The Dancing Master’s Art Explained: Pierre Rameau, John Essex and Kellom Tomlinson

In 1725, Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître à danser was published in Paris. Just three years later, a translation by John Essex entitled The Dancing-Master; or, the Art of Dancing Explained appeared in London. It was heralded by an advertisement in Mist’s Weekly Journal for 13 January 1728, which stated that the treatise would be published ‘Next Week’ and promised that it would be ‘illustrated with 60 Figures drawn from the Life’ (Rameau’s title page had promised that his treatise was ‘Enrichi de Figures en Taille-douce’ without saying how many). The price was to be one guinea (equivalent to around £120 today).

Just over a year earlier, the issues of the Evening Post for 13-15 and 20-22 October 1726 had carried advertisements soliciting subscriptions for another English dance manual, Kellom Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing. Tomlinson promised ‘many Copper Plates’ for the illustration of his treatise indicating how important such images were. There was another advertisement in the London Journal for 3 December 1726, in which Tomlinson promised that The Art of Dancing was ‘now partly finished’ and would be published once he had sufficient subscribers to cover his costs. As we know, Tomlinson’s work would not appear until 1735 but his 1726 advertisements may have acted as a spur to Essex to produce his translation of Rameau’s treatise.

If John Essex had intended to compete with Kellom Tomlinson, it seems that he succeeded. In his Preface to The Art of Dancing, Tomlinson gave his reaction to reading about the imminent publication of The Dancing-Master in Mist’s Weekly Journal:

‘This gave me no small Surprize, having never before heard of either any such Book, or Author. Had it been my Fortune to have known, either before, or after I undertook to write on this Art, that such a Book was extant, my Curiosity would certainly have led me to have consulted it; and had I approved it, ‘tis highly probable, I should have given the World a translation of it, with some additional Observations of my own.’

Tomlinson’s claim to be ignorant of the existence of Rameau’s Le Maître à danser needs some investigation, given the tight-knit community of London’s leading dancing masters and the importance of French treatises and notated dances to their work (evidenced in Tomlinson’s surviving notebook). His immediate response was to defend his own treatise, which he did with an advertisement in Mist’s Weekly Journal for 27 January 1728.

Thereafter, Kellom Tomlinson remained quiet until he was able to return to advertising the forthcoming publication of The Art of Dancing, beginning in the London Evening Post for 20-22 December 1733. He may have spent the intervening period enhancing his treatise with additional plates to accompany his text, so that he could challenge Essex directly.

In the meantime, successive advertisements suggest that Essex’s The Dancing-Master may not have sold well. There were notices in the Country Journal or the Craftsman for 22 November and 27 December 1729, both saying ‘This Day is Published’ although The Dancing-Master had first appeared nearly two years earlier. Then, the Grub Street Journal for 23 December 1730 announced the publication of the ‘Second Edition’ of the treatise (which is dated 1731 on its title page). However, this was not a new edition at all but a reissue of unsold copies of the first edition, with a fresh title page and an additional leaf with approbations from Pecour (who was recommending Rameau’s original treatise) and Anthony L’Abbé. This edition was advertised successively in the Country Journal or the Craftsman on 1 January and 5 May 1733.

The changes to the title page wording (with an extended sub-title and a recommendation to likely purchasers) were doubtless for marketing purposes.

Later that year, the Grub Street Journal for 8 November 1733 advertised a ‘Second Edition with Additions’. This notice reproduces the wording of Essex’s title page, but it is worth paying close attention to the final paragraph.

Essex’s concern about the quality of his plates may have been prompted by his discovery that Kellom Tomlinson was finally ready to publish The Art of Dancing with its ‘many Copper Plates’ as announced in the London Evening Post for 20-22 December 1733.

I will have to leave a discussion of the plates in both The Dancing-Master and The Art of Dancing for another post.

Essex followed up his November 1733 advertisement with another in the Country Journal or the Craftsman on 5 January 1734, saying ‘This Day is Published’ but otherwise word-for-word as in the Grub Street Journal. Tomlinson’s next notice, in the London Evening Post for 18-20 April 1734, advised his subscribers that publication would be deferred to the following January ‘by Reason of the Advance of the Season, and the Emptiness of the Town’. He was hinting that many, if not most, of those who had subscribed to his treatise were the ‘Quality’ who left London for their country estates over the summer and early autumn. Essex seems to have fallen silent, at least I have not discovered further advertisements by him in the mid-1730s. The next notice was Tomlinson’s, in the London Evening Post for 8-10 May 1735, announcing the publication of The Art of Dancing on 26 June.

The additional delay was to allow the Engraving Copyright Act to become law. It had been championed by William Hogarth among others to protect the rights of artists whose original works were the subject of engravings. Tomlinson had himself drawn the images which were engraved by several leading printmakers for his treatise. The Art of Dancing cost two guineas to subscribers and two and a half guineas to others (equivalent to £250 and nearly £300 today).

Kellom Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing might have been more original and more handsomely produced than The Dancing-Master, as well as being supported by the nobility and gentry, but it did not sell well either. An advertisement in the London Daily Post for 11 December 1736 includes it among ‘Books sold cheap’ by William Warner. According to a notice in the London Evening Post for 5-7 November 1741, Tomlinson was himself selling copies for £1.11s.6d – rather less than the two and a half guineas he was originally charging – although an advertisement in the Country Journal or the Craftsman for 2 January 1742 quotes his original price. In the same newspaper for 31 December 1743, Tomlinson told intending purchasers that ‘there now remain but a small Number unsold of the Work’. The London Evening Post for 9-11 October 1746 advertised a ‘Second Edition’ as published that day, although surviving copies are dated 1744. The pagination of the two editions suggests that the second was in fact a reissue. Here are their respective title pages.

The last advertisement for the ‘Second Edition’ of Essex’s The Dancing-Master appeared in the Daily Advertiser for 12 January 1744 and there are surviving copies with this date on their title pages. John Essex was buried at St Dionis Backchurch in London on 6 February 1744.

I have come across two later advertisements for Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing. One is in the London Evening Post 30 January – 1 February 1752, offering the ‘Second Edition’ which is ‘colour’d, in a most beautiful Manner, and bound’ for five guineas (equivalent to more than £600 today). The other, in the Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer for 9 November 1758, has Tomlinson offering ‘The Original Art of Dancing’ for three guineas. The Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer for 18-20 June 1761 reported ‘Tuesday died, of a Paralytick Disorder, in Theobald’s Court, East Street, Red-Lion-Square, Mr. Kenelm Tomlinson, Dancing-Master, in the 74th Year of his Age’.

The publication history of these two early 18th-century dance manuals illuminates the commercial and social as well as the artistic context within which London’s dancing masters worked. They were intended for a monied if not an elite clientele. Both The Dancing-Master and The Art of Dancing are worth detailed research which goes well beyond a concern with the steps, style and technique that are their subject matter.

References

Both of these treatises were studied in detail by the American dance historian Carol G. Marsh in her PhD thesis ‘French Court Dance in England, 1706-1740: a Study of the Sources’ (City University of New York, 1985). In this post, I have drawn on and tried to add to her work.

The Regency Minuet

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to take part in a display of dancing for a heritage open day. We were doing regency dances, but the display began with a couple minuet. One of the other dancers asked if it was a regency minuet and I had to admit that it was not, but the question got me thinking about what a regency minuet might have been like.

Were minuets still being danced in the regency period? George, Prince of Wales was sworn in as Prince Regent for his father George III on 6 February 1811, and he succeeded him as king on 29 January 1820. A quick survey of newspaper references to the minuet during the first and last years of the regency reveals that it was still being taught, and performed at balls, throughout that period. I didn’t have time to do a thorough search, but I quickly came across advertisements by dancing masters who continued to include the minuet among the dances they offered. The Morning Post for 23 January 1810 has one by Thomas Wilson, who lists minuets alongside cotillions, hornpipes and country dances. The Morning Herald for 6 April 1818 has another by Mr Cunningham, who was offering ‘Quadrilles, Waltzes, Spanish Dances, Minuets, &c. Taught in the most fashionable style’. The following year, in the Morning Post for 12 November 1819, Mr Levien in his turn offered quadrilles, waltzes, minuets and country dances, ‘or any other department of Fashionable Dancing’. The minuet seems to have been far from dead, at least so far as dancing masters were concerned.

The reports and advertisements for balls show that the minuet was still the opening dance, performed by a suitably high-ranking couple. The ball on Lord Mayor’s Day, reported in the Morning Chronicle for 11 November 1811, was ‘opened in a Minuet by the Duke del Infantado, the Spanish Ambassador, and Lady Georgiana Cecil’. However, one indication of the changes that were happening appears in the report of the Lord Mayor’s Easter Monday ball in the Morning Chronicle for 15 April 1819. The Earl of Morton and Miss Atkins danced the Menuet de la Cour, and the writer declared that ‘Nothing could be more elegant and graceful’. The report did not reveal whether the ball opened with this dance but it did explain that ‘It was originally intended that the minuet should conclude with the usual Gavot as danced at the Opera House, but that part of the performance was omitted, as being inconsistent with the dignity of his Lordship’s character as Lord High Commissioner to the Grand Assembly of the Church of Scotland’. The ‘Gavot’ was, of course, the Gavotte de Vestris. Other changes involving the minuet are also evident from the newspapers, although I will not pursue these here.

