Following my recent detailed analysis of the 1725-1726 theatrical season on the London stage, I thought I should return to my A Year of Dance series and add 1726. (I wrote about 1725 quite some time ago). Politically, this seems to have been a quieter year than 1725.
In France in June, Louis XV appointed his old tutor André-Hercule de Fleury as his chief minister. Fleury was created a cardinal in September 1726. The previous spring, the poet and writer Voltaire had arrived in England for two years of exile from France following a second period of imprisonment in the Bastille. He quickly learned English, honing his language skills by regular visits to London’s theatres. During his stay he was to meet Alexander Pope, John Gay and Jonathan Swift, among others.
In England, 1726 was marked by the death of the architect and dramatist Sir John Vanbrugh on 26 March, followed by that of the scourge of London’s theatres Jeremy Collier on 26 April, whose A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage published in 1698 had attacked Vanbrugh among other leading playwrights. Towards the end of the year, George I’s former wife Sophia Dorothea of Celle died. Their marriage had been dissolved following her adultery in 1694 and she had been imprisoned in her native Celle for more than twenty years. 1726 also saw the publication of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (‘Lilliputians’ would in due course become a popular feature on the London stage), as well as the ‘rabbit’ hoax by Mary Toft which fascinated and bamboozled many over the autumn.
In the wider context for these posts, the most significant theatrical event of 1726 in London was the new pantomime at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Apollo and Daphne given on 14 January, which brought Francis and Marie Sallé back to the London stage after an absence of several years and reintroduced them to audiences as adult dancers. It answered Drury Lane’s 1725 Apollo and Daphne pantomime, which was revised and revived in reply. This small painting by the Italian artist Michele Rocca probably dates to the early 18th century.
There was also Italian opera at the King’s Theatre, with two new operas by Handel – Scipione on 12 March and Alessandro on 5 May. The Italian soprano Faustina Bordoni made her debut as Rossane in Alessandro, with Francesca Cuzzoni as Lisaura and Senesino in the title role.
In Paris, Destouches’s opéra-ballet Les Stratagèmes de l’Amour (composed to celebrate the marriage of Louis XV and Marie Leszczyńska the previous year) was given at the Paris Opéra on 28 March. The dancers included Françoise Prévost and David Dumoulin – she led the Troyennes in the first divertissement in Entrée I, while he led the Matelots in the second divertissement, and they danced together as Esclaves (with sixteen other dancers) in Entrée III. Rebel’s tragédie en musique Pyrame et Thisbé had its first performance on 17 October. David Dumoulin and Mlle Prévost also danced in this production, leading the Egyptiens (with Blondy) in act two and the Bergers and Bergères in act three.
No dances were published in notation this year. The last of the Paris collections had appeared in 1725, while in England the series of new dances ‘For the Year’ by Anthony L’Abbé had already ceased to be annual. It would resume in 1727 and continue, with occasional gaps, until 1733.
I have recently been working on Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet and I thought I would look more closely at the two different versions of this solo that survive in notation. One was published by Edmund Pemberton, who gives it the subtitle ‘A New Dance for a Girl’, while the other survives in a manuscript version by Kellom Tomlinson. They differ enough from one another to be thought of as two dances rather than two versions of the same dance. There is another solo minuet for a female dancer, Mr Isaac’s Minuet, which was published by Pemberton in 1711 and is clearly linked to both versions of the Slow Minuet. I will mention this third dance from time to time.
Mr. Caverley’s Slow Minuet ‘A New Dance for a Girl’ was among the series of notated ball dances published by Edmund Pemberton between 1715 and 1733. The notation is undated and has been ascribed to 1729, a date I accepted when I wrote about Pemberton in 1993 (references to the sources I have used are given at the end of the post). However, fresh examination of the dance notation suggests that it was probably notated and engraved much earlier. The title page (with its mention of ‘Mr. Firbank’ as the composer of the tune) was also used for the anonymous solo La Cybelline – another ‘New Dance for a Girl’ – but has clearly been altered for Caverley’s dance. La Cybelline was published in 1719, so the Slow Minuet might have appeared around the same time. However, there is another piece of evidence which might place the work of engraving the dance a few years earlier. The dance notation is densely laid out, mainly because Pemberton would have wanted to save on the cost of paper for printing by fitting it into four pages. The engraving is somewhat rough and ready, reminiscent of the first dances that Pemberton published independently after he stopped working for the music publisher John Walsh in 1715. Could the Slow Minuet have been the first dance notation that Pemberton produced himself and then re-issued with a new title page at a later date? Both Caverley and Isaac were keen proponents of the new art of dance notation, so Caverley could have favoured Pemberton with a dance just as Isaac had done a few years earlier. Here is the title page alongside the first plate of Pemberton’s version of Caverley’s Slow Minuet.
