandes not mentioned in the French treatises. In his Almanach dansant ou positions et attitudes de l’allemande of 1770, Guillaume says ‘Il y a plusieurs sortes de Pas qui servent à danser l’allemande’ but does not describe them, restricting his explanation to the steps ‘plus usités & analogues à cette danse’. I can’t help wondering whether both Gherardi and Guillaume might be thinking of some of the steps included within Clement’s Passepied et Allemande à Quatre published in notation in 1771. Do any German sources survive to tell us more about the couple allemande?

Here is an English illustration of the allemande in full flow:

References:

Philip Highfill Jr at al. Biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, managers & other stage personnel in London, 1660-1800. 16 vols. (Carbondale, 1973-1993)

Marian Hannah Winter. The pre-romantic ballet (London, 1974)

Reasons to be Bored by Early Dance. IV: It’s Seriously Miserable

We are actually talking about two distinct but inseparable states of mind here – seriousness and misery. Both are indispensable within UK early dance and if the two can be combined, so much the better.

So, what makes early dance so serious in the UK? We have already explored authenticity and politeness, neither of which can tolerate any sign of levity. There is also the weight of history on the dancer’s back. One false step and you are misrepresenting the whole art of dancing as practised in times of yore. Of course, the music is enough to make the lightest-hearted person weep with serious misery.

Misery is occasioned by continual worry over authenticity. Am I being authentic enough? Am I sure that the other people in this dance class are being less authentic than I am? If the answer to either of those questions is ‘No’, the only way is down. Then there are those wretched teachers who not only teach complicated steps and sequences (while insisting on a totally spurious adherence to the sources) but can also dance them in front of you. These are the self-same teachers who take the liberty of changing the steps in the interest of fidelity to the very same sources they claim to be using. The only response is to wallow in misery at the inauthenticity of it all.

Some of these teachers actually add insult to injury by wanting you to ENJOY dancing historical dances. The very idea undermines the whole edifice of politeness. It seriously threatens the seriousness of the whole of the UK early dance world. It makes one miserable simply to contemplate the merest thought of pleasure while dancing.

Serious misery – that is the purpose of the UK early dance world. Nobody can call themselves an historical dancer without both!

Mr Isaac’s Six Dances

A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court; … All Compos’d by Mr. Isaac and Writ Down in Characters, by John Weaver was published in London in 1706. There is evidence to suggest that some individual dances had already appeared, but it was certainly the earliest collection of dances to be published in London in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation. It seems to have been intended to accompany Orchesographie, Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie, which appeared the same year. It was also the first collection of English choreographies and close analysis suggests that these had a character quite distinct from the French ball dances being published in notation in Paris around the same time. We have no portrait of Weaver, but there is this print of Mr Isaac, engraved by George White after a portrait by Louis Goupy which seems not to survive.

The Collection of Ball-Dances was ‘printed for the Author’, presumably Weaver who had produced the notations and who had signed the work’s dedication to the Duke of Richmond. It was published by subscription – 47 names appear in the List of Subscribers, all of whom were men and most (if not all) were dancing masters. Both Isaac and his brother-in-law Anthony L’Abbé subscribed and the list is otherwise almost identical to that for Orchesography (see my recent post Subscription Lists and London’s Dancing Masters: John Weaver for more information).

So far as we know, the Collection survives in only two copies now in the USA, at the Library of Congress and Harvard University Library respectively. There is a possible third copy at the British Library, bound with other notated dances, which I hope to be able to discuss in a separate post in due course.

The order of the dances on the title page reflects their order in the volume.

This order is confirmed by pagination in the top right-hand corner of each plate, although three of the dances – The Rondeau, The Favourite and The Spanheim – have additional individual paginations in the top left-hand corner of each of their pages. The Britannia is engraved in a different style from the rest of the choreographies, not only does it have a decorative border on its first plate but the notated steps have different profiles. These details raise questions about the compilation of the collection, which may have been brought together after some of the dances had been notated for separate publication. I hope to be able to discuss some of these possibilities when I look at the individual dances in later posts.

The dedicatee of A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court was Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond (1672-1723), the son of Charles II and his mistress Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth. In his dedication to the Duke, John Weaver writes ‘from your Grace it was that I receiv’d the first encouragement in the Subscription towards this Undertaking, and all, or most of the following Dances, have been Honour’d with your Grace’s Performance’. This portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller depicts the duke around the time the Collection was published.

Weaver suggests that Richmond had provided some financial support for the publication of the Collection, although his name does not appear in the list of subscribers. Was there another unpublished list of the royal and aristocratic contributors to the costs of publication?

There is also the question of which dances the duke had in fact performed. Weaver’s uncertainty (he writes ‘all, or most’) is perplexing. We know that Isaac was the creator of all six choreographies and he would surely have been able to provide Weaver with accurate information about their performers (Isaac and Weaver were close collaborators over some years). So, did the duke perform only some of the choreographies when they were first given at court, perhaps dancing others at private gatherings to which Isaac was not privy? Whichever ones he did dance, who did he partner?

