Morgiana in the Ballroom

At a workshop recently, I learnt an early 19th-century English dance with the name Morgiana in the title. The teacher (who is always finding new country dances and quadrilles from this period) mentioned that it was only one of several dances in which her name features. So, who was Morgiana and why was she so popular in the ballroom?

A quick search on the web revealed that she is a character in the Arabian Nights’ Entertainment and that she features in the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. This collection of stories reached western Europe in a French translation early in the 18th century and was quickly translated into English in a version which went through many editions and remained popular well into the 19th century. In the modern edition I have, Morgiana is described as ‘a cunning artful slave, so fruitful in her inventions, that she would succeed in the most difficult undertaking’. In fact, she plays a central role in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, saving her master from death several times – it is she who kills the forty thieves.

Morgiana’s last exploit comes as Ali Baba is, unwittingly, entertaining the captain of the thieves who intends to murder him. She employs a particularly interesting ‘invention’ to outwit the would-be killer. She ‘dressed herself like a dancer, girded her waist with a silver-gilt girdle, to which there hung a poniard of the same metal, and put a handsome mask on her face’. The story goes on:

‘Morgiana, who was an excellent dancer, danced after such a manner as would have created admiration …

After she had danced several dances with a great deal of justness, she drew the poniard, and holding it in her hand, danced a dance, which was very surprising for the many different figures and fine movements it required.’

At the end of her dance, Morgiana stabs and kills the captain, saving Ali Baba once again. She has already earned her freedom, so her final reward is to marry Ali Baba’s son.

Such a colourful and exciting tale was ripe for adaptation on the London stage, although it apparently had to wait until the early 19th century for its first production. On 8 April 1806, Drury Lane presented The Forty Thieves, a ‘New Grand Operatical Romance’ with a scenario by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, music by Michael Kelly and ‘Ballets and Action’ by James Harvey d’Egville. The playbill shows that it was a lavish production.

Forty Thieves DL 1806

Other versions of The Forty Thieves soon followed in London’s minor theatres, including one as late as 1835 at the Lyceum. The Drury Lane ‘melo-dramatic romance’ was quickly published, as was its vocal score. Further versions of Ali Baba; or, The Forty Thieves destroyed by Morgiana were published around Britain into the mid-19th century, suggesting that many provincial theatres also gave performances of the piece.

Of course, Morgiana danced in The Forty Thieves. In a printed edition of the play, she is described in the penultimate scene as appearing ‘in a dancing dress, with gold pitcher, (splendid) and goblet’ (the original manuscript ignores the pitcher and goblet but says she has ‘a dagger in her girdle’). While the printed text says only that there is a ‘short dance by Figurantes, then by Morgiana with Tambourine’ the manuscript expands this:

‘Morgiana’s Dance in which imitating two or three of the Passions she prevents Hassarac’s [the captain] attempts to assassinate Ali Baba without her intention being discover’d by Hassarac or Ali Baba & Family – Hassarac has, at last, lifted up his dagger & is on the very point of stabbing Ali Baba when she seizes his arm and in a violent struggle she forces the Robber to plunge his weapon in his own breast.’

It was surely Morgiana’s tambourine dance (as much as her dramatic action) that caught the imagination of the public and encouraged dancing masters to use her name, and perhaps her music, to create new dances for the ballroom – some of which my 21st-century dancing master has re-discovered.

Here is Morgiana dressed to dance, and to kill!

 

Morgiana Gallica

Feuillet and the Entrechat

Earlier this year, I wrote a series of posts on pas battus in stage dances for men and women. My starting point was the oft-repeated but questionable statement that Marie Anne Camargo was the first woman to perform an entrechat-quatre on stage (see my post ‘La Camargo and the Entrecht-Quatre’) and my original focus was the use of jumped pas battus in the notated dances of earlier female professional dancers. I also looked at the use of such pas pattus in the stage dances for men, with some interesting results in terms of the choreographic preferences of individual dancing masters. My last such post was a while ago, so here is a reminder of what I have written so far in chronological order of their publication:

‘Stage Dances for Women and Feuillet’s Pas Battus

Pas de Sissonne Battu in Stage Dances for Women’

‘Stage Dances for Women and the Demie Cabriole

‘When is a Changement not a Changement?’

