Author Archives: moiragoff

Dances on the London Stage: Blouzabella

On 8 June 1703, the entr’acte entertainments at Lincoln’s Inn Fields included a duet by Prince and Mrs Elford entitled Blouzabella. The dance must have been at least moderately successful, because it was repeated on 11 June by (according to The London Stage) L’Abbé and Mrs Elford. Blouzabella was revived at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1703-1704, 1704-1705 and, for the last time, in 1711-1712 when it was given at Drury Lane. At each of these revivals it was danced by Prince, initially with Mrs Clark and finally with Mrs Bicknell.

The title of the dance suggests that it was a comic number. Blowzabella is the vulgar, ostentatious and shameless wife of the hero of Thomas Durfey’s The Famous History of the Rise and Fall of Massaniello, inspired by the Italian fisherman who in 1647 led a revolt against the rulers of Naples. Durfey’s play was first given at Drury Lane in May 1699. According to The London Stage, Massaniello was short-lived, although both it and the entr’acte dance it inspired may have enjoyed more performances than are recorded there.

There are some puzzles about this duet and its performers. We know all too little about Mrs Elford and her repertoire, except that the sparse surviving evidence suggests that she was an accomplished exponent of belle danse. She is generally advertised in serious dances and her one recorded choreography is a passacaille danced as a duet with the young Hester Santlow, probably in 1706 the year Mrs Elford left the stage. She seems an unlikely performer of a duet that draws on the antics of a low comedy character.

Mrs Elford regularly danced with Anthony L’Abbé, but the suggestion in The London Stage that they danced Blouzabella together is very likely to be wrong. The original advertisement for the performance says:

‘Also an Entertainment of several Dances by Monsieur Labbe, Mrs Elford, and others; particularly the Wedding Dance, and Blouzabella. The Medley Dance by Mr Prince and his Daughter. …’

The wording ‘and others’, together with Prince’s appearance on this bill as well as the one for 8 June, suggests that it was he and not L’Abbé who danced Blouzabella with Mrs Elford. As for Prince’s later partners, we know next to nothing about Mrs Clark and Mrs Bicknell was well-known as a comic actress as well as a dancer, although her range did not usually extend to low comedy.

Prince’s appearance in probably all of the known performances raises the possibility that he was the choreographer of Blouzabella. Who was Mr Prince? Was he the Joseph Prince who married Judith, the daughter of the dancing master Luke Channell, in 1678 and was in his mid-forties in the early 1700s? Or was he perhaps a son of Joseph Prince, who might then have been in his early twenties?

Any research into dances on the London stage must be undertaken with caution. Even well into the 18th century we cannot be entirely sure who danced these choreographies, where, when or with whom. Nor can we always be sure what sort of dances they were. Durfey’s Massaniello has several dance numbers, some of which were serious, so was Blouzabella not as comic a dance as its title might suggest?

Le Menuet de la Cour

More than three years ago, I posted a piece on Le Menuet d’Espagne, a duet published in 1715 that I had recently performed. I meant to follow it with a series of posts on various aspects of the minuet, but I went on to other topics instead. A few months ago, I performed Le Menuet de la Cour, a choreography published in notation around 1780. This minuet is, arguably, one of the most famous ballroom dances ever created. It inspired many later versions (from duets to quadrilles and beyond) and, in essence, survived for over 150 years.

Le Menuet de la Cour began life as a piece of music in Grétry’s opera Céphale et Procris, first given at Versailles in 1773. The tune was then used by the choreographer Maximilien Gardel for a minuet danced in act 2 of his ballet-pantomime Ninette à la Cour, first performed before the French court in 1777. In that production, and when the ballet arrived on the London stage in 1781, it was danced by two of the Paris Opéra’s stars Gaëtan Vestris and Anne Heinel. Was the dance published in notation by Malpied the same as the stage duet? We don’t know.

