English Court Balls, 1685 – 1702

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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

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

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

Choreographic Motifs: The Right Line

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

The Richmond

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

Plate 3
Plate 4 (sequences at top and bottom)

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

The Rondeau

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

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

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

The Favorite

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

Plate 2
Plate 5

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

The Spanheim

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

Plate 1
Plate 3

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

The Britannia

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

Plate 4

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

Plate 7
Plate 8

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

Plate 9

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

Isaac’s Steps

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

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

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

The Richmond

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

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

The Rondeau

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

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

The Favorite

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

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

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

The Rigadoon

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

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

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

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

The Spanheim

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

The Britannia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Richmond:

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

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

The Rondeau:

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

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

The Rigadoon:

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

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

The Favorite:

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

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

The Spanheim:

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

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

The Britannia:

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

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

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

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

Monsieur Gherardi and the Couple Allemande

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

“To the Lovers of the Allemande Dances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Isaac’s Six Dances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier Posts

Isaac’s Rigadoon

Isaac’s Rigadoon: the Choreography

Reconstructing Isaac’s Rigadoon

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

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

Reasons to be Bored by Early Dance. III: Authenticity

The watchword for UK early dance is ‘AUTHENTICITY’. This is the Holy Grail of the true historical dancer. Here are ten things you should know if your historical dance style is to be authentic.

  1. You are never the guardian of authenticity – others will always fulfil that role.
  2. Reading (and trying to understand) the dance sources is no guarantee of authenticity – someone else always knows better.
  3. Doubts about the possibility of authenticity lead inexorably to exile from the UK early dance world.
  4. However authentic you think you are, there will always be someone to tell you that you aren’t.
  5. True authenticity starts (and ends) with the costume.
  6. The cry of the truly authentic dancer is ‘They would NEVER have danced like THAT!’.
  7. The sources can only be interpreted in one way (and certainly not your way), however obscure or contradictory they may be.
  8. Authenticity is guaranteed if you choose your sources carefully, i.e. the ones that agree with your ideas.
  9. Authenticity and Politeness are inseparable (and probably the same thing really).
  10. Virtuosity, or even simple competence in dancing, is the sworn enemy of authenticity.

Happy authentically historical dancing!

The Dancer in the Dancing Space: The ‘Chacone de Phaëton’

There are three choreographies to the chaconne from act two of Lully’s 1683 opera Phaëton:

  • Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ‘Chacone pour une femme’, Recüeil de dances (Paris, 1704). LMC 2020, FL/1704.1/03.
  • Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ‘Chacone de Phaëton pour un homme non Dancée a l’Opera’, also in the Recueil de dances (Paris, 1704). LMC 1960, FL/1704.1/29.
  • Anonymous, ‘La chaconne de phaestons’ a solo for a man surviving in the manuscript source held by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 14884. LMC 1940, FL/Ms17.1/10.

All use a single iteration of the music, which in the opera is played through twice. Each of the choreographies thus has 152 bars of music with which to create a series of dance variations.

I have recently been working on the solo for a woman and become interested in the dancer’s relationship to the space within which she is dancing – or, perhaps more accurately, the space which surrounds her. We do not know when or where this solo was performed – it may or may not have been given within the opera. The step vocabulary is straightforward, with little in the way of embellishment, but its use of space and the changing orientation of the dancer as she traces her figures is worth some analysis.

A quick look at the notations for the two male solos indicates that both are very focussed on downstage centre (often referred to, particularly in ballroom contexts, as the ‘presence’), whether they are facing it or have their backs turned. These male dancers rarely turn to either stage right or stage left, or their ballroom equivalents. The use of space is quite different to that in the female solo.

Here, I would like to look at just three sequences from Pecour’s ‘Chacone pour une femme’ of 1704.

  • Plate 10, bars 1 – 16 (the first two musical variations), the beginning of this dance
  • Plate 17, bars 117 – 124, towards the end of the solo
  • Plate 19, bars 137 – 144, the penultimate variation of the dance.

I won’t say anything about the music, except that the notator of the dance respects the musical variations as he divides the choreography between plates – each plate has 16 bars of dance / music (two variations, each of 4 + 4 bars), except for plates 14 and 18 which each have 12 bars of dance / music to reflect changes in the structure of the music.

