La Brone and La Blonde on the London Stage

A dance entitled La Brone and La Blonde was danced by ‘Vallois, Mlle Vallois, &c’ at the end of act one of Nicholas Rowe’s tragedy Jane Shore in a booth at London’s Bartholomew Fair on 23 August 1733. The venue was not quite as down-market as it seems. The proprietors of the booth were regular members of the Drury Lane Theatre company and many of the players were drawn from there and the Covent Garden Theatre. William Jovan de Vallois had made his London debut at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 13 April 1732, billed as ‘lately arrived from the Opera at Paris, the first Time of his dancing in England, a Scholar to M. Marcelle’. These credentials link him to one of the leading dancers and dancing masters in Paris. I have yet to discover whether Monsieur de Vallois pursued his earlier career at the Paris Opéra itself or at the Opéra-Comique (the successor to the theatres in the Paris fairs).

La Brone and La Blonde seems to have been danced in London only that once. The ‘&c’ suggests that there were more than two dancers, but there is no way of guessing how many. Could the dance have had any connection with the choreographies recorded and published by Dezais in his Premier Livre de Contre-Dances in 1725? There is a concordance for the tune for La Blonde, in Contre-Danses et Branles qui se danse aux bals de l’opera published in Paris around the same time. This suggests that Dezais might have been drawing on (or perhaps aiming his collection at) dancing in the public balls given at the Paris Opéra. This same music had also been used for The Siciliana by Siris, a ballroom duet published in London in 1714. Both La Blonde and La Brunne are in 6/8 and their music is titled ‘Gigue’, although La Brunne has an upbeat which identifies it as a Canarie. Both choreographies are for four and in the Dezais collection La Blonde is immediately followed by La Brunne and then repeated after it to conclude the dance.

The choreographies recorded by Dezais go a bit beyond straightforward contredanses. He notates steps for two sections within La Blonde. The little enchainement performed by each of the two couples, balonné, coupé battu starting with the right foot and then the left while taking right and then left hands, is familiar from a number of ballroom duets. Its earliest recorded use (if not its origin) is in the 1702 L’Allemande by Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ballet master at the Paris Opéra. This choreography was danced by Claude Ballon and Marie-Thérèse de Subligny in the ballet Fragments de Mr. De Lully the same year as the dance appeared. La Brunne has a right and left allemande turn which might also echo the same source, although no steps are notated (L’Allemande has two balonnés, a pas de bourée and an assemblé for each turn, which would fit).

If there is a link between the London dance La Brone and La Blonde and Dezais’s little suite of contredanses, it is perhaps more likely to lie within the music than the choreography. Yet, the use of motifs from L’Allemande (if that is indeed what is happening) suggests other possibilities. Did the dance performed at Bartholomew Fair in 1733 also derive some of its choreography from L’Allemande, perhaps via the contredanses published by Dezais?

Here is a nice performance of Dezais’s La Blonde and La Brunne. The dancers choose to do pas de bourées for their allemande turns. This is, after all, a contredanse.

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