Monsieur Gherardi and the Couple Allemande

Looking back over my various Dance in History posts, I can see that I have written next to nothing about the couple allemande which became popular in the ballroom (and on the stage) in the late 1760s. This is probably because I have had very few opportunities either to learn or dance it, although quite some time ago I did bring together a folder of research notes about this duet. I am currently involved in some research which is concerned with ballroom dancing in the late 1700s and early 1800s and my attention was caught by what Monsieur Gherardi had to say in his Twelve new allemandes and twelve new minuets, published in London in 1770. This is actually a collection of pieces of dance music, to which Gherardi prefixes some quite lengthy remarks on the couple allemande, which I here transcribe in full.

“To the Lovers of the Allemande Dances.

The satisfaction, which every one expressed, who saw the Allemande Dances two Years ago, gave me room to hope a diversion, so much in fashion throughout the major part of Europe, would, at last, take place in the public, and private Balls of this kingdom also: I had the greater reason for this agreable supposition, on account of the repeated and continual encomiums they met with from almost – and, indeed, I might say, entirely – all whom I then had the honour of instructing.

Consequences however have deceived me; I am in hopes therefore it will not be unacceptable if I endeavour to point out the cause of this disappointment; especially as my principal motive is to remove those Impediments which obstruct the enjoyment of one of the most elegant and innocent amusements of the polite world.

As a Professor of dancing, I could impute it to several circumstances, of which I have had ocular experience during the course of my Instructions; the principal of which is, a fundamental error in the generality of Masters, which, perhaps, operating with the too common negligence in Pupils of attending even to the best directions, has chiefly contributed to the disparagement both of the Art in question, and of its Instructor likewise.

As I address myself to the lovers of the Allemande Dances, I do not apprehend the censure of obtruding the following Reflections and Advice; my earnest and only desire being, to furnish them with the most certain and effectual methods, of arriving at a masterly execution in this elegant diversion: a Point which, when obtained, cannot fail of adding to their pleasure, and of removing, or, at least diminishing, their fatigue.

The Allemande comprehends a number of minutiæ, in which, all, who pretend to any knowledge of it, should be instructed, which must necessarily concur to its perfection.

In the first Place; the Gentleman and his Partner must never close their hands, or fingers: they must, on the contrary, keep them almost disengaged, so as to turn easily within each other: & above all, take care not to loose their hold during the passes unless the necessity of the case requires it.

They must also be match’d as much as possible in point of height; by which means the passes will be render’d more facile, and consequently less fatiguing; or if there must be a difference in their size, the Man’s being a little taller than his Partner will occasion no material inconvenience, provided he shews his Judgment (which if he is adroit he may) by making use of his advantage, in point of height, in favouring the steps of the Lady, who may not be so skilfull as himself.

In order to dance the Allemande well, a nice knowledge of the different steps is also necessary: it has but few for such as make it only the amusement of the Evening; but for those who aspire after excellence, there are a sufficient number to be employed at quitting and joining hands, & also during the momentary interval of separation; which are properly the critical times for displaying the address and ingenuity of the Artist.

But what astonishes me is, that in a Country where the National dance is so extreamly lively and animated, a kind of Allemande, which being much more so, seems better suited to the taste and genius of the People, should have been wholly omitted: the kind I am speaking of, is called Boiteuse; it is in great esteem at Strasburgh, where they dance it to perfection: the Air of it is brisk and sudden, and has its particular steps and passes: to dwell upon its beauties would be unnecessary; they may be discovered by looking over the Airs themselves, for which purpose I have inserted several of them in my collection.

There are still two other kinds of Allemandes called Troteuse and Sauteuse, or the Trotting and Leaping kinds; but as each of these includes several subdivisions also, I shall defer any consideration of them to another opportunity.

Notwithstanding several Masters of this Metropolis (in order to distinguish their Scholars) have endeavour’d to mix the natural steps of the Hornpipe, with those of the Allemande, and which they have effected in the Contre dances Francioises [sic], or Cotillons, I will venture, without design of prejudicing their reputation or their interest, to warn such as desire really to distinguish themselves, from following this method; it being entirely repugnant to the true Allemande; in which nothing but an uniformity in the Steps, and an easy performance of the Passes, can procure perfection or applause: in fact, is it not ridiculous to see a Dance between two Persons, executed in one way by the Gentleman, and in another by the Lady? and which must very frequently be the unavoidable Consequence in the present Case.

It is upon long experience that all my remarks are founded. In Germany, where I resided at the Margrave of Baireith’s, in quality of Ballet-Master, principal Dancer, and dancing master to the Court, and to the reigning Dutchess of Wirtemburg, the Margrave’s Daughter, I never observed, either among the Saxons, Suabians, or Strasburghers, other than a perfect correspondence between the steps of the Gentleman and his fair Partner; and if these People, the first in the World for Allemande Dances, did not put a proper Value upon this correspondence, may we not suppose their Masters would be directed to furnish them with the requisite varieties; for which Task they are certainly as capable as those of this Nation!

