Highland Dances on the London Stage

Highland Dances were never advertised as often as Scotch Dances, at least over the period up to 1760. The earliest surviving advertisement is for a performance on 6 July 1700 at Drury Lane for ‘A Scotch Song with the Dance of the Bonny Highlander; never done but once before on the English Stage’ (the single previous performance may also have been given during 1699-1700). ‘Highlanders’ had a much longer history in dance music, as the tune ‘The Highlanders’ March’ in the 1657 third edition of Playford’s The Dancing Master suggests. The tune for the ‘Scotchman’s dance’ in Brome’s The Northern Lass, in Playford’s seventh edition of 1687, has the alternative title ‘The Highlanders’ March’, indicating that ‘Scotch’ and ‘Highland’ could be seen as equivalent.

A handful of billings in the early 1700s may point to the wider popularity of Highland Dances. Claxton performed The Highland alongside The Whip of Dunboyn (thereby pairing a Scottish with an Irish dance) at Drury Lane on 18 June 1703, while the Devonshire Girl (later billed under her own name as Mrs Mosse) gave at least three performances of a Highland Lilt at the same theatre during the 1702-1703 and 1704-1705 seasons. The first of these was a duet with her ‘Master’, who was in fact Claxton. There was also the Grand Dance of the Laird and his Highland Attendance, performed with ‘other Scotch dances’ at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 28 April 1704, alongside a Scotch Song in Praise of a Highland Laird and ‘other Scotch songs’. This seems to have been the only such performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields this season. No performers were named in the bill and no context is given for this particular entertainment.

Apart from a ‘new Scotch Highlander by de la Garde’s Two Sons’ performed at their Lincoln’s Inn Fields benefit in 1718-1719, there were no more Highland Dances advertised until the 1720s when Lally Jr (Michel Lally) offered a solo and Newhouse performed a duet with Mrs Ogden at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, while Mrs Bullock danced a solo Highland Lilt at Drury Lane. The most popular dance of this period came towards the end of the decade, with the Highlander and Mistress first given by Francis Sallé and Mrs Laguerre at his benefit on 8 April 1729 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The duet was repeated on 17 April for Mrs Laguerre’s benefit (shared with her husband) and it received nine more performances before the end of the 1728-1729 season. It was revived for several more performances in each of the three following seasons and would undoubtedly have continued in repertoire if Sallé had not died in 1732. Was it this duet that was taken into the afterpiece The Dutch and Scotch Contention; or, Love and Jealousy given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 22 October 1729 and revived there in 1730-1731 and 1731-1732?

The Dutch and Scotch Contention was, in its turn, taken from a ballet performed during the summer of 1729 at the Opéra Comique in Paris, within the opera La Princess de la Chine. The Mercure de France for July 1729 provides an account of the piece, which replaced a ‘Divertissement de Chinois’ in act three.

‘Le 7. de ce mois [July], on donna à la place du Divertissement du 3e Acte de la Piece dont on vient de parler [La Princesse de la Chine], un Balet singulier, extrémement picquant & vrai par sa composition, par le naïf des caracteres qui y sont excellemment rendus, & par la finesse & la legereté de l’execution; cinq hommes & deux femmes, dansant sur des Airs d’un Musicien Ecossois, presentent avec une intelligence à laquelle on ne sçauroit rien desirer, par leurs pas, leurs attitudes & leurs gestes, ce qui se passe dans les Musicaux d’Hollande, qui sont des especes de Cabarets à Biere à peu près comme nos Guingettes, où les Matelots & autres Particuliers de differentes Nations, éprouvent diverses avantures de galanterie. Ce qu’on exprime ici par des Tableaux animez, très ingenieux & très-agréables, c’est l’Amour & la Jalousie. Ces Passions y sont renduës très sensibles par les inimitables Danseurs qui composent ce Balet. Le Sieur Nivelon & La Dlle Rabon, jeune personne, très-bonne Danseuse, y paroissent en Hollandois, comme l’Amant & la Maîtresse. Le sieur Roger, qui a composé les pas du Balet, & dont la seule figure est capable de faire éclater de rire le plus grand Stoïcien, y figure le Valet du Hollandois. Le sieur Sallé, en Ecossois, & le sieur Rinton; en Ecossoise, sa Maîtresse. Le sieur Boudet, Valet de l’Ecossois. Ces deux Nations sont très-bien caracterisées par ces excellens Pantomimes. On n’entrera pas dans un plus grand détail pour donner une idée de ce Balet figuré, dans lequel, sans le secours de la parole, on s’exprime avec l’intelligence la moins équivoque & la plus claire.’

[Spelling and diacritics are as given as in the original text]

Marian Hannah Winter (The Pre-Romantic Ballet (London, 1974), p. 84) mentions l’Amour et la Jalousie as an example of the beginnings of the ballet d’action, to which English performers and ideas made significant contributions. Of the five men and two women who danced in the piece (no mention is made of the second woman in the Mercure de France), only one was English so far as we know, but all were working regularly in London. Winter does not make the link to the entr’acte and afterpiece repertoire on the London stage, although she may have been aware of it.

The original ballet was by Roger, whose entr’acte dance Love and Jealousie given at Drury Lane on 18 October 1729 was probably also derived from his Paris version. It received only two performances and, sadly, the bills provide no information about the dancers. The cast may well have included Rainton, who was in the company that season. The review in the Mercure de France suggests that Sallé’s duet, with Rainton en travesti, was a comic number. When Nivelon introduced The Dutch and Scotch Contention at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, he danced the ‘Burgomaster’ (a well-known dance character in London) with the dancer-actress Mrs Younger as his wife and Sallé danced the ‘Highlander’ with Mrs Laguerre (another dancer-actress) as his wife. The piece also had four couples as supporting dancers, so could have had quite a bit of danced and mimed action. Nivelon obviously thought it worth his while to draw attention to entr’acte duets that were already popular – the ways in which these might have been re-choreographed by him and Roger is worth further consideration, as is the extent to which the ballet given in Paris might have been crafted around these duets, in particular Sallé’s Highlander and Mistress.

I wonder if this drawing by Louis Philippe Boitard, which may date to the early 1730s, provides a flavour of some of the dancing in The Dutch and Scotch Contention? Boitard engraved the illustrations for Nivelon’s The Rudiments of Genteel Behaviour in 1737.

This vignette from a single-sheet song in George Bickham Junior’s The Musical Entertainer, published in the late 1730s, perhaps suggests the sort of stage picture Nivelon wished to present in his afterpiece.

There were occasional advertisements for Highland Dances by dancers from Scotland, for example at Drury Lane in 1731-1732 when a solo Highland Dance was performed by ‘a Native of that Country, for his Diversion’. He was probably the same man as the ‘Scotch Gentleman’ and the ‘Native of Scotland’ also billed in Highland Dances that season. Such performances were the exception, raising the question how and where London’s professional dancers learnt their ‘Highland’ and ‘Scotch’ dances, or even whether their choreographies were recognisably Scottish at all.

Around 1750, there seems to have been a change in the Scottish dancing to be seen in London’s theatres. I have previously mentioned the Scotch Measure and Highland Reel danced by Froment and Mlle De La Cointrie at Covent Garden in 1748-1749 and repeated there by Froment (apparently as solos) the following season. Following these performances, the Highland Reel and the Reel did not begin to be advertised regularly until the late 1760s. I hope to be able to return to these later Highland Dances at some point.

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