Author Archives: moiragoff

Enjoying the Minuet ‘à Quatre’

About three years ago, I wrote some posts about dances for four. With the earlier ones, I speculated that they were more enjoyable than the danses à deux because they were less technically demanding. This very obviously applied to the minuets ‘à quatre’ of which five survive in notation.

Le Menuet à Quatre. Anonymous, 1706.

Minuet & Jigg. Mr Holt, 1711

Menuet à Quatre. Pecour, c1713

Minuet aquatre figuret. Pecour, [1700-1725? Manuscript collection compiled 1751]

La Carignan, Menuet à Quatre. Dezais, 1725

I discussed Mr Holt’s Minuet & Jigg back in 2015, so this time round I will look just at the four French choreographies.

Unlike the English dance, the French ones are all simply minuets using the pas de menuet pretty well throughout. Before I analyse each of them in more detail, here are some facts and figures for comparison.

The anonymous Menuet à Quatre appears in Feuillet’s Vme Recueil de danses de bal pour l’année 1707 published in 1706. It is the last of the three dances in that collection, the other two being danses à deux. The source of the music has not been identified, although it does appear in a set of ‘Suites de danses … qui se joüent ordinairement à tous les bals chez le Roy’ dated to the first decade of the 18th century. In his Avertissement for the collection, Feuillet says that the minuet is ‘si en vogue qu’il ne se fait aucune assemblée où il ne soit dansé’, adding that he has ‘pris le 1er air qui m’a tombé sous la main car tous les menuets y sont également bons’. The choreography has the musical structure AABBAAB (A=B=4) and is short, with only 28 bars in 6/4.

Pecour’s Menuet à Quatre appears in the Nouveau recüeil de dance de bal et celle de ballet published by Gaudrau around 1713. This collection brings together 9 ballroom dances and 30 theatre choreographies, with the Menuet à Quatre as the last but one of the ballroom dances. The musical source has not been identified. The choreography has the musical structure ABACABACA (A=B=C=8) giving a rondeau form and 36 bars in 6/4 (the music is written in 3). Again, this dance is short. In his Preface to the collection, Gaudrau tells us that Pecour’s choreography was danced at the last ball at Marly (Louis XIV’s country retreat, where the King could relax away from the rigorous etiquette of Versailles).

Dezais includes La Carignan, Menuet à Quatre in his Premier livre de contredances published in 1725. Little or no research has been done on this collection (which does not feature either in the Little & March 1992 catalogue La Danse Noble or Lancelot’s La Belle Dance of 1996) so I cannot tell whether there is a concordance for the music. This choreography uses a musical structure 3 x AABB (A=B=4). At 48 bars of 6/4 music it is a little longer than its predecessors.

The Minuet aquatre figuret by Pecour is recorded in the manuscript compiled by the dancing master Felix Kinski in Oporto in 1751. It appears among other French ballroom choreographies, presumably brought together (and taught) by Kinski. This minuet for four is very different from the others. The choreography’s music, for which no source has been identified, has the structure 7 x AABB + AA (A=8 B=16) with 120 bars in 6/4 (the music is written in 3). The dance has a ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure very much like a cotillon. As I mentioned in posts back in 2014, the form of the cotillon goes back at least as far as 1705 and Feuillet’s ballroom dance for four entitled Le Cotillon. Such dances seem to have been popular around 1715-1725, so perhaps Pecour’s choreography belongs to that period.

What do these facts and figures tell us? The evidence confirms a couple of things. One is that menuets à quatre were danced at French royal balls and were popular lower down the social scale. Another is that, like the menuet à deux, they could be danced to any minuet music (though, perhaps, the A, B and, sometimes, C strains needed to be the right length).

I will address other questions in later posts, for example how the menuets à quatre relate to the menuet à deux as recorded by Pierre Rameau in his 1725 treatise Le Maître a danser and how they relate to each other.

Anon Menuet a Quatre 1

Anonymous. Le Menuet à Quatre (Paris, 1706), First plate.