The Menuet de la Cour dated back to the late 1770s and seems to have been introduced to London in 1781, when Gaëtan Vestris and his wife Anne Heinel danced it in the ballet-pantomime Ninette à la Cour. This duet (with and without the Gavotte de Vestris) would become a staple of benefit performances in London’s theatres. The original choreography would undergo many transformations in the course of an exceptionally long afterlife. The version published in notation by Malpied around 1780 shows clearly that, although the Menuet de la Cour included some of the minuet’s long-established figures, its steps went well beyond those prescribed by Pierre Rameau and Kellom Tomlinson in the earlier 1700s. This may have made it a suitable basis for the development of this exacting exhibition dance in the decades around 1800. Here is the opening figure of the dance, following the reverences (also notated by Malpied), in which there is not a single conventional pas de menuet.

One question hovering in the background of the regency minuet is to do with dress. The minuet had begun its long career in the late 17th century and had seen many changes of silhouette during the course of the 18th century, particularly for women. This illustration, which dates to the mid-1700s, shows one of them.

How was this most formal and, apparently, inhibited of dances adjusted to the free-flowing female dress of the regency and for dancers who were at the same time experiencing the very different movement style of the early waltz? This print, published in 1813, shows Princess Charlotte (the Prince Regent’s daughter) dancing a minuet with William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire. I can’t help thinking that the style and technique of the minuet, as well as its figures and its steps, were forced to change alongside the revolutions in dress and dancing.

There was one obvious attempt to bring the old duet up to date. The Sunday Monitor for 20 April 1817 has an advertisement by Thomas Wilson for a ‘Waltz and Quadrille Ball’ which ‘will be opened … by Mr. Wilson and a Young Lady, one of his Pupils, with the Waltz Minuet, composed by Mr. Wilson’.  I know that the basic waltz step suggested by Wilson in his 1816 treatise A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing bears an interesting relationship to the minuet step. I am hoping that there is somebody out there who knows (or can find out) how the ‘Waltz Minuet’ was performed. I would be happy to attend a workshop!

Publishing the Scenario for The Loves of Mars and Venus

John Weaver’s innovative ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ The Loves of Mars and Venus was first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717. The scenario for the afterpiece was published the same week, as announced in the Evening Post, 23-26 February 1717.

‘This Week will be published, as it will be perform’d at the Theatre in Drury Lane. The Loves of Mars and Venus, a Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing in Imitation of the Pantomimes of the ancient Greeks and Romans, compos’d by Mr. Weaver being a Description thereof, written by him for the Benefit of the Spectators, the Novelty of the Undertaking absolutely requiring some Instructions for the better [illustrating?] the same. Printed for W. Mears at the Lamb, and J. Brown at the Black Swan both without Temple-bar.’

This small work is the only surviving source for Weaver’s ballet and it is worth looking more closely at its publication history.

The scenario is the first work to describe in detail the action, dance and gesture in a ballet. It has been linked to the livrets published to accompany ballets at the French court in the late 17th century, but these works had little in the way of extended narrative and included songs which helped audiences to understand the action.

As the advertisement states, The Loves of Mars and Venus was printed for William Mears and J. Browne. Both were involved in the printing of plays and active in selling them. Mears also published opera libretti as well as masques and some early pantomime texts. The origins of Weaver’s scenario perhaps lie in such printed play texts and libretti for the Italian operas that were so popular in London. It was printed as an octavo – the same format as most plays in the early 18th century. The scenario was not ‘printed for the author’, so Weaver presumably sold his copyright to Mears and Browne and did not have to cover any of the printing costs. They were free to republish the text as and when they wished.

Weaver’s scenario is a pamphlet of just 24 pages. The imprint tells us that it cost 6d. (6 old pence), the same price as brief interludes or song texts. Mainpiece plays were 1s. 6d., reflecting their greater length. Although modern equivalents of 18th-century prices are difficult to calculate, 6d. was roughly £5 to £7.50 in today’s money. The size of the print run can only be guesswork, although 250 to 500 copies provide a reasonable estimate.

The relationship between the number of copies printed and audiences at performances of The Loves of Mars and Venus indicates that, even in its first season, very few spectators are likely to have been able to consult the scenario. Drury Lane held 800 to 1000, of whom around half were seated in the more expensive seats in the pit and boxes. We have no idea how many were in the audience at each of the seven performances of the afterpiece in 1716-1717. The advertisement says nothing about the scenario being available for purchase at the theatre, so would-be members of the audience would have needed to seek out a copy at the bookseller. On the other hand, the sale of the scenario elsewhere may have encouraged theatre-goers to attend Weaver’s experimental ballet.

There were more than forty performances of The Loves of Mars and Venus between 1716-1717 and 1723-1724 and another edition of the scenario was published by William Mears in 1724 to accompany the last revival of the afterpiece. This new edition was advertised in the Evening Post for 28-30 January 1724, a few days after the initial performance that season. It carries no edition statement and has the same internal pagination as the 1717 edition, so it may have been a reissue of unsold copies of the original edition. Unfortunately, I have not been able to examine a copy of the 1724 edition and there is no digital version which might allow me to check its status.

There was also an edition published in Dublin in 1720, which I would dearly like to see (according to the English Short Title Catalogue there is only one known copy, which is not accessible digitally). The Loves of Mars and Venus was never performed in Dublin, so far as we know, so this edition perhaps reflects the ballet’s success in London.  Mears and Browne went on to publish the scenario for Weaver’s next ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ Orpheus and Eurydice in 1718, which needs a post of its own.

The irregularity in the pagination of the 1717 scenario is worth investigating. The volume collates [A]2 B – C4 D2, which is not unusual, but the pagination runs [4], ix-xvi, 17-28. There seems to be a four-page gap, suggesting either an initial gathering of four leaves rather than two, or perhaps an additional two-leaf gathering after [A]. Was Weaver hoping to include a dedication, which did not materialise? In 1706, he had dedicated Orchesography (his translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie) to Mr Isaac and his An Essay Towards an History of Dancing of 1712 to Thomas Caverley. Who might have been the intended recipient of The Loves of Mars and Venus? Did Weaver perhaps wish to dedicate the scenario to Sir Richard Steele, licensee and manager of the Drury Lane Theatre and also a playwright? Steele had apparently invited Weaver to return to Drury Lane to mount his ballet but may not have wanted to accept the dedication. Or did Weaver have an aristocratic or even a royal patron in mind, only to be disappointed at the last moment?

The scenario for The Loves of Mars and Venus has a Preface, in which Weaver explains his intention to introduce dancing ‘in Imitation of the Pantomimes of the Ancient Greeks and Romans’ to the London stage and apologises for the deficiencies in the performance of this ‘entirely novel’ form of entertainment. This is followed by a cast list, with mini-biographies of Mars, Vulcan and Venus. The action and the dancing in the afterpiece are divided into six scenes and described in detail. Another innovation is that Weaver adds descriptions of the gestures used in scenes two and six. Without this information, we would have little idea of his approach to expressive mime. Here is the description of scene two together with the first of the pages devoted to the gestures used by Vulcan.

Weaver’s scenario allows us to envisage his ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ in performance. The Loves of Mars and Venus is one of very few 18th-century ballets for which we have evidence which, even without any music or surviving choreography, gives us the possibility of recreating a seminal work.

Further Reading

Richard Ralph, The Life and Works of John Weaver (London, 1985), which includes a facsimile reprint of Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus published in 1717.

Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume, The Publication of Plays in London 1660-1800 (London, 2015)

Scenery for Dancing on the Early 18th-Century London Stage

Visiting the theatre in early eighteenth-century London was a very different experience from that of the theatre-goer in the twenty-first century. There were very few theatres and all were small and intimate by modern standards. The entertainment offered was likely to include a variety of genres, which today we would expect to be rigidly separated by venue. On a single evening in any one theatre, the playgoer might see a mainpiece tragedy or comedy, followed by an afterpiece which could be a farce, a masque with singing or a pantomime with dancing. Between the acts of the first as well as before and sometimes after the second there would be music, dancing and occasional speciality acts. There was a great deal of dancing on the London stage during the early eighteenth century. What was the scenic context for this dancing? Were the danced afterpieces provided with new scenery, suitable to their action, or could and did they draw on the theatre’s stock scenery? Were the entr’acte dances performed against whatever scenery was in place for the play they interrupted? How might the scenery have affected playgoers’ perceptions of the choreographies they saw?