This chaconne begins with the dancer moving to right and left, before making a conventional passage downstage. According to the notation, she faces the presence as she waits to begin. She starts with a quarter-turn to the right for a coupé à deux mouvements, and then makes a quarter-turn to the left for a coupé battu avec ouverture de jambe. She repeats these two steps on the other foot, turning first to the left and then back to the right. So, she addresses each side of her dancing space before turning to the presence. I haven’t done any research to see if this is unusual among the notated dances, but in terms of the dancer’s successive orientations within her dancing space it is interesting. Here is the first plate of the ‘Chacone pour une femme’, with the first two dance / music variations, together with a detail of the passage I have described:

By plate 17, the dancer is within reach of the end of the choreography after a variety of steps and figures. Here, I want to look particularly at the second 8-bar variation – my focus is on the figure to the right of the plate.

This is not the first rectilinear figure in the chaconne. There is another in plate 12, in which the dancer performs seven coupés à deux mouvements with a final coupé simple. All travel sideways to the left and there is a quarter-turn to the left at the beginning of every other step, from the first to the seventh and then on the eighth as well. So, the dancer performs two coupés à deux mouvements facing downstage, two facing stage left, two facing upstage, one facing stage right and the final coupé simple facing downstage again. The turns in the figure on plate 17 are more subtle and varied and follow each other in quick succession. This was the sequence which set me thinking about the dancer’s use of space and orientation as I struggled to get it right. I also couldn’t help wondering how it might relate to later codifications of the directions of the body in ballet and in modern ballroom (two styles I am acquainted with).

This variation has eight pas de bourrée. The dancer begins facing the presence, having just done a pas de bourrée sideways. Her first step has a quarter-turn to the right and then a half-turn to the right on the demi-coupé and ensuing step of the pas de bourrée, so she faces stage right then stage left and has a final step backwards with no turn. The next pas de bourrée has a quarter-turn to the right at the beginning and she stays facing downstage for the rest of the step. The third and fourth pas de bourrée each have quarter-turns to the right on their first two steps, followed by no turn. The dancer faces stage right, upstage, stage left, downstage as she moves. Although she ends facing the presence, her fifth step has a quarter turn on its second step so, she turns away to face stage right. The sixth pas de bourrée has a quarter-turn to the right on the first step, so she faces upstage immediately (at the point when she must be directly in front of the presence). Her seventh step has quarter-turns to the right on the first and second steps, turning her back to face downstage, a direction she maintains for the eighth pas de bourrée (which moves sideways to the right, reflecting the step which preceded this sequence). I have said little about changes in the direction of the steps themselves (the second to the sixth pas de bourrée each begin with a sideways step), but they play a part in the surprising complexities of this variation.

As I worked on it, I began to wonder how important these degrees of turn were. They reminded me of the precise degrees of turn required in modern ballroom steps, in which the directions of the body relate to the centre lines, the outer lines (the walls) of the dancing space and the ‘line of dance’ (a concept that needs further analysis) itself. Both these rectilinear figures within the chaconne move anti-clockwise around the space, as do modern ballroom dancers, with the dancer herself turning clockwise as she moves. I understand that directions of the body and directions of travel were not codified, in either ballet or ballroom dancing, before the early 20th century, but here are the rudiments of them within baroque dance some 200 years earlier. Of course, this focus on the perimeter of the dancing space raises a question – was the ‘Chacone pour une femme’ created for the court ballroom rather than the stage?

The last sequence I want to look at comes close to the end of the dance, on the very last plate of the notation.

It is both an extension and a variation of the sequence with which this chaconne began, and also draws on another earlier version of that opening sequence in which the coupé à deux mouvements was replaced by a contretemps. This latest variation begins with a contretemps, followed by a coupé battu avec ouverture de jambe, but the dancer turns to the left first and does not turn back to the presence on her second step. Instead, she continues to face stage left and then does a half-turn pirouette to face stage right, followed by a coupé soutenu in the same direction. She then repeats the whole sequence on the other foot in the opposite direction, not really addressing the presence at all. She only turns to face downstage when she begins the final variation of the choreography directly before the presence, and then faces it until the very end of the dance.

I can’t guess at the significance of these changes of direction within this particular female solo, although I do feel that it is important to dance them accurately. I couldn’t readily find anything on the topic of body directions among the sources accessible to me, but I need to take another look. The concept of the presence needs revisiting, too. So, perhaps, there will be a follow-up to this post in due course.

