Author Archives: moiragoff

The Passacaille

As every musician knows (but not necessarily every dancer), the passacaille is a set of variations over a repeated 4-bar bass line. It shares this musical form with the chaconne, although the notated dances surviving from the 18th century reveal several differences between them. In her recent book Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera, Rebecca Harris-Warrick looks at passacailles and chaconnes from various perspectives. Her observations are of interest in relation to the appearance of these dances on the London stage. Harris-Warrick points out that passacailles have a slower tempo than chaconnes and that they are often found in association with women ‘not infrequently when seduction is involved’ (p. 60). She also explains that they are the longest of the dances performed on stage and usually feature soloists and groups of dancers in their choreography (although this is not the case with the notated dances).

Passacailles are indeed the longest of the surviving recorded choreographies, in particular two solos created for female professional dancers: Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ for Hester Santlow to music from Desmaret’s 1697 opera Vénus et Adonis, 209 bars; Guillaume-Louis Pecour’s ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ for Marie-Thérèse Subligny to music from Gatti’s 1701 opera Scylla, 219 bars. In all six passacailles survive in notation, published between 1704 and the mid-1720s. All are to music from French operas, four are female solos, one is a female duet and one is a duet for a man and a woman.

Advertisements indicate that the passacaille was performed in the entr’actes at London’s theatres quite regularly between the 1705-1706 and 1735-1736 seasons. It was given either as a solo or a duet but not, apparently, as a group dance. The solos are exclusively performed by women, from Mrs Elford at the Queen’s Theatre on 13 June 1706 (when she danced a ‘Chacoon and Passacail’) to Mrs Bullock at Goodman’s Fields on 13 October 1735. Duets were quite rare, although four different couples were billed between 1715-1716 and 1725-1726. After 1735-1736, the dance type disappears from the bills, except for a single performance of ‘A New Dance call’d Le Passecalle de Zaid’ by Anne Auretti at Drury Lane on 26 March 1754 (the occasion was her benefit). The passacaille reappears in the early 1770s for occasional performances until the mid-1780s.

For most of the passacailles performed in London, it is all but impossible to know what was danced either in terms of the music or the choreography. There are exceptions. The earliest is Pecour’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s 1686 opera Armide, created as a solo for Mlle Subligny and performed by her ‘en Angleterre’ during the winter of 1701-1702 – the only time she visited London. This demanding solo (a mere 149 bars) was published in notation around 1713.

Pecour Passacaille Armide 1

Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ‘Passacaile’, Nouveau recueil de danse de bal et celle de ballet (Paris, [c1713]), pl. 79

Anthony L’Abbe’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s Armide was created as a female duet, and must have been danced late in the 1705-1706 season in the brief interval between Mrs Santlow’s debut and Mrs Elford’s retirement.

Labbe Passacaille Armide 1

Anthony L’Abbé, ‘Passacaille of Armide’, A New Collection of Dances (London, c1725]), pl. 7

In his Preface to The Art of Dancing, the manual of dancing he published in 1735, Kellom Tomlinson referred to ‘Miss Frances, who, on the Theatre Royal in Little Lincoln’s Inn Fields, performed the Passacaille de Scilla, consisting of above a thousand Measures or Steps, without making the least Mistake’. He seems to be referring to the music from Gatti’s Scylla, if not to the choreography created by Pecour for Mlle Subligny (although neither the music nor the notated dance extends to a thousand bars). A Miss Francis did in fact dance a ‘new Passacaille’ at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 19 March and again on 27 April 1719. The other exception is, of course, L’Abbé’s solo for Mrs Santlow referred to above. Although no date or place for a performance of this choreography is known, it is a stunning example of the challenges of such a dance.

Was the music for the other passacailles billed in the early 18th century invariably French? There are some beautiful examples of the dance type (usually titled chaconnes but with the features of passacailles) among late 17th-century music by English composers. Some of these were undoubtedly danced in the semi-operas of the period. Did any of the other performers billed in passacailles dance the choreographies that have survived? Mrs Bullock is known to have been a virtuoso dancer. She danced a passacaille with Charles Delagarde at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 7 May 1716 as well as her later solo, either of which could have drawn on notated dances. Since they were showpieces, it is not surprising that most passacailles were billed for benefit performances, although not always the dancer’s own. It is interesting that not one of the named performers, male or female, of passacailles given in London up to 1735-1736 is French. There are many puzzles about French dancing in London’s theatres in the early 18th century.

