Author Archives: moiragoff

England’s Royal Dancing Masters, 1660-1714

When Charles II was restored to his throne in 1660, it seems that he lost little time in appointing a royal dancing master. The patent for Jerome Francis Gahory as ‘dancing master to his Majesty’ is dated 19 April 1665, but other evidence suggests that he had taken up his post by Christmas 1660. He was the first of a series of dancing masters employed to teach members of the royal family during the late 17th and 18th centuries. This post looks at the period 1660 to 1714. A second post will look at 1714 to 1788.

Gahory was sworn as a ‘Groom of her Majesty’s Privy Chamber’ on 21 July 1663 but, as my post on Catherine of Braganza suggests, he must have begun teaching her some months earlier. A later document specifies his duties as ‘attending and teaching the art of dancing to the King and Queen at all times when he shall be required’.Gahory may well have been required to decide on and teach the dances given at court balls and even been involved in the more elaborate court entertainments that included dancing. Various records suggest that he held his post until at least 1688, and that he was called upon to teach royal scholars even later.

In Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, published in 1711, Gahory is mentioned in the dedication of part two as ‘the admirable Mr. Goree’. The dedicatee is the Duchess of Buckingham and Normanby who is described as his ‘last Masterpiece’ and Pemberton tells us that Gahory ‘had the Honour to teach eight or nine Crown’d Heads, and likewise most of our Quality’ during his long career. Apart from Charles II and his Queen, who were these ‘Crown’d Heads’? He certainly taught three more Queens, for in 1669 he is listed among the officers and servants to James, Duke of York’s eldest daughter Princess Mary (later Queen Mary II) and in 1677 he is recorded as dancing master to the Duchess of York (Mary of Modena, later James II’s Queen) and the Duke’s younger daughter Princess Anne (later Queen Anne). By implication, he may have taught the Duke of York (later James II) himself and perhaps even William of Orange (later William III and known as a good dancer) when he married Princess Mary in 1677. Gahory had begun his career in Paris, where he appeared in the Ballet du Dérèglement des Passions in 1648. Might he also have given lessons to the young Louis XIV? His last royal pupil seems to have been Anne’s son William, Duke of Gloucester, to whom he gave lessons in 1694. Jerome Gahory died, a very rich man, in 1703.

In 1681, the reversion of Gahory’s post was granted to Francis Thorpe who thereby became his designated successor. Quite by accident, I discovered that Francis Thorpe was the famous Mr Isaac. The clue lay in Gahory’s will, for he left the residue of his English estate (he also had a considerable estate in France) to ‘Francis Thorpe his nephew (known by the name of Isaac)’. Francis Thorpe was the son of Gahory’s sister and Isaac Thorpe. His father, named as ‘Monsr. Isac’ was described in 1653 as one of the best dancing masters in Paris. Francis Thorpe may have used the name ‘Mr Isaac’ as a compliment to his father as well as to show his lineage with its associated status. Isaac Thorpe may have danced alongside Gahory in the 1648 ballet de cour mentioned above. Francis Thorpe seems to have danced (under the name Isaac) in the French comédies-ballets Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and Psyché (1671).  By 1673 the younger ‘Mr Isaac’ was in England and in 1675 he danced in the English court masque Calisto.

Isaac Thorpe died in London in 1681, so references to the dancing master ‘Mr Isaac’ after that date must refer to his son. There is evidence for him teaching several young women, some of who appeared at court, including Katherine Booth, who may have danced a solo at a birth night ball in 1689, and Anne South, one of the Maids of Honour, in 1694. Oddly, there seems to be no direct evidence of him teaching Princess Anne, apart from the testimony of John Essex in his Preface to The Dancing-Master in 1728.