Reading List:

Régine Astier, ‘Chaconne pour une femme: Chaconne de Phaëton. A performance Study’, Dance Research, XV.2 (Winter 1997), 150-169. (Papers from the 1996 conference Dance to Honour Kings)

Francine Lancelot. La Belle Dance: Catalogue Raisonnée (Paris, 1996) [FL]

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

The Entrée Grave: A Touchstone of Male Virtuosity?

I am pursuing a line of research that has led me to the entrée grave and its use in musical works on the London stage in the late 17th century, so I thought I would take a closer look at this dance type through the choreographies surviving in notation. I have, of course, written about male dancing in other posts and I list these below for anyone who might be interested.

In her 2016 book Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera (p. 56), Rebecca Harris-Warrick describes the entrée grave as ‘a slow dance in duple meter characterized by dotted quarter note /eighth-note patterns, rather like the opening portion of an overture’, cautioning that ‘“grave” is found in the headings for choreographies … in scores such a piece is generally identified simply as an entrée or an air’. She also tells us that ‘in choreographic sources entrées graves are always danced by men’ (although she does cite an opera in which one may have been danced by women, p. 332).

Here, I am concerned only with the ‘choreographic sources’, as I want mainly to look at the vocabulary and technique associated with the entrée grave. The most comprehensive listing of notated dances is provided by La Danse Noble by Meredith Little and Carol Marsh, published in 1992, which includes an ‘Index to Dance Types and Styles’. The authors point out that ‘classification by type and style is often a problematic matter’ and this is certainly the case with the entrée grave. They list eight notated choreographies as entrées graves, but Francine Lancelot in La Belle Dance identifies only two in her ‘Index of Dances according to the Number of Performers’ – adding another six through her detailed descriptions of individual notations. I include references to entries in both of these catalogues in my list of choreographies below – prefaced LMC for Little and Marsh and FL for Lancelot.

The dances they identify as entrées graves are not quite the same. Little and Marsh include two solo versions of the ‘Entrée de Saturne’ from the Prologue to Lully’s Phaëton which are not this dance type (LMC4000 and LMC4260) and are not so identified by Lancelot (FL/1700.1/11 and FL/MS05.1/13). These are omitted from the list below. However, Lancelot identifies two male duets which are not classified as entrées graves by Little and Marsh (LMC4220, FL/1704.1/23 and LMC2780, FL/1713.2/36) which have been added to the list. So, between them, these two catalogues identify eight notated choreographies which may be classed as entrées graves. The dancing characters are identified by Lancelot from the livrets for the individual operas from which the music for the dance is taken.

Feuillet, Recüeil de dances (Paris, 1700)

  • ‘Entrée grave pour homme’, music anonymous (AABBB’ A=8 B=9 B’=4 38 bars). No dancing character indicated. (LMC4140, FL/1700.1/13)
  • ‘Entrée d’Apolon’, music from Lully Le Triomphe de l’Amour (1681), entrée XV (AABBB’ A=9 B=19 B’=7 63 bars). Dancing character Apollo. (LMC2720, FL/1700.1/14)
  • ‘Balet de neuf danseurs’, opening section, music from Lully Bellérophon (1679), act V scene 3 (AABB A=B=11 44 bars). Dancing characters Lyciens. (LMC1320, FL/1700.1/15)

Pecour, Recüeil de dances (Paris, 1704)

  • ‘Entrée pour deux hommes’, music from Lully Cadmus et Hermione (1674), V, 3 (AABB A=4 B=9 26 bars). Lancelot notes that the music is a gavotte but implies that the choreography is actually an entrée grave (as indicated by the notation). Dancing characters Suivants de Comus. (LMC4220, FL/1704.1/23)
  • ‘Entrée d’Appolon pour homme’, music from Lully Le Triomphe de l’Amour (1681), entrée XV (AABBB’ A=9 B=19 B’=7 63 bars). Dancing character Apollo. (LMC2740, FL/1704.1/30)

Pecour, Nouveau Recüeil de dances (Paris, c1713)

  • ‘Entrée de Cithe’ (a male duet), music from Bourgeois, Les Amours déguiséz (1713), 3e Entrée (AAB A=10 B=16 36 bars). Dancing characters Scithes (Scythians). (LMC2780, FL/1713.2/36)
  • ‘Entré seul pour un homme’, music from Stuck Méléagre (1709), act II scene 7 (AABB A=8 B=13 42 bars). Dancing characters Guerriers. (LMC4580, FL/1713.2/38)