Advertisements

A Year of Dance: 1662

The diary kept by Samuel Pepys is one of the most important sources of information about the public theatres in London during the 1660s. His testimony reveals that by 1662 dancing had become part of the entertainments offered on the newly revived stage. Although it seems to have been little more than an occasional light interlude within or alongside plays.

On 18 February 1662, Pepys went to see The Law Against Lovers (Sir William Davenant’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure with additions from Much Ado About Nothing) at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre. He commended ‘the little girl’s (whom I never saw act before) dancing and singing’. She may well have been Moll Davis, who played the role of Viola in the play. She would later become one of Charles II’s many mistresses. Pepys records seeing dancing in other plays during the first months of the 1662-1663 theatrical season, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream on 29 September 1662. He thought it an ‘insipid ridiculous play’ but there was ‘some good dancing’.

At court, the most notable event of the year was the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza. She landed at Portsmouth on 13 May and the wedding took place there on 21 May 1662. Just a few weeks earlier, on 30 April, Anne the wife of James Duke of York had given birth to a daughter Mary (who would later become joint ruler of Britain with her husband William of Orange). On 18 June, Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine gave birth to the king’s illegitimate son – named Charles after his father.  As if that was not enough, in July 1662 the Queen Mother Henrietta Maria visited London, bringing with her Charles II’s 13-year-old illegitimate son James Crofts. He quickly became a favourite at court.

In France, the only ballet de cour of 1662 was the Ballet d’Hercule Amoureux inserted into Cavalli’s opera Ercole amante composed in honour of Louis XIV’s marriage in 1660. The whole entertainment was performed in the new Salle des Machines in the Tuileries Palace in Paris on 7 February 1662 (N.S.). Louis XIV ‘representant la Maison de France’ danced the first Entrée, accompanied by the Comte de St. Aignan as Valour. The King and the Queen (as ‘la Maison d’Austriche’) both danced in the second Entrée, with Louis’s brother Monsieur as Hymen. The king made further appearances as Pluton in the eighth Entrée and Mars in the ninth. One of the handful of female professional dancers at the French court, Mlle Girault, danced as La Lune in the tenth Entrée, while another, Mlle de Verpré, danced as L’Aurore in the sixteenth Entrée. She had the distinction of heralding the final appearance of the king in the eighteenth and penultimate Entrée of the ballet, as Le Soleil. Sadly, no design seems to survive to show how Louis XIV looked as a young adult in his signature role.

At court, Louis XIV’s sister-in-law Madame gave birth to her first child on 26 March 1662 (N.S.), a daughter named Marie Louise. She later became Queen of Spain. On 18 November, the Queen gave birth to her second child and first daughter, named Anne Elisabeth. The baby died before the end of the year. Late in December, Nicolas Fouquet was sentenced to be banished, ensuring that he would never return to power to challenge the French king’s cultural supremacy.

Dance Types on the London Stage

For a number of years, I have been researching dancing on the London stage between 1660 and 1760. There are several studies of theatrical dancing in the French ballets de cour and French operas of that period, but dancing in London has been largely ignored. This neglect is understandable, up to a point. In London’s theatres, dances were usually performed between the acts of plays, in the divertissements within semi-operas or, later, in the masques and pantomimes that followed the main tragedy or comedy of the evening. Other than their titles, and who danced them, we know little about them. If we are lucky, a tune with the same title as a dance may survive in a collection of country dances, a music tutor or elsewhere (although the tune may turn out to have little to do with the dance). Except in a handful of cases, no choreography survives. Despite all these difficulties, I just cannot rid myself of my fascination with this lost repertoire and its dancers.

Dancing on the London stage was much influenced by French belle danse. One area of interest, which might also be fruitful in research terms, lies in the various dance types known from the corpus of dances notated in the early 1700s. Some of these dances appear explicitly in the entr’actes and some do not. Among those that can be found are the Allemande, Chaconne, Folia (‘Folie d’Espagne’), Forlana (billed once only as a ‘Forlanta’), Hornpipe, Gigue (actually the ‘Jig’ which may, or may not, be a French Gigue), Loure (mainly in the form of the ‘Louvre’, i.e. the ball dance Aimable Vainqueur), Minuet, Musette, Passacaille, Rigaudon and Saraband (to which I have previously devoted a post). Entr’acte dances with these dance types in their titles were billed and it seems likely that many of them were what they claimed to be. Those not billed are the Bourrée, Canary, Courante, Gavotte and Passepied. They may well have been performed, but they are never mentioned among the advertisements for entr’acte dances. I cannot explain why some of these dances were not among those named in the bills (though some, like the Courante, may simply have gone out of fashion).

From time to time, I will take a closer look at some of the dance types that were performed on the London stage.