Pas de Sissone Battu in Stage Dances for Men’

Demies Cabrioles in Male Solos and Duets’

Demie Cabriole en Tournant un Tour en Saut de Basque – a Step Solely for a Man?’

I have a few more topics to explore before I leave this complex area and I’ll pick up the thread with Feuillet’s ‘Table des Entre-Chats’ (Choregraphie, p. 86).

Choregraphie Entrechats

Feuillet notates five different entre-chats (I’ll use his spelling here to differentiate them from the modern steps) together with some variants. Only some of them correspond directly with the entrechats to be found in modern ballet technique.

The Demi Entre-Chat is similar to a modern brisé. Feuillet shows the step both to the front and the back.

Choregraphie Demi Entre-Chat

The Entre-Chat à 3 is much the same as its modern equivalent, although the notation does not show the legs beating together in the air (Feuillet could have used a cabriole sign, but its omission suggests that this wasn’t a feature of the earlier step). He adds a step by the free foot after the jump.

Choregraphie Entre-Chat a 3

The Entre-Chat à 4 begins and ends in second position, as an échappé battu would today. Feuillet also shows it travelling sideways and with a tour en l’air.

Choregraphie Entre-Chat a 4

The Entre-Chat à 5 seems to have no modern equivalent. It begins with a spring and the back leg moving forward to initiate the beat, which closes front and back before finishing front giving it the feel of an entrechat-six. Feuillet also shows it with a half turn in the air.

Choregraphie Entre-Chat a 5

The Entre-Chat Droit à 6 is the same as the modern step.

Choregraphie Entre-Chat a 6

Feuillet seems to be presenting a selection of entre-chats, and it is not clear how these might relate to the range of such steps in use at the time he was compiling his treatise. The term ‘droit’ seems to refer to a vertical jump from two feet to two feet while the use of the term ‘en avant’, as well the specific reference to beginning and ending in the second position, suggest that there may have been other versions of these entre-chats. All surely belong to the stage and not to the ballroom, so I will turn next to the notated theatre dances for men to see what additional information they might provide.

England’s Royal Dancing Masters, 1714-1788

On 1 August 1714, Queen Anne died and the Elector of Hanover became King George I. He arrived in England with his son, George Prince of Wales, in September. The following month Caroline Princess of Wales arrived with her three daughters, Anne the Princess Royal, Princess Amelia and Princess Caroline. The couple’s son, Prince Frederick, remained in Hanover as the representative of the electoral family. For the first time since the turn of the century, the royal family included children who would need the tuition of a dancing master.

There seem to have been at least two contenders for the role. John Essex made a pitch for the post with a new edition of his translation of Feuillet’s 1706 collection of contredanses, For the Further Improvement of Dancing (first published in 1710). This seems to have appeared in 1715 and is known from a copy now in the British Library in London. Essex reprinted the treatise in a much larger folio format, adding five new country dances and a ballroom duet the Princess’s Passpied. On the title page he pointed out that he taught ‘all the Ball Dances of the English and French Court’. More tellingly, he dedicated the new edition to Caroline, Princess of Wales, with particular reference to her ‘Patronage and Encouragement’ of the art of dancing. The single surviving copy may once have belonged to Caroline herself.

The other contender, who would become royal dancing master, was Anthony L’Abbé. His ballroom duet, The Princess Royale ‘a new dance for his Majesty’s birth day 1715’ must have been published in the Spring of 1715 (George I’s birthday was on 28 May). L’Abbé included a dedication to the five-year-old princess, revealing that he had already been appointed as her dancing master.

‘Madam, I should not think I entirely deserved the Honour of Instructing Your Royal Highness in the Art of Dancing, did I only confine myself in teaching You what has been published by other Masters.’

He went on to offer her his new dance, the first in a series that he (like Mr Isaac before him) would create for royal birthday celebrations.