The Rise and Fall of the Grand Dance on the London Stage

A couple of months ago, I took a first look at the Grand Ballet, Grand Dance and Serious Dance, wondering what these generic titles might mean when came to the actual dancing. Before I try to investigate them in more detail, I thought it would be interesting to see if there was a changing pattern to their appearance in entr’acte entertainments in London’s theatres during the first few decades of the 18th century.

Over the first 20 years, the Grand Dance and the Serious Dance were billed infrequently. The Serious Dance was usually a duet and so not a ‘Grand’ dance at all. The same is true for the 1720s, although from the 1726-1727 season the Grand Ballet was also billed very occasionally. During the early 1730s, the Grand Dance and Grand Ballet rarely appeared in advertisements, but from 1734-1735 this changed. There was a steady increase in billings, culminating in 1739-1740 with over 70 mentions of a Grand Ballet, Grand Dance or group Serious Dance among the entr’acte dances given at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Thereafter there was a steady decline, although some seasons (1742-1743 and 1744-1745) went against the trend. From the late 1740s until the 1759-1760 season very few ‘Grand’ or ‘Serious’ dances were mentioned in the bills.

I have been focussing my research on the period up to 1760, so I have not really explored the last few decades of the 18th century. However, it is worth noting that according to the Index to the London Stage the Grand Ballet more or less disappears during the 1760s but returns in the 1770s and 1780s before disappearing again. The Grand Dance is advertised from time to time during the 1760s, is billed more often in the 1770s and becomes a feature in the 1780s and 1790s. The Serious Dance (in what forms I don’t know) continues into the early 1770s before disappearing altogether. I am tempted to suggest that these changes were driven by developments in stage dancing elsewhere, particularly in Paris, where ballets were being given independently of opera and drama. Such dance works were brought to London by the many continental dancers and choreographers hired, not least by the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket (London’s opera house). Further research is certainly needed before we can be sure what was happening.

For the earlier period, the drivers of the increase in ‘Grand’ dances seem to have been in part the visiting foreign dancers, many of whom were extremely popular with audiences. The commercial rivalry between the two principal theatres, which waxed and waned, also affected their dance repertoire. In a later post, I will take a look at the seasons around 1740 to see if these shed any light on the phenomenon of the Grand Dance.

 

The Origins of the Pas de Zephyr: One Dancer or More?

In my last post about the pas de Zephyr, I suggested that there were four contenders for the professional male dancer who may have originated the step or the enchainement from which the social dance step took its name – André Deshayes, Louis Duport, Charles-Louis Didelot and Monsieur Albert. As I also said, there are a number of issues to consider as I try to answer the question of who was responsible, if the pas de Zephyr can indeed be traced to a single dancer.

There are at least six descriptions of the step in social dance manuals. Three of these are English – Payne (1818), Strathy (1822) and Mason (1827). Two are French – Gourdoux-Daux (1823) and Albert (1834). One is Italian – Costa (1831). It is interesting that there are a number of English treatises, although it seems likely that the earliest description of the pas de Zephyr is in fact French. It could have appeared in either the first treatise by Gourdoux Daux, Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse published in 1804, or its second edition published in 1811, neither of which I have yet been able to consult. However, might the inclusion of the step in English treatises suggest that the dancer (whoever he was) also appeared as Zephyr on the London stage?

All the treatises are, of course, for amateurs and dancing in the ballroom. Apart from the fact that the stage version of the pas de Zephyr would have had to be simplified for performance by amateur dancers, there is also the question of appropriate style. Strathy devotes much space to the variations appropriate for what he calls ‘Balancer, or to Set to your Partner’ (for which his recommended steps include the pas de Zephyr). Before he does so, he emphasises the importance of a ‘gliding smoothness of execution’, however difficult the steps. Strathy also refers to ‘that easy, dignified and engaging manner, which never fails to distinguish a polite person’ and ‘the importance of a genteel and prepossessing deportment of the person’. In the early 19th-century ballroom, style was as important as technique and the latter should never undermine the former.