This minuet is short, with 78 bars in all, including the opening 8-bar révérence. It has an ABAABA structure. The notated Menuet de la Cour is not an orthodox ballroom minuet, despite containing figures that are quickly recognisable as the taking of right hands, the taking of left hands and the taking of both hands to draw the dance to a close. The Z-figure is there too, but it is hinted at through choreographic elaborations in each of the two B sections. The A section has 8 bars of music, but the B section is unusual with its 19 bars, if you remember that all minuet steps take two bars of music in 3/4 time. There are minuet steps, but these occur only in the two B-sections. However, much use is made of the minuet ‘grace’ steps (included since at least the early 18th century).

I have danced Le Menuet de la Cour on three separate occasions, with three different partners, and it is only this third time that I have felt I was beginning to understand and properly perform the choreography. The music, at least in the version I danced to, is dynamic. To my mind, it lends itself to heightened style and technique which is grand and almost combative. The playfulness that lies within the choreography is less obvious, and perhaps should not be emphasized.

I won’t try to analyse the dance in detail, but here are two plates from the notation. The first shows the end of the first B-section, at the finish of the Z-figure. The sequence is a series of jettés battus (unusual in the context of a minuet) followed by the pas de Marcel.

Menuet de la Cour 4

Maximilien Gardel, Le Menuet de la Cour, notated Malpied [1780?], plate 4

The other follows the second Z-figure and has a series of jettés and assemblés, followed by chassés and then a full turn on both feet ending with an ouverture de jambe. None are steps to be expected in a minuet.

Menuet de la Cour 8

Maximilien Gardel, Le Menuet de la Cour, notated Malpied [1780?], plate 8

Both sequences are followed by the anomalous single bar, used for a rond-de-jambe by the left leg, transferring the weight to leave the right foot free to begin the next step.

Is the notated Menuet de la Cour a ballroom dance? Well, yes, it is. But it is an exhibition ballroom dance meant to display before a discerning audience the technical skills, refined style and sophistication of the couple performing it. The choreography is demanding, in keeping with its stage origin.

The Pas de Menuet and Its Timing

Between 1688 and 1787 more than twenty different sources provide information about how to dance the minuet. They give a variety of details and I am not going to work through all of them. My interest here is the pas de menuet, the step that defines the dance, and its musical timing. The pas de menuet has four steps to be performed over six musical beats, two bars of music in triple time. As the dance manuals make clear there were a number of different versions of the step and various solutions to the issue of timing.

For some reason, Feuillet did not include minuet steps in his first edition of Choregraphie in 1700. He added them to the second edition of 1701 in a ‘Supplément des Pas’, notating four different versions of the pas de menuet.

Pas de Menuet Feuillet (2)

Feuillet, Choregraphie, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1701), Supplément de Pas (detail)

Feuillet provides no information about the timing of the step. He did address musical timing in his ‘Traité de la Cadance’ at the beginning of his 1704 collection of ‘Entrées de Ballet’ by Guillaume-Louis Pecour. He didn’t include the pas de menuet among his examples.

In his Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister (1717), Gottfried Taubert describes the same four versions of the pas de menuet as Feuillet – the pas de menuet en un seul mouvement, the pas de menuet à la boëmienne, the pas de menuet en fleuret and the pas de menuet à trois mouvements. He discusses timing in some detail, preferring the pas de menuet à la boëmienne because it accords best with his notions of the relationship between the steps and the musical bars.

‘It begins with the bend on the upbeat or last quarter-note of the previous measure; the rise comes on the downbeat of the new measure, and, while the legs remain extended, the right foot steps forward; on the second beat the body holds steady in the raised position; on the third beat the first stiff step is taken with the left foot. On the first beat of the next measure, another stiff step is taken with the right foot, adding a very quick bend of the knees at the end; rise again on the second beat, and in doing so step forward with the left leg. On the upbeat there is another bend right away, with the right so placed as to connect this compound step with the next.’ [Translated by Tilden Russell, The Compleat Dancing Master. 2 vols. (New York, 2012), vol. 2, p. 526]

Taubert does not like the popular pas de menuet en fleuret, because it does not accord with his aesthetic-musical preferences. He grudgingly accepts a timing which gives the first demi-coupé to the first bar and the fleuret to the second.

