For a number of years, I have been researching dancing on the London stage between 1660 and 1760. There are several studies of theatrical dancing in the French ballets de cour and French operas of that period, but dancing in London has been largely ignored. This neglect is understandable, up to a point. In London’s theatres, dances were usually performed between the acts of plays, in the divertissements within semi-operas or, later, in the masques and pantomimes that followed the main tragedy or comedy of the evening. Other than their titles, and who danced them, we know little about them. If we are lucky, a tune with the same title as a dance may survive in a collection of country dances, a music tutor or elsewhere (although the tune may turn out to have little to do with the dance). Except in a handful of cases, no choreography survives. Despite all these difficulties, I just cannot rid myself of my fascination with this lost repertoire and its dancers.
Dancing on the London stage was much influenced by French belle danse. One area of interest, which might also be fruitful in research terms, lies in the various dance types known from the corpus of dances notated in the early 1700s. Some of these dances appear explicitly in the entr’actes and some do not. Among those that can be found are the Allemande, Chaconne, Folia (‘Folie d’Espagne’), Forlana (billed once only as a ‘Forlanta’), Hornpipe, Gigue (actually the ‘Jig’ which may, or may not, be a French Gigue), Loure (mainly in the form of the ‘Louvre’, i.e. the ball dance Aimable Vainqueur), Minuet, Musette, Passacaille, Rigaudon and Saraband (to which I have previously devoted a post). Entr’acte dances with these dance types in their titles were billed and it seems likely that many of them were what they claimed to be. Those not billed are the Bourrée, Canary, Courante, Gavotte and Passepied. They may well have been performed, but they are never mentioned among the advertisements for entr’acte dances. I cannot explain why some of these dances were not among those named in the bills (though some, like the Courante, may simply have gone out of fashion).
From time to time, I will take a closer look at some of the dance types that were performed on the London stage.