So, there are at least three issues to consider in identifying the dancer responsible for inspiring the addition of the pas de Zephyr to those steps deemed suitable for the ballroom. The first is the period during which each dancer appeared as Zephyr, which must allow time for the stage step to be seen, admired, transformed and adopted in the ballroom before it was recorded in treatises. The second is whether the dancer appeared in both London and Paris. The third is the dancer’s performance style and how it interacted with their virtuosity (all four dancers were highly technically accomplished).

At this point, I think it is possible to discount Didelot, at least as a performer. Although he spent much of his earlier career in London, he appeared relatively little in Paris. He was the eldest of the four dancers by some years, and so is perhaps less likely to have influenced dancing masters around 1800. In any case, his style (that of a demi-caractère dancer) would not have recommended itself to teachers of social dancing. On the other hand, he did create Zéphire et Flore – the most famous of the Zephyr ballets – which may have been a work within which the pas de Zephyr drew particular attention.

Monsieur Albert almost certainly appeared too late to be the originator of the pas de Zephyr, since he was only engaged at the Paris Opéra from 1808 and did not dance in London until the 1820s. His style was undoubtedly worth emulating, so perhaps he contributed to the continued popularity of the pas de Zephyr in the ballroom.

It seems to me that the two dancers most likely to have caught the imagination of audiences with their versions of the pas de Zephyr are André Deshayes and Louis Duport. Both were closely identified with the role of Zephyr and both appeared in London as well as Paris. Deshayes spent more time in London, whereas Duport was more famous in Paris. Deshayes was as famed for his style as his virtuosity, which made him a model for aspirant ballroom dancers. Duport allowed his legendary skill to run away with him on many occasions, which must have made his tours de force hard to forget. So, could they each have contributed towards the adoption of this step in their different ways? The watercolour in which both dancers have been separately identified underlines the difficulty of choosing between them.

Zephyr Deshayes or Duport

Scene from Gardel’s Le Retour de Zéphire? Undated watercolour by an anonymous artist.

If I have to choose, I would settle on Deshayes – for his style as much as for his fame as Zephyr. However, perhaps what really mattered were the various Zephyr ballets, irrespective of who danced the title role. The vocabulary deployed by all four men, and indeed other dancers who played Zephyr, probably made use of a similar range of steps intended to make the danseur noble appear to fly. Who would not want to feel as if they were as elegantly airborne when dancing as one of the ballet’s great stars, even within the confines of the ballroom?

The Origins of the Pas de Zephyr: Dancers

In my search for the source of the social dance step the pas de Zephyr, I looked briefly at the ballets featuring the character Zephyr from the 1640s to the 1810s. As the step apparently first appears in early 19th-century dance manuals, it makes most sense to focus on ballets from the 1790s to the early 1800s. Who among the leading male dancers of that time might have performed the step or enchainement that inspired the pas de Zephyr?

There are just a handful of candidates. In Gardel’s Psyché (Paris, 1790), Zephyr was created by Louis Laborie but danced in later revivals by André Deshayes, Louis-Antoine Duport and Monsieur Albert. Deshayes may have danced as Zephyr in Gardel’s Le Jugement de Paris (Paris, 1793). He certainly took the title role in Gardel’s Le Retour de Zéphire (Paris, 1802). In 1806, Duport created his own divertissement L’Hymen de Zéphire, ou Le Volage fixé giving himself the title role. Didelot danced Zephyr in his own Zéphire et Flore (London, 1796). When the ballet was finally given in Paris in 1815, Albert appeared as Zephyr. So, there are four main contenders – André Deshayes, Louis-Antoine Duport, Charles-Louis Didelot and Monsieur Albert, for all of whom Zephyr was a significant role.

A watercolour of the early 1800s is widely agreed to depict a male dancer as Zephyr, although he has been variously identified as Deshayes and Duport.

Zephyr Deshayes or Duport

Scene from Gardel’s Le Retour de Zéphire? Undated watercolour by an anonymous artist.

