A Year of Dance: 1716

In both England and France relatively little of importance happened politically during 1716. The Jacobite uprising which had begun in 1715 suffered its final failure when James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, fled Scotland for France in February 1716. That same month, some of the Jacobite leaders were executed in London. In France, the duc d’Orléans continued to act as regent for his great-nephew Louis XV.

The Paris Opéra offered no significant new works this year, although there was a revival of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, the first since 1691. However, the duc d’Orléans invited a troupe of commedia dell’arte players to Paris for the first time since the suppression of the Comédie-Italienne in 1697. There had been Italian comedies and comedians in the Paris fair theatres in the intervening years, but the Nouveau Théâtre Italien took up residence at the theatre in the Palais-Royal thereby showing royal approval. They gave their first performance there on 18 May (New Style) and played regularly for the rest of 1716.

Was it simply a coincidence that London audiences saw the beginnings of pantomime that same year? The new genre was introduced not at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where the manager John Rich was to become a noted Harlequin, but at Drury Lane where Sir Richard Steele engaged two forains (fair performers) to provide entr’acte entertainments. Sorin and Baxter gave an afterpiece The Whimsical Death of Harlequin at Drury Lane on 4 April 1716. They were described as ‘lately arriv’d from Paris, who have variety of Entertainments of that Kind, and make but a short Stay in England’. London’s playhouses had advertised any number of commedia dell’arte characters and scenes among their entr’acte entertainments over the years, but the billing of The Whimsical Death of Harlequin as an afterpiece was surely intended to signal something new.

Another coincidence was the publication in Nuremberg of Gregorio Lambranzi’s Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul, a collection of 101 engraved illustrations of dances. It provides virtually the only visual record we have of the dances that were performed on stages throughout Europe. This plate shows Harlequin and Scaramouch in what must have been an ‘Italian Night Scene’, popular as an entr’acte piece on the London stage from the early 1700s and one of the precursors of the pantomime.

Lambranzi, Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul (1716), Part 1, Plate 29

Lambranzi, Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul (1716), Part 1, Plate 29

The dances that appeared in notation during 1716 could not have been more different. In Paris, Dezais published a XIIIIe Recüeil de danses pour l’année 1716. This had two choreographies by Claude Ballon, La Gavotte du Roy a quatre and the duet La Bouree Nouvelle, together with Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie by Dezais himself. In the Avertissement at the beginning of the collection Dezais declared that La Gavotte du Roy had been created for the six-year-old Louis XV. The brevity and simplicity of La Bouree Nouvelle suggests that it, too, might have been created for the child King. The cotillon is an early example of the contredanse for eight that would become a dance craze in the 1760s.

In London, Edmund Pemberton published Anthony L’Abbé’s The Princess Anna ‘a new Dance for his Majesty’s BirthDay 1716’, dedicated to the King’s eldest granddaughter the young Princess Royal. As in the previous year, the birthday dance was quickly pirated by the music publisher John Walsh, who also tried to undercut Pemberton. The dancing master was having none of it and attacked Walsh in the Evening Post for 14 June 1716.

‘Whereas the judicious Mr. Walsh has condescended to sell Mr. Isaac’s dances for 1s. 6d. each, the usual price being 5s. It is to be hop’d his tender conscience will cause him to refund the overplus of every 5s. he has receiv’d for 8 or 10 years past, but as it appears his design is equally level’d against me his friend, he having pirated upon me the last birth day dance, compos’d by Mr. Labee. The main reason he gives for it, is, he loves to be doing, and by the same rule, a highwayman may exclaim against the heinous sin of idleness, and plead that for following his vocation: as I have attain’d to a mastery in my art, ‘tis but reasonable I should reap some advantage by it; the masters are impos’d upon by his impression, it being faulty in several places, particularly in the footing. The original is sold against Mercer’s street, Long-Acre, by me the author, E. Pemberton.’

Pemberton had worked for Walsh as a notator of Isaac’s dances, and was clearly acquainted with his wiles.  Walsh gave up without a fight. Presumably Pemberton’s patrons (who extended ultimately to the King) were too powerful for him.

The publication of Kellom Tomlinson’s second ball dance The Shepherdess, a forlana, could have been little more than a sideshow to the publicly expressed rivalry over the printing of the birthday dances created by the royal dancing master. Similarly the appearance of the 16th edition of The Dancing-Master (printed by W. Pearson and sold by John Young) and even Nathaniel Kynaston’s Twenty Four New Country Dances for the year 1716 (printed for Walsh and his partner Hare) were simply part of the normal round of music and dance publishing.

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