In Le Maître a danser (1725), Pierre Rameau describes the pas de menuet à trois mouvements and the pas de menuet en fleuret (which he calls the pas de menuet à deux mouvements). He gives the timing for the latter.

‘… which is performed within the Compass of two Barrs of triple Time, one called the Cadence, and the other the Contre-Cadence. But for the better Apprehension, it may be divided into three equal Parts; the First for the first half Coupee, the Second for the Second, and the Third for the two Walks, which ought to take up no longer Time than a half Coupee: But in the last Walk it is to be observed, that the Heel be set down to be able to make a Sink to begin another Step. [Translated by John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728), p. 44]

Kellom Tomlinson wrote his treatise The Art of Dancing in the mid-1720s, although it was not published until 1735. He describes three pas de menuet: Feuillet’s pas de menuet à la boëmienne, with its demi-coupés at the beginning and the end, which he calls the ‘English Minuet Step’; the pas de menuet en fleuret, which he calls both the ‘French Minuet Step’ and the ‘New Minuet Step’; and the pas de menuet en trois mouvements. His timing for the pas de menuet en fleuret gives the first bar to the opening demi-coupé, with the rise on the first beat, lowering the heel but keeping the knees straight on the second beat and sinking on the third beat. The second bar is given to the fleuret, with the rise of the demi-coupé on the first beat, the second step on the second beat and the third step on the third beat. Tomlinson does not specify the timing of the sink preparatory to the first demi-coupé.

When he writes of the pas de menuet sideways to the right, Tomlinson prescribes the pas de menuet en fleuret, using the same timing as that travelling forwards. When he comes to the ‘Minuet Step of three Movements’ (which, confusingly, he also calls the ‘New Step’), Tomlinson sets out a different timing.

‘The Rising or Receiving the Weight upon the Toe or Instep marks the Time to the first Note of the three belonging to the first Measure; the second is in the Fall of the Heel and Sink which prepares for the second Step of the four belonging to the Minuet Step, which is made by stepping of the left Foot forwards, in the same Manner as the first; and the Rising or Receiving of the Body upon the Instep is to the third and last note of the first Measure. The third Step of the said four is made with the right Foot stepping a plain straight Step forwards upon the Toe to the first Note of the three in the second Measure; the second is in the coming down of the Heel of the said right Foot and Sink that prepares for the fourth and last Step which is with the left Foot, in stepping forwards from the Sink aforesaid; and the Rising or Receiving of the Weight upon the Toe is to the third Note of the second Measure of the Tune, concluding in the same Position from whence it begun …’ [Tomlinson, The Art of Dancing (London, 1735), p. 110]

In his own notated version of the ballroom minuet (plate U in the treatise), Tomlinson uses the pas de menuet à trois mouvements whenever the dancers are travelling to the left.

I promised not to look at every treatise on the minuet, but I will include just one more, Malpied’s Traité sur l’art de la danse, which gives a late 18th-century version of this long-lived duet. Towards the end of his text he turns to the minuet and provides not only his own notation of the ballroom minuet but also examples of the timing of the pas de menuet en fleuret (the only step he uses).

Pas de Menuet Malpied (2)

Malpied, Traité sur l’art de la danse (Paris, 1770?), p. 100

His timings for the pas de menuet are closely related to those of Rameau, although Malpied was writing some fifty years later.

I ought to mention that modern practitioners of the art of baroque dance interpret these various instructions in different ways. One area of divergence is the timing of the plié at the beginning of the first demi-coupé – is it on beat 6 of the preceding bar, or on the ‘and’ which precedes the first beat of the bar in which the pas de menuet begins?