Anthony L’Abbé had begun his career at the Paris Opéra in 1688 and came to London in 1698 at the invitation of the actor-manager Thomas Betterton. That year, L’Abbé danced before William III at Kensington Palace and in 1699 he and the visiting French star Claude Ballon performed a duet before the King, later published in notation. L’Abbé danced and choreographed in London’s theatres for several years. Like Isaac, he seems initially to have had no official appointment as royal dancing master. By 1720, though, he was receiving an annual salary to teach the three princesses. It is worth noting that L’Abbé was Mr Isaac’s brother-in-law, suggesting an element of family interest (if not inheritance) in the post. His tenure lasted until 1737, just a few years after his eldest pupil Anne the Princess Royal married Prince William of Orange and left England. He may also have taught the younger children of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Prince William, Princess Mary and Princess Louisa.

L’Abbé was succeeded by Leach Glover who, according to Read’s Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer 7 January 1738, ‘was appointed Dancing Master to the Royal Family’ at the beginning of that year. Like L’Abbé, Glover danced for many years on the London stage before retiring as a performer in 1741. The reason behind the choice of him to teach the younger children of George II and Queen Caroline remains obscure – he does not seem to have moved in court circles or to have been related to L’Abbé in any way. Glover apparently taught Prince William and the princesses Amelia, Caroline, Mary and Louisa. Princess Mary married Frederick, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel in 1740, for which Glover created his only known ballroom duet The Princess of Hesse, published in notation that year. He continued to be listed in The Court and City Register as royal dancing master until at least 1759, by which time his only pupil was Princess Amelia (Princess Caroline had died in 1757 and Princess Louisa had married Prince Frederick of Norway in 1743). Leach Glover died in 1762.

Prince Frederick had his own dancing master in Hanover. George Desnoyer was first advertised on the London stage at Drury Lane on 11 January 1721, dancing there for the rest of the season and returning in 1721-1722. Three dances created for him by Anthony L’Abbé and published in notation around that time show him to have been a virtuosic dancer. He may have been born in Hanover, where his father (who had danced at the Paris Opéra) was dancing master to the Elector. In 1722, Desnoyer was appointed in succession to his father, who had died the previous year. The Weekly Journal or Saturday’s Post 15 September 1722 reported:

‘One Mr. De Noye, a Dancing Master, is gone over to teach Prince Frederick, for which we hear his Majesty allows him a Sallary of Five Hundred Pounds per Annum.’

If the reporter had not highly inflated the amount, it must have reflected Desnoyer’s appointment as court dancing master and not simply as personal tutor to the prince.

In 1729, Prince Frederick came to London at the command of his father, now King George II. Desnoyer was dismissed from his post in Hanover the following year. He later followed his pupil to England, making his first appearance in nearly ten years at Drury Lane on 20 December 1731. He would enjoy a renewed and very successful career on the London stage until 1742. There is much evidence to suggest that Desnoyer was close to Prince Frederick, so it is not surprising that when the Prince married Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha in 1736 Desnoyer quickly became her dancing master. He subsequently began to teach the couple’s children. The General Advertiser 1 August 1748, reporting on the celebrations for the birthday of their eldest daughter, described Desnoyer as ‘Dancing Master to the Prince of Wales’s children’. By then, there were five – Princess Augusta, Prince George (later King George III), Prince Edward, Prince William and Prince Henry. George Desnoyer continued to receive a salary as dancing master to Princess Augusta’s children until 1764 (Prince Frederick died in 1751). He may have died not long after.

The last of the royal dancing masters with whom I am concerned provides further evidence of a hereditary strand to the appointment. Philip Denoyer (his preferred spelling) is listed as dancing master in the household of the Princess Dowager of Wales by the Royal Kalendar in 1767, having taken up the post the previous year. Over the following years, he appears as dancing master to the children of King George III and Queen Charlotte. He taught George Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and King George IV), Prince Frederick, Prince William, Prince Edward, Prince Ernest and Prince Adolphus. He continued as dancing master to the younger princes until 1788, the year he died. There is no evidence to suggest that Philip Denoyer ever appeared on the stage, marking a break in tradition. Such dance training as he received must surely have been from his father, and may well have been limited to ballroom and country dances. He brings to an end the service by the Desnoyer family to the Hanoverian royal family that had lasted for nearly 100 years, from the first employment of his grandfather by the Elector of Hanover in 1694.