‘The late Mr. Isaac, who had the Honour to teach and instruct our late most excellent and gracious Queen when a young Princess, first gained the Character and afterwards supported that Reputation of being the prime Master in England for forty Years together: He taught the first Quality with Success and Applause, and was justly stiled the Court Dancing-Master, therefore might truly deserve to be called the Gentleman Dancing-Master.’ (p. xi)

Princess Anne married Prince George of Denmark in 1683 and thereafter was very often pregnant, so perhaps Mr. Isaac taught her (on behalf of his uncle) before then. Mr Isaac is now best known for his series of annual dances, published in notation between 1706 and 1716, several of which were created to celebrate Queen Anne’s birthday and probably performed at the birth night balls given at court. He died in 1721 and was buried at St James’s Church in Piccadilly.

After the death of William, Duke of Gloucester in 1700 there were no young princes or princesses for England’s royal dancing master to teach. This changed with the death of Queen Anne and accession of George I in 1714. I will turn to the later royal dancing masters in my next post.

So far as I know, there is no portrait of Jerome Francis Gahory, but Francis Thorpe – Mr Isaac – was painted by Louis Goupy. The original portrait apparently does not survive, but it was engraved by George White and published early in the 18th century.

Mr Isaac

Catherine of Braganza: A Dancing Queen

Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) is generally known as the Portuguese princess who married Charles II in 1662 and failed to provide him with an heir. As his Queen, she had much to endure – not only the King’s repeated and flagrant infidelities but also the spiteful politics of the English court. Much less well known is her love of dancing and her role in the promotion of dancing both at court and on the London stage.

Catherine of Braganza Huysmans 2

Attributed to Jacob Huysmans. Queen Catherine of Braganza, 1660-1670

She is first recorded as attending a ball at court on 31 December 1662, just a few months after her arrival and marriage. Samuel Pepys records the entrance of ‘the King and Queen, the Duke and Duchesse [of York], and all the great ones’. On this occasion, the Queen seems not to have danced, for Charles II ‘takes out the Duchess of Yorke, and the Duke the Duchesse of Buckingham, the Duke of Monmouth my Lady Castlemayne, and so other lords other ladies; and they danced the Bransle’. Pepys also mentioned that ‘when the King dances, all the ladies in the room, and the Queen herself, stands up’. Catherine of Braganza had a sheltered upbringing so she may not have been familiar with the courante, the formal couple dance repeated several times after the bransles, and she was unlikely to have encountered the English country dances which followed.

Charles II had appointed a royal dancing master, the Frenchman Jerome Francis Gahory, around Christmas 1660. In July 1663, Gahory was sworn as a groom of the Queen’s Privy Chamber. He must have begun teaching the Queen some months earlier, for John Evelyn records a ball at court on 5 February 1663 at which both the King and the Queen danced. On 11 May 1663, the French visitor Balthasar de Monconys wrote of the Queen’s ‘petit bal en privé’ at which ‘L’on commença le bal par un branle comme en France, & ensuite l’on dança des courantes & d’autres danses; le Duc d’York commença avec la Reyne’ adding ‘Quand elle ou le Roy dansoient, toutes les Dames demeuroient debout’. Catherine of Braganza had obviously learnt both the steps and the etiquette of the court ball quickly. Sadly, we have no record of the lessons she must have had (presumably from Gahory) to acquire this new skill.

The first ball to celebrate Queen Catherine’s birthday that we know of took place at Whitehall Palace on 15 November 1666. I have discussed the account by Pepys in another post, ‘The Restoration Court Ball’. There were certainly further birthday balls for the Queen in 1671, 1672, 1673, 1675, 1676, 1677, 1681 and 1684, enough to establish such events within the annual court calendar well into the 18th century. Such accounts as survive of Catherine of Braganza’s birthday balls tend to be brief, particularly those by John Evelyn who usually fails to mention whether or not the Queen danced herself. However, Evelyn’s account of the last ball on 15 November 1684 (when the Queen would have been forty-six) tells us that ‘all the young ladys and gallants daunced in the greate hall’ suggesting that she looked on rather than dancing. He adds that ‘The Court had not been seen so brave and rich in apparell since his Majesty’s Restauration’, presumably the King was there alongside her.