According to evidence presented by the American dance historian Carol Marsh, in her 1985 thesis ‘French Court Dance in England’, the six dances in this collection may range in date of composition from 1690 to 1706. She draws on the publication date of the music for each dance to indicate when the corresponding choreographies might have been created (the resulting chronology does not relate to the order of the dances in the volume). Isaac’s ball dances thus belong to the court culture of William III and Mary II as well as the early years of Queen Anne. There was more dancing at court in the 1690s than many historians realise, which might also have implications for our understanding of dancing on the London stage during that decade.

Isaac’s six dances have other features which are important for our understanding of ballroom dancing of the period. Here is a summary of basic information about each of the notated choreographies, in the order in which they appear in the Collection, together with an image of the first plate of notation.

The Richmond: 1695 or before. The music was published in The Self-Instructor (London, 1695). The dance is a hornpipe in 3/2, with the musical structure AABBCCDDEEFF’ (A=B=C=D=E=4 F= 8, F’=4 as a petit reprise), and has 52 bars of music.

The Rondeau: c1693. The music was published that year in the 7th edition of Apollo’s Banquet. The dance uses music in a slow 3 and duple time, with a concluding minuet. As the title suggests, the musical structure of the first part is AABACAA (A=B=C=8. A is the slow 3, B and C are in duple time). The musical structure of the minuet is also AABACAA (A=B=C=8, written in 3, i.e. 3/4 rather than 6/4). There are 112 bars of music in all.

The Rigadoon: c1695-1698. An alternative version of the music for Isaac’s choreography was published in Theatre Musick I in 1698 (there is no concordance for Weaver’s version). The dance is a rigaudon and was acknowledged as Isaac’s most famous choreography. The musical structure is AABB (A=4 B=6), played four times to provide 80 bars of music for the dance.

The Favorite: c1690 or earlier. The music was published in the 6th edition of Apollo’s Banquet in 1690, although it can also be found in the Deusiesme recueil des dances et contre-dances (Amsterdam, 1688). It is a chaconne followed by a bourrée. The chaconne has three variations (4+4 bars, 4+4 bars, 8+8 bars) and is played through twice. The bourrée is AABBB’ (A=B=8, B’=4 and is a petit reprise). In all the dance has 100 bars of music.

The Spanheim: may date between 1701 and 1705. The music was published in the Second Book of the Lady’s Banquet in 1706 and there was a country dance to the tune published in 1705. This dance is a gigue, with the musical structure AABBCCDD (A=4 B=6 C=4 D=6), which is repeated to give 80 bars of music.

The Britannia: this was the dance created for Queen Anne’s birthday on 6 February 1706. Although the music was published in 1706 by John Walsh and Joseph Hare together with other ‘new Minuets, Rigadoons, and French Dances, danced at Balls and publick Entertainments’, no copy of this is known to survive. This is another multi-partite choreography, beginning with a section in triple time, followed by a bourrée and then a minuet. The triple-time opening section has the musical structure AA (A=10). The bourrée is also AA (A=14), while the minuet has a rondeau structure AABACAA (A=B=C=8). The whole dance has 104 bars of music.

The music for The Britannia, along with that of many of the dances published after 1706, has been attributed to James Paisible, who may also have provided music for some of the earlier choreographies.

Over the years, I have performed The Richmond and The Favorite and I have worked on The Rondeau and The Rigadoon. I have never danced either The Spanheim or The Britannia, although I am looking forward to learning both of them in due course (albeit on my own, which makes analysis of these duets tricky).

There are another fifteen notated duets by Mr. Isaac, some of which can also be dated to the period between 1690 and 1706, although all were ostensibly first published after 1706. These begin with The Union of 1707 (another choreography I have danced) and end with The Morris of 1716 (a dance I hope to work on at a later date).

All of Isaac’s dances are challenging and even perplexing – as the above short descriptions of the six choreographies in the 1706 Collection suggest. They are very different in style (and even in technique) to the contemporary duets created by Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Were they the product of Isaac’s personal approach to choreography, or do they reflect the idiosyncrasies of English court dance in the French style? Isaac was part French and may well have trained in Paris (he certainly danced in some of the ballets given at the court of Louis XIV), which adds to the questions surrounding his dances. I will try to discuss each of these six dances in separate posts as and when I have done sufficient work on them. I have written on Isaac and some of his dances before and I give a list of these earlier posts below, for those who might be interested.

Earlier Posts

Isaac’s Rigadoon

Isaac’s Rigadoon: the Choreography

Reconstructing Isaac’s Rigadoon

Mr Isaac’s ‘The Favorite A Chaconne Danc’d by Her Majesty’

Further Reading

Carol Marsh, ‘French Court Dance in England, 1706-1740: a Study of the Sources’ (unpublished PhD thesis, City University of New York, 1985)

Meredith Ellis Little and Carol G. Marsh, La Danse Noble: An Inventory of Dances and Sources (Williamstown, 1992)

Jennifer Thorp, ‘Mr. Isaac, Dancing Master’, Dance Research, 24.2 (Winter, 2006), 117-137

Moira Goff ‘The testament and last will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4 (November 2010), 537-542