Afterpieces

The first wholly danced afterpiece on the London stage was John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus, performed at Drury Lane on 2 March 1717. Weaver published a detailed scenario to accompany performances which tells us that The Loves of Mars and Venus has six scenes, most of which have a specific location. Scene one, which introduces Mars, is set in ‘A Camp’. In scene two, ‘the Scene opens and discovers Venus in her Dressing-Room at her Toilet’, while scene three ‘opens to Vulcan’s Shop’. Mars and Venus meet for a love tryst in scene four in ‘A Garden’, after which scene five returns to Vulcan’s shop. The setting for scene six is unspecified, but it may return to the garden of scene three, or perhaps an interior as Mars and Venus are described as ‘sitting on a Couch’. The subsequent descent of several gods and goddesses to resolve the quarrel between Vulcan, his wife and her lover, would not have looked any less surprising in either an interior or exterior location.

All of these scenes, with the exception of Vulcan’s shop, are recognisably from Drury Lane’s stock. The shop may have used a generic interior with suitable freestanding props, including Vulcan’s anvil, a forge and a ‘Grindlestone’. Colley Cibber, in his Apology published in 1740, indicated the use of existing scenery when he wrote of Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus that ‘from our Distrust of its Reception, we durst not venture to decorate it, with an extraordinary Expence of Scenes, or Habits’. The familiarity of the scenery may have helped with the success of the ballet, countering its ‘Design so entirely novel and foreign’ as Weaver himself put it.

A few years later, the pantomime Harlequin Doctor Faustus was advertised with the enticement ‘All the Scenes, Machines, Habits and other Decorations being entirely New’ when it was first performed at Drury Lane on 26 November 1723. The afterpiece, which had a great deal of serious as well as grotesque dancing, included such locations as ‘The Doctor’s Study’, ‘The Street’ and ‘A Room in the Doctor’s House’, all of which sound suspiciously like stock scenery which must have domesticated the action for audiences who would have recognised the scenes from use in mainpiece plays. However, the concluding ‘Grand Masque of the Heathen Deities’ (a divertissement of serious dancing) was provided with ‘A Poetical Heaven. The Prospect terminating in plain Clouds’. Finally ‘the Cloud that finishes the Prospect flies up’ to reveal ‘Diana standing in a fix’d Posture on an Altitude form’d by Clouds, the Moon transparent over her Head in an Azure Sky, tinctur’d with little Stars’. The scene must have surprised and charmed, perhaps even awed, audiences before Hester Booth as Diana danced a step.

Entr’acte Dances

The scenic context for entr’acte dances must have been quite different. On 11 April 1728, The Provok’d Husband was performed at Drury Lane for the benefit of Theophilus Cibber and his wife. The play, adapted and completed by the actor’s father Colley Cibber from Sir John Vanbrugh’s unfinished A Journey to London, had proved extremely successful following its first performance on 10 January 1728. Its initial run of 28 performances was cut short only by the overwhelming popularity of The Beggar’s Opera, which opened at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 29 January. The 11 April performance of The Provok’d Husband was the first for which entr’acte dances were billed in detail. Here is the advertisement in the Daily Post for 11 April 1728:

The information about the dancing allows us to explore the scenes the dances may have been performed against.

Much of the action in The Provok’d Husband is set in either ‘Lord Townly’s House’ or ‘Mrs Motherly’s House’, that is in rooms within their houses, they being two of the principal characters. Presumably these locations were distinguished from one another by differences in the wings and shutters (which may have been minimal) and by onstage props placed within the scenic stage area. So, the Harlequins duet could have been performed either in front of the scene representing ‘Lord Townly’s Apartment’ (for act one) or before ‘Mrs Motherly’s House’ (the scene for act two). Either scene would have placed a grotesque dance against an interior scene which was intended to remind audiences of a room familiar to them from either their own town houses or those of their family, friends or neighbours. The dance given in this performance against such a backdrop might have suggested the idea of an entertainment, more specifically a masquerade ball, thus anticipating a later scene in the play.

The use of scenes behind dances, and the relationship between the two, is shown by the engravings in Gregorio Lambranzi’s Neue und curieuse Theatralische Tantz-Schul published in Nuremberg in 1716. Although it was printed in one of the German states and was the work of a Venetian dancing master, Lambranzi’s book shows many parallels with what we know of entr’acte dancing in London at this period, including the titles and themes of many of the dances he illustrates. The stage sets in the engravings are formed of wings and shutters with a variety of interior and exterior scenes. The backdrop to the duet of male and female Harlequins, seems to be decorative rather than realistic although it could represent an interior hung with tapestries.

Other engravings apparently show rooms in houses, and not all of these are associated with the serious dances portrayed by Lambranzi.

Of course, it may have been standard practice in London’s theatres to close the downstage set of shutters behind the entr’acte dancers, providing them with a neutral backdrop against which to perform. Such an effect can be seen in a painting by Marcellus Laroon the younger.

The scene has many fanciful touches and, although it does seem to show dancers on stage, it cannot be securely linked to any of London’s theatres. Nevertheless, it provides a glimpse of how entr’acte dances may have been presented. Decorative but otherwise neutral scenes can also be seen in some of Lambranzi’s engravings.

The effect is to present the dancers in their own space, focussing attention directly on them and distancing them and their choreography from the action of the play which they interrupt.

The dances ‘In the Masquerade Scene’ within The Provok’d Husband as well as that given at the ‘End of the Play’ on 11 April 1728 raise some more questions. The masquerade, a key part of the play’s dénouement, takes place in act five. The scene is ‘another Apartment’ in Lord Townly’s house and several stock masquerade characters are mentioned, including a ‘Shepherdess’, a ‘Nun’ and a ‘running Footman’. The action calls for ‘A Dance of Masks … in various Characters’ and it is here that the Polonese, probably a Polonaise by dancers who perhaps wore recognisably ‘Polish’ costumes, must have been performed as part of the play, against the wings and shutters in place for this scene. The other performers in the ‘Dance of Masks’ may have been actors rather than the company’s dancers. The Coquette Shepherdess, performed at the end of play, may have been a tiny scene as well as a dance. Could it also have been a mute commentary on the play’s moral as demonstrated by Lady Townly ‘Immoderate in her Pursuit of Pleasures’ at the beginning who has become a ‘Wife Reform’d’ by the end?

Later in the season, for a performance on 3 May 1728, the entr’acte dances were again billed in detail for a benefit with The Provok’d Husband as the mainpiece, this time for Mrs Brett and Miss Lindar. The differences between the two bills are interesting. Here is the advertisement from the Daily Post for 3 May 1728.

They were almost all inserted in different places from those of 11 April, and there was no mention of dancing in the ‘Masquerade Scene’. Acts three and four of The Provok’d Husband were also both set in interiors. The omission of any mention of the dance in the masquerade scene suggests that this was either left out or, perhaps, performed by the actors. This would have favoured the entr’acte dances performed elsewhere on the bill. The fact that any of them could plausibly have formed part of a ‘Dance of Masks … in various Characters’ may have affected its staging at this performance.

The differences between the bills of 11 April and 3 May make it obvious that entr’acte dances were not usually meant to relate to the action of the play. The performance histories of the respective dances given at the end of act one in each performance underline this. On 11 April, there was a Harlequins duet by two of Drury Lane’s youngest dancers, Master Lally and Miss Brett, whereas on 3 May Miss Brett danced a solo Saraband. Apart from the fact that the Harlequins duet was a comic (if not a grotesque) dance and the solo Saraband belonged to the serious genre, the former probably had its origin in a very different context. It may well have come from the pantomime Harlequin Happy and Poor Pierrot Married, which had been first performed at Drury Lane on 11 March ‘With new Scenes and proper Decorations’. Master Lally and Miss Brett had been billed as ‘Children of Love representing two Harlequins’ and their duet seems to have been so popular that it quickly became an entr’acte dance to allow for more frequent performances. During the 1727-28 season, the two youngsters also danced Harlequins at the end of act three of Farquhar’s  The Recruiting Officer (7 May 1728) and on the same bill as both Vanbrugh’s The Relapse (8 April 1728) and Macbeth (Davenant’s version, 8 May 1728). Miss Brett performed her Saraband once in 1727-28.

Conclusion

The advertisements for danced afterpieces, as well as other evidence, show that these made use of stock scenery but could also be provided with new and lavish individual scenes when such expense could be justified. There is insufficient evidence to allow a definitive answer to the question about the background scenery for entr’acte dances. Were they danced before the scenes in place for the mainpiece play or before decorative but neutral shutters? We don’t know. Entr’acte dances were such an integral part of the theatrical bill, and audiences were so familiar with the conventions surrounding them, that the backdrops must rarely have attracted notice. Audiences undoubtedly picked up the subtext provided by choreography and the dancers, quite independently of the scenes that framed them. Given that dancing in London’s theatres mostly took place on the forestage, whatever was behind them dancers had in any case stepped out of the frame provided by the proscenium arch into a space shared with their audience.

This post was originally a conference paper, given several years ago but never published, which I have both revised and amended.