The Queen was also responsible for some more elaborate entertainments with dancing. The ‘Queens’ Ballett’ was given at Whitehall Palace in the mid-1660s but seems to have left no records of its performance. It may have been the event described by Pepys on 2 February 1665, at which Lady Castlemaine and the Duke and Duchess of Monmouth among others (he does not mention the Queen) ‘did dance admirably and most gloriously’. The ‘Queen’s Masque’ given at Whitehall, probably on 20 and 21 February 1671, did leave some evidence. One would-be member of the audience wrote:

‘The Queen is preparing a ball to bee danced in the greate Hall by herself and the Dutchesse of Buckingham, Richmond, Monmouth, Mrs Berkely, and Madame Kerwell the French maid of honor. There are no men of quality but the Duke of Monmouth, all the rest are gentlemen.’

The event did not disappoint, for the writer affirmed that the performers in this grand ballet ‘danced very finely, and shifted their clothes three times’. There is evidence that the music included pieces from the ‘Ballet des Nations’ in Lully and Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, which had been performed at the French court just a few months earlier. The ‘Queen’s Masque’ came a year before the first adaptation of the comédie-ballet reached the London stage in the form of Edward Ravenscroft’s The Citizen Turn’d Gentleman, given at the Dorset Garden Theatre in early 1672. Her lavish entertainment could not compare in scale and ambition with the court masque Calisto, given by young members of the royal family and the court before the King and Queen on 22 February 1675. Calisto, with its English and French professional dancers performing alongside the royal and noble amateurs, undoubtedly affected dancing on the London stage. The Queen’s earlier ballets must surely have influenced dancing at court as well as in the theatre.

Catherine of Braganza is well worth further study as both a dancer and a patron of dancing.

Comus, Dance and Gesture

On 4 March 1738, Comus was performed at Drury Lane. The advertisements declared that the piece was ‘Never Acted before. Alter’d from Milton’s Masque perform’d (upwards of a Hundred Years since) at Ludlow-Castle and now adapted to the Stage’. The production was lavish, as the advertisement for the third performance on 7 March (a benefit) indicates, ‘To prevent any Interruption in the Musick, Dancing, Machinery or other Parts of the Performance, Side Boxes only will be form’d on the Stage, for the Accommodation of the Ladies’. Comus, an adaptation from Milton by the poet John Dalton with music by Thomas Arne, quickly became a staple of the London stage.

Although the advertisement for the first performance lists only four dancers, there were very likely more. When Comus was revived on 28 November 1738, there were two principal dancers (George Desnoyer and Marie Chateauneuf) supported by six men and six women.

The text published to accompany the first performances includes three dances, all in act three. These are performed as part of Comus’s attempt to seduce ‘the Lady’. There is a ‘slow Dance … expressive of the Passion of Love’ by naiads, then a ‘Dance Tambourin’ by fauns and dryads and finally a song by Euphrosyne which, according to the score, was interrupted by several instrumental passages with varying time signatures. Euphrosyne calls for the dancers to represent different moods:

‘Now cold and denying,

Now kind and complying,

Disdaining, complaining,

Consenting, repenting,

Indifference now feigning.’

They seem to have responded as the music changed. It is tempting to draw a parallel with Les Caractères de la Dance (sometimes titled Les Caractères de l’Amour). It is worth noting that Mlle Chateauneuf had danced this choreography during her first visit to London during the 1734-1735 season and would revive it during the season following the first performances of Comus, in 1738-1739.

Could the final sequence of dances in Comus have made use of gesture? In particular, might any of the gestures described by John Weaver more than twenty years earlier, for his The Loves of Mars and Venus, fit the passions called for by Euphrosyne?

