The second male duet in L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances is the ‘Canaries performd’ by Mr La Garde & Mr Düpré’. Here is the first plate of the notation.
The dance probably dates to the 1714-1715 London theatre season, the only period when the two dancers were in the same company and are known to have danced together. This duet was performed during a period of peace with France following a long and debilitating war, as the War of the Spanish Succession had finally ended in the spring of 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. More significant, in 1714 Queen Anne died and was succeeded by the Elector of Hanover as George I. The new King arrived in England on 18 September and was crowned on 20 October 1714. One outcome of the change of dynasty was the renewal of theatre rivalries, when the King allowed John Rich to open a playhouse in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and provide fresh competition for Drury Lane. Rich very quickly revealed his entrepreneurial flair and a predilection for singing and dancing alongside the usual fare of comedies and tragedies. ‘Entertainments’ were a feature of his opening bill on 18 December 1714, and several dancers were billed by name for the performance on 22 December. Like Thomas Betterton (with whom he otherwise had little in common), Rich was interested in French opera and French dancers. Over his years as a playhouse manager he would engage a series of French dancers as a draw for audiences.
Charles Delagarde was born in 1687 or 1688 and first appears in a bill for the Queen’s Theatre on 12 December 1705, performing in a Grand Dance led by Anthony L’Abbé. This was probably not his first performance on the London stage. John Essex tells us:
‘Mr. L’Abbe bred up Mr D’ la Garde, who maintained the genteel Part of Dancing upon the Stage many years after his Master, and with great Honour supported the Character the World had long before entertained of Mr. L’Abbe …
Mr. D’ la Garde was happy enough in his Comic Performances, but more graceful and pleasing in the Serious.’
His career is hard to trace in detail, but Delagarde spent some years at the Queen’s Theatre as a dancer and dancing master for the opera there. The bill for Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 1 January 1715 offered dancing ‘By de la Garde, who has not appear’d these six years’, which was not true as he had appeared at Drury Lane as recently as 2 May 1712. His repertoire in his first season with the new company ranged from a Spanish Entry to a Dutch Skipper. Delagarde remained at Lincoln’s Inn Fields until 1718-19, after which he retired from the stage. His value to the company and appeal to audiences is shown by the receipts at his benefit performance on 2 April 1715. His was the sixth performer’s benefit of the season and the first given to a dancer and pulled in £119. 8s. (equivalent to around £13000 today).
Louis Dupré’s origins and background are still to be discovered, although it has long been known that he was not ‘le grand’ Dupré who enjoyed an exceptionally long and successful career at the Paris Opéra. Dupré was apparently first engaged by Rich, for the 1714-1715 season marks the beginning of his career in London. Essex does not mention him, but he seems to have been a versatile dancer with a repertoire that ranged from a solo Harlequin dance to the exceptional technical demands of the solo ‘Chacone of Amadis’ which also appears in L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances. He danced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields for most of his career, and died around 1735. Dupré’s benefit on 7 April (the eighth performer’s and second dancer’s benefit) brought in £121.5s (equivalent to around £13500 today) making it just a little more successful than Delagarde’s. Sadly, there are no known portraits of either Dupré or Delagarde.
It is worth trying to put these benefit earnings into a wider context. For both Delagarde and Dupré, these are the highest benefit receipts recorded for them (although there are a number of their benefit performances for which we do not have such figures). From this period, we only have accounts for Rich’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre – there is nothing comparable for Drury Lane, so we cannot compare the dancers at the two theatres. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the highest benefit earnings in 1714-1715 were for the actor Theophilus Keene, whose receipts amounted to £170.1s (around £18000 today) while the actress Frances Maria Knight gained £141.1s (around £15500) and the singer Richard Leveridge received £133.14s (around £14800). It is worth looking more closely at the benefit earnings of dancers around this time – I hope to do this in a later post. Ballon’s 500 guineas were for a five-week engagement (although we do not know how often he performed) and these benefit figures of some fifteen years later provide another perspective on his earnings.