The manuscript version of the solo, titled ‘The Slow Minnitt: by Mr: Caverley:’ was transcribed by Kellom Tomlinson into his WorkBook, along with other notes and dances. The WorkBook was discovered in New Zealand and published in facsimile in 1992, edited by the dancer and dance historian Jennifer Shennan. Tomlinson was apprenticed to Thomas Caverley between 1707 and 1714 and would go on to publish several of his own dances in notation between 1715 and 1720. His version of the Slow Minuet is undated but probably belongs to the period of his apprenticeship – the WorkBook contains material which can be dated from 1708 to 1721. Tomlinson’s notation is actually more assured than Pemberton’s (he had fewer restrictions as to paper and gives a separate page to each section of the dance). His notational style differs from Pemberton’s (a topic to which I will return). Some of the differences between the two versions are discussed and analysed by Jennifer Shennan in her introduction to the facsimile. Here are the first two pages of Tomlinson’s notation.
The other dance I have mentioned is the Minuet by Mr Isaac, published in notation within Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing in 1711. It follows Isaac’s Chacone and, in his Preface, Pemberton says that Isaac had ‘oblig’d’ him with ‘a single Dance’ suggesting that the two were meant to be performed together as one choreography. The same collection has Pecour’s solo forlana for a woman (titled a ‘Jigg’) and a solo version of Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passacaille’ originally choreographed as a duet for two professional female dancers to music from Lully’s opera Armide. Pemberton’s 1711 collection was published by John Walsh. Here are the first two plates of Isaac’s Minuet.
It is worth adding that Thomas Caverley and Mr Isaac were near contemporaries. Isaac (whose real name was Francis Thorpe, as I discovered some years ago when I was researching Jerome Francis Gahory) was perhaps born around 1650 and was buried early in 1721. Thomas Caverley’s birth date has been given variously as 1641, 1648 or 1651, although he may have been born as late as 1658 or 1659. He lived much longer than Isaac for he died in 1745. Isaac, of course, was a royal dancing master – described by John Essex in the ‘English’ Preface to his translation of Rameau, The Dancing-Master (1728), as ‘the prime Master in England for forty Years together’. Essex wrote of Caverley as ‘the first Master in teaching young Ladies to dance’, a reputation which explains the publication of his Slow Minuet.
The two versions of Caverley’s Slow Minuet each use different music. In Pemberton’s version the tune is attributed to the dancing master Charles Fairbank, whereas Tomlinson’s music is anonymous. The solos are different lengths too. Pemberton’s music has the time signature 3 and four AABB repeats (A=B=8). The dance notation has 6 beats to the bar, so each pas composé takes two musical bars in accordance with the usual convention for minuets. Tomlinson also writes his music with a time signature of 3 but his has five AABB repeats (A=B=8). His notation has three beats to each dance bar, although he writes some steps over two bars with liaison lines to make clear that they are single pas composés. Pemberton’s Slow Minuet has 128 bars of music, while Tomlinson’s has 160.
An analysis of both notations reveals that, although these closely related choreographies are minuets, much of their vocabulary consists in demi-coupés, coupés and pas de bourée. The pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet are used mainly in the third repeat of the AA and again in the fourth AA. Tomlinson uses these steps additionally in his fifth and final AA and final B section.
Both choreographies begin with a sequence of two demi-coupés forwards and two backwards, followed by a coupé – pas de bourée sequence repeated six times. This fills the first AA and, it seems, sets out Caverley’s intention of teaching the minuet not through the conventional step vocabulary of that dance but through its building blocks. He uses these to introduce the girl to the rhythmic variety possible within the steps of this formal dance, among other ideas, as well as to provide a technical foundation. This approach is evidenced elsewhere in both versions of the Slow Minuet. In the third plate of Pemberton’s notation the pas de menuet à trois mouvements with a demi-jeté on the final step is introduced, and in the fourth plate there are pas de menuet à deux mouvements which begin on both the right and the left foot. In his third AA, Tomlinson uses the pas de menuet à deux mouvements, but in his fourth and fifth AA sections he turns to the pas de menuet used by Isaac in his Minuet (in The Art of Dancing, Tomlinson calls this the ‘English Minuet Step’). This is, essentially, a fleuret followed by a jeté and can be seen in the plates from Isaac’s Minuet shown above. This hints at a link between the choreographies and, perhaps, the teaching of both Isaac and Caverley.