The ‘cold and denying’ lover might have used Weaver’s ‘Distaste. The left Hand thrust forth with the Palm turn’d backward; the left Shoulder rais’d, and the Head bearing towards the Right’. When she turns ‘kind and complying’ perhaps this was merely ‘Coquetry … seen in affected Airs’. Could ‘disdaining’ have been Weaver’s ‘Contempt … express’d by scornful Smiles; forbidding Looks; tossing of the head; filliping of the Fingers’? While ‘complaining’ might have been expressed by ‘Upbraiding. The Arms thrown forwards; the Palm of the Hands turn’d outwards; the Fingers open, and the Elbows turn’d inward to the Breast’. Weaver has no gestures for ‘Consenting, repenting’ but perhaps ‘Reconciliation’, with its shaking of hands or an embrace, might convey the former, while ‘Shame. The covering the Face with the Hand’ could represent the latter. While ‘Indifference’ suggests Weaver’s ‘Neglect’ with its ‘scornful turning the Neck; the flirting outward the back of the right Hand, with a turn of the wrist’, ‘feigning’ calls for additional movements which contradict the gesture’s overall effect. As this is, after all, a dance, the gestures would need to accompany steps either simultaneously or sequentially.

Could Weaver’s use of dance and gesture to convey ‘Actions, Manners, and Passions’ have been a regular feature of danced entertainments on the London stage, and not an isolated phenomenon (as it is so often described by modern researchers)? There are hints here and there that such expressive dancing was seen in London’s theatres, both before and after John Weaver’s dramatic entertainments of dancing. The 1738 production of Comus is only one such example.

This later depiction of Comus comes from A Collection of the Dresses of Different Nations, published in four volumes in London between 1757 and 1772. Comus can be found at the end of volume 2.

Comus Costume NYPL

La Camargo and the Entrechat-Quatre

Popular histories of ballet often tell us that Marie Anne Camargo was the first female dancer to perform the entrechat-quatre. Where does the story come from? Is it true?

I have been looking at pas battus in the notated stage dances for women in a series of other posts. These choreographies record them regularly performing assemblés battus as well as demi entre-chats and even demie cabrioles. There are hints, if no clear evidence in the notations, that female professional dancers performed entrechats-quatre long before Mlle Camargo made her debut at the Paris Opéra.

The story was examined by the publisher, bookseller and dance historian Cyril Beaumont in his Three French Dancers of the 18th Century: Camargo, Sallé and Guimard, published in 1954. He identified the originator of the story as Louis de Cahusac, citing his ‘La Danse et les Ballets’. I thought at first that Beaumont meant Cahusac’s La Danse ancienne et moderne of 1754, but I didn’t find it in the modern edition I have of that text and I couldn’t track down another work by Cahusac with the title Beaumont cites. Cahusac contributed many articles on dance topics to the famous Encyclopédie edited by Diderot and d’Alembert and published in the mid-18th century. Volume 5 of this great work has an entry for ‘Entrechat’, written by Cahusac, which includes the following paragraph:

‘J’ai vû naître les entrechats des danseuses; mademoiselle Salley ne l’a jamais fait sur le théatre; mademoiselle Camargo le faisoit d’une maniere fort brillante à quatre; mademoiselle Lany est la premiere danseuse en France qui l’ait passé au théatre à six.’

This could form the basis of another whole blog post on the topic of female batterie, but is it the source of the story of La Camargo and her ‘first’ entrechat-quatre? Note that Cahusac does not actually say she was the first, although this may perhaps be inferred from his words.

La Camargo’s virtuoso technique was certainly immediately recognised. Her debut at the Paris Opéra on 5 May 1726, was reviewed thus in the Mercure de France:

‘ … la Dlle Camargo, Danseuse de l’Opera de Bruxelles, qui n’avoit jamais paru ici, dansa les Caracteres de la Danse, avec toute la vivacité & l’intelligence qu’on peut attendre d’une jeune personne de quinze à seize ans. Elle est Eleve de l’illustre Mlle Prevost, qui la presenta au Public. Les Cabrioles & les Entrechats ne lui coûtent rien; & quoiqu’elle ait encore bien des perfections à acquerir pour approcher de son inimitable Maîtresse, le Public la regarde comme une des plus brillantes Danseuses qu’on sçauroit voir, surtout pour la justesse de l’oreille, la legereté & la force.’

