The Last Quadrilles on the 18th-Century London Stage?

Between 1776 and 1787 quadrilles continued to be mentioned in London theatre bills from time to time. On 16 May 1778, the bill at Covent Garden included ‘a variety of new Quadrilles’ at the end of act four of Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. These ‘new Quadrilles’ may well have been cotillons for four, since they were immediately preceded by ‘Le Minuet à Quatre by Dumay, Holloway, Miss Matthews, Miss Ross’ who presumably provided all the dancing in this entr’acte.

In 1782, there was another outburst of quadrilles which is worth looking at in some detail. Late in 1781, a masked ball ‘with Quadrilles’ was announced at the King’s Theatre. Subsequent newspaper reports suggest that it was deferred until 24 January 1782. The advertisement in the Morning Chronicle for that day listed an elaborate sequence of entertainments by the theatre’s leading dancers.

Morning Chronicle 24 Jan 1782

These quadrilles seem to have been danced by four couples and had been created by none other than Jean-Georges Noverre. The practice of holding masquerades alongside the opera performances dates back to much earlier in the history of London’s opera house, as this image of 1724 shows.

KIn's Theatre Masquerade Grisoni 1724 (2)

On 2 February 1782, the performance at the King’s Theatre included entr’acte dancing with ‘the Dances introduced in the Masquerade’.

On 7 February 1782, there was a cotillon ball at the Pantheon. The advertisement in that day’s Morning Chronicle helpfully explained:

‘Several Ladies having expressed a desire to dance Quadrilles, and other figure dances at the Cotillon Ball, Ladies who wish to make their party for that purpose, may be accommodated with a room to practice the same any morning from Twelve to Three, free of any expence.’

The ‘Ladies’ would of course have subscribed in advance to attend the cotillon ball. There was probably more than a little rivalry between the various venues mounting public balls.

In April and May 1782, there were a number of performances at the Covent Garden Theatre which included quadrilles in the entr’actes. On 2 April there was ‘a new Grand Divertisement’ at the end of the mainpiece play. Here is playbill for the performance.

CG 2 April 1782

The Gala, with its Quadrilles and Cotillons, was repeated on 16 and 27 April. The advertisement is open to interpretation – either the quadrilles and cotillons used four and eight dancers respectively, or the dances were distinguished from one another by their steps, choreographic structure and music. The wording does not suggest that the dancers were divided into groups, so it is impossible to tell what the difference was. On 25 May 1782 a ‘New Quadrille’ was given in the entr’actes at Covent Garden, but the bill says no more than that title.

There were only occasional mentions of quadrilles later in the 1780s. The last reference to quadrilles on the London stage before 1800 was in the bill for a performance at the King’s Theatre on 20 January 1787. However, it came within the description of ‘an allegorical Ballet’ at the end of the opera ‘divided into 3 Quadrilles’ which must surely mean simply that the dancers were divided into three groups for the purposes of the choreography.

I suspect that there are many more references to danced quadrilles to be uncovered in newspapers and other sources during the last decades of the eighteenth century. Paul Cooper’s ‘Cotillion Dancing in England, 1760s to 1810s’ on the Regency Dances website cites an advertisement in the Bath Chronicle of 30 October 1794 for a dancing master named Deneuville, who was teaching quadrilles in that city. I am certain that London’s dancing masters must have been doing the same, even if the dance (in any form) was not being given in London’s theatres. Further research will surely shed light on the ‘quadrilles’ danced in London and elsewhere before the 19th century.

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