There are just two more dances in Dezais’s 1725 Premier Livre de Contre-Dances that I haven’t considered yet – L’Inconstante and L’Esprit Follet. Again, I won’t look at the choreographies but pursue the sources of the dances’ names.
L’Inconstante, for four dancers, is the second dance in the collection. Its duple-time music is identified on the notation as a tambourin. The music has A and B strains of eight and sixteen bars respectively, while the dance has the ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure of a cotillon. So far, I have not been able to find a plausible source for the title. Marivaux’s play La Double Inconstance was given at the Thêâtre Italien on 6 April 1723, but there seems to be nothing to link it to Dezais’s choreography. It is interesting to note that, in London, Farquhar’s play The Inconstant was revived at the Drury Lane Theatre on 16 October 1723. It is unlikely that there is a link, so is there another source which also flirts with the idea of inconstancy?
L’Esprit Follet, for eight dancers, is the seventh dance in the Premier Livre. The duple-time music is titled ‘Rigaudon’ but has the half-bar upbeat of a gavotte. The A strain has four bars and the B strain has eight. The dance has the familiar structure of a cotillon. I haven’t got to the bottom of this title either. ‘Esprit follet’ can be translated as ‘goblin’, which gives me the idea of mischievous (if not malicious) playfulness. Esprits follets featured in the ballets de cour of the mid-17th century and there is a 1684 play by Noël Le Breton de Hauteroche titled L’Esprit Follet. There is no singing or dancing in any of the editions I’ve looked at, so I’m tempted to go in a different direction.
The repertoire of the Italian comedians in 17th-century Paris included a play entitled Arlequin Esprit Follet. I haven’t been able to track down any performances in Paris either at the fairs or the Théâtre Italien in the early 18th century, but a piece with that title was played in London intermittently between 1719 and 1735. The earliest of these performances were given by a troupe led by Francisque Moylin which included the Sallé children Francis and Marie. This suggests that Arlequin Esprit Follet was a given regularly in Paris and elsewhere. In the absence of a text and, particularly, any music it is impossible to prove, but could Dezais’s cotillon L’Esprit Follet draw on music from the commedia dell’arte piece Arlequin Esprit Follet?
Do such links, which may be less tenuous than I suggest, say anything about the spirit in which these contredanses should be performed?