Another such hint is provided by a pas composé used in Pemberton’s version of the Slow Minuet. This takes two bars of music and all the steps are linked together by liaison lines. I find such compound steps difficult to break down into their component parts, but this one may be analysed as a variant on the pas de bourée, incorporating an emboîté and ending with a pas plié, followed by two coupés avec ouverture de jambe. A slightly different version of the step is found in Isaac’s Minuet, with jetés-chassés instead of the coupés. Here are the two steps in notation for comparison. First Pemberton’s, from his fourth plate – without being able to examine an original notation it is not possible to be certain, but the initial emboîté shows the foot position on the balls of the feet.
Next Isaac’s, from his third plate – the dots showing the emboîté on the balls of the feet are clear.
Both Pemberton and Tomlinson use a variety of figures, which are quite often not the same or at least are notated differently. The opening figures are actually the same in both versions, although Pemberton notates all the sideways steps around the right line of the dancer’s direction of travel towards the presence, while Tomlinson shows the sideways travel explicitly. In the figures for the third AA, Pemberton notates the dancer travelling a semi-circular path anti-clockwise followed by another clockwise, whereas Tomlinson takes his dancer clockwise in a quarter-circle followed by a tighter three-quarter circle in the same direction and then traces the same figure anti-clockwise. Both dances have figures that reflect some of those in Isaac’s Minuet, notably zig-zags on the diagonal and repeated tight circles. Although some of the figures contain echoes of those in the ballroom couple minuet, parallels are not obvious in either notation.
Both versions of the Slow Minuet are constructed around a series of variations. Some of these are 8 bars long and are danced twice, starting with the right foot and then the left, to match the repeated musical sections. There are also 4 bar sequences, which might or might not be repeated within a musical section. Two of Tomlinson’s plates are missing a couple of bars of dance notation, but the structure of the section and its predecessor (as well as Pemberton’s version) suggest what the missing steps might be. The second BB section (plate 4) appears to be without its final two dance bars.
One suggestion is that the coupé – demi-coupé steps that follow the two demi-coupés should take two bars of music each (rather than one bar as notated). I suggest instead that they do take one bar each and that they should be repeated after the last two demi-coupés on the plate, which gives two identical sequences to match the musical repeat.
The other omission comes in the last B of the third BB section (plate 6).
This is more difficult to guess, but I suggest that two contretemps should be added, one sideways to the left after the fourth step (another contretemps) and the other sideways to the right at the end of the sequence. This would then run as a repeated 4-bar sequence of contretemps – coupé – pas de bourée – contretemps.
The different notational styles of Pemberton and Tomlinson are almost worth a post of their own and are evident from the very beginning of the two dances with the opening demi-coupés. Pemberton’s version is on the left and Tomlinson’s on the right.
Or, do these represent different steps? Tomlinson’s demi-coupé finishes on the first beat, followed by a two-beat rest, while Pemberton apparently gives the dancer two beats to bring the free foot into first position – making this a version of a coupé sans poser rather than a demi-coupé. Later on the same plate, Pemberton notates demi-coupés more conventionally, suggesting that the opening steps are not demi-coupés.
I have discussed these two notations in some detail because I believe that such close reading can help us get a better idea of how these notated dances were actually performed. Caverley’s Slow Minuet is one of very few choreographies that survive in more than one version and there is far more to say than I have set down here. I think that the dance was integral to his teaching of young ladies and that it was intended as a display piece for performance at formal balls held by the dancing master at his premises and elsewhere. It makes formidable demands on the young dancer’s mastery of aplomb – not merely her placement but also her address. She has to be secure in balancing on one foot and moving rhythmically (and sometimes quite slowly) from one foot to another. She also has to maintain her erect and easy carriage as she moves through her steps and figures. There are continuous rhythmic challenges as well as demands on her memory as she dances a series of variations no two of which are the same.
If I were called upon to devise a syllabus for teaching the minuet, I would begin with Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet. If aspirant historical dancers can perform this exacting solo (in either version) successfully, the ballroom minuet would surely hold no terrors for them.