Reading List

John Weaver, The Loves of Mars and Venus (London, 1717)

Colley Cibber, An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, ed. B. R. S. Fone (Mineola, NY, 2000)

An Exact Description of the Two Fam’d Entertainments of Harlequin Doctor Faustus (London: [1724])

Colley Cibber, The Provok’d Husband (London, 1728)

Gregorio Lambranzi, Neue und curieuse Theatralische Tantz-Schul (Nurnberg: Johan Jacob Wolrab, [1716]). I use the modern English translation of this work, New and Curious School of Theatrical Dancing, transl. Derra de Moroda (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002)

The Music Party. Paintings, Drawings & Prints by Marcellus Laroon (1679-1772), comp. James Miller [London?, 2011]

Moira Goff, The Incomparable Hester Santlow (Aldershot, 2007)

How Many Dancers Can You Fit on an Early 18th-Century London Stage?

Watching several excerpts from baroque operas performed in period style recently, I was struck by how crowded the stage was – particularly when there were also dancers. I couldn’t help wondering how this might relate to dancing in London’s theatres during the 1700s and what this might tell us about the view seen from the audience. These operas were not performed in an 18th-century theatre, although the stage and its scenery emulated its much earlier predecessors. The main differences (so far as London is concerned) were that there was no forestage (the area in front of the proscenium arch which projected into the auditorium) and the stage was not raked. I have been told that the overall space for the dancers to perform, with some variation between individual productions, was 24 feet across the front of the stage, narrowing to around 15 feet upstage and with a depth of some 10 to 12 feet. How does this compare with London’s Drury Lane, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Covent Garden Theatres in the early decades of the 18th century?

Stages in London’s Theatres

By 1714, London had three theatres with either a patent or a license which allowed them to present a variety of entertainments to the public. Drury Lane, built in 1674, and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, reopened in 1714 after the rebuilding of an earlier theatre, offered plays and related genres with a variety of entr’acte entertainments. The King’s Theatre, known as the Queen’s Theatre when it opened in 1705, was to all intents and purposes London’s opera house offering the newly-fashionable Italian opera. Covent Garden, like the King’s Theatre an entirely new playhouse, opened in 1732 and took over the repertoire previously given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, although it also offered Italian opera from time to time. Drury Lane, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Covent Garden all included entr’acte dances and danced afterpieces on their bills.

The three theatres used for drama accommodated their audiences on several levels. The pit was in front of and a little below the stage, the front boxes faced the stage on a level with it and the side boxes ran along the sides of the auditorium from the stage in two or more tiers at stage level and above. Some of the side boxes were within the stage area. Above the front boxes rose one or two galleries. There were no separate numbered seats and no fixed capacity at any of the theatres. On special occasions, for example performer benefits, seating could be altered by railing part of the pit into boxes and at many performances members of the audience might sit on the stage itself. Drury Lane could hold around 1000 spectators, while at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Covent Garden there could be as many as 1400. The auditoriums were fan-shaped, rather than the horse-shoe shape more familiar to us now, and provided good sightlines from most parts of the house. The whole of each theatre was illuminated by candles, with footlights at the front of the stage, and both the auditorium and stage remained fully lit throughout the performance.

The stage itself had three distinct parts. The forestage was in front of the proscenium arch and was wider than it was deep. It was well in front of the scenery and the most brightly lit of the stage areas. The scenic stage was immediately behind the proscenium arch.  It was deeper than the forestage and narrowed progressively towards the upstage area. It was enclosed by the wings and shutters which formed the scenery, and was also the area where machines were used for special effects like flying or transformations. It contained traps for surprise appearances and disappearances. Beyond the scenic stage was the vista stage used for deep perspective scenes, an area not used for acting or dancing.  Dance historians are divided on whether dancers were able to perform within the scenic stage, because of the traps and the placing of the grooves which held the scenes and shutters. There is some evidence that the first set of shutters was normally placed some nine feet upstage of the proscenium arch, which could have allowed dancers to use the area in front of them.

This plan of the Covent Garden Theatre of 1732, published in Paris some forty years later, shows the layout of the stage and points to the area most likely to have been used by dancers.

The incomplete data from the three theatres does not readily translate into precise measurements. In The Development of the English Playhouse, Richard Leacroft provides detailed drawings for conjectural reconstructions of Drury Lane and Covent Garden, but he does not try to do the same for Lincoln’s Inn Fields. His drawings are difficult to interpret in any detail by those of us who are non-specialists in architecture. Using Leacroft together with an essay by Edward A. Langhans and a pamphlet by Paul Sawyer it is possible to provide some indicative figures (references for all these sources are given at the end of this post). At Drury Lane the forestage was some 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep, while at Covent Garden it was 30 feet wide but only 12 feet deep. The scenic stage at Drury Lane was 25 feet wide and 30 feet deep. At Covent Garden it was 30 feet wide and 30 feet deep. There are no certain figures for Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but the forestage may have been some 25 feet wide and its depth has been estimated at only 12 to 15 feet. However, a visitor who saw the playhouse more than a dozen years after it had fallen out of use for performances said that it ‘stretched itself to nearly the center of the house greatly to the dimunation of the Pit’, suggesting that it was in fact deeper than the forestage at its contemporary Drury Lane.

It is hard to assess how far the dancers moved upstage as they were performing, as this will have depended on the scenery and props for individual productions as well as the amount of upstage lighting. With this fresh review of the evidence, I think that dancers might have had a maximum space of some 30 feet by 30 feet (across and up the stage) at each of the playhouses.

Dancers on London’s Stages

How many dancers did London’s theatres have on stage at any one time in mainpieces, afterpieces and the entr’actes? I can’t answer this question definitively. For now, I will concentrate on the 1720s when, for some reason, advertisements were more detailed and specific than they were in the surrounding decades.

There were a handful of mainpieces with dancing that were given in many seasons. They were, essentially, dramatic operas. One from the Drury Lane repertoire was The Tempest and another, given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, was The Island Princess. I hope to take a closer look at each of them in due course, but for now here is an estimate of the maximum number of dancers they each put on stage at any one time – so far as I can tell from their published texts and the bills published in the newspapers and elsewhere.

The 1674 production of The Tempest (when Shakespeare’s play became a dramatic opera with alterations by Dryden, Davenant and Thomas Shadwell) called for as many as 12 Tritons for the dancing in the concluding masque of Neptune and Amphitrite. The Tritons seem to have disappeared from the cast as the masque changed in the early years of the 18th century, but none of the bills are clear as to which and how many dancing characters replaced them. The Drury Lane performance on 15 May 1734 announced a ‘Grand Dance of Spirits’ but provided no further information.

The Island Princess was first given as a dramatic opera in 1699, with swains and shepherdesses dancing in act 2 (we don’t know how many there were) and a concluding masque of the ‘Four Seasons or Love in Every Age’. The text published at the time of the 1699 performances lists at least 12 dancing characters for the masque, which ends as ‘Cupid with the four ages and four seasons, mingle in a dance’ while a chorus is sung. The stage directions are not clear about the dancers in this final choreography, but there must have been at least nine and perhaps as many as fifteen. When The Island Princess was revived at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 24 October 1729, the bill announced dancing ‘Incident to the Play’ by some 14 dancers (nine men and five women). There seems to be no way of telling how many of them performed in the masque’s concluding dance.

The Grand Dances and Grand Ballets are the most likely of the many entr’acte dances given in London’s theatres to have deployed larger numbers of dancers. Eight to ten dancers seem to have been quite usual in the 1720s and early 1730s, but there were sometimes more (particularly at Lincoln’s Inn Fields). On 6 May 1728 a ‘new Grand Dance’ was given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields by Glover with five men and five women at his benefit. On 19 April 1729 at the same theatre there was a ‘new Grand Ballet (English, French, Dutch Characters) composed by Moreau’ with six couples including Moreau and his wife. On 14 November 1724, Drury Lane had advertised a ‘new Grand Dance’ with six men and three women, a pattern that was repeated with another ‘new Grand Dance’ on 14 April 1729. Of course, there is no way of knowing if all the dancers in these choreographies actually appeared on stage together – these Grand Dances and Grand Ballets may have been divertissements rather than single dances – but it would have enhanced the spectacle if they did.

Then, there are the afterpieces. Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus, first given in 1717 ad revived as late as 1724, ends with a Grand Dance by ‘Mars, with the rest of the Gods, and Goddesses’, so there were nine or perhaps ten dancers, if Cupid also joined in. I am assuming, perhaps wrongly, that the Cyclops have already left the stage. The Lincoln’s Inn Fields Apollo and Daphne; or, the Burgomaster Tricked, first given on 14 January 1726, included the triumph of Cupid with a ‘Grand Entry’ centred on Zephyrus and Flora. According to advertisements, this must have had eight dancers, with Spanish, Polish and French couples alongside Zephyrus and Flora. Drury Lane’s Cephalus and Procris, first given on 28 October 1730, culminated in a masque for Neptune and Amphitrite (which must surely have drawn on that for The Tempest) which ended with a ‘Grand Dance’. It is impossible to be sure how many dancers appeared together but there must have been between eight and fifteen.