A FAVOURITE BALLET

I have been doing some research for an article, for which I have been looking through 18th-century newspapers. Although it has nothing to do with my topic, a piece in the Courier and Evening Gazette for 11 January 1799 caught my attention with a detailed account of an evening of private theatricals. The entertainment was given at Lord Shaftesbury’s house in Portland Place on 7 January 1799 by his ten-year-old daughter Lady Barbara Ashley-Cooper and some of her friends.

‘Lady Barbara’s entertainments consisted of two pretty little Dramatic Pieces; and for the purpose of performing them a Theatre was fitted up in one of the largest apartments, by the Painters and Machinists from Drury-lane House. ̶ Scenery all new, and Orchestra for the Band, seats for the audience rising behind each other, and every thing was constructed to make it a perfect Theatre.

The first performance was a little French piece in dialogue, by the three eldest Miss Bouveries. … The audience bestowed great applause on the performance.

The second piece was the favourite Ballet of Little Peggy’s Love, as represented at the Opera House. This was got up under the care of Madame Hilligsberg, who for two or three weeks had been instructing all the performers, and superintending the rehearsals, and who on Monday night still acted as directress.

The Dramatis Personae were as follows:

Jamie …………………  Lady Barbara Ashley Cooper

Old Man …………….  Miss Bellasyse

Old Woman ……….  Miss J. Parkyns

Lady …………………..  Miss C. Bouverie

Peggy ………………..   Miss Parkyns

Dancers, the three Miss Parkyns, and the two youngest Miss Bouveries.

This little fairy groupe rivalled the Opera House and Drury-lane in the correctness and spirit, the characteristic gestures and deportment of their performances. Lady Barbara was wonderfully happy in Jamie, and the Lord Chancellor [Alexander Wedderburn, Lord Loughborough, one of the guests that evening] seemed to be quite delighted with his little countryman. Hilligsberg had instructed her to turn in her toes, and adopt aukward gestures and attitudes, in which she was so successful, that a stranger could scarcely have believed her to be so graceful and accomplished as she really is in her own character.’

All of the performers must have been children. The newspaper account includes details of the dancers’ costumes and volunteers the information that the performance began at six and concluded around eight, after which the company went to play cards before going into dinner. The evening was a celebration of twelfth night.

Little Peggy’s Love (sometimes billed simply as Peggy’s Love) had first been performed at London’s King’s Theatre on 21 April 1796, advertised as ‘a new Dance in the Scotch style’ and with ‘the Pantomime and Principal Steps composed by Didelot’. The music was by Bossi. Mme Hillisgberg had, presumably, originally taken the title role, since the performance was for her benefit. Peggy’s Love had most recently been revived at the King’s Theatre and would be given further performances the same season. Although described as a ‘Dance’ it was evidently a small-scale ballet.

Charles-Louis Didelot was one of the most important choreographers of the late 18th century. He had first worked in London 1788 to 1789 and had returned in 1796 for a stay that would last until 1801. Madame Hilligsberg, who had been a pupil of Gaëtan Vestris in Paris, had first appeared in London late in 1787. She danced at the King’s Theatre throughout the 1790s and until 1803. One of her specialities was to dance in male attire.

Madame Hiligsberg Jaloux Puni

H. de Javry, engraved by J. Conde. Mademoiselle Hilligsberg in the Ballet of Le Jaloux Puni (London, 1794)

The report of this private theatrical performance suggests that children were learning steps and choreographies that related to the stage in their dancing lessons. Other sources of the time indicate the same, among them the early 19th-century social dance manuals that include steps and sequences that would now be identified with classical ballet. Some of the dancing at late 18th and early 19th century balls must have been truly accomplished.

THE MILLER’S DANCE

In my post exploring who may have performed the Cyclops in John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus, I promised to take a closer look at the Miller’s Dance occasionally given among the entr’acte entertainments in London’s theatres. Apart from trying to shed more light on the performances within Weaver’s dance drama, I’ll investigate whether it is possible to get some idea of the dancing within those pieces for which we know little other than the title and names of the performers.

Dances with the word ‘Miller’ in the title were given on the London stage from at least the first decade of the 18th century into the 1760s. For reasons as yet unclear (but probably to do with individual performers), they seem to have disappeared from the repertoire between the mid-1710s and early 1720s and for most of the 1730s. In this post, I will concentrate on the earliest period – from around 1703-1704 to 1715-1716. These are the dances in which some of the ‘Comedians’ who may have danced the Cyclops appeared.