This image from Kellom Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing is well known. Does it suggest that he continued to adapt and teach a Slow Minuet to his young female pupils?
Thomas Caverley. Mr. Caverley’s Slow Minuet. A New Dance for a Girl. The Tune Composed by Mr. Firbank. Writt by Mr. Pemberton. [London, c1720?]
For the 1729 dating see Little and Marsh, La Danse Noble, [c1729]-Mnt
An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing; Being a Collection of Figure Dances, of Several Numbers, Compos’d by the Most Eminent Masters; Describ’d in Characters … by E. Pemberton (London, 1711)
Kellom Tomlinson. A WorkBook by Kellom Tomlinson. Commonplace Book of an Eighteenth-Century English Dancing-Master, a Facsimile Edition, edited by Jennifer Shennan. (Stuyvesant, NY, 1992)
Francis Peacock published Sketches relative to the history and theory, but more especially to the practice of dancing in 1805 in Aberdeen, the city where he had been dancing master since 1747. His treatise pursues themes familiar from many earlier such works, as his contents pages show.
Peacock’s book is best known for Sketch V, with its ‘Observations on the Scotch Reel’ along with a ‘Description of the Fundamental Steps’ of that dance. He provides the only known account of this vocabulary, although there is much discussion among today’s teachers of historical dance as to how ‘Scotch’ his steps may have been. Even experts in Scotland’s traditional dancing suspect the influence of ‘French’ dancing in what Peacock has to say.
I am not going to pursue that question, but I am going to look at what Peacock tells us about his own early training to see if that might contribute any useful information relating to his later writing. He provides some helpful clues in the ‘Advertisement’ to his Sketches.
Peacock tells us that he learnt his craft from three of London’s leading dancing masters – George Desnoyer, Leach Glover and Michael Lally, all of whom were also leading dancers in London’s theatres. At an informed guess, he studied with them between the late 1730s and early 1740s. It seems most likely that he had private tuition. He apparently did not follow any form of apprenticeship, which would have bound him to one of these dancing masters for several years and not allowed him to take lessons from all of them. What might they have taught him above and beyond what we know from other dance manuals like Rameau’s Le Maître à danser?
George Desnoyer (c1700-1764?) was possibly born in Hanover, since he was the son of the electoral court’s dancing master (who was probably French and perhaps danced at the Paris Opéra around 1690). Desnoyer is first recorded when he came to dance in London in 1721. L’Abbé’s ‘Spanish Entree’, ‘Entrée’ and ‘Türkish Dance’ created for him, and published in notation around 1725, give us an idea of the young Desnoyer’s virtuosity. In 1722, he returned to Hanover to take up the post of dancing master to Prince Frederick, son of George Prince of Wales, which he held until the Prince was called to London by his father, then George II, in 1728. Desnoyer was not formally dismissed from his post as court dancing master in Hanover until 1731, but by then he was already employed as ‘first Dancer to the King of Poland’ – as he was described in the bills when he returned to London that year. He danced at Drury Lane most seasons from 1731-1732 to 1739-1740 and then at Covent Garden from 1740-1741 to 1741-1742, his final seasons on the stage. On his return to London in 1731, Desnoyer had resumed his relationship with Prince Frederick (the two seem to have been close friends) and he would be dancing master to the Prince, his wife Princess Augusta and their children (including the future George III) until his death.
Leach Glover (1697-1763) was born in London, but not to a theatrical family. He may have begun his career as an actor, but he was first advertised as a dancer at the King’s Theatre in 1717. In his first season on the London stage, Glover was billed as ‘de Mirail’s Scholar’ and he was indeed a pupil of Romain Dumirail, the French dancer and teacher who had worked at the court of Louis XIV and the Paris Opéra. Between 1717 and 1723, Glover’s appearances in London were intermittent and he usually danced with companies of French comedians. He joined John Rich’s company at Lincoln’s Inn Fields for the 1723-1724 season and stayed with Rich until 1740-1741, his last season on the stage. Over that period, Glover rose from a supporting dancer to the company’s leading male dancer (in 1739-1740) before he was eclipsed by the arrival of Desnoyer at Covent Garden. Glover was appointed as royal dancing master in 1738, in succession to Anthony L’Abbé, although Desnoyer continued to teach Prince Frederick and his family. He created a ballroom duet The Princess of Hesse to celebrate the marriage of George II’s daughter Princess Mary in 1740 and it was published in notation.
