Category Archives: Ballroom Dancing

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.

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The Menuet à Quatre: Figures

In my last post about the four French notated menuets à quatre, I promised to look at the figures. How do these differ between the choreographies? Where are they the same? How do they relate to the ballroom menuet à deux? These are just some of the questions to be asked.

An obvious first question is – how do each of these minuets for four begin? Presumably they all open with a révérence, although none of the notations show this. Perhaps the révérence took the same form as in the minuet for a couple, who honour the presence and then each other. In the case of the menuet à quatre, the first honour would therefore be to the facing couple. Or were the honours reversed, as they are in the later quadrille, so the first révérence is to your own partner and the second to your opposite? In any case, all four dances begin with the two couples facing each other.

Only two of the dances begin in the same way. The very first plates of the 1706 Menuet à Quatre and the 1751 Menuet aquatre figuret show the dancers performing two pas de menuet forwards and two backwards. In his Menuet à Quatre of c1713, Pecour has his couples moving sideways to the left, moving forwards to cross (right shoulders) on a diagonal and curling round to face one another again. His figure is an obvious allusion to the ‘Z’ figure of the ballroom minuet. Although the ‘Z’ figure is also referenced in the other choreographies, Pecour’s version in this dance is the most straightforward. Dezais begins La Carignan with a contredanse figure, in which each dancer casts out and then changes places with their partner.

How do these dances end? In both his Menuet à Quatre of c1713 and his Menuet aquatre figuret, Pecour has his dancers moving forwards and then backwards to end in a final révérence. In the earlier dance, they balancé forwards and back, do two pas de menuet backwards and their final coupé soutenue (which is on opposite feet) brings them together. His later choreography is simpler. The dancers do two pas de menuet forwards, one backwards and also move towards one another on the final coupé soutenue. The 1706 Menuet à Quatre has the dancers, in couples, taking inside hands and crossing (left shoulders) on a diagonal before sweeping around to return to place for the final révérence. The figure alludes to the minuet’s ‘Z’ figure but seems closer to a contredanse figure. Dezais draws on the final figure of the ballroom minuet, with his couples each taking both hands to end La Carignan, although they do so for only one pas de menuet before letting go with their outside hands for one pas de menuet forwards and one backwards before the final step into the révérence.

Taking right hands, taking left hands and taking both hands all feature in these dances for four, but transmuted into their contredanse counterparts. The 1706 Menuet à Quatre has a right hand and a left hand moulinet as well as a rond with all the dancers holding hands. Pecour’s c1713 Menuet à Quatre adds variations when taking right and left hands, for the ladies have to wait for the opposite man to cross the set to take right hands  and the men then have to wait for their partners to do the same before taking left hands. The plate for the rond shows the dancers only taking inside hands with their opposite, although each couple ends in their original place. Apart from briefly taking both hands in the final figure, Dezais’s dancers do only a right hand moulinet. He dispenses entirely with any equivalent of taking left hands.

In his Menuet aquatre figuret, Pecour runs through all the various permutations on taking hands, but this dance is a cotillon so perhaps they should be seen as changes and not as minuet figures at all. Working in couples, his dancers take right hands then left hands. After a repeat of the figure, they take both hands to move first clockwise and then anti-clockwise. The notation then has another circling figure, with a notation for taking hands that I have not seen before and cannot readily interpret.

Pecour Minuet aquatre figuret 34 detail

Pecour, Menuet aquatre figuret (notated 1751), plate 34 (detail).

Are the couples holding hands behind their backs or could this be an allemande hold? The notation for the latter is quite different in Pecour’s L’Allemande of 1702, the dance in which the hold was first recorded.

Pecour Allemande 2

Pecour, L’Allemande (1702), plate 2

Pecour then brings the four dancers together for a right hand and left hand moulinet. They all hold hands in a circle to dance clockwise and then anti-clockwise. As a final flourish, he makes them all face outwards for a rond clockwise and then anti-clockwise. This last change must have needed a bit of practice.

None of the choreographers of these minuets for four entirely loses sight of the ballroom minuet for a couple, but all have more than half an eye on contredanse figures. On the evidence of these notations, the menuet à quatre retained the challenge of the pas de menuet, but put it in a context that relinquished the ordeal of scrutiny by the assembled company in favour of the relaxed pleasure of dancing with them.

The Menuet à Quatre: Steps

What can we learn from a more detailed scrutiny of the four menuets à quatre surviving in notation? The first question to ask is do they bear any relation to the ballroom minuet? I’ll begin my answer with the steps.

The anonymous Menuet à Quatre of 1706 uses pas de menuet à deux mouvements throughout most of the dance. These travel forwards in all but one of the figures, in which the step moves sideways to the left. Although, in three figures, the final pas de menuet ends with two steps backwards. The dance concludes with coupé soutenue en arrière into a révérence. after the music ends.

Pecour’s Menuet à Quatre of around 1713 uses both the pas de menuet à deux mouvements and the pas de menuet à trois mouvements. The latter are used only when travelling sideways to the left. Pecour occasionally adds ornaments – a battu after the first step of the pas de menuet in one case and a three-quarter turn on the third step in another. His final figure begins with pas balancé forwards and backwards and ends with a pas de bourrée and coupé soutenue into the final révérence.

In La Carignan in 1725, Dezais uses both pas de menuet à deux mouvements and pas de menuet à trois mouvements. The latter are used only when travelling sideways to the left. He adds pas balancés to several figures, forward and back (ornamented with a battu) and side to side. His final step uses a coupé plus coupé soutenue for the man and coupé plus pas de bourrée for the woman, taking both dancers into a révérence.

