Season of 1725-1726: Group Entr’acte Dances at Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Myrtillo was performed at Drury Lane on 25 September 1725 and then at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 4 October. At Drury Lane the dancers for this particular group entr’acte dance were never specifically billed, so we cannot be sure how many dancers there were and who performed Myrtillo. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the bill for 2 April 1726 named Dupré, Lally, Pelling, Mrs Laguerre, Mrs Wall and Mrs Bullock, who probably formed three couples according to the order in which their names appear, i.e. Dupré and Mrs Laguerre, Lally and Mrs Wall, Pelling and Mrs Bullock – reflecting the dance partnerships during this season.

In the absence of pictorial material directly related to dancing on the London stage at this period, it is worth looking at some of the conventions around the depiction of dancers in a pastoral setting. This is obviously a quite separate area of research and one that I will not try to undertake here. However, this print after Watteau dating to the late 1720s perhaps evokes some of the visual expectations that audiences might have brought to the theatre, as well as some possible influences on the theatre managers and their designers.

The choreography had begun as a ‘Grand Dance’ within the ‘Pastoral Interlude’ Myrtillo, an afterpiece with a libretto by Colley Cibber and music by Johann Christoph Pepusch first given at Drury Lane on 5 November 1715. The afterpiece did not last long, but its ‘Grand Dance’ was first billed separately in the entr’actes on 31 May 1716 when the dancers were Dupré, Boval, Dupré Jr (not the same dancer as at Lincoln’s Inn Fields ten years later), Mrs Santlow (who became Mrs Booth), Mrs Bicknell and Miss Younger. The entr’acte dance Myrtillo was revived at Drury Lane regularly thereafter, and billed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields for the first time on 17 October 1721. It would continue in repertoire at Lincoln’s Inn Fields until the 1729-1730 season and at Drury Lane until 1734-1735.

Myrtillo was usually danced by three couples, although some advertisements suggest that there could be as many as five or as few as two (I haven’t yet checked whether or not the transcriptions in The London Stage are accurate for these latter). It is one of the very few entr’acte dances from this period for which we can be sure of the music, since Pepusch’s original score survives in the collections of London’s Royal Academy of Music. It includes a single dance at the end of the entertainment, which has five sections – a rigaudon, a gavotte, a musette, another rigaudon and a passepied (the pieces are not titled, but their musical characteristics suggest these dance types). I discussed Myrtillo in my book The Incomparable Hester Santlow, so I will not analyse it further here except to suggest that it may have been first choreographed by Louis Dupré and he may well have mounted it at Lincoln’s Inn Fields later.

A key part of any choreography is surely the costuming, which delineates characters as well as helping to shape the steps performed by individual dancers. A surviving costume bill from the Drury Lane Theatre tells us that, in the afterpiece Myrtillo, Mrs Santlow wore a white lustring dress decorated with rose coloured satin ribbon and trimmed with white ribbon roses, while Mrs Bicknell wore only a ‘Paysanes Dress’. The bill also mentions binding for Mrs Santlow’s stays and the whalebone of her petticoat – she evidently wore a hooped skirt. It survives, along with many others, in the collections of the Folger Shakespeare Library, and provides helpful insights not only into what dancers wore on the London stage, but also the hierarchies of the characters they portrayed.

The other group dances at Drury Lane in 1725-1726 were La Follett and Le Badinage Champetre, both choreographed by Roger, and a Turkish Dance (also titled Grand Turkish Dance). Roger may well have been drawing on his earlier career with various companies of French commedia dell’arte players (possibly including that led by Francisque Moylin, uncle to Francis and Marie Sallé). In 1725-1726, he was appearing with one of London’s own theatre companies for the first time and apparently made his Drury Lane debut with La Follett on 23 September 1725. He wasn’t explicitly billed until 28 September, when he was named as the dance’s choreographer and described as the ‘French Pierot’. La Follett itself was billed as a dance ‘in Comic Characters’ and danced by Roger, Thurmond Jr, Boval, Lally, Mrs Brett and Miss Tenoe. The ‘Comic Characters’ were probably drawn from the commedia dell’arte, but I am not going to pursue the meaning of the dance’s title here. It was given eleven performances in 1725-1726 and then disappeared from the repertoire.

The title of Le Badinage Champetre is surely self-explanatory. It was performed by five couples, with (as was usual) the men billed first followed by the women – Roger, Boval, Lally, Duplessis, Haughton, Mrs Booth, Mrs Tenoe, Mrs Brett, Mrs Walter, Miss Lindar. I suggest that this was a divertissement rather than a single dance, with Roger and Mrs Booth as the leading couple and the last two men and last two women as supporting dancers to the others. Le Badinage Champetre proved popular and was danced regularly into the 1730s.