Michael Lally (1707-1757) came from a family of dancers working in London’s theatres from the late 17th to the mid-18th century. Their respective careers are yet to be properly disentangled (the entries in the Biographical Dictionary of Actors require much revision). Michael was the son of Edmund Lally and brother of Edward Lally (born 1701), who were among the subscribers to John Weaver’s Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing in 1721. He may have made his stage debut in 1720, dancing for his brother’s benefit at Drury Lane. With his brother, he danced briefly at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but returned to Drury Lane for the 1723-1724 season and stayed there for ten years. He joined John Rich’s company at Covent Garden in 1734-1735 and continued to work there until 1742-1743, although after 1737 he danced only at his annual benefit performances (he may have been dancing master to the company). Advertisements confirm that Michael Lally was a leading dancer first at Drury Lane and then at Covent Garden.
During the period when Francis Peacock may have studied with them, all three men were active as both dancers and dancing masters. They assuredly provided him with a grounding in French belle danse as practised in the ballroom, but could their teaching have gone further? Might they have included ‘Scotch Dancing’ as part of their tuition? Although all three were best known on stage for their serious dancing, they did also perform in other genres – including Scotch Dances.
Desnoyer came to Scotch Dances right at the end of his career. During his last season on the London stage, he danced a ‘New Scots Dance’ with Sga Barbarina (the Italian ballerina Barbara Campanini) at his benefit on 1 April 1742. They performed the duet together at least four times. It is worth noting that at the same performance Desnoyer and Sga Barbarina also danced ‘A Ball Dance call’d the Britannia [probably Pecour’s La Bretagne of 1704], and a Louvre concluding with a Minuet’. The ‘Louvre’ was Pecour’s Aimable Vainqueur. All three choreographies were routinely taught by London’s dancing masters. Glover choreographed his own Scotch Dance, for three couples, and it was first given at Covent Garden on 16 January 1733. It was one of the most popular of the Scotch Dances in London’s theatres and remained in repertoire until the 1740-1741 season. Like Desnoyer, Glover regularly performed the Louvre, usually with a Minuet, at his own and other benefits. Lally is not known to have performed other than a solo Highland Dance, given early in his career during the 1722-1723 season. However, like Desnoyer and Glover, he regularly performed the Louvre and a Minuet at his benefit performances.
Even if none of his teachers could or would have taught Francis Peacock a Scotch Dance, he would have been able to see such choreographies quite frequently in London’s theatres. As I explained in my post Scotch Dances on the London Stage, 1660-1760, there was a surge in their popularity during the mid-1730s which lasted into the early 1740s and even beyond – just at the time that Peacock must have been in London.
While the evidence I have brought together here remains inconclusive as to whether Francis Peacock might have learnt Scotch Dances while he was in London, it does suggest that Scotch Dances and French dancing had plenty of opportunities to influence each other during the years when he was taking lessons with Desnoyer, Glover and Lally. The following illustrations – one plate from L’Abbé’s ‘Spanish Entrée’ for Desnoyer with two entre-chats à six and Peacock’s description of the ‘Kem Badenoch’ with its mention of an ‘Entrechat’ – may perhaps provide food for thought.
I have written more about Desnoyer and Glover elsewhere (I am currently working on an article about the Lally family).
Moira Goff, ‘Desnoyer, Charmer of the Georgian Age’, Historical Dance, 4.2 (2012), 3-10.
Moira Goff, ‘The Celebrated Monsieur Desnoyer, Part 1: 1721-1733, Part 2: 1734-1742’, Dance Research, 31.1 (Summer 2012), 67-93.
Moira Goff, ‘Leach Glover, “Dancing Master to the Royal Family”, Part One: The Professional Dancer in Context, Part Two: Teachers of Dancing’, Dance Research (forthcoming).
Apart from his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, I couldn’t find any articles devoted to Francis Peacock either in print or online, although he does of course feature in George S. Emmerson’s A Social History of Scottish Dance (Montreal, 1972).
The following solo entr’acte dances were given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1725-1726:
Wooden Shoe Dance
Les Caractères de la Dance
As I mentioned in my last post about the entr’acte solos at Drury Lane, this season the Passacaille and the Spanish Dance were also performed there.