There are, so far as I know (and I would be happy to be proved wrong), no surviving portraits of Anthony L’Abbé, Leach Glover, George Desnoyer or his son Philip. There is only Hogarth’s caricature of George Desnoyer, used in his painting ‘Taste in High Life’ as well as the print ‘The Charmers of the Age’ and within plate 1 to The Analysis of Beauty. Hogarth’s cruel depiction probably belongs to the final years of Desnoyer’s career in the early 1740s. Here he is with his last dancing partner La Barberina in ‘The Charmers of the Age’.

Charmers of the Age BM

England’s Royal Dancing Masters, 1660-1714

When Charles II was restored to his throne in 1660, it seems that he lost little time in appointing a royal dancing master. The patent for Jerome Francis Gahory as ‘dancing master to his Majesty’ is dated 19 April 1665, but other evidence suggests that he had taken up his post by Christmas 1660. He was the first of a series of dancing masters employed to teach members of the royal family during the late 17th and 18th centuries. This post looks at the period 1660 to 1714. A second post will look at 1714 to 1788.

Gahory was sworn as a ‘Groom of her Majesty’s Privy Chamber’ on 21 July 1663 but, as my post on Catherine of Braganza suggests, he must have begun teaching her some months earlier. A later document specifies his duties as ‘attending and teaching the art of dancing to the King and Queen at all times when he shall be required’.Gahory may well have been required to decide on and teach the dances given at court balls and even been involved in the more elaborate court entertainments that included dancing. Various records suggest that he held his post until at least 1688, and that he was called upon to teach royal scholars even later.

In Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, published in 1711, Gahory is mentioned in the dedication of part two as ‘the admirable Mr. Goree’. The dedicatee is the Duchess of Buckingham and Normanby who is described as his ‘last Masterpiece’ and Pemberton tells us that Gahory ‘had the Honour to teach eight or nine Crown’d Heads, and likewise most of our Quality’ during his long career. Apart from Charles II and his Queen, who were these ‘Crown’d Heads’? He certainly taught three more Queens, for in 1669 he is listed among the officers and servants to James, Duke of York’s eldest daughter Princess Mary (later Queen Mary II) and in 1677 he is recorded as dancing master to the Duchess of York (Mary of Modena, later James II’s Queen) and the Duke’s younger daughter Princess Anne (later Queen Anne). By implication, he may have taught the Duke of York (later James II) himself and perhaps even William of Orange (later William III and known as a good dancer) when he married Princess Mary in 1677. Gahory had begun his career in Paris, where he appeared in the Ballet du Dérèglement des Passions in 1648. Might he also have given lessons to the young Louis XIV? His last royal pupil seems to have been Anne’s son William, Duke of Gloucester, to whom he gave lessons in 1694. Jerome Gahory died, a very rich man, in 1703.

In 1681, the reversion of Gahory’s post was granted to Francis Thorpe who thereby became his designated successor. Quite by accident, I discovered that Francis Thorpe was the famous Mr Isaac. The clue lay in Gahory’s will, for he left the residue of his English estate (he also had a considerable estate in France) to ‘Francis Thorpe his nephew (known by the name of Isaac)’. Francis Thorpe was the son of Gahory’s sister and Isaac Thorpe. His father, named as ‘Monsr. Isac’ was described in 1653 as one of the best dancing masters in Paris. Francis Thorpe may have used the name ‘Mr Isaac’ as a compliment to his father as well as to show his lineage with its associated status. Isaac Thorpe may have danced alongside Gahory in the 1648 ballet de cour mentioned above. Francis Thorpe seems to have danced (under the name Isaac) in the French comédies-ballets Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and Psyché (1671).  By 1673 the younger ‘Mr Isaac’ was in England and in 1675 he danced in the English court masque Calisto.