The deployment of dancers in mainpieces and afterpieces may have taken them further into the scenic stage than would have been the case for entr’acte dances, in which the performers may well have kept to the forestage. Apart from space for the dancers to perform steps and figures, there is also the question of what the audience could see. How might a stage crowded with dancers have influenced choreographies created for them? The forestage allowed dancers to be seen from three sides as well as from above, while the rake would have helped to make dancers upstage more visible to the audience seated in the pit and boxes. We need to think beyond what we know from the notated dances, to the theatres and stages where these were performed, if we are to understand the dancing in 18th-century London theatres.

Reading List

Edward A. Langhans, ‘The Theatres’ in The London Theatre World, 1660-1800, ed. Robert D. Hume (Carbondale, 1980), 35-65

Richard Leacroft, The Development of the English Playhouse (London, 1988)

Paul Sawyer, The New Theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (London, 1979)

Richard Southern, Changeable Scenery: its Origin and Development in the British Theatre (London, 1952)

Season of Dancing: 1716-1717

One of the London stage seasons I have wanted to look at more closely is 1716-1717. It was the season that saw the first performances of John Weaver’s ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ The Loves of Mars and Venus. I am not going to explore 1716-1717 in as much detail as I did 1725-1726, although I will pick up some of the topics I mention here in later posts.

1716-1717 was the third season to follow the reopening of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1714, which ended Drury Lane’s monopoly over drama and associated entertainments. I have mentioned elsewhere that John Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields turned to dancing to counter Drury Lane’s far more experienced acting company. His success forced Drury Lane to take other genres, including dancing, more seriously so it could respond in kind. In 1715-1716, the forain performers Joseph Sorin and Richard Baxter had appeared at Drury Lane and presented a variety of entr’acte dances and two afterpieces which drew on the commedia dell’arte. I will return to the afterpieces, The Whimsical Death of Harlequin and La Guingette, on another occasion, but it may have been their success which prompted Drury Lane’s managers to look out for other similar entertainments and to engage the dancer and choreographer John Weaver for the next season.

During 1716-1717, Drury Lane offered 204 performances between September and the following August – including a summer season with 19 performances, which ran from 24 June to 23 August 1717. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there were 185 performances between October 1716 and July 1717 with no separate summer season. There was also the King’s Theatre, which offered a season of Italian opera between December 1716 and June 1717 with a total of six operas and 32 performances. At King’s, dancers were advertised at just three performances although they must have appeared more often.

The figures for performances with entr’acte dances are very different at the two main theatres. At Drury Lane there were 93 (including the summer season, 45% of the total), while at Lincoln’s Inn Fields there were 154 (83% of the total). Drury Lane had 10 performances with danced afterpieces and Lincoln’s Inn Fields had 12. However, Lincoln’s Inn Fields was evidently working hard to catch up, because their afterpieces were given in April and May – after Drury Lane’s in March and April.

As for the dancers, Drury Lane had 5 men and 3 women who danced regularly in the entr’actes, although the three women were also actresses. These dancers were:  Dupré, Boval, Dupré Jr, Prince and Birkhead; Mrs Santlow, Mrs Bicknell and Miss Younger. John Weaver and Wade danced only in afterpieces. Dupré and Mrs Santlow were the company’s leading dancers. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields there were 7 men and 3 women as regular entr’acte dancers: Thurmond Jr, Moreau, Cook, Newhouse, Delagarde, Shaw and ‘Kellum’s Scholar’ (perhaps the dancer John Topham); Mrs Schoolding, Miss Smith, Mrs Bullock. Rich’s leading dancers were Anthony Moreau and Mrs Schoolding (although Miss Smith was most often billed among the women). There were also the Sallé children, Francis and Marie, who were a special attraction. At both playhouses there were other dancers who were only billed a few times during the season, although they may have performed more often. At the King’s Theatre, the dancers were Glover, billed as ‘De Mirail’s Scholar’ and Mlle Cerail. The Sallé childen made what was apparently a single appearance there on 5 June 1717, alongside Handel’s opera Rinaldo.

Francis and Marie Sallé were making their first appearance in London. At their first performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 18 October 1716, they were billed as ‘two Children, Scholars of M Ballon, lately arriv’d from the Opera at Paris’ with the additional notice that ‘Their Stay will be short in England’. They were undoubtedly the star dancers of the 1716-1717 season at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  Rich even resorted to a ‘count down’ trick to increase audiences, with an announcement on 5 December 1716 that they ‘stay but nine days longer’, while 10 December was ‘the last time but one of their Dancing on the Stage during their Stay in England’. If this was true, he must have negotiated an extension to their contract for they reappeared not only on 11 December but on 15 December (their ‘last appearance’) and again, without comment, on 20 December. They then danced regularly until 10 June 1717.

Unsurprisingly, there were far more entr’acte dances advertised at Lincoln’s Inn Fields than at Drury Lane. Rich’s dancers gave 27 (6 group dances, 18 duets and 3 solos), while those at Drury Lane gave only 10 (5 group dances, 1 trio, 1 duet and 3 solos). Two of the Drury Lane dances – a solo Mimic Song and Country Dance and the group Countryman and Women – were only given during the summer season. The overlap in entr’acte dances between the two theatres was among the commedia dell’arte numbers. On 18 October, Drury Lane advertised Dame Ragundy and her Family, in the Characters of a Harlequin Man and Woman, Two Fools, a Punch and Dame Ragundy. According to the dancers billed for the performance, the Harlequin Man and Woman were probably Dupré and Mrs Santlow. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields that same evening there was Two Punchanellos, Two Harlequins and a Dame Ragonde, ‘the Harlequins to be perform’d by the Two Children’. Both dances were revivals from the previous season, probably with some changes. Drury Lane was trying to capitalise on its success with Sorin and Baxter in 1715-1716 as well as answer the Lincoln’s Inn Fields forays into commedia dell’arte.

On 22 October 1716, Drury Lane billed a Mimic Night Scene, after the Italian Manner, between a Harlequin, Scaramouch and Dame Ragonde, ‘being the same that was perform’d with great Applause, by the Sieurs Alard, 14 years ago’. The theatre’s revival of a piece from its own past (if that is what it was) was a success, for this Night Scene was given some 19 times during the season. The response from Lincoln’s Inn Fields was a Night Scene by the Sallé children, given three performances between 5 and 7 November. There had been some tit-for-tat billing of Night Scenes between the two theatres in 1715-1716, but Rich may now have felt he had other fish to fry when it came to dancing ‘after the Italian Manner’.

His focus was, of course, on the Sallé children, who together performed in a dozen entr’acte dances during 1716-1717. They gave nine duets and took part in three group dances. I have already mentioned the Dame Ragonde dance in which they performed as Harlequins and I will come to the other group dances shortly. Their London repertoire as child dancers in the late 1710s is worth closer analysis and I hope to return to it in another post.  Here, I will only mention the ‘Scene in the French Andromache burlesqued’ in which Francis danced Orestes with Marie as Hermione – the play was presumably Racine’s Andromaque and the children may have been drawing on their repertoire at the Paris fairs. This was repeated at least five times during the season. They also performed a new duet, The Submission, by the London dancing master Kellom Tomlinson who was then starting out on his career. This was first given on 21 February 1717 and repeated another three times that month. The Submission is the only dance performed by Marie Sallé to survive in notation, for it was published by Tomlinson that same year. Here is the first plate.

The leading dancer and perhaps the dancing master at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Anthony Moreau, was credited with five dances in the bills and may well have been responsible for more. His most popular choreography by far was the Grand Comic Dance first performed with The Prophetess on 15 November 1716. It was advertised as the Grand Comic Wedding Dance alongside The Emperor of the Moon on 28 December but reverted to its original title when it was given on 8 April 1717. It received 21 performances in all in the course of 1716-1717 and the Sallé children were among its dancers.

Drury Lane revived two of its popular pastoral dances from the previous season – Lads and Lasses on 18 October and Myrtillo on 13 December – although neither of them were given more than a few performances, perhaps because there was no response from Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Lads and Lasses is one of those dances for which it is impossible to discover exactly who danced it at most, if not all, of its performances. Myrtillo may have deployed the same six dancers as in the previous season (Dupré, Boval, Dupré Jr, Mrs Santlow, Mrs Bicknell, Miss Younger – who were all named as entr’acte dancers at its first performance in 1716-1717). Lads and Lasses would last into the late 1720s. Myrtillo became a regular feature of the entr’acte dance repertoire at Lincoln’s Inn Fields as well as Drury Lane and lasted into the mid-1730s.

