I have long been sceptical about the claim that Mlle Camargo was the first woman to perform an entrechat-quatre on stage, not least because I know that several of the earlier notated stage dances for women contain pas battus not so far removed from that feat. I thought it was time I looked more closely at the vocabulary in those dances, focussing on batterie in the jumped steps rather than the percussive pas battus used to embellish so many of the walking steps in choreographies created for the stage.
I listed the four principal sources for notated stage dances in an earlier post. Between them these collections contain 16 female solos and 7 female duets. The publication dates range over some 25 years, more than a generation of dancers, although the choreographies themselves may range from the 1690s to the 1720s. We don’t know how these notations relate to what was actually performed onstage and there is no consensus about the purposes behind their publication. Were they intended to record the choreographies performed by leading dancers, for dancing masters working in the theatre or even for fans? Were they actually simplified versions of the original dances intended for the teaching of talented (but not necessarily professional) pupils? Whatever the truth, they provide invaluable evidence of the dancing we have lost. They are well worth detailed exploration.
In Choregraphie, Feuillet provides tables for ‘Cabrioles, et demi Cabrioles’ as well as ‘Entre-chats et demy entre-chats’.
In addition, he includes aerial pas battus in his tables of ‘Contre-temps; and ‘Pas de sissonne’.
I should point out that there are differing interpretations of Pierre Rameau’s description of the contretemps in chapter 37 of Le Maître a danser. He uses the phrase ‘se relever en sautant dessus’, which has led some scholar-practitioners to adopt a relevé rather than a sauté. The former means that it is not, technically, a jumped step.
Feuillet was himself the notator of the 1700 collection of his own choreographies, as well as the 1704 collection of Pecour’s ‘Entrées de Ballet’. Both Gaudrau, who notated the Pecour collection of around 1713, and Le Roussau, who notated L’Abbé’s New Collection, used the system published by Feuillet in Choregraphie. Which, if any, of these pas battus appear in the notated dances for professional female dancers recorded in these collections?