The earliest Miller’s Dance recorded in advertisements is a solo given by William Pinkethman at Drury Lane on 5 June 1704, which he repeated on 10 August. There is nothing to indicate the music or the nature of the dance. A few seasons later, on 26 December 1707 also at Drury Lane, the advertisement specified that the dancing would include ‘an old English Dance call’d, Miller’s Dance’. This might suggest the use of a familiar tune and could, perhaps, link the dance to Miller’s Jig first published in the 7th edition of John Playford’s The Dancing Master in 1686. This tune appeared in every subsequent edition up to the 18th around 1728, so it must have been well known. Only three dancers were billed in the entr’actes that evening, so it seems the Miller’s Dance couldn’t have been a country dance. It is possible that Pinkethman reprised his solo, since he gave an ‘Equi-vocal Epilogue after the old English manner’ for the main play that same evening.

During the 1709-1710 season there were, ostensibly, three different versions of the Miller’s Dance at Drury Lane. On 25 March 1710, Leigh and Prince performed a Miller’s Dance which they repeated at least once, on 23 May. On 12 April, Leigh and Birkhead danced Miller and his Wife. Was the Miller’s Dance given on 25 April by unnamed performers performed by Leigh and Prince or Leigh and Birkhead? The Miller and his Wife was given at the Greenwich theatre in 1710-1711 and 1711-1712, when the company included Leigh. This dance may well have been the same as the one he performed with Birkhead.

The third dance was the Whimsical Dance between a Miller, his Wife, and a Town Miss, first given at Pinkethman’s Greenwich theatre on 5 August 1710 and repeated at five more performances before the end of the summer season there. The only performer billed for this trio was Leigh as the Miller’s Wife. In 1714-1715 and again in 1715-1716 a Miller’s Dance was given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields by James Spiller, his wife Elizabeth and Leigh. Could this have been the Whimsical Dance of a few years earlier? Elizabeth Spiller performed with the Greenwich company in 1709-1710 and her husband may well have done so too. The title Whimsical Dance between a Miller, his Wife, and a Town Miss suggests some characterisation and comic action, including the low comedy associated with a cross-dressed Miller’s Wife. Spiller was adept at playing old men (in 1710 he was, apparently, only 18) and he presumably danced the Miller. Hogarth’s benefit ticket shows him some 10 years later.

Spiller Benefit Hogarth

William Hogarth. Benefit ticket for James Spiller [London, 1720] © British Museum

Despite these clues, there is no way of knowing what any of these Miller’s Dances were like. No music survives for any of them. The dancing would surely have been the antithesis of la belle danse, although it is unlikely to have had its own vocabulary of steps.

How did audiences recognise that it was a ‘Miller’s Dance’? Was the advertisement of the title in the evening’s bill enough? Was the dance familiar from earlier (but unrecorded) performances? Were there very obvious mimed actions? Did the music provide a strong clue? The dance is likely to have been performed against whatever scenery was in place for that evening’s play, which might even have conflicted with the piece on offer. There are many things we simply don’t know about entr’acte dancing on the London stage in the 18th century.

A Year of Dance: 1661

I have been writing a great deal around the 300th anniversary of John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus – the first modern ballet. Weaver was, of course, indebted to the dancing of earlier periods and I would like to return to one of my other strands within Dance in History. Here is a new ‘Year of Dance’ and there will be more to follow soon – I hope!

After the temporary arrangements following the Restoration of Charles II, theatrical life in London began to settle into a pattern. At the beginning of the year, Thomas Killigrew and the King’s Company were already playing in a converted tennis court in Vere Street. By June 1661, William Davenant and the Duke’s Company had opened their theatre in a converted tennis court in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The two companies established a monopoly which would endure over very many years and through many changes of companies and theatres.

The repertoire for the 1661-1662 season (theatrical seasons ran from September to the following June or July, although this post is concerned only with the calendar year) included a play entitled The Dancing Master, possibly played in December by the King’s Company. There is otherwise no reference to dancing in the scant evidence that survives for the year’s stage offerings. In the autumn, a visiting troupe of players from France performed some of the ‘machine plays’ popular in Paris. They were apparently able to reproduce many of the scenic marvels associated with the genre at the Cockpit Theatre in Drury Lane. They also played at court.

In England, the year had begun with an act of political revenge, when Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed and posthumously executed on 30 January, the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I. A happier event was the coronation of Charles II at Westminster Abbey on 23 April. The available sources are silent as to any dancing that might have formed part of the celebrations.

