The First Quadrilles in London?

At an online cotillon workshop a few weeks ago, someone asked when cotillons changed to quadrilles. I was curious to know more about this, so I thought I would do some research. Of course, once I got started, I found more information and it was more complicated to analyse than I had anticipated. There may be more than one post on this topic.

I began with a couple of modern sources – Ellis Rogers’s extensively researched book The Quadrille (3rd edition, 2005) and Paul Cooper’s research paper ‘Cotillion Dancing in England, 1760s to 1810s’, which includes a section on early quadrilles, on the Regency Dances website. Both supply a wealth of information and references which I have tried to follow up and build on. My focus is usually dancing on the 18th-century London stage, so I thought I would also see if there were any quadrilles advertised in London’s theatres during that period. There were, so I have looked first and foremost at these. I don’t usually provide references in my posts, but I will give some here. Details of stage performances can be found in The London Stage.

In The Quadrille (p. 13), Ellis Rogers cites Jean-Michel Guilcher who states in his La Contredanse that before the 19th century the term ‘quadrille’ meant simply a group of dancers brought together to perform a dance. Paul Cooper tells us that quadrilles were danced in England from the mid-1770s and cites the dancing master S. J. Gardiner who, in his 1786 treatise A Definition of Minuet-Dancing, has a section ‘Of Cotillions, Quadrilles, &c.’ and writes of quadrilles – ‘They are Danced the same as the Cotillions, only with this difference, that instead of four Couple in the Cotillions, there are but two in the Quadrilles’ (p. 55).

On the London stage, the earliest recorded performance of a quadrille was on 27 March 1773 at Drury Lane. At the end of the play there was ‘A New Dance, in which will be introduced a Quadrille, by Daigueville, Giorgi, Atkins, Grimaldi, Sga Vidini, Sga Giorgi, Mrs Sutton, Mme Daigville, &c.’ The New Dance with its Quadrille was repeated on 30 March. It is interesting that eight dancers (four men and four women) are named, although the ‘&c.’ indicates that there were additional supporting dancers. It is impossible to tell which of the dancers might have performed the Quadrille – although my guess is that it was the eight who are named.

That same season a Grand Quadrille was given at the end of the opera at the King’s Theatre on 27 April. The advertisement tells us:

La Fete de Village will be done in the same manner as it was at Mlle Heinel’s Benefit, in which Mlle Heinel and Fierville will dance a Minuet, to conclude with a Country Dance and a Grand Quadrille by the principal dancers.’

There had been no mention of either a Country Dance or a Grand Quadrille when La Fete de Village was danced at Mlle Heinel’s benefit on 1 April 1773, although that ballet was repeated on 28 May and 8 June as well as 27 April with these additions. On 8 June the Grand Quadrille was advertised as danced by ‘Slingsby, etc.’ Simon Slingsby must have been one of the unnamed ‘principal dancers’ referred to on 27 April and presumably led both the Country Dance and the Grand Quadrille with a female partner.

These performances came soon after a private ball at which quadrilles were danced. Horace Walpole provides us with a description of the dancing at the ball given at the French Ambassador’s house on 26 March 1773:

‘The quadrilles were very pretty: Mrs Damer, Lady Sefton, Lady Melbourn and the Princess Czartoriski, in blue satin and blond and collets montés à la reine Elizabeth, Lord Robert Spencer, Mr Fitzpatrick, Lord Carlisle and I forget whom, in like dresses with red sashes, beaucoup de rouge, black hats with diamond loops and a few feathers before, began: then the Henri Quatres and Quatresses, who were Lady Craven, Miss Minching, the two Misses Vernons, Mr Storer, Mr Hanger, the Duc de Lausun and George Damer, all in white, the men with black hats and white feathers flapping behind, danced another quadrille, and then both quadrilles joined’. (The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, ed. W.S. Lewis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937-1983), vol. 32, pp. 108-113. Letter to Lady Ossory, 27 March 1773).

Walpole’s use of the word ‘quadrilles’ here may well have Guilcher’s meaning and so does not really refer to what they were dancing – although each of the quadrilles did have eight dancers. The footnotes to the letter identify most of the dancers, almost all of whom were in their mid-twenties. At least two of them were painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds around this time – Anne Seymour Damer (1748-1828) in 1773 and Lord Robert Spencer (1747-1831) in 1769. They may have been partners for the first quadrille.

The ball was given an advance mention in the Public Advertiser for 25 March 1773, which provided the additional information that ‘The directors of the dances are Mr Slingsby and Monsieur Lepy’. Both were dancers at the King’s Theatre this season, raising the question whether Drury Lane stole a march on their rivals by adding a quadrille to the bill on 27 March, well before the King’s Theatre were ready to do so. Reading all this over, I am not sure I have quite fathomed the relationship between the French Ambassador’s ball and the various later stage performances.

There are references to quadrilles beyond this ball and the subsequent theatre performances, which seem to indicate that quadrilles were being introduced to London for the first time in 1773. On 8 April 1773 (after the French Ambassador’s ball and the first ‘quadrille’ performance at Drury Lane), Gallini advertised his forthcoming annual ball at Almack’s in the Public Advertiser and drew attention to the fact that the tunes in the second volume of his Treatise on the Art of Dancing ‘may be danced to in Quadrille as well as Cotillons’. When the ball was advertised again in the Public Advertiser on 17 April (it was to take place on 23 April) there was an addition to the wording – ‘By particular Desire, a double Quadrille will be performed’. On 30 April 1773 the Public Advertiser carried a notice for ‘Mr. Noverre’s Annual Ball’ to be held on 3 May (Mr Noverre was Augustin, younger brother of Jean-Georges). The dances would include ‘Minuets, Cotillons and a Double Quadrille, by Mr. Noverre’s Scholars’. Both Gallini and Noverre seem to have been trying to capitalise on the new dance that had caught public attention as well as emulate the double quadrille at the French Ambassador’s ball.

These quadrilles were being danced in London just a few years after the start of the craze for cotillons. Were they really quadrilles, or just another form of cotillon? I will return to the question of the combination of steps, figures, choreographic structure and music that defines a quadrille.

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