A couple of months ago, I took a first look at the Grand Ballet, Grand Dance and Serious Dance, wondering what these generic titles might mean when came to the actual dancing. Before I try to investigate them in more detail, I thought it would be interesting to see if there was a changing pattern to their appearance in entr’acte entertainments in London’s theatres during the first few decades of the 18th century.
Over the first 20 years, the Grand Dance and the Serious Dance were billed infrequently. The Serious Dance was usually a duet and so not a ‘Grand’ dance at all. The same is true for the 1720s, although from the 1726-1727 season the Grand Ballet was also billed very occasionally. During the early 1730s, the Grand Dance and Grand Ballet rarely appeared in advertisements, but from 1734-1735 this changed. There was a steady increase in billings, culminating in 1739-1740 with over 70 mentions of a Grand Ballet, Grand Dance or group Serious Dance among the entr’acte dances given at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Thereafter there was a steady decline, although some seasons (1742-1743 and 1744-1745) went against the trend. From the late 1740s until the 1759-1760 season very few ‘Grand’ or ‘Serious’ dances were mentioned in the bills.
I have been focussing my research on the period up to 1760, so I have not really explored the last few decades of the 18th century. However, it is worth noting that according to the Index to the London Stage the Grand Ballet more or less disappears during the 1760s but returns in the 1770s and 1780s before disappearing again. The Grand Dance is advertised from time to time during the 1760s, is billed more often in the 1770s and becomes a feature in the 1780s and 1790s. The Serious Dance (in what forms I don’t know) continues into the early 1770s before disappearing altogether. I am tempted to suggest that these changes were driven by developments in stage dancing elsewhere, particularly in Paris, where ballets were being given independently of opera and drama. Such dance works were brought to London by the many continental dancers and choreographers hired, not least by the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket (London’s opera house). Further research is certainly needed before we can be sure what was happening.
For the earlier period, the drivers of the increase in ‘Grand’ dances seem to have been in part the visiting foreign dancers, many of whom were extremely popular with audiences. The commercial rivalry between the two principal theatres, which waxed and waned, also affected their dance repertoire. In a later post, I will take a look at the seasons around 1740 to see if these shed any light on the phenomenon of the Grand Dance.