The Turkish Dance given at Drury Lane on 31 March 1726 was performed by five men – Thurmond Jr, Roger, Boval, Lally and Duplessis (the transcription in The London Stage omits Boval, although he appears in the Daily Courant advertisement on that day). Thurmond Jr had probably danced in L’Abbe’s ‘Turkish Dance’ duet in 1723-1724, so could this new choreography (which I suspect may have been by him) have used music from Campra’s L’Europe galante? Or did it perhaps draw on Lully’s music for the Turkish Ceremony in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, which had been presented at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket a few seasons earlier?

This image from part two of Lambranzi’s 1716 Neue und curieuse theatrialische Tantz-Schul shows four Turks dancing together. Can it tell us anything about either the costuming or the choreography of the Turkish Dance given at Drury Lane in 1726?

At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, in addition to Myrtillo the following group entr’acte dances were performed:

Grand Dance

Shepherds and Shepherdesses

The Rivals (a trio)

Grand Dance of Two Punches, Two Scaramouches, and Three Harlequins

Grand Spanish Dance

Grand Chacone

The Grand Dance was first given on 21 March 1726 with three couples – Dupré and Mrs Wall, Sallé and Mrs Bullock, Lally and Mrs Anderson – listed so in the bills. It was advertised as being performed at the end of the afterpiece, a ‘Pastoral Entertainment of Vocal and Instrumental Musick’ entitled The Fickle Fair One. Was it actually an entr’acte dance, or was it performed in the piece’s closing scene?

Shepherds and Shepherdesses was given on 18 April 1726 and danced by Dupré, Sallé, Lally, Pelling, Mrs Bullock, Mrs Wall, Mrs Anderson. Such dances were particularly popular during the 1720s and 1730s, although this one seems not to have outlasted the 1725-1726 season. The uneven number of men and women seems to point to a divertissement structure incorporating solos and duets.

The Rivals was a trio danced by Francis Sallé, Francis Nivelon and Marie Sallé ‘in the Characters of Harlequin, Punch and Harlequin Woman’. The Sallés must have been the Harlequins, with Nivelon as Punch. The dance was presented only once, on 18 April 1726 for the benefit of Francis and Marie Sallé. It presumably included commedia dell’arte-style pantomime alongside dancing and may have been a short scene. There were always a number of dances each season that were performed only as benefit pieces and this seems to have been one of them.

This print is taken from a well-known painting by Nicolas Lancret of the mid-1720s. It shows Harlequin and Harlequine, with Pierrot rather than Punch (although Lancret did depict Punch in other paintings). Could it give us a flavour of the commedia dell’arte-style dances on the London stage, in particular The Rivals with its three French dancers?

I am reproducing prints in this post because this was how such paintings became known in London at this period.

The Grand Dance of Two Punches, Two Scaramouches, and Three Harlequins was first billed on 19 April 1726 for Lally’s benefit. The dancers were not named until 30 April, when the dance was repeated at the benefit of Newhouse and Mrs Wall. Dupré and Sallé were two Harlequins, with Mrs Wall as Harlequin Woman making up the third, the Punches were Newhouse and Pelling and the Scaramouches Lanyon and Dupré Jr. This Grand Dance was repeated at two more benefits before the end of the season. Dances by commedia dell’arte characters had been popular since the first decade of the 18th century and it would be interesting to chart the changes in that popularity as well as the variety of choreographies offered. Over time, they were wholly absorbed into the pantomime afterpieces and all but disappeared from the entr’actes.

Both the Grand Spanish Dance and the Grand Chacone were added to the Lincoln’s Inn Fields entr’acte dance repertoire at Dupré’s benefit on 21 April 1726. It is possible that both dances were either arranged or choreographed by him. ‘Spanish’ dances were regularly given in the entr’actes, although this Grand Spanish Dance – performed by Dupré, Pelling, Newhouse, Lanyon, Dupré Jr, Mrs Bullock, Mrs Wall, Mrs Ogden and Mrs Anderson – was danced only once. The billing of five men and four women suggests that Dupré may have danced as a soloist with four supporting couples.

The Grand Chacone was danced by four men and four women – Dupré, Lally, Pelling, Dupré Jr, Mrs Bullock, Mrs Wall, Mrs Ogden and Mrs Anderson. Like the Grand Spanish Dance, this choreography was performed only once. Chacones were performed regularly in the entr’actes at London’s theatres from the first decade of the 18th century to the 1730s. Many were solos associated with individual dancers. This Grand Chacone may provide some hints on those danced at the Paris Opéra, although we can only guess at the choreographies performed there or in London. Was the music for both this dance and the Grand Spanish Dance from French operas?

Despite the lack of documentation on the actual dancing, these group dances are interesting for what they tell us about choreographic themes popular in London and with the choreographers working there, as well as the deployment of dancers in the ‘company within the company’ at each of London’s theatres. In my next post, I will take a look at the duets given at Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

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