Isaac Thorpe died in London in 1681, so references to the dancing master ‘Mr Isaac’ after that date must refer to his son. There is evidence for him teaching several young women, some of who appeared at court, including Katherine Booth, who may have danced a solo at a birth night ball in 1689, and Anne South, one of the Maids of Honour, in 1694. Oddly, there seems to be no direct evidence of him teaching Princess Anne, apart from the testimony of John Essex in his Preface to The Dancing-Master in 1728.

‘The late Mr. Isaac, who had the Honour to teach and instruct our late most excellent and gracious Queen when a young Princess, first gained the Character and afterwards supported that Reputation of being the prime Master in England for forty Years together: He taught the first Quality with Success and Applause, and was justly stiled the Court Dancing-Master, therefore might truly deserve to be called the Gentleman Dancing-Master.’ (p. xi)

Princess Anne married Prince George of Denmark in 1683 and thereafter was very often pregnant, so perhaps Mr. Isaac taught her (on behalf of his uncle) before then. Mr Isaac is now best known for his series of annual dances, published in notation between 1706 and 1716, several of which were created to celebrate Queen Anne’s birthday and probably performed at the birth night balls given at court. He died in 1721 and was buried at St James’s Church in Piccadilly.

After the death of William, Duke of Gloucester in 1700 there were no young princes or princesses for England’s royal dancing master to teach. This changed with the death of Queen Anne and accession of George I in 1714. I will turn to the later royal dancing masters in my next post.

So far as I know, there is no portrait of Jerome Francis Gahory, but Francis Thorpe – Mr Isaac – was painted by Louis Goupy. The original portrait apparently does not survive, but it was engraved by George White and published early in the 18th century.

Mr Isaac

Catherine of Braganza: A Dancing Queen

Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) is generally known as the Portuguese princess who married Charles II in 1662 and failed to provide him with an heir. As his Queen, she had much to endure – not only the King’s repeated and flagrant infidelities but also the spiteful politics of the English court. Much less well known is her love of dancing and her role in the promotion of dancing both at court and on the London stage.

Catherine of Braganza Huysmans 2

Attributed to Jacob Huysmans. Queen Catherine of Braganza, 1660-1670

She is first recorded as attending a ball at court on 31 December 1662, just a few months after her arrival and marriage. Samuel Pepys records the entrance of ‘the King and Queen, the Duke and Duchesse [of York], and all the great ones’. On this occasion, the Queen seems not to have danced, for Charles II ‘takes out the Duchess of Yorke, and the Duke the Duchesse of Buckingham, the Duke of Monmouth my Lady Castlemayne, and so other lords other ladies; and they danced the Bransle’. Pepys also mentioned that ‘when the King dances, all the ladies in the room, and the Queen herself, stands up’. Catherine of Braganza had a sheltered upbringing so she may not have been familiar with the courante, the formal couple dance repeated several times after the bransles, and she was unlikely to have encountered the English country dances which followed.

Charles II had appointed a royal dancing master, the Frenchman Jerome Francis Gahory, around Christmas 1660. In July 1663, Gahory was sworn as a groom of the Queen’s Privy Chamber. He must have begun teaching the Queen some months earlier, for John Evelyn records a ball at court on 5 February 1663 at which both the King and the Queen danced. On 11 May 1663, the French visitor Balthasar de Monconys wrote of the Queen’s ‘petit bal en privé’ at which ‘L’on commença le bal par un branle comme en France, & ensuite l’on dança des courantes & d’autres danses; le Duc d’York commença avec la Reyne’ adding ‘Quand elle ou le Roy dansoient, toutes les Dames demeuroient debout’. Catherine of Braganza had obviously learnt both the steps and the etiquette of the court ball quickly. Sadly, we have no record of the lessons she must have had (presumably from Gahory) to acquire this new skill.