In his Nouveau Recüeil de dance de bal et celle de ballet, a collection of dances by Guillaume-Louis Pecour, Gaudrau included nine ball dances. In his Preface, Gaudrau declared that they had been performed at the last ball given at Louis XIV’s favourite retreat Marly. The Nouveau Recüeil received permission to be printed in October 1712 and is generally agreed to have appeared in 1713.

The last ball at Marly must have taken place in the early months of 1711. Such entertainments were not given regularly there and the death of Louis XIV’s son Monseigneur, in April 1711, would have severely curtailed all court amusements for the rest of that year and beyond. In February 1712, the King suffered the double blow of the deaths of Monseigneur’s eldest son, then the Dauphin, and his Dauphine. These sad losses brought an end to all festivities for some time. Gaudrau would have been vividly aware of all of these unhappy events as he prepared the Nouveau Recüeil for publication, although there is no reference to them either in his preface or Pecour’s dedication of the collection to Louis XIV.

The Dauphine, Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie, had been a great favourite of the King from her first arrival at the French court in 1696. She revitalized the court with her high spirits and became well-known for her love of dancing.

Marie-Adelaide de Savoie

Pierre Gobert, Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie, Duchesse de Bourgogne, 1710

Were the nine ball dances (with which the collection begins) intended as a tribute to her? Several ball dances published in notation in the early 1700s were either named in her honour or dedicated to her. Among them is La Royalle, the very first choreography in the Nouveau Recüeil. Around 1725, when the dancing master Pierre Rameau included the dance in his Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode dans l’art d’écrire ou de traçer toutes sortes de danses de ville, he revealed that La Royalle had been created for Marie-Adélaïde. We may guess that she had actually danced it at that last ball given at Marly in 1711.

There may be another tribute enfolded within this choreography. The music for La Royalle, a saraband followed by a bourrée, is taken from Colasse’s Ballet des Saisons. Both pieces were originally by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The saraband comes from the 1665 Ballet de la Naissance de Vénus. This ballet de cour had first been performed in the apartments of Henriette d’Angleterre, known simply as Madame, the first wife of Louis’s brother Philippe. She had not only appeared in the ballet’s title role but had also danced in its final entrée as Roxane to Louis’s Alexander the Great. She and the King had enjoyed a notable dance partnership. Some years earlier, in 1661, Madame had appeared as Diana in Lully’s Ballet des Saisons. She had died, unexpectedly and aged only twenty-six, in 1671.

Henrietta Anne

Sir Peter Lely, Henriette Anne, Duchesse d’Orléans, 1662

Surely La Royalle was intended to honour both Madame and Marie-Adélaïde, who was her granddaughter and like Henriette Anne was greatly beloved for her beauty and charm.

La Royalle 1

Guillaume-Louis Pecour, La Royalle (Paris, c1713), first plate

We still have much to learn about the subtle allusions that lie within the elegant and sophisticated ball dances created for the court of Louis XIV and that of his successor Louis XV, Marie-Adélaïde’s son.


Famous French Ballroom Dances

Among the many ballroom dances published in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation in the early 1700s, eight choreographies have a claim to be famous. All were published in notation and recorded in manuscript collections numerous times. Almost all of them survived well beyond the first decades of the 18th century. All are by Guillaume-Louis Pecour and all were originally notated and published by Raoul Auger Feuillet. Whether or not these dances continued to be performed in the ballroom, they were known to dancing masters who went on teaching them long after the style and technique they exemplified had gone out of fashion.

These are the dances, with their first date of publication:

La Bourée d’Achille (1700)

La Bourgogne (1700)

La Forlana (1700)

La Mariée (1700)

Le Passepied (1700)

Aimable Vainqueur (1701)

L’Allemande (1702)

La Bretagne (1704)

Most were long-lived, but were they really that famous?

