Author Archives: moiragoff

The Origins of the Pas de Zephyr: Ballets

Last year, I wrote two posts about the pas de Zephyr, a step found in at least six different manuals of social dancing (in English, French and Italian) published between 1818 and 1834. It may have been described as early as 1804, in the first edition of J. H. Gourdoux-Daux’s treatise Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse published that year (I have not been able to access a copy to check). I suggested that the social dance step might have been derived from a more demanding pas composé, or even an enchainement, performed onstage by a celebrated male dancer. The name of the step obviously links it to the character Zephyr, who appears in a number of ballets.

In classical mythology, Zephyrus was the personification of the West Wind. In Latin literature, Ovid recounted the story of Zephyrus and Flora in his Fasti, providing inspiration for artists from the Renaissance onwards. Zephyr appeared in numerous ballets between the mid-17th and early-19th century (the period I am interested in). Here is chronological list of these. It is probably not complete and I have included one or two productions in which Zephyr was a sung rather than a danced role.

1648, Paris. Ballet du déreglement des passions, Part 2, 5th entrée. Zephyr chases away two Satyrs who are pursuing Olimpe and dances with her. In this ballet de cour, Olimpe was danced by the Duc de Roennets and Zephyr by Monsieur de Bragelonne.

1656, Paris. Ballet de Psyché. In this ballet de cour,  Zephyr and Flore were sung, not danced, roles.

1681, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Le Triomphe de l’Amour, 19th entrée. In this version of Zephyr et Flore, at court Zephyr was danced by Monseigneur (Louis XIV’s son). No cast was recorded when the ballet moved into the public theatre later the same year.

1688, Paris. Zephire et Flore (by Louis and Jean-Louis Lully). In this opera, Zephyr was a singing role.

1705, Paris. Le Triomphe de l’Amour, 3rd divertissement. In this revival of the ballet, Zephyr was danced by Claude Ballon with Mlle Subligny as Flore.

1735, Paris. The ‘Ballet des Fleurs’ in Rameau’s opera-Ballet Les Indes Galantes, 3rd entrée scene 8. This ballet shows a garden of flowers, amongst whom the Rose (originally danced by Marie Sallé) is Queen. Boreas, the North Wind, threatens them, but Zephyr arrives and revives them then pays homage to the Rose. David Dumoulin danced Zephyr. Rameau also wrote a one-act ballet, Zéphyre, at an unknown date which was never performed.

1759, Vienna. Zéphire et Flore (also titled Les Amours de Flore et Zéphire), a ballet with music by Gluck and choreography by Gasparo Angiolini. The action resembles that in Rameau’s ‘Ballet des Fleurs’. Did Angiolini himself dance as Zephyr? We don’t know.

Artists almost always depicted Zephyr with Flora, as in this fresco by Tiepolo.

Tiepolo Zephyr

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The Triumph of Zephyr and Flora, 1734-1735.

I don’t have details of any other new productions with Zephyr as a dancing character during the middle decades of the 18th century. If the character was indeed absent during that period, he certainly returned to the stage in the 1790s. These were the productions, and the dancers, that may have led to the adoption of the pas de Zephyr as a social dance step.

1790, Paris. Psyché, ballet by Pierre Gardel. Zephyr is Cupid’s attendant. He opens the ballet with a solo and in act 2 has a pas de deux with Flore. The role was intended for Auguste Vestris, but he insisted on dancing the more important role of Cupid, so a younger dancer, Louis Laborie, created the role of Zephyr. Gardel’s ballet stayed in the repertoire until 1829 and among the dancers who later appeared as Zephyr were André Deshayes, Louis-Antoine Duport and Albert.

1793, Paris. Le Jugement de Paris, ballet by Pierre Gardel. This has a pas de trois by Flore, Pomone and Zephyr in act 2. Zephyr was danced by ‘Deshayes’, who was perhaps André Deshayes then aged sixteen.

1796, London. Flore et Zéphire, ballet by Didelot. He and Mme Didelot danced the title roles.

1802, Paris. Le Retour de Zéphire, a one-act divertissement by Pierre Gardel. André Deshayes danced Zephyr. His appearance marked his return to the stage after an 18-month absence because of injury. He was soon succeeded by Louis Duport.

1806, Paris. L’Hymen de Zéphire, ou Le Volage fixé, divertissement by Louis Duport, in which he danced the title role. The ballet culminates in the marriage of Zephyr to the nymph Chloris, who thereby becomes the goddess Flora.