André Deshayes (1777-1846) trained as a dancer at the Paris Opéra school, joining the company in 1794 and becoming a principal dancer in 1795. Deshayes danced in London in 1800 and again from 1804 to 1811. His success in Gardel’s Psyché was such that the choreographer created the one-act divertissement Le Retour de Zéphire specially for him. The piece was intended to celebrate the return of Deshayes to the stage following a long absence due to injury. His dancing was described in the review accorded Gardel’s ballet in the Mercure de France for 3 March 1802:

‘And let us not forget Zephyr himself, the god of the festivity, whose slender figure, interesting features and graceful movements delight the audience, and who, through the elegance of his attitudes and smoothness of his dancing, seems to make up for what he lacks perhaps in strength.’ (Translation by Ivor Guest in his Ballet under Napoleon).

Deshayes returned to London again in 1821, as a choreographer as well as a dancer, staying there until his retirement in 1842.

Louis Duport (1781 or 1783-1853) made his debut at the Paris Opéra in 1797, quickly becoming one of the company’s leading dancers. He did not come to London until 1819, making just the one visit before he retired from the stage in 1820. Duport seems to have made a speciality of the role of Zephyr. Apart from his appearances in Gardel’s Psyché and his own L’Hymen de Zéphire, he also danced the role in Gardel’s Le Retour de Zéphire in Paris in 1803 as well as in Didelot’s Zéphire et Flore when that ballet was given in St. Petersburg in 1808. In the context of this post, ‘Le Pas de Zéphir, de M. Duport’ advertised, apparently as a solo, as part of a performance given in 1816 by the Casorti family, is of particular interest.

Pas de Zephyr Poster

The poster is reproduced in Marian Hannah Winter, The Pre-Romantic Ballet

Duport’s dancing as Zephyr was hailed by one critic as ‘the Zephyr depicted by the poets, barely touching the ground in his rapid flight’. The writer went on to praise:

‘The suppleness of his movements, his precision in the most difficult steps, the unbelievable boldness of his pirouettes, in which Duport has perhaps no equal for the perfection and finish of their execution …’ (Translation by Ivor Guest in his Ballet under Napoleon)

Duport was famed for taking virtuosity to new extremes.

Charles-Louis Didelot (1767-1837) belonged to an earlier generation. Born in Stockholm, where he received his earliest training, by 1776 he was studying in Paris with leading teachers. Although he began dancing at the Paris Opéra as early as 1783, Didelot did not make his official debut there until 1791. Before then, he had danced in Stockholm, London and Bordeaux. He returned to London, as both choreographer and dancer, from 1796 to 1801 and again from 1811 to 1816. He had spent the intervening years in St Petersburg, returning there in 1816 and remaining for the rest of his career. Didelot was a demi-caractère rather than a serious dancer, lacking the elegant physique required of the latter, although the role he created in his own Zéphire et Flore would become a vehicle for leading danseurs nobles.

Monsieur Albert (François Decombe, 1787-1865) was engaged to dance at the Paris Opéra from 1808, dancing Zephyr in Didelot’s Flore et Zéphire when the ballet was first given in Paris in 1815. During the 1820s he danced at London’s King’s Theatre, where his first major work Cendrillon was given in 1822. Albert danced as the prince, a role he repeated when the ballet was given at the Paris Opéra the following year. He was also a teacher, with a reputation for improving the training of those destined to be professional dancers as technical demands changed. Albert taught amateurs as well as professionals – his L’art de la danse à la ville et à la cour was published in Paris in 1834. He included the pas de Zephyr among the steps he suggested for the quadrille, in a version very different from all the others. Albert’s pas de Zephyr is an enchainement not a single step and he does not include the beat around the ankle which is a feature of some other versions. Albert’s dancing was described by his much younger contemporary Auguste Bournonville:

‘The word “gentlemanlike” fully decribes Albert’s demeanour as a dancer: noble, vigorous, gallant, modest, ardent, friendly, gay, but seldom inspired. He won the applause of the connoisseurs but failed to move the masses …’ (Translation by Patricia MacAndrew in her edition of Bournonville’s My Theatre Life)

Monsieur Albert Alcides

Print after F. Waldek. Monsieur Albert in the role of Alcide (London, 1821)

So, which of these male stars of the dance created the pas de Zephyr – if indeed any of them did? The answer to this question raises a few more issues, which I will explore in my next post as I weigh up the evidence.

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.

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.