Dezais, Premier Livre de Contre-Dances: a closer look

I have been curious about the choreography for La Blonde and La Brunne for a long time, because a dance with much the same name was performed on the London stage in the early 1730s. Before I pursue that dance, I want to take a closer look at the Premier Livre de Contre-Dances published by Dezais in 1725. Unfortunately, the collection seems to have been unknown to the dance historians and musicologists who have done such valuable work on the dance notations surviving from the 18th century. So far as I can tell, nothing has been published on it and few concordances for the tunes have so far been identified.

The collection helps to fill a gap in the history of the cotillon, between Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie published by Dezais in 1716 and the 1762 Le Repertoire des Bals by De la Cuisse. There must have been many cotillons danced between those two dates, but the interruption in the publication of notated dances means that they were never recorded in print.

Among the dances in the Premier Livre, the following have the ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure familiar from the later cotillons (although the first two are for four and not eight dancers):

Cotillon Hongrois

L’Inconstante

L’Infante

Cotillon de Surenne

L’Esprit Follet

All are recorded in a way that shows their structure explicitly, i.e. the ‘Figure’ is notated in full the first time round and the successive repeats are merely noted after each ‘Change’. I haven’t gone so far as to analyse the choreographies for these dances, but such work would undoubtedly shed light on the early development of the cotillon.

The other dances in the collection – La Blonde, La Brunne, L’Ecossoise and La Carignan – are also worth closer investigation. L’Ecossoise is for six, four men and two women (although Dezais says in his Avertissement ‘qu’a la place de 4.  hōmes et 2. fēmes que l’on peut mettre quatre femmes et 2. hommes’.  How unusual are those line-ups among the surviving dances? La Carignan is one of several minuets ‘à quatre’, choreographies worth considering as a group.

There is much to learn from the Dezais Premier Livre de Contre-Dances.

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