The first ball to celebrate Queen Catherine’s birthday that we know of took place at Whitehall Palace on 15 November 1666. I have discussed the account by Pepys in another post, ‘The Restoration Court Ball’. There were certainly further birthday balls for the Queen in 1671, 1672, 1673, 1675, 1676, 1677, 1681 and 1684, enough to establish such events within the annual court calendar well into the 18th century. Such accounts as survive of Catherine of Braganza’s birthday balls tend to be brief, particularly those by John Evelyn who usually fails to mention whether or not the Queen danced herself. However, Evelyn’s account of the last ball on 15 November 1684 (when the Queen would have been forty-six) tells us that ‘all the young ladys and gallants daunced in the greate hall’ suggesting that she looked on rather than dancing. He adds that ‘The Court had not been seen so brave and rich in apparell since his Majesty’s Restauration’, presumably the King was there alongside her.

The Queen was also responsible for some more elaborate entertainments with dancing. The ‘Queens’ Ballett’ was given at Whitehall Palace in the mid-1660s but seems to have left no records of its performance. It may have been the event described by Pepys on 2 February 1665, at which Lady Castlemaine and the Duke and Duchess of Monmouth among others (he does not mention the Queen) ‘did dance admirably and most gloriously’. The ‘Queen’s Masque’ given at Whitehall, probably on 20 and 21 February 1671, did leave some evidence. One would-be member of the audience wrote:

‘The Queen is preparing a ball to bee danced in the greate Hall by herself and the Dutchesse of Buckingham, Richmond, Monmouth, Mrs Berkely, and Madame Kerwell the French maid of honor. There are no men of quality but the Duke of Monmouth, all the rest are gentlemen.’

The event did not disappoint, for the writer affirmed that the performers in this grand ballet ‘danced very finely, and shifted their clothes three times’. There is evidence that the music included pieces from the ‘Ballet des Nations’ in Lully and Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, which had been performed at the French court just a few months earlier. The ‘Queen’s Masque’ came a year before the first adaptation of the comédie-ballet reached the London stage in the form of Edward Ravenscroft’s The Citizen Turn’d Gentleman, given at the Dorset Garden Theatre in early 1672. Her lavish entertainment could not compare in scale and ambition with the court masque Calisto, given by young members of the royal family and the court before the King and Queen on 22 February 1675. Calisto, with its English and French professional dancers performing alongside the royal and noble amateurs, undoubtedly affected dancing on the London stage. The Queen’s earlier ballets must surely have influenced dancing at court as well as in the theatre.

Catherine of Braganza is well worth further study as both a dancer and a patron of dancing.

Comus, Dance and Gesture

On 4 March 1738, Comus was performed at Drury Lane. The advertisements declared that the piece was ‘Never Acted before. Alter’d from Milton’s Masque perform’d (upwards of a Hundred Years since) at Ludlow-Castle and now adapted to the Stage’. The production was lavish, as the advertisement for the third performance on 7 March (a benefit) indicates, ‘To prevent any Interruption in the Musick, Dancing, Machinery or other Parts of the Performance, Side Boxes only will be form’d on the Stage, for the Accommodation of the Ladies’. Comus, an adaptation from Milton by the poet John Dalton with music by Thomas Arne, quickly became a staple of the London stage.

Although the advertisement for the first performance lists only four dancers, there were very likely more. When Comus was revived on 28 November 1738, there were two principal dancers (George Desnoyer and Marie Chateauneuf) supported by six men and six women.

The text published to accompany the first performances includes three dances, all in act three. These are performed as part of Comus’s attempt to seduce ‘the Lady’. There is a ‘slow Dance … expressive of the Passion of Love’ by naiads, then a ‘Dance Tambourin’ by fauns and dryads and finally a song by Euphrosyne which, according to the score, was interrupted by several instrumental passages with varying time signatures. Euphrosyne calls for the dancers to represent different moods:

‘Now cold and denying,

Now kind and complying,

Disdaining, complaining,

Consenting, repenting,

Indifference now feigning.’

They seem to have responded as the music changed. It is tempting to draw a parallel with Les Caractères de la Dance (sometimes titled Les Caractères de l’Amour). It is worth noting that Mlle Chateauneuf had danced this choreography during her first visit to London during the 1734-1735 season and would revive it during the season following the first performances of Comus, in 1738-1739.

Could the final sequence of dances in Comus have made use of gesture? In particular, might any of the gestures described by John Weaver more than twenty years earlier, for his The Loves of Mars and Venus, fit the passions called for by Euphrosyne?