1812, London. Zéphire inconstant, puni et fixé, ou Les Noces de Flore, Didelot’s revised version of his Flore et Zéphire with new music. Armand Vestris and Fortunata Angiolini danced the title roles.

1815, Paris. Flore et Zéphire by Didelot, given its first performance in Paris with Albert and Geneviève Gosselin in the title roles.

Clodion’s terracotta statuette of Zephyr and Flora has been described as dance-like in its composition. Could the artist have drawn inspiration from one of the ballets of the 1790s?

Clodion Zephyr

Clodion. Zephyrus and Flora, 1799.

Several of the later ballets held the stage for a number of years. Their choreography does not survive, but the dancing of the male ballet stars who appeared as Zephyr may well have inspired dancing masters looking for fresh steps for their more accomplished pupils to include in the newly fashionable quadrilles.

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A Year of Dance: 1667

In England, the Anglo-Dutch War ended with the Treaty of Breda on 21 July 1667, but not before the Dutch had sailed up the Medway and raided Chatham Dockyard. Lady Castlemaine gave birth to a daughter, named Barbara Fitzroy but not acknowledged by the King. She was probably the child of John Churchill, later to become Duke of Marlborough. Barbara Villiers’s reign as Charles II’ s principal mistress was drawing to a close.

In France, Louise de la Vallière had the last of her children by Louis XIV. Their son Louis de Bourbon was born on 2 October 1667 (N.S.). The daughter she had borne the King in 1666, Marie Anne de Bourbon, had been legitimised in May. The King’s new love, Françoise-Athénaïs de Montespan, became his principal mistress during the year. The Queen also gave birth, on 2 January 1667 (N.S.), to a daughter named Marie-Thérèse after her mother and known as Madame Royale. She would live only until 1672.

In London, theatrical life picked up quickly once the theatres had reopened. The pattern remained the same, with the King’s Company under Killigrew in Bridges Street, off Drury Lane, and the Duke’s Company led by Sir William Davenant in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Samuel Pepys attended plays on several occasions and recorded quite a bit of dancing during the truncated 1666-1667 season and the early months of 1667-1668. He was again much taken with ‘Little Mis Davis’ who danced a jig in boy’s clothes at the end of John Caryll’s The English Princess, given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 7 March 1667. He confided to his diary ‘the truth is, there is no comparison between Nell’s dancing the other day at the King’s house in boy’s clothes and this, this being infinitely beyond the other’. Pepys had seen Moll Davis and remarked on her dancing back in 1662 and 1663. The performance by Nell Gwyn, in which he disparaged her dancing, was presumably as Florimell in Dryden’s Secret Love; or, The Maiden Queen which he saw at Bridges Street on 2 March. Pepys was overwhelmed by her acting ‘so great a performance of a comical part was never, I believe, in the world before as Nell do this, both as a mad girle, then most and best of all when she comes in like a young gallant; and hath the motions and carriage of a spark the most that ever I saw any man have. It makes me, I confess, admire her’. Pepys probably rather more than ‘admired’ both Nell Gwyn and Moll Davis.

Accompanied by his wife, Pepys saw Moll Davis again ‘dancing in shepherd’s clothes’ in James Shirley’s Love Tricks; or, The School of Compliments at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 25 August 1667, which ‘did please us mightily’. Was Moll playing the leading role of Selina, who disguises herself as a shepherd? Pepys also saw Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in the version by Sir William Davenant, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 19 April 1667, ‘which, though I have seen it often, yet is it one of the best plays for a stage, and variety of dancing and musique, that ever I saw’. Macbeth, with its singing and dancing witches, would have a long stage life. Pepys also noted the ‘very fine dance for variety of figures, but a little too long’ in Boyle’s The Black Prince, which he saw at Bridges Street on 19 October 1667. Towards the end of September, he had seen Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage, also at Bridges Street, finding it memorable only for ‘a most admirable dance at the end, of the ladies, in a military manner’. Dancing had become a fixture of performances on the London stage.

Paradoxically, there was very little in the way of dance performances at the French court this year. The only ballet de cour was the Ballet des Muses, which had begun its run of performances in December 1666 and was last given on 19 February 1667 (N.S.).

 

The Grand Ballet, Grand Dance and Serious Dance on the London Stage

During many, if not most, seasons between the mid-1710s and late 1750s the bills for performances at Drury Lane and Covent Garden included an entr’acte Grand Ballet, Grand Dance or Serious Dance. Usually no details of these dances were volunteered, other than the names of the principal performer (or performers) with the enigmatic addition ‘& others’. Why were these dances so named? What did their differing titles mean? How many dancers were involved in these choreographies? Like so much about dancing on the London stage in the 18th century these are difficult questions to answer satisfactorily.