I recently wrote a post about Scotch Dances on the London stage and I began by mentioning those performed during the 1725-1726 season. Mrs Bullock performed a solo Scots Dance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 4 October 1725 and repeated it at least ten times that season. Thanks to her and Newhouse (who performed a Scottish Dance with Mrs Ogden at least five times this season), Scotch Dances had become a regular feature in the entr’actes by the mid-1720s. Although we still don’t know much about them and where they might have come from.
On 13 October 1725, Nivelon performed a Wooden Shoe Dance and repeated what was surely the same dance ‘in the Character of a Clown’ (meaning a rustic or peasant) on 25 October. The solo was billed simply as a Wooden Shoe Dance for the rest of the season and he performed it at least eleven times. There had been occasional Wooden Shoe Dances as early as 1709-1710, but it was Nivelon who established them in the entr’acte repertoire. He sometimes danced a Wooden Shoe duet with Mrs Laguerre (although not in 1725-1726), but his solo was far more popular.
Only one of the many solos and other dances given in the entr’actes at London’s theatres over the course of the 18th century is widely known among those with an interest in dance history. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 27 November 1725, Marie Sallé performed ‘Les Caractères de la Dance, in which are express’d all the different Movements in Dancing’. The description refers to Rebel’s score, which runs through the courante, minuet, bourée, chaconne, saraband, gigue, rigaudon, passepied, gavotte, loure and musette in some eight minutes or so. This dance (which was also occasionally performed as a duet) has been much discussed and often recreated. Its history on the London stage is worth a post of its own, so I won’t say much here. Mlle Sallé gave it three times during the 1725-1726 season. It was revived by her once in 1726-1727 and then several times as Les Caractères de l’Amour (which I assume was essentially the same) in 1733-1734, her penultimate season on the London stage. The solo obviously proved popular, because it was performed by several of London’s leading female dancers into the early 1750s.
A solo French Sailor was apparently danced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields by Francis Sallé on 3 January 1726. I have been wondering whether this really was a solo, since every other performance of the French Sailor this season was a duet by both Sallés. There is no other reference to Francis giving a solo Sailor’s Dance, with the exception of his appearance in a Sailor’s Hornpipe in 1729-1730. The advertisement refers to ‘Mons Salle’s French Sailor’, which may simply be meant to draw attention to the fact that he had created the duet that he danced with his sister. Of course, he may simply have adapted that duet into a solo to be performed alongside the solo French Peasant by Nivelon and Mrs Bullock’s solo Scotch Dance on the same bill.
On 31 March 1726, Nivelon danced a solo French Clown. Although he was occasionally so billed, he was more often advertised in a Clown solo (he appeared at least once as a Dutch Clown). Nivelon’s repertoire, in particular his appearance in pantomime afterpieces, needs careful analysis, but it is possible that the main difference between these three solos was their costumes rather than their choreographies. The term ‘Clown’ can have rustic connotations, but perhaps Nivelon’s solo was related to the ‘Buffoon’ depicted by Lambranzi, who describes his performance thus (the translation is from New and Curious School of Theatrical Dancing translated by Derra de Moroda, edited by Cyril Beaumont and first published in 1928, p. 25):
‘This buffoon does various foolish but curious pas, with distorted but comic jumps, which he varies as much as possible and endeavours to make still more humorous, until the air has been played three times.’
Lambranzi shows the Buffoon performing a suitably distorted pas.
In 1725-1726, four different female dancers performed a solo Chacone in the entr’actes at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The first was Mrs Bullock on 31 March 1726, followed on 9 May by Mrs Anderson, on 11 May by Miss Latour and on 14 May by Mrs Wall. All were benefit performances (Miss Latour was dancing at her own benefit). Mrs Anderson went on to perform her solo Chacone another eight times during the theatre’s summer season. Without their music, it is difficult to know what these solos might have been like. Were they related to Pecour’s ‘Chacone pour une femme’ danced to music from Lully’s Phaëton and published in notation in 1704? Mrs Bullock’s Chacone was part of her repertoire from 1714-1715 to 1734-1735 and undoubtedly changed over the years. What little evidence we have of her technical abilities (in the form of L’Abbé’s ‘Saraband of Issee’ and ‘Jigg’ created for her and Dupré) suggests that she could be a virtuoso dancer. Was her solo Chacone popular because it was a tour de force?