L’Abbé, A New Collection of Dances (London, c1725)

  • ‘Entrée’, music from Lully, Acis et Galatée (1686), Prologue (AABB A-10 B=13 46 bars). Dancing characters in the opera Suite de l’Abondance, Suite de Comus. (LMC4180, FL/1725.1/12)

So, we have in all six male solos and two male duets published over the first quarter of the 18th century that might tell us something about the step vocabulary and the dance style of the entrée grave. The details given above provide quite a lot of information, before we turn to the notations themselves. All the choreographies are quite short. The longest are the two versions, by Feuillet and Pecour respectively, of the ‘Entrée’ for Apollo to music from Lully’s Le Triomphe de l’Amour of 1681, with 63 bars of music. The shortest is Pecour’s ‘Entrée pour deux hommes’ from Lully’s Cadmus et Hermione of 1674, with only 26 bars of music (and a question mark over the dance type it represents). It is worth remembering that, with the entrée grave, each bar of music has two pas composés of dancing many of which are complex or virtuosic. The music has to be slow to allow the dancers time to execute the steps.

None of Feuillet’s choreographies and none of Pecour’s solos are directly linked with performances at the Paris Opéra. Indeed, Pecour’s version of the ‘Entrée d’Appolon’ states that it was ‘non dancée à l’Opera’.  Only Pecour’s two duets record dances performed there – the dancers are named in the livrets for each opera as well as on the head-title for each notation. L’Abbé’s solo for Desnoyer was created for performance in London, as an entr’acte entertainment at the Drury Lane Theatre. Nevertheless, given that L’Abbé as well as Pecour had danced at the Paris Opéra and that Feuillet must also have been familiar with its repertoire as well as its dance conventions, it is worth considering the dancing characters for which the music was originally written as part of any choreographic analysis.

Apollo was, of course, the Olympian god identified with the sun (and with whom Louis XIV identified himself). The Lyciens were simply men of Lycia, celebrating the marriage of the Lycian princess Philonoé to the hero Bellérophon. The Suite (Followers) of Comus were the dancing characters in both Cadmus et Hermione and, probably, Acis et Galatée. The Cithes (Scythians), in other contexts known as warlike nomads from southern Russia, take part in celebrations in Les Amours déguiséz, but they also link to the Guerriers who dance an entrée grave in Méléagre. Between them, these characters carry three separate associations which might also overlap. Apollo represents power and control, yet there is an underlying hint of excess given the god’s many love affairs. The theme of revelry links the Followers of Comus with the Lyciens and the Cithes. The Guerriers, and perhaps the Cithes, suggest the portrayal of power and control. The messages conveyed by the entrée grave may be less clear and fixed than has been supposed.

An analysis of the notated dances reveals shared features. They routinely include some of the most virtuosic male steps – multiple pirouettes (with and without pas battus by the working leg), entre-chats à six and a variety of cabrioles, in particular the demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque. The first plate of Pecour’s ‘Entrée d’Appolon’, published in 1704, shows both an entre-chat and the demie cabriole en tournant, while the third plate shows two pirouettes, one without and one with pas battus.

All of these entrée grave choreographies include a number of basic steps, between a quarter and a third of the total in the surviving notations. They also routinely ornament such steps with beats and turns, making them far more complex. Examples of both (with some unadorned basic steps) can be seen in the second plate of Feuillet’s ‘Entrée grave pour homme’ from his collection of 1700.

The figures (floor patterns) traced by these male dancers are not easy to interpret. They seem mainly to move downstage and upstage on a central line, with occasional steps to right or left which quickly bring them back centre stage. Many of their steps, particularly those classed as virtuosic, are performed in place, so the dancer does not travel nearly as much as the notations imply. (Steps are, of course, written along the dance tracts, whether or not the dancer travels along these). The few circular figures are usually associated with the demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque, which makes a turn in the air so that the dancer lands close to where he began his jump. There are a few video recordings of some of the notated entrées graves which show the dancers traversing the stage quite freely, but I am not sure how much these owe to the demands of the dancing space rather than the notation. These male solos are certainly more compact and less varied in their figures than the corresponding female theatrical solos.