The term Grand Dance already had a long history in London’s theatres by the time it appeared in the bill for a concert held at Drury Lane on 4 January 1704. James Shirley’s Cupid and Death of 1653 includes a Grand Dance, as do Purcell’s semi-operas King Arthur (1691) and The Fairy Queen (1692). Both of Purcell’s grand dances are chaconnes. The libretto for The Fairy Queen specifies a ‘Grand Dance … of Twenty four Persons’. The suggestion is that a Grand Dance has both an extended musical form and a large number of performers. The Drury Lane concert seems to have been a selection of music, mainly by Henry Purcell, culminating in ‘The Sacrifice’ from King Arthur and the Grand Dance. It seems likely, therefore, that the latter was one of Purcell’s chaconnes, although only six dancers were named in the advertisement. Was it the music, rather than the number of dancers, that made a dance a Grand Dance?

Serious dancing was first advertised as such early in the 18th century. It was sometimes billed together with, and in contrast to, comic dancing. More often than not, serious dances seem to have been duets. Only during the 1716-1717 season was there a billing for a ‘new serious dance, compos’d by Moreau’ for as many as eight dancers – four men and four women (in fact, three men and three women together with the two ‘French children’ Francis and Marie Sallé). Thereafter serious dances with a group of dancers became more common in advertisements.

The title Grand Ballet does not appear in advertisements before the mid-1720s, with the ‘Grand Ballet by ten Persons of different Characters’ performed at Michael Poitier’s benefit at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 21 April 1727. If he did not introduce the term ‘Ballet’ to the entr’acte dance repertoire, Poitier seems to have a hand in popularising it. The 1727 Grand Ballet may well have been his choreography and the ‘Characters’ were perhaps drawn from the commedia dell’arte.

During the 1730s, the terms Grand Ballet, Grand Dance and Serious Dance began to be used together, and seemingly sometimes interchangeably, in advertisements. These almost never provide clues as to the music for the dances and rarely give more than the names of one or two of the principal dancers (often the company’s leading dancers). With the near ubiquitous use of ‘&c.’ or ‘& others’ for the remaining performers, we have few clues as to the usual number of dancers required for a Grand Dance or a Grand Ballet. In later posts, I am going to look more closely at the various billings for these three types of entr’acte dance to see if it is possible to glean further information about them.

Who was the first female professional dancer on the London stage?

There has been much debate, over many years, as to the identity of the first actress to appear on the London stage following the Restoration. Nobody seems to have bothered to ask who the first female professional dancer might have been. It is fair to point out that this is, probably, an even more impossible question to answer. There simply isn’t enough evidence to work with. There was stage dancing in London from at least as early as 1660, even before the arrival of Charles II to reclaim his throne. Who were the dancers? Were any of them professional dancers, as we understand the term? Were any of them female professional dancers? Mostly we don’t know.

Using The London Stage as the principal source of information, the first dancing to be reported for the period is Le Ballet de la Paix recorded in a printed scenario dated 1660. There are many questions surrounding this piece which, if it ever was performed, may have been given in London during spring 1660 just before the King’s restoration. However, there are no hints as to who may have danced in it. During the years immediately following the Restoration, all the reports on dancing in London’s theatres come from the diary of Samuel Pepys. They are quoted in The London Stage. His earliest mention dates to 5 February 1661, when he saw Glapthorne’s Argalus and Parthenia (a pre-Restoration drama) which was ‘pleasant for the dancing and singing’. Presumably the cast danced and sang, but we don’t know who they were.

Pepys’s first reference to a particular dancer came when he saw Davenant’s The Law against Lovers (an adaptation from Shakespeare) at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 18 February 1662 and commended ‘the little girl’s (whom I never saw act before) dancing and singing’. She was probably Mary or ‘Moll’ Davis, whom Pepys would subsequently mention quite often. Around 18 months later, he took note of Winifred Gosnell in Davenant’s The Rivals at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 10 September 1664, remarking ‘Gosnell comes and sings and dances finely’. Of course, both were first and foremost actresses and cannot be described as professional dancers, at least not according to 21st -century ideas.

