Season of 1725-1726: Dancers at Drury Lane

In my first post devoted to the 1725-1726 season on the London stage, I gave the number of dancers billed in the entr’actes at the Drury Lane Theatre as 19 (12 men and 7 women). Further research has shown that these numbers were not correct and also revealed some of the problems with the information in both The London Stage, 1660-1800 and the Biographical Dictionary of Actors, which were my principal sources. (I provide full references for these at the end of this post).

For the total number of dancers who appeared in the entr’actes, I first read through the calendar of performances for the season noting down the names as they appeared. When I went back to check the number of entr’acte appearances by each of those dancers, I discovered that some of them were billed only once. The Topham advertised only on 25 September 1725 is identified by the Biographical Dictionary as John Topham, although he may equally well have been his brother H. Topham. In any case, his single performance shows that he was not a regular member of the Drury Lane company in 1725-1726. The ‘Cheshire Boy’ was billed only on 6 January 1726 and his performance record over the seasons suggest that he was an occasional ‘guest artist’ and not a member of the Drury Lane company in this or other seasons. Sandham, who was billed for a single entr’acte appearance on 5 May 1726, may or may not have been the father of the two Sandham children who performed on a number of occasions (the billing may instead have referred to ‘Master Sandham’, his son, but I am not sure). The London Stage also records Nivelon as dancing a Drunken Peasant on 3 November 1725, but the advertisement in the Daily Courant for that day clearly records the performer as Monsieur Roger.

There was also the puzzle of two dancers, one named Rainton and the other Young Rainton. The Biographical Dictionary records them as two different individuals. However, a comparison of their respective dance repertoires in 1725-1726 as well as checks on the original newspaper advertisements show that they were one and the same.

So far as I can tell, the following dancers appeared at Drury Lane throughout the 1725-1726 season, in both the entr’actes and the pantomime afterpieces:

Rainton

Thurmond Jr

Roger

Lally

Boval

Duplessis

Haughton

Miss Tenoe

Miss Robinson

Mrs Booth

Mrs Walter

Mrs Brett

Miss Lindar

 Thus, there were 13 entr’acte dancers (7 men and 6 women), together with two children – Sandham’s son and daughter – making 15 in all. The adults formed a ‘company within the company’, although that concept is not entirely straightforward. Among the women four also took acting roles (one additionally sang), while the men were all first and foremost dancers.

It is possible to characterise the members of this ‘company’ more precisely, through the number of their appearances and their repertoire. Among the men, Rainton appeared most often (52 entr’acte billings) followed by Boval (49), Thurmond Jr (41), Roger (38), Lally (33), Duplessis (22) and Haughton (20). Among the women, Miss Robinson was the busiest (61 entr’acte billings), followed by Miss Tenoe (47), Mrs Brett (45), Mrs Booth (35), Mrs Walter (24) and Miss Lindar (13). Sandham’s son and daughter made 8 and 6 entr’acte appearances respectively.

The individual repertoires performed by these dancers provide a different perspective. Among the men, Roger and Boval performed the most choreographies – Roger appeared in 3 solos, 1 duet and 3 group dances, while Boval danced 4 duets and 3 group dances. Duplessis and Haughton had the narrowest repertoires with 1 trio and 2 group dances each. Miss Robinson had the most extensive entr’acte repertoire of the women, with 3 solos and 4 duets, while (at the other extreme) Miss Lindar appeared in only 1 group dance. These figures point to dancers at different stages of their careers as well as of varying status within the dance ‘company’. It is worth pointing out that Mrs Booth was also one of Drury Lane’s leading actresses and played 21 principal acting roles during 1725-1726. Miss Tenoe also did a lot of acting, taking 15 supporting roles during the season.

Every one of the 13 entr’acte dances also took roles in Drury Lane’s popular pantomime afterpieces. It is with these productions that the status of individual dancers emerges. All three of Drury Lane’s 1725-1726 pantomimes – The Escapes of Harlequin, Harlequin Doctor Faustus and Apollo and Daphne – had been created by John Thurmond Jr. The title roles in Apollo and Daphne were danced by him and Mrs Booth. Roger was Harlequin in both The Escapes of Harlequin and Harlequin Doctor Faustus, appearing in Apollo and Daphne as both Pierrot and, in the pantomime’s concluding ballet, a Rival Swain. Two of that season’s popular group dances, La Folete and Le Badinage Champetre, were created by Roger. It is possible that both he and Thurmond Jr acted as dancing masters to the Drury Lane company.

Rainton and Miss Robinson enjoyed a dance partnership this season and seem to have been the young, up-and-coming stars. Lally, Boval, Duplessis and Haughton, like Miss Tenoe, Mrs Walter, Mrs Brett and Miss Lindar, were essentially supporting dancers in both the entr’actes and afterpieces. The two Sandham children were really a popular speciality act, although their repertoire drew on the same dances as adult performers.

Apart from the frustration of not really knowing what any of the dances performed on the London stage at this period were like, there is also the disappointment of having no portraits of all but a very few of the dancers. Even leading dancers could rarely afford the services of a portrait painter. Among the dancers at Drury Lane in 1725-1726 we have portraits of only one – Hester Booth, the company’s star ballerina and leading actress. Here she is in the familiar Harlequin portrait and portrayed in more classical guise.

In my next post, I will look more closely at the dancers who appeared in the entr’actes and afterpieces at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1725-1726.

References

For those who might be interested, the full references for The London Stage (the volume that I used for this post) and the Biographical Dictionary of Actors are as follows:

The London Stage, 1660-1800. Part 2: 1700-1729, ed. Emmett L. Avery (Carbondale, Ill., 1960)

A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel, 1660-1800, ed. Philip H. Highfill Jr, Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans. 16 vols (Carbondale, Ill., 1973-1993)

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