Two of these dances, Aimable Vainqueur and La Mariée, enjoyed extended lives on the London stage and I have looked at them in earlier posts. Five of the dances (including La Mariée) come from Feuillet’s very first collection of Pecour’s ballroom dances, published in 1700 alongside his treatise Choregraphie which explains the new notation system. That treatise and its associated collections of dances were reissued in 1709 and again in 1713. Significantly, these dances (together with the other three) were all included in Pierre Rameau’s Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode dans l’art de d’ecrire ou de traçer toutes sortes de danses de ville, first published in Paris around 1725 and intended to introduce his revised version of Beauchamp-Feuillet notation. Rameau’s Abbrégé was reissued around 1728 and again around 1732. The dances must have become more widely known through the successive reissues of both works.

Two of the dances, La Bourée d’Achille and La Bourgogne, may have had more limited afterlives than the others. Neither featured in later printed treatises and were recorded only in what are thought to be early manuscript collections of notated choreographies. Although La Bourgogne does appear in I.H.P. Maître de Danse oder Tantz-Meister published in Leipzig in 1705, indicating that it quickly became known outside France. It is interesting to note that both of the choreographies have become familiar to modern practitioners of baroque dance, as they are often taught to beginners.

Le Passepied and La Bretagne were published as late as 1760 in Madrid, within Pablo Minguet’s El Noble Arte de Danzar a la Francesa. Le Passepied had also been included in I. H. P. Maître de Danse oder Tantz-Meister, while La Bretagne appeared in the translations of Choregraphie issued in London by Siris and Weaver between 1706 and 1730. L’Allemande, which I have also mentioned in an earlier post, appeared as late as 1765 in Magny’s Principes de Choregraphie, alongside more recent dances. Magny provided it with new music, perhaps to bring it more up-to-date. The choreography with the longest life of all was La Forlana, published around 1780 in Paris in a new notation by Malpied.

These dances probably owed their fame and longevity to a variety of factors, including their music, their original performers, their associations with particular people or places and perhaps the desire of individual dancing masters to find favour in court circles. They underline Europe’s (including Britain’s) widespread and enduring fascination with French court culture and not least its expression through dancing. I hope to be able to say more about them, particularly within an English context, in future posts.


A Year of Dance: 1698

On 4 January 1698, Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire. Few of the buildings were left standing, apart from Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House (the only part of the palace to survive today). The disaster was less of a blow than it might have been, for most of the furnishings and movable objects were saved. The sprawling palace was not much loved by King William III, who preferred the more salubrious surroundings of Kensington Palace or Hampton Court. Plans to rebuild Whitehall Palace over the next few years came to nothing.

The visit of the Russian Czar, Peter the Great, between 11 January and 21 April, brought a different sort of chaos as the monarch was oblivious to the niceties of English court life. Abroad, Georg Ludwig succeeded his father as Elector of Hanover on 23 January 1698. His right of succession to the British throne was yet to be enshrined in law.

London’s theatres came under attack with the publication, in March 1698, of Jeremy Collier’s A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage. The effects of his diatribe were insidious and long-lasting. However, dance was (it seems) beyond Collier’s reach. The newspapers announced the arrival of Anthony L’Abbé who was ‘lately come over and Dances at the Play-house’. L’Abbé had swapped the Paris Opéra for London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre. He also danced before William III at Kensington Palace on 13 May 1698. His appearances marked the beginning of a long association with both the court and the theatre in England. November 1698 saw the first performance of John Dennis’s Rinaldo and Armida with music by John Eccles. Given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the piece was not a success although Eccles’s music was appreciated.

In 1698, Louis XIV turned sixty. He had been King of France for more than fifty-five years. This was the year that he signed the Treaty of the Hague (also called the First Partition Treaty) with William III in a vain attempt to settle the succession to the Spanish throne following the long-expected death of King Carlos II. Louis’s own son, the Grand Dauphin, had a claim through his mother who had been a Spanish Infanta. Louis set this aside, for the moment.