Moll Davis apparently began her stage career in 1660. John Downes, prompter at Lincoln’s Inn Fields from the 1660s and author of Roscius Anglicanus, or an Historical Review of the Stage published in 1708, named her as one of Sir William Davenant’s four ‘Principal Actresses’ whom ‘he boarded at his own House’ when he formed his company. Some years later, in a diary entry for 11 January 1668, Pepys reports the opinion of ‘Pierce’ who said of Moll ‘she is a most homely jade as ever she saw, though she dances beyond anything in the world’. As I mentioned in another post, Pepys thought ‘little Mis Davis’ a far better dancer than Nell Gwyn. Like her more famous counterpart, Moll Davis left the stage in 1668 after becoming yet another of Charles II’s mistresses. The poet Richard Flecknoe wrote ‘To Mis: Davies, on her excellent dancing’, publishing his verses in Epigrams of all Sorts in 1669.

Dear Mis: delight of all the nobler sort,

Pride of the Stage and darling of the Court,

Who wou’d not think to see thee dance so light,

Thou wer’t all air? Or else all soul and spirit?

Or who’d not say to see thee only tread,

Thy feet were feathers! others feet but lead?

Atlanta well cou’d run, and Hermes flee,

But none e’er moved more gracefully than thee;

And Circe charm’d with wand and magick lore,

But none, like thee, e’er charm’d with Feet before.

Thou Miracle! Whom all men must admire

To see thee move like air, and mount like fire.

Whoe’er would follow thee or come but nigh

To thy perfection, must not dance but fly.

Who trained Moll Davis to achieve a style and technique that was so much admired?

Pepys first met Winifred Gosnell in 1662. His diary entry for 12 November that year describes her as ‘pretty handsome’ and ‘with a good voice and sings very well’. Some days later, he commented that she ‘dances finely’. Miss Gosnell became, very briefly, companion to Mrs Pepys and only later joined the Duke’s Company as an actress. I have mentioned elsewhere Pepys’s reaction to her singing and dancing in Davenant’s The Rivals in 1663. Her stage career seems to have lasted until at least the 1680s, but when she petitioned the Lord Chamberlain about her discharge from the company she described herself as a singer rather than a dancer or even an actress.

So, the player with the best claim to be the first female professional dancer on the Restoration stage is Moll Davis. If she does not quite fit our definition of a ‘professional dancer’ she seems to have had the skills to be accepted as one.

Moll Davis

Moll Davis. Engraving by Richard Tompson after a painting by Sir Peter Lely, 1675-1690.

 

A Year of Dance: 1666

England continued to be involved in the second Anglo-Dutch War, with sea battles in June and July and a raid on Holland in August 1666, but the most significant event of the year (as destructive of property as the plague of the previous year had been of life) was the great fire of London in early September.

Great Fire of London

Anon. The Great Fire of London. Ludgate in flames with St Paul’s Cathedral (in the background) catching Fire (c1670)

The blaze left much of the city in ruins and it would take some years before life returned to normal. London’s theatres, in what was becoming the ‘West End’ were too far from the city itself to be directly affected. They reopened in December 1666 following their 18-month closure because of the plague. With so few performances in 1666, it is hardly surprising that there was no mention of dancing.

In France, the Queen Mother Anne of Austria died on 20 January 1666 (N.S.). Louise de la Vallière gave birth to Louis XIV’s daughter on 2 October (N.S.). She was known as Marie Anne de Bourbon and then, after she was legitimised, as Mlle de Blois. The first danced entertainment of the year preceded the death of the Queen Mother. The mascarade Le Triomphe de Bacchus was performed at the Palais Royal on 9 January 1666 (N.S.) with a cast entirely of male professional dancers. Pierre Beauchamps danced Bacchus. That year’s ballet de cour was delayed until mourning for the Queen Mother was over. The Ballet des Muses was first given at St Germain-en-Laye on 2 December 1666 (N.S.) and continued to be performed until February 1667. Louis XIV renewed his dance partnership with his sister-in-law Madame, who was indisputably the ballet’s leading female dancer. They appeared together in the 4th Entrée as a Berger and Bergère, in the 6th Entrée as an Espagnol and Espagnolle and in the 14th and final Entrée as a Maure and Mauresque. In addition, Madame appeared among the ladies of the court as the leading Pieride in the 11th Entrée. The King also danced as Cyrus in the 8th Entrée and as a Nymphe in the 12th Entrée. The latter marked his last appearance in a female role.

Dancers on the London Stage

Back in 2015, I wrote a short piece about dancing on the London stage from 1660 to 1760, a topic that still receives scant attention from dance historians. In the course of writing a recent post about one particular set of dances performed in London’s theatres, it crossed my mind that I should also pursue the dancers who worked there. Many of them have never featured in dance histories, which generally confine themselves to the same few famous names.

