The Origins of the Pas de Zephyr: Ballets

Last year, I wrote two posts about the pas de Zephyr, a step found in at least six different manuals of social dancing (in English, French and Italian) published between 1818 and 1834. It may have been described as early as 1804, in the first edition of J. H. Gourdoux-Daux’s treatise Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse published that year (I have not been able to access a copy to check). I suggested that the social dance step might have been derived from a more demanding pas composé, or even an enchainement, performed onstage by a celebrated male dancer. The name of the step obviously links it to the character Zephyr, who appears in a number of ballets.

In classical mythology, Zephyrus was the personification of the West Wind. In Latin literature, Ovid recounted the story of Zephyrus and Flora in his Fasti, providing inspiration for artists from the Renaissance onwards. Zephyr appeared in numerous ballets between the mid-17th and early-19th century (the period I am interested in). Here is chronological list of these. It is probably not complete and I have included one or two productions in which Zephyr was a sung rather than a danced role.

1648, Paris. Ballet du déreglement des passions, Part 2, 5th entrée. Zephyr chases away two Satyrs who are pursuing Olimpe and dances with her. In this ballet de cour, Olimpe was danced by the Duc de Roennets and Zephyr by Monsieur de Bragelonne.

1656, Paris. Ballet de Psyché. In this ballet de cour,  Zephyr and Flore were sung, not danced, roles.

1681, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Le Triomphe de l’Amour, 19th entrée. In this version of Zephyr et Flore, at court Zephyr was danced by Monseigneur (Louis XIV’s son). No cast was recorded when the ballet moved into the public theatre later the same year.

1688, Paris. Zephire et Flore (by Louis and Jean-Louis Lully). In this opera, Zephyr was a singing role.

1705, Paris. Le Triomphe de l’Amour, 3rd divertissement. In this revival of the ballet, Zephyr was danced by Claude Ballon with Mlle Subligny as Flore.

1735, Paris. The ‘Ballet des Fleurs’ in Rameau’s opera-Ballet Les Indes Galantes, 3rd entrée scene 8. This ballet shows a garden of flowers, amongst whom the Rose (originally danced by Marie Sallé) is Queen. Boreas, the North Wind, threatens them, but Zephyr arrives and revives them then pays homage to the Rose. David Dumoulin danced Zephyr. Rameau also wrote a one-act ballet, Zéphyre, at an unknown date which was never performed.

1759, Vienna. Zéphire et Flore (also titled Les Amours de Flore et Zéphire), a ballet with music by Gluck and choreography by Gasparo Angiolini. The action resembles that in Rameau’s ‘Ballet des Fleurs’. Did Angiolini himself dance as Zephyr? We don’t know.

Artists almost always depicted Zephyr with Flora, as in this fresco by Tiepolo.

Tiepolo Zephyr

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The Triumph of Zephyr and Flora, 1734-1735.

I don’t have details of any other new productions with Zephyr as a dancing character during the middle decades of the 18th century. If the character was indeed absent during that period, he certainly returned to the stage in the 1790s. These were the productions, and the dancers, that may have led to the adoption of the pas de Zephyr as a social dance step.

1790, Paris. Psyché, ballet by Pierre Gardel. Zephyr is Cupid’s attendant. He opens the ballet with a solo and in act 2 has a pas de deux with Flore. The role was intended for Auguste Vestris, but he insisted on dancing the more important role of Cupid, so a younger dancer, Louis Laborie, created the role of Zephyr. Gardel’s ballet stayed in the repertoire until 1829 and among the dancers who later appeared as Zephyr were André Deshayes, Louis-Antoine Duport and Albert.

1793, Paris. Le Jugement de Paris, ballet by Pierre Gardel. This has a pas de trois by Flore, Pomone and Zephyr in act 2. Zephyr was danced by ‘Deshayes’, who was perhaps André Deshayes then aged sixteen.

1796, London. Flore et Zéphire, ballet by Didelot. He and Mme Didelot danced the title roles.

1802, Paris. Le Retour de Zéphire, a one-act divertissement by Pierre Gardel. André Deshayes danced Zephyr. His appearance marked his return to the stage after an 18-month absence because of injury. He was soon succeeded by Louis Duport.

1806, Paris. L’Hymen de Zéphire, ou Le Volage fixé, divertissement by Louis Duport, in which he danced the title role. The ballet culminates in the marriage of Zephyr to the nymph Chloris, who thereby becomes the goddess Flora.

1812, London. Zéphire inconstant, puni et fixé, ou Les Noces de Flore, Didelot’s revised version of his Flore et Zéphire with new music. Armand Vestris and Fortunata Angiolini danced the title roles.

1815, Paris. Flore et Zéphire by Didelot, given its first performance in Paris with Albert and Geneviève Gosselin in the title roles.

Clodion’s terracotta statuette of Zephyr and Flora has been described as dance-like in its composition. Could the artist have drawn inspiration from one of the ballets of the 1790s?

Clodion Zephyr

Clodion. Zephyrus and Flora, 1799.

Several of the later ballets held the stage for a number of years. Their choreography does not survive, but the dancing of the male ballet stars who appeared as Zephyr may well have inspired dancing masters looking for fresh steps for their more accomplished pupils to include in the newly fashionable quadrilles.

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