Both companies gave mainpieces with dancing this season. At Drury Lane these were Macbeth and The Tempest, while at Lincoln’s Inn Fields The Island Princess, Macbeth and The Prophetess as well as The Emperor of the Moon were performed. However, the most important productions, so far as future developments are concerned, were the afterpieces at both theatres. With these, the sequence of first performances is of interest as it shows clearly the progress of the rivalry between Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Drury Lane, 2 March 1717, The Loves of Mars and Venus by John Weaver

Drury Lane, 2 April 1717, The Shipwreck; or, Perseus and Andromeda by John Weaver

Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 22 April 1717, The Cheats; or, The Tavern Bilkers

Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 29 April 1717, The Jealous Doctor

Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 20 May 1717, Harlequin Executed

These were all new productions and it is evident that Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields was responding to Weaver at Drury Lane. I have written about The Loves of Mars and Venus elsewhere and I will take another closer look at this ballet in due course. Rich would produce a direct response to it in 1717-1718 and there would be several Lincoln’s Inn Fields afterpieces which used the phrase ‘Loves of’ in their titles. This season, though, there was only an entr’acte dance, The Loves of Harlequin and Colombine, performed by Francis and Marie Sallé on 23 April 1717. Might this suggest that the two children had been taken to Drury Lane to see Dupré and Mrs Santlow as Mars and Venus, so they could mimic them?

The Cheats; or, The Tavern Bilkers was, of course, a direct hit at Weaver by Rich – who obviously knew of Weaver’s claim to have created a piece entitled The Tavern Bilkers some fifteen years earlier, described by Weaver some years later as ‘The first Entertainment that appeared on the English Stage, where the Representation and Story was carried on by Dancing, Action and Motion only’ (The History of the Mimes and Pantomimes, published 1728, see page 45). The Jealous Doctor was based on a new, short-lived play given at Drury Lane on 16 January 1717, Three Hours after Marriage by John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Arbuthnot. Harlequin Executed had begun as a Lincoln’s Inn Fields entr’acte dance, entitled Italian Mimic Scene between a Scaramouch, Harlequin, Country Farmer, His Wife and Others on 26 December 1716 before being renamed as Harlequin Executed; or, The Farmer Disappointed on 29 December. After some seven performances as an entr’acte dance, it became an afterpiece on 10 May 1717 and would last in the Lincoln’s Inn Fields repertoire until 1721-1722. Although there is no mention of him in Harlequin Executed until 1717-1718, ‘Lun’ (John Rich himself) took the role of Harlequin in both The Cheats and The Jealous Doctor – directly challenging Weaver as Vulcan in The Loves of Mars and Venus and Perseus (Harlequin) in The Shipwreck. All of these afterpieces were, of course, laying the foundations for the new genre of English pantomime that would emerge over the next few years. This satirical print depicts how unsettling that would be for serious drama on the London stage. ‘Lun’ as Harlequin takes centre stage.

Momus Turn’d Fabulist and Its ‘Grand Dance’

Momus Turn’d Fabulist; or, Vulcan’s Wedding was first performed on 3 December 1729 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It was described in the bills as ‘After the Manner of the Beggar’s Opera’ and the printed edition of the same year confirms that it was another ballad opera.

It continued to be revived until 1736-1737, although following the company’s move to its new Covent Garden Theatre during the 1732-1733 season it became an afterpiece. The Grand Dance of Momus was first advertised independently of the ballad opera as early as 17 December 1729. It lasted until 1740-1741, with a final performance in 1745-1746.

Momus is probably an unfamiliar figure to most theatregoers nowadays. In classical mythology, he was the personification of satire and mockery and appeared in Aesop’s Fables as a figure who finds fault with everything. By the 17th century he was seen as a buffoon and associated with the licence of carnival. All of these aspects are seen in his appearances in Thomas Carew’s 1634 masque Coelum Britannicum, as well as John Dryden’s The Secular Masque added to an adaptation of John Fletcher’s The Pilgrim in 1700.

In France, Momus featured in two ballets de cour – the Ballet des Bienvenus of 1655, in which he was described as ‘Dieu de la Bouffonneries’ and danced by ‘Baptiste’ (Jean-Baptiste Lully), and the Ballet de Psyché of 1656, as the ‘Bouffon des Dieux’ danced by ‘Molier’ (Louis de Mollier). In 1695, he was the central character in Desmarets’s opera Les Amours de Momus given at the Paris Opéra that year but not subsequently revived. The livret for this work does not name the dancers. Momus also had a significant part in Le Carnaval et la Folie, a comédie-ballet by Destouches, given at the French court in 1703 and then at the Paris Opéra in 1704. For its public performances, the leading dancers were Ballon and Mlle Subligny. It was revived several times, including 1719 when the leading dancers were David Dumoulin and Mlles Prévost and Guyot.

1719 was the year when Momus Fabuliste ou les Noces de Vulcain, a comedy by Louis Fuzelier and Marc-Antoine Legrand, was given at the Comédie Française. This was the source of the Momus Turn’d Fabulist performed in London some ten years later. The Introduction to the published text of the English ballad opera, in the form of a dialogue between a Player and a Gentleman, refers explicitly to the French play and praises the adaptation from a ‘French farce’ to an ‘English opera’. There is certainly more to be said about the figure of Momus and Momus Fabuliste, but my interest is (of course) in the dancing on the London stage. The frontispiece to the printed text of Momus Fabuliste provides a flavour of Momus as he appeared in the Paris farce.

The main difference between Momus Fabuliste and Momus Turn’d Fabulist is the addition to the latter of forty-two tunes for the sung ballads that punctuate the action and accompany the various fables that are told in the course of both the French play and its English adaptation. The story revolves around Momus’s mockery of each of the gods and goddesses in the classical pantheon, leading to the making of a match between Vulcan and Venus and culminating in the celebration of their wedding. Momus Turn’d Fabulist includes the stage direction ‘Here an Entertainment of Dancing in Honour of Vulcan’s Wedding’. This is the only reference to dancing in the piece and must have been what became the entr’acte Grand Dance of Momus. There is no music provided for this, as the adjacent ‘Air XLII. Parson upon Dorothy’ is almost certainly associated with the ‘Fable by way of Ballad’ that Momus calls on each deity in turn to perform. The stage direction is actually taken directly from Momus Fabuliste, which had music by Jean-Baptiste-Maurice Quinault. The score for the ‘Divertissement de la comédie de Momus fabuliste’ was published in 1719 but seems to survive in only a single copy not accessible digitally.

The immediate question is, did London’s Grand Dance of Momus use Quinault’s music? It is impossible to answer definitively, for there are no references to its music in the bills or elsewhere. The dancers in the Grand Dance of Momus are not listed in the bills until 1731, when it was given at a benefit performance for Mr and Mrs Laguerre. The leading couple was Nivelon and Mrs Laguerre, with five male dancers and four female dancers to support them. The inclusion of one more male than female dancer in these ensembles is a regular feature of group dances on the London stage. I have been tempted to assume that such casting points to a solo by the leading male dancer billed, who may or may not also dance with one of the women, but additional information (below) shows that this is not quite the case with the Grand Dance of Momus. Nivelon probably did dance a solo for he was billed alone during the 1729-1730 summer season in ‘The Celebrated Dance in Momus, to the Black Joke Tune’ at the Richmond Theatre. He probably choreographed, or arranged, the Grand Dance of Momus.

Could Nivelon have used some or all of Quinault’s music for Momus Fabuliste? Without access to the score it is difficult to follow up that possibility. We have few clues to Nivelon’s career before he arrived at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1723, when he was billed as ‘lately arriv’d from the Opera at Paris’ (in his case presumably the Opéra Comique). Research is needed to discover what he had been doing prior to his move to London and whether he may have been familiar with Momus Fabuliste and had access to its music. In any case, the Black Joke seems to have been a regular feature of the Grand Dance of Momus. A much later advertisement identifies the two leading dancers as a Sailor and a Lively Lass, with two Swains, two Nymphs and three ‘College Youths’ – the same number of male dancers as in the earlier bills but only two and not four female supporting dancers. (An internet search turns up the Ancient Society of College Youths, a change-ringing society established in the early 17th century, which may or may not be relevant to this choreography.) The Grand Dance of Momus must have been a divertissement, with a number of contrasting dances within it.

The various tunes in Momus Turn’d Fabuliste may have nothing to do with its dancing, but several of them point to other entr’acte dances and even two within pantomimes. There is the ‘Pierrot Tune’ and the ‘Highland Dance’, as well as the ‘Hay-makers Dance, in Faustus’ and the ‘Dance in Sorcerer’. The Black Joke (which does not feature in the printed ‘opera’) also has a wider musical history. I sometimes complain that we lack music for so many of the entr’acte dances on the London stage, but I obviously need to look more widely – there must have been a great deal of sharing between dances and musical entertainments more generally in the theatres.

A Year of Dance: 1726

Following my recent detailed analysis of the 1725-1726 theatrical season on the London stage, I thought I should return to my A Year of Dance series and add 1726. (I wrote about 1725 quite some time ago). Politically, this seems to have been a quieter year than 1725.