Returning to the ‘Canaries’ duet, this is a dance in 6/8 similar to a gigue but faster. As a fast dance, it was quite popular as a showcase for male dancers. Three ‘canary’ male duets were published in notation. The other two were Feuillet’s ‘Canary à deux’ for two unnamed men to music from an unknown source, published in 1700, and Pecour’s ‘Canary pour deux hommes’ for Piffetot and ‘Chevrier’ (probably the dancer René Cherrier) to music from Desmarest’s opera Didon, published in 1704. L’Abbé’s choreography has 48 bars of music, taken from act five scene three of Lully’s 1677 opera Isis, and a musical structure AABBAABB (A=4 B=8).
The duet opens conventionally with the two men side by side upstage, standing in third position ready to step forward on the outside foot. As with the ‘Loure or Faune’ the choreography uses mirror symmetry throughout. The speed of the dance allows for less ornamentation, but even so around 40% of the steps have turns, some 30% incorporate beats and about 10% have other embellishments like pas glissés or ronds de jambe. Unlike the earlier dance, the ‘Canaries’ has some repetition of steps or phrases, particularly at the beginning and near the end. There are the usual virtuosic steps, such as assemblé battu en tournant, with a full turn in the air and an entrechat-six, and pirouettes, one of which has a full turn with beats while the other has one-and-a-half turns without embellishment. Other steps are featured, for example the pas tortillé or ‘waving step’ in which the dancer uses toe and heel swivels to move from turned-out to parallel positions and back again. Parallel positions of the feet were described as ‘Spanish’ so their inclusion here is perhaps a nod to the earlier history of the canaries. There are several cabrioles, including a soubresaut (a vertical jump in fifth position) with a cabriole followed immediately by an assemblé battu. Here is the third plate of the duet, with pas tortillés as well as the assemblé battu en tournant with its additions. These virtuoso steps are interspersed with plain pas de bourée and a demi-contretemps.
The dance ends with a demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque – a jump with a turn, a beat in the air and a final step forward. The men end on the same side as they began the dance.
We do not know when or where this choreography was performed, although there was a performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields which seems particularly appropriate. On 10 March 1715, the King ‘honour’d that House [Lincoln’s Inn Fields] with his presence the first Time since they open’d’. Delagarde and Dupré were both billed to appear. Could they have performed the ‘Canaries’ for Britain’s new monarch?
The ‘Loure or Faune’ and ‘Canaries’ duets in L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances highlight the virtuosity attained by male professional dancers in the years around 1700. They provide an insight into their power, speed and dexterity and show the intricacy of the ornamentations they were expected to master. The male repertoire of the early 1700s, which has so far been little studied by dance historians, makes demands that go well beyond the technique expected of professional female dancers at the time (at least that is what the notated dances suggest). The vocabulary of steps depends on male strength, of course, but much of the embellishment is located in the lower leg and male legs were clearly visible (as the portraits of Ballon demonstrate). Alongside the sheer physical display of such dancing, ‘Frenchness’ was obviously a key component of its appeal. France led Europe in dancing, whether in the ballroom or on stage, as the notated dances testify, and French ballet and opéra-ballet were widely influential, even in London where French opera never found favour. Despite the late 20th-century focus on the leading female dancers at the Paris Opéra and elsewhere, the men were the real stars at this period.
Does the difference in the monetary values set on the individual male dancers discussed in these two posts reveal something other than the initial shock of the new and its waning with the passage of time? L’Abbé obviously benefitted from being the first leading French dancer of his generation to visit London. He went on to a successful career there and became a widely admired and respected royal dancing master. Ballon made a far greater and longer-lasting impact in one short visit. He seems to have had something extra, which justified the extravagance lavished upon him. He undoubtedly had the style and technique to amaze audiences, but he surely had more – a glamour and sheer physical allure that bewitched those who saw him and persuaded those who hadn’t that no price was too high for the privilege.
This post was originally the second section of a conference paper, given several years ago but never published, which I have revised.
Moira Goff, ‘John Rich, French Dancing, and English Pantomimes’ in Berta Joncus and Jeremy Barlow (eds) “The Stage’s Glory” John Rich, 1692-1761 (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2011), 85-98.
Moira Goff, The Incomparable Hester Santlow (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).
Moira Goff, ‘The “London” Dupré’, Historical Dance, 3.6 (1999), 23-6.
Anthony L’Abbé, A New Collection of Dances. Originally published by F. Le Roussau London c.1725 (London, 1991).
F. Le Roussau, Chacoon for a Harlequin (London: Le Roussau, [1729?]).
Pierre Rameau, trans. John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728), The Preface.