The ‘cold and denying’ lover might have used Weaver’s ‘Distaste. The left Hand thrust forth with the Palm turn’d backward; the left Shoulder rais’d, and the Head bearing towards the Right’. When she turns ‘kind and complying’ perhaps this was merely ‘Coquetry … seen in affected Airs’. Could ‘disdaining’ have been Weaver’s ‘Contempt … express’d by scornful Smiles; forbidding Looks; tossing of the head; filliping of the Fingers’? While ‘complaining’ might have been expressed by ‘Upbraiding. The Arms thrown forwards; the Palm of the Hands turn’d outwards; the Fingers open, and the Elbows turn’d inward to the Breast’. Weaver has no gestures for ‘Consenting, repenting’ but perhaps ‘Reconciliation’, with its shaking of hands or an embrace, might convey the former, while ‘Shame. The covering the Face with the Hand’ could represent the latter. While ‘Indifference’ suggests Weaver’s ‘Neglect’ with its ‘scornful turning the Neck; the flirting outward the back of the right Hand, with a turn of the wrist’, ‘feigning’ calls for additional movements which contradict the gesture’s overall effect. As this is, after all, a dance, the gestures would need to accompany steps either simultaneously or sequentially.

Could Weaver’s use of dance and gesture to convey ‘Actions, Manners, and Passions’ have been a regular feature of danced entertainments on the London stage, and not an isolated phenomenon (as it is so often described by modern researchers)? There are hints here and there that such expressive dancing was seen in London’s theatres, both before and after John Weaver’s dramatic entertainments of dancing. The 1738 production of Comus is only one such example.

This later depiction of Comus comes from A Collection of the Dresses of Different Nations, published in four volumes in London between 1757 and 1772. Comus can be found at the end of volume 2.

Comus Costume NYPL

La Camargo and the Entrechat-Quatre

Popular histories of ballet often tell us that Marie Anne Camargo was the first female dancer to perform the entrechat-quatre. Where does the story come from? Is it true?

I have been looking at pas battus in the notated stage dances for women in a series of other posts. These choreographies record them regularly performing assemblés battus as well as demi entre-chats and even demie cabrioles. There are hints, if no clear evidence in the notations, that female professional dancers performed entrechats-quatre long before Mlle Camargo made her debut at the Paris Opéra.

The story was examined by the publisher, bookseller and dance historian Cyril Beaumont in his Three French Dancers of the 18th Century: Camargo, Sallé and Guimard, published in 1954. He identified the originator of the story as Louis de Cahusac, citing his ‘La Danse et les Ballets’. I thought at first that Beaumont meant Cahusac’s La Danse ancienne et moderne of 1754, but I didn’t find it in the modern edition I have of that text and I couldn’t track down another work by Cahusac with the title Beaumont cites. Cahusac contributed many articles on dance topics to the famous Encyclopédie edited by Diderot and d’Alembert and published in the mid-18th century. Volume 5 of this great work has an entry for ‘Entrechat’, written by Cahusac, which includes the following paragraph:

‘J’ai vû naître les entrechats des danseuses; mademoiselle Salley ne l’a jamais fait sur le théatre; mademoiselle Camargo le faisoit d’une maniere fort brillante à quatre; mademoiselle Lany est la premiere danseuse en France qui l’ait passé au théatre à six.’

This could form the basis of another whole blog post on the topic of female batterie, but is it the source of the story of La Camargo and her ‘first’ entrechat-quatre? Note that Cahusac does not actually say she was the first, although this may perhaps be inferred from his words.

La Camargo’s virtuoso technique was certainly immediately recognised. Her debut at the Paris Opéra on 5 May 1726, was reviewed thus in the Mercure de France:

‘ … la Dlle Camargo, Danseuse de l’Opera de Bruxelles, qui n’avoit jamais paru ici, dansa les Caracteres de la Danse, avec toute la vivacité & l’intelligence qu’on peut attendre d’une jeune personne de quinze à seize ans. Elle est Eleve de l’illustre Mlle Prevost, qui la presenta au Public. Les Cabrioles & les Entrechats ne lui coûtent rien; & quoiqu’elle ait encore bien des perfections à acquerir pour approcher de son inimitable Maîtresse, le Public la regarde comme une des plus brillantes Danseuses qu’on sçauroit voir, surtout pour la justesse de l’oreille, la legereté & la force.’