In France in June, Louis XV appointed his old tutor André-Hercule de Fleury as his chief minister. Fleury was created a cardinal in September 1726. The previous spring, the poet and writer Voltaire had arrived in England for two years of exile from France following a second period of imprisonment in the Bastille. He quickly learned English, honing his language skills by regular visits to London’s theatres. During his stay he was to meet Alexander Pope, John Gay and Jonathan Swift, among others.

In England, 1726 was marked by the death of the architect and dramatist Sir John Vanbrugh on 26 March, followed by that of the scourge of London’s theatres Jeremy Collier on 26 April, whose A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage published in 1698 had attacked Vanbrugh among other leading playwrights. Towards the end of the year, George I’s former wife Sophia Dorothea of Celle died. Their marriage had been dissolved following her adultery in 1694 and she had been imprisoned in her native Celle for more than twenty years. 1726 also saw the publication of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (‘Lilliputians’ would in due course become a popular feature on the London stage), as well as the ‘rabbit’ hoax by Mary Toft which fascinated and bamboozled many over the autumn.

In the wider context for these posts, the most significant theatrical event of 1726 in London was the new pantomime at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Apollo and Daphne given on 14 January, which brought Francis and Marie Sallé back to the London stage after an absence of several years and reintroduced them to audiences as adult dancers. It answered Drury Lane’s 1725 Apollo and Daphne pantomime, which was revised and revived in reply. This small painting by the Italian artist Michele Rocca probably dates to the early 18th century.

There was also Italian opera at the King’s Theatre, with two new operas by Handel – Scipione on 12 March and Alessandro on 5 May. The Italian soprano Faustina Bordoni made her debut as Rossane in Alessandro, with Francesca Cuzzoni as Lisaura and Senesino in the title role.

In Paris, Destouches’s opéra-ballet Les Stratagèmes de l’Amour (composed to celebrate the marriage of Louis XV and Marie Leszczyńska the previous year) was given at the Paris Opéra on 28 March. The dancers included Françoise Prévost and David Dumoulin – she led the Troyennes in the first divertissement in Entrée I, while he led the Matelots in the second divertissement, and they danced together as Esclaves (with sixteen other dancers) in Entrée III. Rebel’s tragédie en musique Pyrame et Thisbé had its first performance on 17 October. David Dumoulin and Mlle Prévost also danced in this production, leading the Egyptiens (with Blondy) in act two and the Bergers and Bergères in act three.

No dances were published in notation this year. The last of the Paris collections had appeared in 1725, while in England the series of new dances ‘For the Year’ by Anthony L’Abbé had already ceased to be annual. It would resume in 1727 and continue, with occasional gaps, until 1733.

Stage Dancing and Classical Myths

Exploring Le Triomphe de l’Amour reminded me how often myths from classical antiquity were exploited for danced entertainments in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Some classical deities were more popular than others when it came to dancing characters in the ballets de cour – Bacchus appears in six and Flore in five (not counting Le Triomphe de l’Amour), whereas Ariane turns up in just one and Amphitrite does not feature as a dancer at all. I am not going to pursue their earlier appearances here. Instead, I will look at some of the later works given in Paris and London which are based on the characters and myths used in Le Triomphe de l’Amour. I won’t refer to the classical sources for these stories, except to point out that several are included in Ovid’s Metamorphoses – which seems to have been favourite reading at the period.

The first two scenes of Le Triomphe de l’Amour introduce, in turn, Venus and Mars. The god of war is vanquished and enchained in garlands of flowers by Amours, surely in reference to his love affair with the goddess of love which had long been a favourite subject for artists. The story became the theme of a masque in the late 1690s and then an opera, as well as a ballet and a pantomime in the early 1700s. This painting by Nicolas Poussin depicting Mars and Venus dates to 1630.

The masque was The Loves of Mars and Venus by Peter Motteux, with music by Gottfried Finger and John Eccles, given at London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1696 within Edward Ravenscroft’s The Anatomist. The title roles were sung by Anne Bracegirdle and John Bowman and there was dancing at the end of the prologue and each act. This comic version is worth further study for its dancing, which I hope to undertake elsewhere. The opera was Les Amours de Mars et de Vénus with music by André Campra and a libretto by Antoine Danchet, given at the Paris Opéra in 1712. This was also a comedy, banned after fourteen performances apparently for its depiction of the cuckolded Vulcain. Mars and Venus were singers, but the dancers in the production included Mlle Guyot (as La Jeunesse in the Prologue) as well as David Dumoulin and Françoise Prévost. The ballet was, of course, John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus given at London’s Drury Lane Theatre in 1717. I have written about this production elsewhere and I will have more to say in another context. It was answered by the pantomime Mars and Venus; or, The Mouse Trap, performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields later the same year. The ‘London’ Dupré created the role of Mars in both Weaver’s ballet and the pantomime – the latter was billed as a ‘New Dramatic Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’.

Neptune and Amphitrite do not seem to have been taken up by later composers or choreographers, but there was an antecedent to their appearance in Le Triomphe de l’Amour. When The Tempest was fully transformed into a dramatic opera at London’s Dorset Garden Theatre in 1674, it was given a concluding masque centred on them, the singers who took the roles were supported by dancing Tritons. This spectacular production was undoubtedly influenced by dancing and scenic effects in the French theatres, but might it also have influenced Paris? The Tempest became a fixture in the London stage repertoire throughout the 18th century and I will return to it in a later post. This depiction of Neptune and Amphitrite by the French painter Bon Boullogne is dated 1699.

Although Borée and Orithye had featured in the Ballet de l’Impatience of 1661, and Borée certainly turns up in at least one later choreographic context, no other musical works – either operas or ballets – were devoted to their story, so far as I know. This sculpture by Gaspard Marsy and Anselme Flamen was created between 1677 and 1687.

After Le Triomphe de l’Amour, the love story of Diane and Endymion was not taken up on the French stage until 1731, when the opera Endymion with music by François Colin de Blamont and a libretto by Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle was given at the Paris Opéra. It lasted for only a few performances, despite a cast of supporting dancers that included David Dumoulin, Marie-Anne de Camargo and ‘le grand’ Dupré. In London, Drury Lane had offered a production that drew on the myth as early as 1696. Thomas Durfey’s dramatic opera Cinthia and Endimion was given there that year and may have first been written some ten years earlier, for a performance at the court of Charles II that did not materialise. It featured not only Diana and Endymion but also Cupid and Psyche, Apollo and Daphne and Pan and Syrinx, as well as Neptune and Amphitrite, Zephyrus and Mercury. A link to Le Triomphe de l’Amour, while unlikely, is not impossible. Much later, in 1736, Endymion reappeared in the Covent Garden pantomime The Royal Chace, another work which is worth a closer look in a later post. Here, Diane and Endymion are depicted by Luca Giordano around 1680.

Bacchus and Ariane were depicted in the unsuccessful 1696 opera Ariadne et Bacchus by Marin Marais. The dancers were not named in the accompanying livret by Saint-Jean, so we have no idea who they were. The myth was more famously interpreted at London’s Covent Garden Theatre in 1734, when Malter and Marie Sallé danced as Bacchus and Ariadne in a ballet initially inserted into the pantomime The Necromancer and later given as an entr’acte entertainment. Eustache Le Sueur painted Bacchus and Ariane around 1640.

The last classical love story in Le Triomphe de l’Amour was that of Zéphire and Flore, which became an opera by Louis and Jean-Louis Lully in 1688. No dancers were named for the performances at that period, but when it was revived at the Paris Opéra in 1715 the leading dancers were David Dumoulin, Mlle Guyot and Mlle Prévost. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Zephyrus and Flora were the central characters in the divertissement which ended the 1726 Lincoln’s Inn Fields pantomime Apollo and Daphne. This elaborate scene may well have been adapted (or directly copied) from a divertissement in Jacques Aubert’s La Reine des Péris given at the Paris Opéra in 1725. Jacopo Amigoni depicted Zephyr and Flore in the 1730s, probably for an English patron.

These various stage versions of the love stories that were part of Le Triomphe de l’Amour, together with the painting and sculpture of the 17th and 18th centuries, show how deeply both the English and the French were immersed in the myths of classical antiquity. The court and theatre dance which was part of this culture, well before the advent of the ballet d’action, is all too often overlooked.

Le Triomphe de l’Amour

The ballet de cour came up in a recent email exchange about dance history. I haven’t written anything on this for a long time, but my thoughts quickly turned to Le Triomphe de l’Amour of 1681. It is usually associated with the introduction of female professional dancers to the stage of the Paris Opéra, but here I will concentrate on its first performances at the court of Louis XIV.

Le Triomphe de l’Amour was intended to celebrate the marriage of Louis XIV’s eldest son the Dauphin Louis (1661-1711), known as Monseigneur, to Marie Anne Christine de Bavière (1660-1690).

Their wedding had taken place on 7 March 1680, but the ballet in which he and the new Dauphine were to dance had been delayed by Monseigneur’s illnesses. Rehearsals finally began in December 1680 – there were 39 during December and January 1681. Le Triomphe de l’Amour was given its first performance on 21 January 1681, in the Salle de Comédie at the Château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. There would be 29 performances in all, running until 18 February 1681. It was so successful that it became the first ballet de cour to transfer to the public theatre and it was given at the Paris Opéra by a wholly professional cast in May 1681. Among those professional dancers were Mlles de La Fontaine, Pesant, Carré and Leclercq – the first female dancers to appear on the Opéra stage.