The only entrée grave for more than one or two male dancers is the ‘Balet de neuf Danseurs’ by Feuillet, again from his 1700 collection. It is danced by a leading man with eight ‘Followers’ who stand behind and to each side of him as he begins the choreography. Only the first section is an entrée grave, which is followed by two canaries. The soloist dances the first A section and then stands centre back while four of the eight Followers (those who were standing behind him) perform two parallel duets to the second A section. The soloist then dances to the first B section and is followed by the same four men, who resume their duets for the second B section. The dance continues with the soloist, who dances the first and second canary, and it finishes with all eight Followers dancing the repeat of the two canary tunes while the soloist again stands centre back. This choreography may reveal one way in which dancing masters could deploy a group of male dancers onstage for an entrée grave. Here are the first two plates of this choreography.

There is one other entrée grave choreography that I have not so far mentioned, but which is equally relevant to the research project that brought me to this topic. This is the ‘Air des Ivrognes’ in Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos, a ballet performed at the court of Louis XIV in 1688. The ballet was recorded by its choreographer Jean Favier in a dance notation of his own invention, which was published in facsimile, decoded, set in context and analysed by Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol G. Marsh in 1994 in Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV. They suggest that this duet, performed by two male dancers from the Paris Opéra in the guise of Peasants, ‘would have been immediately recognised as a burlesque of the entrée grave, the noblest and most difficult of the theatrical dances of the time’ (p. 55). As their analysis reveals, it is indisputably a comic number even as the dancers attempt some of the virtuosic feats associated with this dance type.

My research into the entrée grave has, necessarily, been limited. It would be useful to know how many more entrées graves there are in the operas of Lully and his immediate successors and which characters performed them, even though the choreographies are lost, but this is a task for musicologists. Although much of my work on baroque dance is practical, the demands of the entrée grave are well beyond my dancing skills – it is a shame that conference papers by those who have danced these difficult choreographies should remain unpublished and thus inaccessible. I have been able to answer some of my own immediate research questions, but my work has uncovered others. Was the entrée grave simply an expression of power and nobility or did it have other contexts with different meanings? How well was this dance known beyond France and how was it seen and understood elsewhere, for example in London? What was it really like in performance?

Reading list:

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

Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol G. Marsh, Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV: Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos (Cambridge, 1994)

Francine Lancelot. La Belle Dance: Catalogue Raisonnée (Paris, 1996)

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

Previous Dance in History Posts about Male Dancing:

Money for Entrechats: Valuing the Virtuosic Male Dancer – L’Abbé and Ballon

Money for Entrechats: Valuing the Virtuosic Male Dancer – Delagarde and Dupré

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

Demies Cabrioles in Male Solos and Duets

Pas de Sissonne Battu in Stage Dances for Men

Entre-Chats in Male Solos and Duets

Reasons to be Bored by Early Dance. II: Politeness

Politeness was an 18th-century invention by the English, so for this post I won’t need to bother about the earlier periods. 15th-century Italian ideas like ‘sprezzatura’ and ‘cortesia’ can be safely ignored. We owe the idea of politeness to two aristocrats, Lord Shaftesbury (for the theory) and Lord Chesterfield (for the practice). Politeness should not be confused with good manners. The UK early dance world has this distinction by heart – bad manners are the rule where politeness is concerned.

So, what is politeness as currently practised in the best of the UK early dance circles?  It rests on the repeated use of the word ‘never’.

  • Never show any enjoyment of dancing;
  • Never walk with energy or grace;
  • Never do steps properly;
  • Never pay any attention to those you happen to be dancing with;

Ignorance of these rules puts a dancer at risk of vulgarity. Rameau warned repeatedly against affectation (implying that it lacked politeness and was therefore vulgar). Although he was handicapped by a) being French and b) writing well before the publication of Lord Chesterfield’s Letters (which showed how true politeness should be practised), we should do what Rameau says. He was surely counselling the sort of dour restraint seen at too many early dance balls in the UK.

There are other precepts for politeness that must be followed.

  • Never put yourself forward for anything to do with dancing;
  • Never agree to do any dancing without being asked repeatedly (and then decline);
  • Never fail to point out when others can’t dance properly;

There is, of course, one ‘always’.

  • Always point out when other dancers fail the test of true authenticity.

I will explore the role of authenticity in early dance next.