In France, Cardinal Mazarin died in March and Louis XIV (at the age of twenty-two) decided to rule in person without a chief minister. That same month, Charles II’s sister Henriette married Louis XIV’s brother Philippe. She became duchesse d’Orléans and was henceforth known by the courtesy title of Madame. The first child of Louis and his Queen Marie-Thérèse, a dauphin named Louis for his father, was born in November.

There was a great deal of dancing at the French court. In February, the Ballet Royal de l’Impatience was given at the Louvre. In July, the Ballet des Saisons was performed at Fontainebleau. The French king danced in both. The first of Molière’s comédie-ballets, Les Fâcheux, was performed in August – first at Vaux-le-Vicomte (the château of Louis’s superintendent of finances Fouquet) and then at Fontainebleau. Fouquet’s entertainments outshone those of the King. He was quickly arrested and imprisoned. So far as dance history is concerned, the most important event of 1661 was the creation of the Académie Royale de Danse in March, which began the never-ending process of codifying and setting standards for the art.

 

MAINPIECES, AFTERPIECES AND JOHN WEAVER’S BALLET

John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus was an afterpiece, an entertainment intended to follow another, longer play on the theatre bill. During its stage life, what did the ballet accompany on the bills and does it matter?

At the first performance on 2 March 1717, The Loves of Mars and Venus was given after Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy, a Jacobean revenge tragedy revived after the Restoration and still popular. At its second performance, the ballet followed Addison’s Cato. This was a new tragedy, first performed in 1713, with a story drawn from classical antiquity. It was a great success at its first performance and would remain in the repertoire for many years. Weaver’s ballet was paired with a different play at each of its seven performances in the 1716-1717 season. Five were tragedies and two comedies. Of the other tragedies, the most noteworthy was Nicholas Rowe’s Tamerlane. First performed in 1701, the play used exotic historical characters to represent the rivalry of William III and Louis XIV. Tamerlane was identified with William III and Rowe’s play was routinely given each year by both playhouses on the 5 November, the anniversary of his landing at Torbay. The other two tragedies were Nathaniel Lee’s Mithridates (1678, another story drawn from classical antiquity), and Otway’s The Orphan (1680). The two comedies were Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem (usually billed simply as The Stratagem), first performed in 1707, and George Villiers’s The Rehearsal, a satirical view of the London stage first performed in 1671. All these plays, tragic and comic, were staples of the London stage.

Do these pairings tell us anything? It is interesting that the majority of the mainpieces were tragedies. This might indicate that Drury Lane’s three actor-managers thought of The Loves of Mars and Venus as a serious piece, albeit a far lighter entertainment than the preceding tragic plays.

Over the period it remained in repertoire, The Loves of Mars and Venus was paired most often with The Maid’s Tragedy, Cato and Tamerlane. I have taken a look at the bills for other performances of those plays between 1715-1716 and 1719-1720 to see if these might tell us more. The Maid’s Tragedy was usually given with entr’acte entertainments – the only afterpiece with which it was billed was Weaver’s ballet. Cato was either billed alone, with entr’acte entertainments or with an afterpiece. Addison’s tragedy was also billed with Weaver’s second dance drama, Orpheus and Eurydice, in both 1717-1718 and 1718-1719. Tamerlane was most often given alone, although it, too, was sometimes accompanied by either entr’acte entertainments or an afterpiece. There is insufficient evidence to provide definite conclusions, but it seems that at Drury Lane the pairing of mainpieces and afterpieces could be by careful choice and that The Loves of Mars and Venus was seen as more than merely a transient amusement.

The ballet disappeared from the repertoire after the 1723-1724 season. The reasons why it was dropped are still to be investigated, but it should be noted that at four of the five performances given in its last season The Loves of Mars and Venus was paired with mainpiece comedies. Only at its last performance was it given with a tragedy, Hildebrand Jacob’s The Fatal Constancy first performed the previous season. Both mainpiece and afterpiece were reviewed in Pasquin for 18 February 1724. The Fatal Constancy was praised as written ‘upon the Model of Antiquity’ and even for ‘the Shortness of the Piece’. The Loves of Mars and Venus may have been added to the bill for both reasons – during its short stage life, The Fatal Constancy was not billed with any other afterpiece. Pasquin condemned The Loves of Mars and Venus for its classical inaccuracy (two-eyed Cyclops) and its lack of dramatic credibility.

Pasquin Loves 1

From Pasquin, 18 February 1724

Does this suggest that Weaver’s serious intentions for his ballet had already been forgotten? Pasquin also revealed that the afterpiece was the victim of economies at the theatre.

Pasquin Loves 2

From Pasquin, 18 February 1724.

By 1724, it seems that Weaver’s innovative ballet had worn out its welcome with Drury Lane’s managers and audience alike.