At court, Le Triomphe de l’Amour was the first ballet to be given since Les Amants Magnifiques in 1670 (current scholarly opinion is that Louis XIV did not dance in that ballet). It was a large-scale work with 64 dancers, 48 singers and 75 or 76 instrumentalists. Among the dancers were 13 professionals, who appeared alongside 25 male and 22 female members of France’s royalty and nobility. There were also four dancers for whom I have not been able to ascertain their status – the ‘Sieurs’ Huet, Courcelles and Chalons were listed as ‘Petits Danceurs’ in Entrée V, while Jobelet joined them among the Jeux in Entrée XX – they may have been the children of the professional musicians employed by the court.

There were twenty danced Entrées in all, each of which had between one to four musical airs for the choreography. These Entrées are numbered in the livret published to accompany the court performances in 1681, although the ballet is not otherwise divided into acts or scenes. The following analysis of the structure of Le Triomphe de l’Amour is based on the appearance of successive deities and love stories.

This just one among many different approaches to the structure of this ballet.

Monseigneur made his first appearance in Entrée III as a Plaisir, his second in Entrée XIV as an Indien de la Suite de Bacchus and his last as Zephire in Entrée XIX, but for each of his appearances in the ballet the livret names another dancer with whom he alternated. These were, in turn, Lestang l’aîné, Lestang le cadet (both professionals) and M. de Mimurre. The Mercure Galant for January 1681, which provided a review of Le Triomphe de l’Amour, explained that ‘Monseigneur le Dauphin ne dança point le premier jour du Balet, mais on fut agreablement surpris quand on le dança  la seconde fois’, adding that his appearance was ‘une preuve de l’entier rétablissement de sa santé’ and that ‘Il a résolu de se donner le divertissement de son Entrée une fois chaque semaine’.

The Dauphine appeared first as the Première Nymphe de Diane in Entrée IX and then as Flore, alongside Monseigneur, in Entrée XIX. Marie Anne Christine de Bavière surprised everyone during the run of court performances of Le Triomphe de l’Amour, as the Mercure Galant recorded.

‘Madame la Dauphine qui s’estoit fait admirer dans toutes les siennes par sa justesse à la dance, s’attira de nouvelles acclamations le second jour qu’elle parut. Aussi fit-elle une chose assez extraordinaire. Madame la Princesse de Conty estant malade, & n’ayant pû dancer ses Entrées, le Roy dit deux heures avant le Balet, qu’il falloit que Madame la Dauphine en dançant quelqu’une. Son dessein n’estoit pas que ce fust dés ce jour mesme. Cependant cette Princesse apprit sur l’heure une grande Entrée toute remplie de figures, & dans laquelle il y a plus de douze reprises. Ainsi toute la Cour fut fort étonnée de luy avoir vû faire en moins de deux heures, ce qu’une Personne moins intelligente n’auroit pas appris en quinze jours.’

This story is perhaps less well known to dance historians than it deserves.

The Princesse de Conti, Marie-Anne de Bourbon (1666-1739), was the daughter of Louis XIV and Louise de la Vallière and (despite her tender age) recently married to the Prince de Conti. She danced as a Nereïde in Entrée VI and as Ariane in Entrée XIII. Louis XIV’s insistence on the Dauphine dancing in place of the Princesse de Conti was perhaps to do with the appearance of Monseigneur among the Indiens de la Suite de Bacchus in Entrée XIV, which included a chaconne which is likely to have been performed by all the dancers in this scene.

Other royal dancers in Le Triomphe de l’Amour were Mademoiselle, Anne Marie d’Orléans (1669-1728) the daughter of the King’s brother Philippe and his first wife Henriette Anne. She was the first among the three Graces who appeared in the very first Entrée of the ballet.

The final Entrée of Le Triomphe de l’Amour was for La Jeunesse, performed by Mlle de Nantes the seven-year-old daughter of Louis XIV and Mme de Montespan. The Mercure Galant declared ‘Mademoiselle de Nantes dance seul. Elle s’en acquitte avec tant de grace, de legereté, & de justesse, qu’elle enchante tout le monde. Aussi n’a-t-on jamais vu personne qui eust l’oreille plus fine, ny plus d’agrément pour toute sorte de Dances’.

Another of the noble female dancers was Marie Antoinette de Béthune, Duchesse de Sully (1643-1702) who appeared as a Nymphe de Diane in Entrée IX, a Fille Grecque de la Suite d’Ariane in Entrée XIV and a Nymphe de Flore in Entrée XIX. She was an experienced participant in ballets de cour, for she had danced in place of the first Madame, Henriette Anne, in the title role of the Ballet de Flore in 1669. I have not been able to find a portrait of her.

Notable among the noblemen were the Comte de Brionne, the nineteen-year-old Henri de Lorraine (1661-1712), who danced as a Plaisir in Entrée III, a Dieu Marin in Entrée VI and as Bacchus in Entrée XIII and M. de Mimurre, who danced alongside Brionne in Entrées III and VI, as an Indien de la Suite de Bacchus in Entrée XIV and as Zephire in Entrée XIX when Monseigneur did not take the role.

The professional dancers had more to do individually than the nobles, for most of them danced three or four roles apiece. One exception was Pierre Beauchamps (1631-1705), who took only the role of Mars in scene 2 – he is also credited with creating the choreography for Le Triomphe de l’Amour. Beauchamps was supported by courtiers as his Guerriers, together with more courtiers as Amours as well as the ‘Petits Danceurs’ mentioned earlier. The livret’s description hints at pantomime well as dancing and action in this scene. Mars appears armed among his Guerriers showing that he loves only ‘les Combats, le sang, & le carnage’ – which suggests that Entrée IV was a form of Pyrrhic Dance. He is disarmed by the Amours, who chain him with garlands of flowers before dancing to celebrate their victory over the god of war. This design by Berain is either for Mars or a Guerrier.

Borée and Orithye in scene 4 were both performed by professional dancers. Guillaume-Louis Pecour was Borée with Faüre as Orithye – all the female roles in this scene were danced by men en travesti. The livret’s description of the scene again suggests some pantomime as well as dance and mimed action. Borée watches Orithye from a distance and when he approaches her is overcome with love. Orithye is frightened by him and her companions the Filles Athéniennes try to defend her but ‘les vents qui suivent Borée escartent les Athéniennes, & donnent moyen à Borée d’enlever Orithye’. The following designs by Berain are for the Followers of Borée and Orithye.

In scene 5, devoted to Diane and Endymion, the professional dancer Favier l’aîne was Endymion. Jean Favier is well-known for his 1688 mascarade Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos, recorded in his own system of dance notation. This scene brought together noble and professional dancers, with the Dauphine and noblewomen as the Nymphes de Diane, noblemen as Songes and finally professional dancers as the Peuples de Carie (who were also represented by a chorus of singers as they called upon the goddess to return to the night sky). This engraving shows Berain’s design for Endymion.

The god Apollon made his appearance in scene 8, danced by Lestang le cadet, followed by Lestang l’aîné as Pan. Apollo’s followers – Bergers héroïques – were all professional dancers, as were the Faunes that accompanied Pan. This was the last scene with professional dancers, although Le Triomphe de l’Amour closed with a ‘Danse generale’ by Apollon and his Bergers héroïques, Pan with his Faunes, Zephirs, Nymphes de Flore and the Jeux bringing a total of 27 dancers onto the stage. The livret makes no mention of Zephire, Flore or La Jeunesse, so presumably these royal dancers did not take part in the ballet’s finale.

Despite the scale of the performance, Le Triomphe de l’Amour had only one set throughout ‘un Lieu magnifique orné, & que l’on a disposé pour y recevoir l’Amour qui doit y venir en triomphe’, shown in this engraving from the livret.

There is far more to be said about Le Triomphe de l’Amour both at court and at the Paris Opéra and I may well return to this ballet in due course. In the meantime, here are some of the modern sources I have used in putting together this post.

James R. Anthony. French Baroque Music from Beaujoyeulx to Rameau (Portland, Or, 1997)

Barbara Coeyman, ‘Lully’s influence on the organization and performance of the “Ballet de Cour” after 1672’ in Jean-Baptiste Lully. Actes du Colloque … 1987 (Laaber, 1990)

Jérôme de La Gorce, Berain, dessinateur du Roi Soleil (Paris, 1986)

Jérôme de La Gorce, Féeries d’opéra (Paris, 1997)

Rebecca Harris-Warrick, Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera (Cambridge, 2016)

Philippe Quinault, Le Triomphe de l’Amour in Benserade. Ballets pour Louis XIV, ed. Marie-Claude Canova-Green. 2 vols. (Toulouse, 1997), volume 2