Stage Dances and Their Performers

I have started to look at the vocabulary of pas battus in solos and duets created for female professional dancers, concentrating on the choreographies in Pecour’s Recüeil of 1704 and his Nouveau recüeil of around 1713 as well as the L’Abbé New Collection of about 1725. I began my investigation with some statistics on the dances in these. I’m now about to turn to pas battus in the solos and duets for male dancers in these same sources. There are more dances for men than for women, although the difference between the two is not enormous: there are 11 male duets to 7 female duets; and 15 male solos to 14 female solos. However, there are some differences in the head titles (the details on the first page of each notated dance) which give me pause for thought as I try to make comparisons between the step vocabulary in the female and male repertoires.

In Pecour’s 1704 Recüeil, four of the six female solos name the dancers and are linked to stage performance either in the operas from which their music is taken or elsewhere (for example Mlle Subligny’s gigue danced ‘en Angleterre’, i.e. in one of London’s theatres). The single female duet in this collection names the dancers and is linked to performance at the Paris Opéra. With the male solos, the picture is rather different. None of the eight choreographies has a named dancer and six of them declare that they were ‘non dancée a l’Opera’. What does this phrase mean? Were the dances created for productions at the Paris Opéra and then not used? Were they intended for either public or private performance at another venue? Can one make a fair comparison between solos attributed to leading female professional dancers performed on stage at the Paris Opéra and those by unnamed male dancers not given there? Interestingly, all five of the male duets name the leading professionals who performed them and are linked to specific operas.

Pecour’s Nouveau recüeil of around 1713 has three male solos, but only one has a named performer. The other two are titled ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ with no reference to the operas from which their music comes. As in the earlier collection, the four duets all name dancers at the Paris Opéra and refer to performances in operas given there. One of the six female solos does not name the dancer and is also ‘non dancée a L’opéra’. One of Mlle Guyot’s solos has no reference to the opera from which it takes its music.  As with the men, all five of the female duets name their dancers and the opera in which they were performed.

I don’t know why there should be this difference in the head titles for male and female dances in these two collections. Did the leading men routinely choreograph or even improvise their own solos (so these couldn’t readily be notated) but need Pecour to create their duets? Or were Pecour’s male solo choreographies intended for Paris Opéra students or amateur dancers rather than these professionals?

In London, the situation (so far as stage dancing was concerned) was very different. The title page of L’Abbé’s New Collection claims that all the choreographies ‘have been performed both in Druy-Lane [sic] and Lincoln’s Inn-Fields, by the best Dancers’ – all these dancers are then named. All but one of the four male solos are attributed to leading male dancers in London and it is possible to link the ‘Gentleman’ who danced the fourth to a specific performance. The two duets similarly have named performers. The two female solos and the duet also have named dancers. None of the dances in this collection can be securely linked to individual performances on the London stage, but there is no reason to doubt the assertion on the title page.

There is one other issue, when it comes to comparing like for like with stage dances intended for men or women, and that is the dance types performed by them. Quite some time ago, I did an analysis of these as they occur across all the sources for male and female solos as well as male-only and female-only duets. I have never published it, so it could be a topic for another post. The vocabulary which is currently the focus of my interest may also be affected by the dance types as well as the performers, but the corpus of material I am investigating is so small that I will leave this issue to one side as I pursue my investigation of pas battus.

 

3 thoughts on “Stage Dances and Their Performers

  1. kethuprofumo

    Dear Moira, your post makes me wonder if we can speak about the Paris Opéra of that time…as this genre was yet too young in France. Don’t you regard these performances as sorts of court dancing or in the connection with the Italian tradition where the opera has already been developed?

    Reply
    1. moiragoff Post author

      Dear Maria,
      The Paris Opera was established in 1672, when Louis XIV granted Lully a royal privilege to establish the Academie Royale de Musique and public (as well as court) performances were given in that year. By the time these notations were published in the early 18th century, the Paris Opera was well established with a number of professional dancers among its personnel. French opera was a unique genre, very unlike the Italian opera of the time (which had, as you say, preceded it). It did, of course, develop directly from the ballets de cour given at Louis XIV’s court and these continued to exert influence on the new French operas – not least in their copious use of dancing. It is curious that French opera was developed by an Italian – Lully! This is all a very fascinating area for study, which I am only dipping into.
      All best wishes, Moira

      Reply
      1. kethuprofumo

        Thank you for explanation, dear Moire. As, when I read the post the Opera of the 19th century came more to my mind. You might study some references to Caterina Medici then, as she brought much of the Italian spirit in France. Oh, well. the correlation between France & Italy is far stronger than we can imagine. In fact, there were too many Italians who made the French culture of that time and too many Frenchmen who studied in Italy. Good luck & inspiration to you.

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