There is no suggestion here that cabrioles and entrechats were new to female dancers, Camargo’s ease and brilliance of execution are noted but her vocabulary excites no comment.

In 1733, in Le Temple du Goût, Voltaire included the lines:

Legere & forte en sa souplesse,

La vive Camargo sautoit,

A ces sons brillans d’allegresse,

Et de Rebel et de Mouret.

Voltaire placed Camargo between Marie sallé ‘D’un pas guidé par la justesse’ and the actress Adrienne Lecouvreur ‘avec cette grace divine’. A footnote to the lines declares ‘Mademoiselle Camargo, la première qui ait dansé comme un homme’ without further elaboration. It seems to refer to the ‘attack’ in her dancing and not to her actual steps, contrasting her with the performers either side in the verses.

Marie Anne Camargo retired from the Paris Opéra twice, first in 1734 or 1735 (both dates are given in different sources and I haven’t yet found a contemporary reference) only to return in 1740 and then retire, finally, in 1751.

When she died in 1770, obituaries recalled Camargo at the height of her powers. Les Spectacles de Paris pour l’année 1771 included a biography of her with an appraisal of her dancing:

‘ … exécuta-t-elle tous les genres possibles de la dame noble, les menuets, les passe-pieds d’une manière bien supérieure à Mlle Prévost, et elle y conserva ce je ne sais quoi de piquant qu’elle avoit pris de sa maîtresse, ainsi que dans les entrées de pures grâces. Les gavottes, les rigaudons, les tambourins, les loures, tout ce qu’on appelle les grands airs étoit rendus dans leurs caractères, par la variété des pas qui y étoient propres, car elle les avoit tous dans la jambe et si elle n’a pas fait usage de la gargouillade, c’est qu’elle la croyait peu convenable aux femmes. Elle y substitua le pas de Basque dont elle seule et Dumoulin ont fait usage. Jamais personne qu’elle n’a fait ces beaux pas de menuet sur le bord des lampes, d’un côté du théâtre à l’autre, d’abord de gauche à droite et ensuite en revenant de droite à gauche.’

This text was transcribed by Émile Campardon in his L’Académie Royale de Musique au xviiie siècle, published in Paris, 1884 (pp. 88-89). It provides a more nuanced view of La Camargo’s dancing than is usually given, although allowance must be made for the developments in style and technique  since her retirement which may well have influenced the writer.

As late as 1804, in the last edition of his works, Jean-Georges Noverre wrote of having seen Camargo dance:

‘J’ai vu danser la Dlle. Camargo. C’est à tort que quelques auteurs lui ont prêté des graces. La nature lui avoit refusé tout ce qu’il faut pour en avoit; elle n’étoit ni jolie ni grande ni bienfaite; mai sa danse étoit vive, légère et pleine de gaieté et de brillant. Les jettés battus, la royale, l’entrechat coupé sans frottement, tous ces tems aujourd’hui rayés du catalogue de la danse et qui avoient un éclat séduisant, la Dlle. Camargo les exécutoit avec une extrême facilité, elle ne dansoit que des airs vifs, et ce n’est pas sur ces mouvemens rapides que l’on peut déployer de la grace: mais l’aisance, la prestesse et la gaieté la remplacoient; …’

The steps he mentions are those we today associate with the male dancers of the period, but Noverre talks only of her facility, thereby suggesting that they were routinely performed by women.

The various accounts of La Camargo’s dancing need more detailed analysis, as they surely provide us with important information about the style and technique open to some (if not all) female professional dancers of her time. The story of the entrechat-quatre masks a far more compelling picture of the dancer Marie Anne Camargo, whose brilliance of technique convinced audiences that she danced with the virtuosity of a man.