The following are therefore the directions I would recommend to be observ’d in the Allemande. The Gentleman must, in the first place, take care not to make his Allemande too long, and 2dly. to avoid every pass which being in the least difficult to him, must be so likewise to the Lady; and the passes to be rejected, are such as, where the body being half bent, the Man turns three or four times round, under his own and the Lady’s Arms; a Position which, besides the indelicacy of it, subjects her to the almost inevitable necessity of spoiling her cloathes by the Powder and Pomatum in his Hair; not to mention the consequent disagreable discomposure of that material part of the dress of the Gentleman; giving his Head the same elegant appearance as if he had just popped it out of a Sack.

We must therefore endeavour to conform to the present prevailing taste amongst those who Pique themselves on dancing the Allemande well; which is, to make but few passes, and even those very easy too: such as we call Mirroirs, or Regards, are, for their great facility, extreamly in use, and, on that account, very proper for the Ladies.

In a tour which I made last Year to Paris, I was present at an Assembly, and saw a tall Gentleman dance the Allemande with a Lady only ten years of age, for at least a quarter of an Hour, without once passing under her Arms; every figure was in Mirroir, the execution was elegant and pleased me infinitely! I must likewise observe the advantage there is of previously practising every dance at home, under the inspection of a Master; by this means each party, being more thoroughly acquainted with the necessary passes, is more certain and easy in the execution of what they so well know; and every thing becomes , of course, greatly more agreable.

To evince what I assert, we need only reflect on the Allemandes of the Stage Dancers, who acquire the Judgment, and Agility, they display, in the execution of their art, by nothing so much as by the mere dint of frequent repetitions of the same Dance; and as a proof still more convincing, it will not be improper to instance the astonishing approbation and success which the Allemande has met with during the space of two Years it has been danced in London at the Public Theatres; and are still, and deservedly, seen with new delight.

I recommend to the Admirers and Learners of the Allemandes, to weigh the few foregoing Observations, and if they find the Theory (as I flatter myself they will) founded on Reason and Judgment, to avail themselves of it in the Practice: for in what-ever situation of Life a Person may be, if he attempts a Science, and does not study it with assiduity and precision, so as to attain to some degree of perfection, he certainly throws a damp on Emulation in others; and thereby injures that very Science, which as a Student therein, it should be his warmest Endeavour to advance.

Persuaded of this truth from the earliest part of Life; I have, for many Years past, devoted my whole time and study to the Profession in which I am engaged, with a view of rendering myself, in my little Province, useful to, and deserving the countenance and approbation of, the Public in general; but more particularly of those who have already honoured, or do at present honour me, with their commands, and presence at my Academy, held twice a Week at my own House.”

Who was Gherardi? He provides some information about his career in his remarks, describing himself as ‘Ballet-Master, principal Dancer, and dancing master’ to the Margrave of Bayreuth and his daughter the Duchess of Württemburg, although he does not tell us when or how long he worked for them. His patrons were evidently Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1711-1763) and Elisabeth Fredericke Sophie of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1732-1780) who married Charles Eugene, Duke of Württemburg in 1748. Her mother was Princess Wilhelmine of Prussia, sister of Frederick the Great.

On the title pages of his various collections, Gherardi also describes himself as ‘One of the Principal Dancers of ye Opera at Paris’ and ‘Ballet Master and principal Dancer of the Opera in London’. The Biographical Dictionary of Actors describes Gherardi as dancing and then becoming ballet master at London’s opera house, the King’s Theatre, between 1760 and 1765. The same source suggests that he was the son of Jean-Baptiste Gherardi (b.1696) of the Comédie Italienne in Paris and the grandson of Evariste Gherardi (1663-1700), who had been Harlequin and the author of numerous comedies for the famous commedia dell’arte troupe based in Paris until its expulsion by Louis XIV in 1697. Gherardi himself seems to have been a Harlequin, as well as a dancer, at the Paris Opéra between 1740 and 1746 and subsequently to have danced at various other European theatres. In her book The Pre-Romantic Ballet, Marian Hannah Winter records that Gherardi’s father had sent him for training to Louis ‘le grand’ Dupré before entering the Paris Opéra (although she does not cite her source). Gherardi was still teaching in London in 1774, for the Public Advertiser for 3 March 1774 carried a notice for his ball at Carlisle House, Soho Square – he was presumably still at Rathbone Place in Soho, as shown in his earlier publications. He is certainly worth further research to document more fully his career in Paris and Europe as well as in London.

Gherardi’s remarks on the couple allemande are of particular interest because they go beyond the information to be found in the various contemporary French treatises on this dance. He mentions that the allemande has a number of steps, associated particularly with the ‘Boiteuse’ allemande as danced in Strasbourg. He refers to ‘Troteuse’ and ‘Sauteuse’ allemandes not mentioned in the French treatises. In his Almanach dansant ou positions et attitudes de l’allemande of 1770, Guillaume says ‘Il y a plusieurs sortes de Pas qui servent à danser l’allemande’ but does not describe them, restricting his explanation to the steps ‘plus usités & analogues à cette danse’. I can’t help wondering whether both Gherardi and Guillaume might be thinking of some of the steps included within Clement’s Passepied et Allemande à Quatre published in notation in 1771. Do any German sources survive to tell us more about the couple allemande?

Here is an English illustration of the allemande in full flow:

References:

Philip Highfill Jr at al. Biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, managers & other stage personnel in London, 1660-1800. 16 vols. (Carbondale, 1973-1993)

Marian Hannah Winter. The pre-romantic ballet (London, 1974)

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