What’s in a name?

Many ballroom duets and country dances have distinctive names. These might link the choreographies to their music, to a play, or to a place or a dedicatee. Dance names provide glimpses of the social and cultural milieu within which the dances were performed.

I’ve been looking at the Premier livre de contre-dances published by Dezais in 1725 and I thought it would be interesting to follow up some of the dance names in this collection. At first, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to discover very much but as I pursued my research I began to see links with other areas of my dance history interests – the ballet de cour of Louis XIV, royal and aristocratic dancers and dancing on the London stage, among other topics. I very quickly gathered enough information for several posts.

I’ll look at just a couple of the dance names here, both linked to royalty. L’Infante, the third dance in the collection, is a contredanse for eight with a structure similar to the later cotillon. The name obviously refers to a Spanish princess or Infanta. The French and Spanish royal families intermarried several times during the 17th and 18th centuries. Louis XIV’s mother was a Spanish princess and so was his wife. His successor Louis XV was briefly betrothed to the Spanish infanta Mariana Victoria. She was the daughter of King Philip V, younger brother to Louis’s father the duc de Bourgogne, so the two were first cousins. She arrived in Paris in 1721 to live at the Palais du Louvre until she was old enough for the marriage to take place. The young King was eleven, but his intended bride was only three years old. By 1725, following the King’s serious illness, the King’s ministers had realised they must find a princess who was old enough to be married and quickly provide an heir to the throne. The betrothal with the little Infanta was ended and she was sent back to Spain in March that year. In September 1725, Louis XV married the 22-year-old Polish princess Marie Leszczyńska. Mariana Victoria married the Prince of Brazil, heir to the Portuguese throne, in 1729. Was she the Infanta of Dezais’s contredanse?

Nicolas Largilliere. The Infanta Mariana Victoria. 1724

Nicolas Largilliere. The Infanta Mariana Victoria. 1724

La Carignan, the last dance in the Premier livre, is a minuet for four. The dance’s name links it to the royal house of Savoy. Victor-Amedée of Savoy, prince de Carignan was probably the dedicatee of Pecour’s ballroom duet La Carignan, published by Feuillet in the IIme Recueil de danses de bal pour l’année 1704. Dezais’s contredanse may have honoured another member of the Savoy-Carignan family. Victor-Amedée, his wife Marie-Victoire of Savoy and their children had been resident in France since the late 1710s. Their daughter Anne-Thérèse, born in Paris in 1717, is a possible dedicatee of the 1725 choreography.

These dance names, like many others, were topical, but were dances always created – and named – close to their publication date?

 

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