Camargo Wallace Collection

Nicolas Lancret, Mlle Camargo Dancing, 1730

Demie Cabriole en Tournant un Tour en Saut de Basque – a Step Solely for a Man?

My previous post, about the jetté emboîté – pas simple and the demie cabriole or jetté battu – pas simple, indicated that male dancing was not necessarily always about the more difficult steps. However, there is one virtuosic step that is almost always found in dances for men but (with one exception) never in dances for women – the demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque. Here is Feuillet’s notation for it in Choregraphie (p. 85):

Cabrioles Feuillet 2 (3)

It is a bit easier to list those male dances in the three collections I am concerned with which do not include this step.

In the 1704 Pecour Recüeil: ‘Sarabande pour un homme’; ‘Folies d’Espagne pour un homme’; ‘Sarabande pour un homme’ (music Colasse, Enée et Lavinie); ‘Sarabande pour deux hommes’. (3 of the 8 solos and 1 of the 5 duets)

In the Pecour Nouveau recüeil of c1713: ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ (music Cavalli, Xerxes); ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ (music Stuck, Méléagre); ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ (music Campra, Les Fêtes vénitiennes); ‘Entrée de deux hommes’ (Blondy and Marcel, music Campra, Les Fêtes vénitiennes). (all 3 solos and 1 of the 4 duets)

L’Abbé’s New Collection of c1725: ‘Pastoral by a Gentleman’; ‘Spanish Entrée’ (Desnoyer, music Lully, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme). (2 of the 4 solos and neither of the 2 duets)

All of the dances from the 1704 Recüeil are sarabands (including the ‘Folies d’Espagne’). In Pecour’s collection of c1713, one of the dances is actually an entrée grave while another is a loure. In L’Abbé’s collection, both are loures. Is a pattern emerging? Are sarabands and loures less likely to include such virtuosic steps?

None of L’Abbé’s choreographies have more than one demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque. Two of Pecour’s include as many as three – the solo ‘Entrée d’Appolon’ and the ‘Entrée pour deux hommes’ danced by Piffetau and Cherrier to music from Campra’s L’Europe galante. The latter is a loure, disrupting the possible pattern I mentioned earlier.

In the majority of instances, the demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque is preceded by a contretemps. It also usually has a three-quarter turn in the air, often clockwise and often starting facing stage left and finishing facing stage front. In three of the solos and seven of the duets it is the final step of the dance.

The demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque is notated in only one of the stage dances for a woman, the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ created by Anthony L’Abbé for Hester Santlow (plate 52, bar 129):

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 52 (2)

As you can see, the step is preceded by a contretemps. I will return to this solo in another post.

Demie Cabrioles in Male Solos and Duets

Given the frequent use of the jetté emboîté followed by a pas simple (which I abbreviate as jetté-pas simple) in the women’s dances, I expected to find many examples of this step with a demie cabriole (also called a jetté battu) instead of a jetté in the choreographies for men. In fact, where it appears in Pecour’s dances he prefers the less virtuosic version.  L’Abbé, on the other hand, does make good use of it.

In the 1704 collection of Pecour’s stage dances, the demie cabriole with a step appears only in the ‘Chacone pour un homme’ (bar 14, plate 177) and the ‘Entrée d’Appolon’ (bar 9, plate 195). In the former it is preceded by a contretemps and followed by a jetté-chassé. In the latter, the demie cabriole takes a variant form with the working foot coming into emboîté derrière and then stepping forward – making it a different step, to which Pecour adds a half-turn:

Entree Pecour 1704 195 (2)

Both dances include the jetté-pas simple version, and this also appears in four of the other six male solos as well as three of the five duets.

In the Nouveau Recüeil published around 1713, Pecour makes no use of the demie cabriole and includes the jetté-pas simple version only in the ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ and the ‘Entrée de deux homme’ performed by Marcel and Gaudrau. Does the absence of the demie cabriole from this step, throughout the collection, reflect a deliberate choreographic choice by Pecour?