Leach Glover made his first appearance of the season on 14 April 1726, a benefit for Mrs Laguerre and her husband, when he danced a solo Louvre. Most advertisements for the Louvre referred to the duet Aimable Vainqueur, a favourite for benefit performances, but solo billings point to quite different dances. They are never billed explicitly as such, but at least some of them may have been ‘Spanish’ dances using loures either from Lully’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme or Campra’s L’Europe galante. There was a recent precedent for such a solo in L’Abbé’s ‘Spanish Entrée’ created for the young George Desnoyer in 1721 or 1722 and published in notation around 1725.
This solo was to Lully’s music and provides a glimpse of the male dance virtuosity to be seen in London’s theatres at this period. This first plate includes cabrioles and a pirouette with pas battus (in modern terminology petits battements). Later in the solo there are several entre-chats à six, some of which are incorporated into tours en l’air.
At his benefit on 15 April 1726, Nivelon included his solo Flag Dance – a piece that he seems to have had a near monopoly on. He apparently introduced it to the London stage at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1723-1724 and was last billed performing it in 1730-1731. This is another piece which might have a link to Lambranzi, who has a dance by a ‘Switzer’ with a ‘standard’.
Nivelon’s dance may also have been related to the ‘Flourishing of the Colours’ performed by Signora Violante at the King’s Theatre in 1719-1720.
Nivelon was very busy in the entr’actes during 1725-1726, for on 15 April he also added a Dutch Boor to his repertoire. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, ‘Dutch’ dances were very popular on the London stage, although – apart from the Dutch Skipper – solo dances were far less often performed than duets. By London audiences, a ‘Dutch Boor’ was probably seen as a Dutch peasant or country bumpkin. Nivelon was rarely seen in ‘Dutch’ dances and this seems to be the only time he performed such a solo on its own.
Mrs Wall danced a solo ‘new Saraband compos’d by Dupre’ at the benefit she shared with Newhouse on 30 April 1726. It is possible that she had been taught by Dupré, although this was not mentioned in the bills. I wrote about the Saraband on the London Stage back in 2015, so I won’t say more here – except to suggest that this solo was a ‘French’ rather than a ‘Spanish’ Saraband.
There was a solo Spanish Dance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields this season, given by Lesac on 11 May 1726 – his benefit shared with Miss Latour, both of them billed earlier in the season as scholars of Dupré. Could this also have been a loure?
The last of the solos danced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1725-1726 was a ‘new Comic Dance called Dame Gigogne’ performed by Mrs Anderson on 5 July 1726. This seems to be the only mention of this character in the entr’actes at London’s theatres. Dame Ragonde, however, turns up several times, notably in the mid-1710s, usually alongside various commedia dell’arte characters and sometimes with her ‘Family’. Dame Gigogne and Dame Ragonde are all but interchangeable and can be traced back in dance and music contexts to the late 17th century, notably to the cast of Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos given at Louis XIV’s court in 1688. For a short discussion of both characters and their history see Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV by Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol G. Marsh (1994), particularly pages 41-43. This image of Dame Ragonde may hint at Mrs Anderson’s appearance in her solo.
She is shown as a lady of uncertain age in a distinctly old-fashioned dress.
I will turn my attention to dancing in the pantomime afterpieces at both playhouses next, although one or two other topics may intervene over the next few weeks.
The following solo entr’acte dances were given at Drury Lane during 1725-1726:
A solo Passacaille was performed by Miss Robinson at Drury Lane on 2 October 1725. She had first been advertised in the dance the previous season and she repeated it four times in 1725-1726. Mrs Booth also danced a solo Passacaille on 15 April 1726. This was one of the solos shared between the two playhouses, for Mrs Bullock performed another solo Passacaille at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 2 May 1726. In London’s theatres, the solo passacaille was firmly linked to female dancers. The first surviving advertisement is for a performance by Mrs Elford in 1705-1706 (although Mlle Subligny is known to have danced Pecour’s Passacaille d’Armide in London during the 1701-1702 season), while the latest is for a ‘New Dance call’d Le Passecalle de Zaid’ performed by Mlle Auretti in 1753-1754. There is one notation which can shed light on the style and technique of London’s leading female dancers in such solos – Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ created for Mrs Booth (then Mrs Santlow) around 1717 and published in the mid-1720s. I have written elsewhere about this astounding solo and here is the first plate.
It is interesting that all the solo passacailles published in notation are also for women.
Solo Harlequin dances were popular throughout the first three decades of the 18th century and enjoyed occasional revivals into the mid-1750s. In 1725-1726, Mrs Booth was billed in a Harlequin entr’acte dance on 14 October 1725. She had been famous for this solo since very early in her career and would continue to dance it into the early 1730s. I wrote at some length about the dance in The Incomparable Hester Santlow and I am sure that this portrait is intended to represent her in this solo, although – as I have said many times before – there is strong evidence that she wore an ankle-length skirt in performance.