The Menuet aquatre figuret, attributed to Pecour when it was written down in 1751, uses pas de menuet à deux mouvements throughout (even when travelling to the left – as does the 1706 Menuet à Quatre). It ends with coupé and coupé soutenue for the man and pas de bourrée with coupé soutenue for the woman, into the closing révérence.

All these dances follow the conventions of the ballroom minuet, at least so far as the steps are concerned. They do, of course, use a narrower range of steps than the latter. Perhaps this should be expected in dances where the figures, or at least the ever-changing spatial relationships between the dancers, are more complex than in the danse à deux. What about the figures in these dances for four? I’ll make that the subject of my next post.

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 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?

Dances on the London Stage: L’Allemande

Guillaume-Louis Pecour’s ballroom duet L’Allemande was first published in notation in Paris in 1702. It had originally been performed by Claude Ballon and Marie-Thérèse Subligny in the ballet Fragments de Mr de Lully that same year.

Allemande Pecour

Pecour. L’Allemande (Feuillet, 1702), first plate

Its ensuing popularity was such that it was published again by Pierre Rameau in his revised version of Beauchamps-Feuillet notation within his Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode in 1725, alongside other much-loved ballroom duets. L’Allemande was also included in the second and third editions of Rameau’s treatise, published around 1728 and 1732. Magny included the dance in his Principes de choregraphie, published in Paris in 1765. This marked its last appearance in notation, for which Magny had given the dance a different tune. In her catalogue of surviving French dance notations, La Belle Dance, Francine Lancelot notes several manuscript versions of the duet some of which vary from the original.

With such a popular choreography, it is perhaps surprising that no dance with the title L’Allemande was (apparently) advertised by London’s theatres until 2 January 1735, when Mlle Chateauneuf gave it as a solo at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. When she returned to London for the 1739-1740 season, this time appearing at Drury Lane, she reprised her solo L’Allemande. The following season, again at Drury Lane, she was advertised with the dancer Muilment in a duet entitled L’Allemande. The dance was obviously very popular, for it was given in the entr’actes more than 20 times between 30 September 1740 and 5 May 1741. There is no evidence to tell us what sort of dance either the solo or the duet L’Allemande were, but could the latter have been Pecour’s famous choreography of nearly 40 years earlier? Both Mlle Chateauneuf and Muilment had been described as ‘lately arriv’d from Paris’ on their first appearances at Drury Lane, on 13 September 1739 and 18 November 1736 respectively, so they are likely to have encountered the dance there. If it wasn’t Pecour’s L’Allemande, then the duet given in London must surely have included what became known as the ‘allemande’ hold, in which the two dancers interlace arms behind their backs for some sequences of steps. This was a particular feature of Pecour’s choeography, depicted in the 1702 notation because of its novelty.

Allemande Hold Pecour

Pecour, L’Allemande (Feuillet, 1702), second plate (detail)

When the allemande re-emerged in the 1760s, as a contredanse (a type of cotillon) and then a duet, this arm-hold was still much used.

There seems to be no particular reason for the billing of an allemande in London’s theatres during the 1730s and 1740s. The dance was, presumably, part of Mlle Chateauneuf’s repertoire and became popular with audiences when she introduced it to London.

There were a number of other allemande dances on the London stage around the same period, some of which may have been trying to capitalise on Mlle Chateauneuf’s success. Two were given at benefit performances for the dancers concerned: La Pantomime de Suisse et D’Alemande performed by the ‘French Boy and Girl’ at Covent Garden on 13 May 1740; and a ‘Comic Dance call’d L’Allemande’ given by Picq and Sga Campioni at the same theatre on 18 April 1745. There was a ‘New Dance call’d Les Allemands Joyeux’ given by Lalauze and Mlle Auguste at Covent Garden a handful of times during the 1741-1742 season, which sounds like dancing Germans rather than a purportedly German dance. And what was the ‘New Grand Ballet called Les Allemandes’ performed by Cooke and Sga Campioni with supporting dancers at Covent Garden several times during the 1745-46 season? Following this ‘Grand Ballet’, the allemande was not to return to the London stage until the 1767-1768 season, when the entirely new dances entitled ‘allemande’ had become the rage.

 

 

Returning to Dance in History

I realise, to my surprise and dismay, that it is eight weeks since my last post on Dance in History. September was a busy month, with two performances (and corresponding rehearsals) and then in October I seized the opportunity of a (modern) dance holiday. All this was good fun and gave me opportunities to sample dancing outside my usual areas – an early 19th-century waltz, incorporating a short ‘petit ballet’, in September and some classical sequence dancing in October.

The waltz highlighted the links between the social dancing of the early 1800s and what we now define, too simply and narrowly, as ‘ballet’. Over the years, I’ve been much criticised in UK historical dance circles for my ballet background, but it has been invaluable to the baroque dance I have done and, now, for the social dancing of the following century. I can’t help thinking that more attention to the basics of what we call ballet would improve the technique and the enjoyment of historical dancers today as they learn the social dances of the past.

The sequence dancing showed how dance always holds its own history within it, whether as steps, figures or other dance conventions. Closer attention to this in modern forms of popular dancing (other than the ubiquitous ‘folk’ dancing, which is all too dominant in the UK historical dance world) may well reveal some surprising relationships and lineages as well as unsuspected survivals. My foray into classical sequence (I hope to do more) underlined how important it is to explore a range of modern social dancing alongside the historical repertoire.

I should have a bit more time over the coming months to write for Dance in History. I’m even hoping to persuade a guest contributor to write a post for me. There are plenty of dance topics to explore and I have a long list of ideas to work through.