L’Abbé, by contrast, seems to have thought the demie cabriole version of this step indispensable for he includes it in all four of the solos and both of the duets in his New Collection. We get a hint of his choreographic preferences (or perhaps a glimpse of baroque choreographic conventions) because the step is very often preceded by a contretemps. L’Abbé generally follows it with a variety of more or less complex pas composés. Here are a couple of examples. First, from the ‘Chacone of Amadis’ danced by Dupré (bar 21, plate 58):

Chacone of Amadis L'abbe 1725 58 (2)

Second, from the ‘Entrée’ (an entrée grave) danced by Desnoyer (bar 13, plate 78):

Entree L'Abbe 1725 78 (2)

In the only male dance in which L’Abbé uses the jetté-pas simple, Desnoyer’s ‘Entrée’, he puts two of them together and then adds the demie cabriole version (bar 35, plate 82):

Entree L'Abbe 1725 82 (2)

In the ‘Pastoral performed by a Gentleman’, L’Abbé includes a variant on the demie cabriole version of the step in the hornpipe section of the dance. He follows the practice in this English dance type of beginning a step in one bar and finishing it in the next and does so twice, each time substituting a jetté for the pas simple (bar 33, plate 68,  immediately below and bar 54, plate 71, further below):

Pastoral L'Abbe 1725 68 (2)

Pastoral L'Abbe 1725 71 (2)

In each case the context for the step is quite different. I find it hard to believe that the ‘Gentleman’ who performed this very difficult dance was an amateur. Who could he possibly have been?

I have, of course, entirely ignored the demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque, which is essentially the demi cabriole – pas simple with a turn in the air and is very often used in the male dances. I will turn to that in my next post.

Dances on the London Stage: Castiglione’s A Cortegiano

In the course of my research into dancing on the London stage, I recently came across ‘A new Comic Dance called A Cortegiano by Castiglione’ performed at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket on 29 December 1735, at the end of act 5 of Dryden’s The Spanish Fryar. The dance’s title is a very obvious reference to Il Cortegiano by the dancer’s namesake Baldassare Castiglione, originally published in Venice in 1528.

Who was the dancer Castiglione and why would he create a dance whose title refers to an early 16th century courtesy book?

Castiglione (we have no record of his first name) danced in London between 1734 and 1736. I have not been able to discover anything about his earlier or later career. According to The London Stage, his first appearance in London was on 28 October 1734 at Drury Lane. His last performance was very likely on 29 May 1736 at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, when he appeared as Pierrot in Henry Fielding’s Tumble Down Dick; or, Phaeton in the Suds. The afterpiece was described in advertisements as ‘The Practice of a Dramatick Entertainment of Walking, in Serious and Absurd Characters’, which sounds like a satirical reference to John Weaver and his ‘Dramatick Entertainments of Dancing’ of the 1710s to 1730s.

The dancer Castiglione may have been Italian in origin, but he probably came to London from France. At his benefit performance on 28 March 1735, the mainpiece was Arlequin Balouard given by a company of French comedians including ‘Francisque’ (Francisque Moylin) as Arlequin, while the entr’acte dances were Les Warriors, Les Transfigurations, The Prisoner, a Comical Pantomime Dance, Pierot and Pieraite, a Wooden Shoe Dance and a Pantomime after the Venetian Manner ‘All by Castiglione’. The first three seem to have been performed only this once on the London stage. The titles of the last four of his dances call to mind the French forain repertoire that had been popular in London’s theatres for more than twenty years.

With A Cortegiano, Castiglione was not only showing off his knowledge of his heritage but also capitalising on the English passion for Italian culture.  Il Cortegiano had been published in an English translation as recently as 1724 and a parallel English – Italian edition had appeared in 1727. The latter was accorded a second edition in 1737.

Cortegiano 1737 title page

For a dancer, Castiglione must have been unusually well read!