There was little of note at the Paris Opéra in 1698. Desmarets’s ballet Les Fêtes galantes, despite its title, bore no relation to Campra’s L’Europe galante, the great success of the previous year. Its complicated plot about the Queen of Naples and three princes all in love with her probably contributed to its failure.


Jean-Georges Noverre’s ballet Medea et Jason, first performed in 1763 in Stuttgart, reached the London stage in 1781 in a version by Gaëtan Vestris (who had danced Jason in Noverre’s original production). This ballet d’action falls well outside my usual areas of research, but my interest was stirred when I came across a playbill for a production which has been overlooked by most writers on Noverre and his work.

On 29 April 1790, the Royal Circus announced a programme which included ‘a Grand Spectacle, called Medea and Jason’. Despite the inclusion of another ‘Splendid Entertainment, called The Triumph of Liberty, or, the Destruction of the Bastille’, Medea and Jason is obviously meant to be the main draw. The playbill provides full details of the ‘Spectacle’ and I have tried to reproduce a flavour of the typography.


With the Overture and original Music composed by GLUCK.


Represents the remarkable PARTING between MEDEA and JASON,

When JASON quits that Sorceress, on his Marriage with CREUSA,


The SORCERY by which MEDEA’S FURIES prepared


By which CREUSA is kill’d, and the Palace FIRED,

The dreadful STORM and LOUD THUNDER, that accompany the


Through which MEDEA rides in a triumphant Car, with her two Children;

Her barbarous Murder of the Infants, in the Presence of, and just before



Creon, Signor ROSSI; Creusa, Signora SALA; and Medea, Mademoiselle De La CROIX.

The SCENES designed and executed by Mr. CAPON.’

Modern commentators have focussed on Medea and Jason’s expressive pantomime, which is seen as Noverre’s greatest innovation and a significant development for balletic art. However, Noverre’s scenario (as published in Paris in 1780, to accompany performances given under his direction) also describes a great deal of dramatic action. The production by Vestris at the King’s Theatre in 1781, which introduced the work to London, certainly included all the latter.

The Royal Circus (later to become the Surrey Theatre) had first opened in 1782 as a venue for equestrian shows as well as entertainments which offered singing and dancing within spectacular productions. It is hardly surprising that it was attracted by Medea and Jason’s melodramatic plot and scenic extravagances, both of which were likely to appeal to audiences far removed from the elite patrons at the King’s Theatre. The Royal Circus was probably more respectful of the ballet than the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, where a burlesque version of Medea and Jason was given between 1781 and 1785, billed as by ‘Signior Novestris’ (George Colman the elder) with ‘Music by Signior Gluck. With New Scenes, Dresses and Decorations. Machinist and Painter – Signor Rookereschi. Tailor – Signior Walkerino’.

It is tempting to describe Medea and Jason as tailor-made for the Royal Circus, except for the dancing. ‘Mr. Palmer’ was Jason. He may have been the fourteen-year-old son of a previous stage manager at the Royal Circus. Mlle De La Croix, as Medea, seems to have been a young newcomer to the London stage. In 1790, she appeared in the corps de ballet of the Italian Opera as well as at the Royal Circus. At the King’s Theatre, Gaëtan Vestris had appeared with Adelaide Simonet in the title roles – both were leading dancers in the serious style. The Royal Circus playbill makes no claims for the dancing, Medea and Jason is described as a ‘Beautiful Spectacle’ and not as a tragic ballet d’action.

The following illustration, so often reproduced alongside discussions of Medea and Jason, was intended as a satire on the ballet and perhaps gives a flavour of the alternative versions to be seen at the Royal Circus and the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.

Medea and Jason 1781

Francesco Bortolozzi after Nathaniel Dance. Jason et Medée. Ballet tragique. Acquatint (London, 1781)