DANCES FOR FOUR

Following a discussion about eighteenth-century dances for four with a fellow baroque dance specialist and I thought I would make a list of the surviving notations. I had classified them as ballroom dances, so I turned to La Danse Noble (1992) by Meredith Little and Carol Marsh and La Belle Dance (1996) by Francine Lancelot, the two catalogues of this repertoire. Between them, they provided a total of eleven choreographies ranging in date from 1705 to 1771.

One starting point for the discussion was Feuillet’s Le Cotillon, published in 1705. This choreography has the same structure, and uses the same steps, as the cotillons published in Paris in the 1760s. Even though it appears alongside ballroom dances in the IIIIe. Recueil de Dances de Bal and is notated in the same way, it is essentially a contredanse. It is nevertheless listed in both catalogues. However, another dance for four, Le Quadrille, published by Magny in his Principes de Choregraphie (1765), appears in neither catalogue though it too is notated in the same way. Magny tells us that he composed the dance simply to show all the steps used in contredanses, so it was presumably omitted because it was classed as a contredanse.

I couldn’t help pursuing matters a little further. Neither Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie (for eight dancers) from the XIIIIe. Recüeil de Danses (1716) nor L’Italiene (for four) from the XVII Recüeil de Dances (1719) both by Dezais, appear in the catalogues. Both these dances are recorded in the simplified form of notation used for contredanses. However, Little and Marsh include Mr Holt’s Minuet [and] Jigg for four, published in Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing (1711) even though the dance is written in simplified notation and is very similar to a country dance. (Lancelot covers French dances and dancing masters, omitting anything which is purely English).

I began to wonder if the distinction between ballroom dances and country dances was less clear than I had supposed. When I came across the Premier Livre de Contre-Dances (1725) by Dezais and discovered that it has at least five dances for four, I realised that drawing up my list was not going to be entirely straightforward. So many country dances and contredanses were published during the eighteenth century that no researchers have tried to emulate Little and Marsh and Lancelot by trying to catalogue them. There is no easy way to investigate this repertoire. Are dances for four ballroom dances or contredanses? How many more of them are out there?

 

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