London’s best-known dancers, in their own time as well as ours, were quite often from Europe. They came from France in particular, but also from Italy as well as what is now Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. There were also many native-born dancers in London’s theatres, although they seem (more often than not) to have taken supporting roles to the visiting European stars. Claude Ballon and Marie-Thérèse de Subligny were acclaimed when they came to London in the years around 1700. Hester Santlow and John Shaw were two English dancers who always took leading roles – they were quite definitely not members of the corps de ballet.

We can only really trace the dancers in London’s theatre companies from the early 18th century, when newspaper advertising takes off. Even so, although this gives us records of their performances and, if we are lucky, the repertoire of individual dancers, there is still very little other evidence about their lives and careers. We know of very few portraits, even of the most famous dancers.

By the early 1700s, the playhouses and the opera house seem to have had small dance companies alongside the acting companies. There was also a dancing master, who may or may not be identifiable as such, who was a dancer, choreographer and (probably) the teacher of the actors and actresses of the main company. He would (probably) have been responsible for teaching new repertoire to the other dancers and even rehearsing them, in the group numbers at least. (The leading dancers would probably have taken care of their own solos and duets). I will take a look at some of these men in future posts. There is very little direct evidence of the dancing master’s status and duties – these have to be inferred from occasional references to him or his work. If there were any female dancers who fulfilled this role (and we know that some professional female dancers taught dancing), their status was never mentioned.

The dancers themselves had a range of skills and experience. In the early 18th century many of the female dancers were also actresses, even those who had a level of dance virtuosity equal to that of the visiting French ballerinas. At the same period, most of the leading male dancers (English as well as French) were solely dancers. Several English male dancers were, by repute, able to match the skills of their French counterparts. Lower down the rankings, male as well as female dancers had to deploy a range of performing skills. So far as we can tell, many of the native-born dancers on the London stage had some training in French belle danse, but probably as many did not.

The leading dancers in each company performed regularly in the entr’actes and, from the late 1710s, would take the principal dancing roles in pantomime afterpieces. Ballets, as we understand the term, only came into their own in the later 1700s (although the first example of the genre, John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus, dates to 1717). Pantomimes also needed a number of players who included dancing among a range of other skills. These supporting performers rarely, if ever, gave dances in the entr’actes unless they had a popular dance speciality. Actors and actresses were called upon to take part in country dances within plays – they rarely danced otherwise.

So, there is quite a range of lives and careers among the dancers on the London stage from 1660 to 1760, and beyond, ripe for investigation. As and when I write about them, I will use their repertoire to try and appraise their dancing skills as well as their status within the dance companies.

A Year of Dance: 1665

In 1665 the most significant event by far for England was the great plague of London, which took hold during the summer months and lasted until early 1666. The court moved to Salisbury in July 1665 and only returned to London the following February. The country was in the midst of the second Anglo-Dutch War, which began in March. (The first Anglo-Dutch War had been as long ago as 1652-1654, under the Commonwealth). An equally important event was the birth of a second daughter to the Duke and Duchess of York – Princess Anne would become Queen in 1702. Charles II’s third illegitimate son George Fitzroy, by Barbara Villiers Countess of Castlemaine, was born on 25 December 1665. He would later become Duke of Northumberland.

The diarist John Evelyn recorded a masque at court on 2 February. Samuel Pepys provided some additional details in his diary entry for the following day:

‘Then Mrs Pickering … did, at my Lady’s command, tell me the manner of the masquerade before the King and court the other day. Where six women (my Lady Castelmayne and Duchess of Monmouth being two of them) and six men (the Duke of Monmouth and Lord Arran and Monsieur Blancfort being three of them) in vizards, but most rich and antique dresses, did dance admirably, and most gloriously.’

There are no mentions of dancing in the theatres up to their closure, because of the plague, on 5 June 1665. They did not reopen until the autumn of 1666.

In France, Louis XIV’s mistress gave birth to two sons during 1665, one on 7 January (N.S.) and the other on 27 December (N.S.). Both babies died during 1666. The ballet de cour for 1665 was the Ballet de la Naissance de Vénus, in which the King’s sister-in-law Madame appeared as the goddess in the first Entrée with her husband as the Morning Star. She made her second appearance in the final Entrée as Roxane, with Louis XIV as Alexander the Great. The professional ballerina Mlle de Verpré appeared in the second Entrée of Part 2 as Daphne with a noble dancer, the Marquis de Beringuen, as Apollo. Another comédie-ballet by Molière and Lully, L’Amour Medecin, was given at Versailles on 15 September (N.S.) as an entertainment for a hunting party. It was later performed before the public at the Palais Royal in Paris.