La Bretagne in London

A dance titled The Bretagne turns up very occasionally in the bills for London’s theatres during the first half of the 18th century. Its earliest appearance was at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 5 April 1731, when Francis and Marie Sallé danced the ‘Louvre and Bretagne’ at his benefit performance. The Louvre is, of course, Pecour’s Aimable Vainqueur which was a favourite dance of the period. From this performance, it seems clear that the second dance must have been Pecour’s La Bretagne, created in honour of the duchesse de Bourgogne following the birth of her son the duc de Bretagne in 1704. This ballroom choreography was published in notation the same year, in Feuillet’s IIIme. Recüeil de danses de bal. Here is the title page for the dance (which was evidently also sold separately) and the first plate.

In 1706, P. Siris included La Bretagne in his translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie, published in London as The Art of Dancing by Characters and Figures. Here is the first plate.

Bretagne Siris plate 1

His version differs from Feuillet’s in some of the steps and the figures. It must have served to make the dance known in London, for John Weaver included it in the second edition of his translation of Choregraphie, Orchesography, published around 1722. Siris’s version also attracted the attention of Sir Richard Steele, who referred to the dance in his periodical The Lover on 4 March 1714. Steele mentions a separate edition of Siris’s notation of The Bretagne which had been published in London the same week (no copy is known to survive). The short essay that Steele weaves around it (with references to the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht that ended the War of Spanish Succession and made peace between Britain and France) needs detailed analysis that I cannot undertake here.

By the time that the Sallés performed it on stage in 1731, La Bretagne must have been known in London – at least to the capital’s dancing masters and perhaps to some of their pupils as well. Its next known performance on the London stage was not until 25 May 1738, when it was given (again at a benefit performance) alongside a Minuet by Miss Wright and Miss Morrison. The advertisement makes no mention of cross-dressing by one of the young women, although the practice was not unusual on the London stage. The next performance was on 5 May 1740 at Covent Garden, when James Dupré and Mrs Ozanne danced ‘The Britain (Ball Dance) and Minuet’ for his benefit. The last recorded performance was on 1 April 1742, again at Covent Garden, when Desnoyer and Sga Barberina gave ‘A Ball Dance call’d the Britannia, and a Louvre concluding with a Minuet’ for his benefit. I have wondered whether this might have been Isaac’s The Britannia, published in notation in 1706 and reissued a number of times subsequently, or perhaps a dance to music from Thomas Arne’s 1740 masque Alfred. The latter included the song ‘Rule Britannia’ and Sga Barberina had danced at the masque’s first performance before Prince Frederick at Cliveden. On reflection, I am inclined to believe that the dance at Covent Garden in 1742 was Pecour’s La Bretagne, but I cannot be sure.

La Bretagne appeared in notation many times over the years. The duet was notated afresh by Pierre Rameau and published in his Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode, which was reissued several times after its first appearance in 1725. It also turns up in a number of manuscript sources – see the entry for the dance in Francine Lancelot’s invaluable catalogue of surviving notations La Belle Dance (1996). It is mentioned by Taubert in his Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister (1717) as well as Rameau in Le Maître a danser (1725) and Kellom Tomlinson in The Art of Dancing (1735) – in each case in relation to the performance of individual steps, indicating its use in teaching.

I haven’t diligently pursued the teaching of La Bretagne in London or elsewhere, but the dance does turn up occasionally in dancing masters’ advertisements. One, for Messrs Welch and Hart in the Public Advertiser for 14 April 1768, offers cotillons, minuets, the Louvre, Passepied, Matlotte, the ‘Almand François’ and English country dances, as well as a ‘Nouvelle Bretaigne’ listed among the duets. I haven’t been able to locate any notation for a ball dance called ‘Nouvelle Bretaigne’ but it does hint that La Bretagne was routinely offered by London’s dancing masters, so Welch and Hart were attempting to go one better.

The explicit references to the teaching of the duet in London come much later, long after it had disappeared from the theatres. An advertisement in the Morning Post for 13 September 1776 announces that ‘Mr. Ferrere’ had established himself in London.

Ferrere Morning Post 13 Sep 1776 (2)

He must surely have been the Ferrère who created some of the works preserved in the manuscript compiled in 1782 by August Ferrère, who was his son. So far as I am aware, no reference to Ferrère Senior teaching in London has previously been found. He was still successfully plying his trade some sixteen years later, as this advertisement in the Oracle from 12 April 1792 shows.

Ferrere Oracle 12 Apr 1792 (2)

The list of dances that he was teaching includes several of Pecour’s ballroom choreographies from the beginning of the 18th century. Ferrère was surely not the only dancing master to include these in his curriculum, although I have been unable to locate other examples from the earlier 1700s.

More research is needed – into the inclusion of these early ballroom dances in performances on the London stage, as well as into London’s dancing masters and what they taught. There is more to be said, too, about Pecour’s choreography for La Bretagne, but that will have to wait for another occasion.

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