There is no suggestion here that cabrioles and entrechats were new to female dancers, Camargo’s ease and brilliance of execution are noted but her vocabulary excites no comment.

In 1733, in Le Temple du Goût, Voltaire included the lines:

Legere & forte en sa souplesse,

La vive Camargo sautoit,

A ces sons brillans d’allegresse,

Et de Rebel et de Mouret.

Voltaire placed Camargo between Marie sallé ‘D’un pas guidé par la justesse’ and the actress Adrienne Lecouvreur ‘avec cette grace divine’. A footnote to the lines declares ‘Mademoiselle Camargo, la première qui ait dansé comme un homme’ without further elaboration. It seems to refer to the ‘attack’ in her dancing and not to her actual steps, contrasting her with the performers either side in the verses.

Marie Anne Camargo retired from the Paris Opéra twice, first in 1734 or 1735 (both dates are given in different sources and I haven’t yet found a contemporary reference) only to return in 1740 and then retire, finally, in 1751.

When she died in 1770, obituaries recalled Camargo at the height of her powers. Les Spectacles de Paris pour l’année 1771 included a biography of her with an appraisal of her dancing:

‘ … exécuta-t-elle tous les genres possibles de la dame noble, les menuets, les passe-pieds d’une manière bien supérieure à Mlle Prévost, et elle y conserva ce je ne sais quoi de piquant qu’elle avoit pris de sa maîtresse, ainsi que dans les entrées de pures grâces. Les gavottes, les rigaudons, les tambourins, les loures, tout ce qu’on appelle les grands airs étoit rendus dans leurs caractères, par la variété des pas qui y étoient propres, car elle les avoit tous dans la jambe et si elle n’a pas fait usage de la gargouillade, c’est qu’elle la croyait peu convenable aux femmes. Elle y substitua le pas de Basque dont elle seule et Dumoulin ont fait usage. Jamais personne qu’elle n’a fait ces beaux pas de menuet sur le bord des lampes, d’un côté du théâtre à l’autre, d’abord de gauche à droite et ensuite en revenant de droite à gauche.’

This text was transcribed by Émile Campardon in his L’Académie Royale de Musique au xviiie siècle, published in Paris, 1884 (pp. 88-89). It provides a more nuanced view of La Camargo’s dancing than is usually given, although allowance must be made for the developments in style and technique  since her retirement which may well have influenced the writer.

As late as 1804, in the last edition of his works, Jean-Georges Noverre wrote of having seen Camargo dance:

‘J’ai vu danser la Dlle. Camargo. C’est à tort que quelques auteurs lui ont prêté des graces. La nature lui avoit refusé tout ce qu’il faut pour en avoit; elle n’étoit ni jolie ni grande ni bienfaite; mai sa danse étoit vive, légère et pleine de gaieté et de brillant. Les jettés battus, la royale, l’entrechat coupé sans frottement, tous ces tems aujourd’hui rayés du catalogue de la danse et qui avoient un éclat séduisant, la Dlle. Camargo les exécutoit avec une extrême facilité, elle ne dansoit que des airs vifs, et ce n’est pas sur ces mouvemens rapides que l’on peut déployer de la grace: mais l’aisance, la prestesse et la gaieté la remplacoient; …’

The steps he mentions are those we today associate with the male dancers of the period, but Noverre talks only of her facility, thereby suggesting that they were routinely performed by women.

The various accounts of La Camargo’s dancing need more detailed analysis, as they surely provide us with important information about the style and technique open to some (if not all) female professional dancers of her time. The story of the entrechat-quatre masks a far more compelling picture of the dancer Marie Anne Camargo, whose brilliance of technique convinced audiences that she danced with the virtuosity of a man.

Camargo Wallace Collection

Nicolas Lancret, Mlle Camargo Dancing, 1730