The other solo Harlequin given at Drury Lane this season was danced by Rainton several times in April and May 1726.
On 25 October 1725, Roger danced a solo Peasant, followed by a Drunken Peasant on 3 November and a French Peasant on 13 May 1726. Peasant dances were popular for many years, although they were generally only billed a few times each season. Drunken Peasant dances would become extremely popular in the 1730s, while French Peasant solos were regularly revived into the early 1740s. It is impossible to be certain how these dances might have related to one another, although they may well have had overlapping step vocabularies and choreographic motifs. The Drunken Peasant may have relied more heavily on pantomime, while the French Peasant may have used a recognisably ‘French’ tune. Of course, the advertisements may have been inaccurate and the difference between Peasant and French Peasant dances may simply have been an inconsistency of billing.
Lambranzi includes a Drunken Peasant and a Drunken Peasant with his Wife in Part One of his Neue und curieuse theatrialische Tantz-Schul of 1716, describing the solo thus:
‘When the curtain is raised this drunken peasant is seen. As the air begins he tries to get up, but falls down several times. At last he staggers to his feet and waves his hand to the tankard of beer, which does not want to come to him. Reeling, he snatches it up, drinks from it thrice, puts it on the ground again and finishes the strain by staggering backwards and forwards, walking and jumping. At the end he claps on his hat, picks up the tankard and exits tottering from side to side.’ (Gregorio Lambranzi, translated by Derra de Moroda and edited by Cyril Beaumont, New and Curious School of Theatrical Dancing. Reprint (London, 2002), p. 20)
He also provides this image:
The description may well relate to performances of the Drunken Peasant in London’s theatres. However, during the 1720s there were also regular performances of an entr’acte Drunken Man solo by the comic actor John Harper at Drury Lane. Although he was predominantly an actor, Harper also danced from time to time. So, one question is – was the Drunken Peasant influenced by the Drunken Man or vice versa?
There was only one performance of a Punch dance at Drury Lane this season, a solo by Sandham’s son given on 27 January 1726. Although there had been Punch dances on the London stage since at least the first decade of the 18th century, these would not really become popular until the 1730s. During the 1710s and 1720s, Punch was usually seen dancing in company with Harlequin and from the 1720s he also featured in pantomime afterpieces. I hope to explore the London stage history of Punch dances in a later post.
Scaramouch made regular entr’acte appearances from the very early 1700s through to the 1760s. Like Punch, he featured in pantomimes and is also worth a post of his own. His depictions by Lambranzi, who refers to his ‘beautiful pas de Scaramouch’ and his ‘long steps combined with cabrioles and pirouettes’, are well known. Here are two of them.
In 1725-1726, Sandham’s son danced a ‘new Scaramouch’ on 15 April 1726, repeating it on 23 April and 18 May. All were benefit performances – the last was shared between the two Sandham children and the dancer Mrs Walter.
I wrote about the solo Dutch Skipper when I looked at the shared entr’acte duets at Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, so I will not say any more here. I also discussed the Pastoral duets in that post. There were very few solos with the title Pastoral advertised in London’s theatres and all but one were performed by female dancers. The exception was the Pastoral danced by ‘Vallois, lately arrived from the Opera at Paris, the first Time of his dancing in England; a Scholar to M Marcelle’ at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 13 April 1732 – both his dance and Vallois himself are worth further research.
I discussed the Spanish Entry duets in my post Season of 1725-1726: Other Entr’acte Duets at Lincoln’s Inn Fields but the solo Spanish Dances and Spanish Entries are worth additional consideration. These certainly go back to the late 17th century in London, and most (if not all) have a French origin. Music for a ‘Spanish Entry’ danced by Anthony L’Abbé and published in 1698 in The Second Book of the Dancing Master comes from Campra’s L’Europe galante. René Cherrier’s solo Spanish Dance given at Drury Lane in 1704-1705 may well also have used French music. Both solos probably drew on choreographies danced at the Paris Opéra, where both men spent part of their careers. In 1725-1726, a solo Spanish Entry was danced by Miss Robinson at Drury Lane on 9 May 1726. She seems to have made the dance a regular part of her repertoire, for she continued to perform it until 1728-1729. The whole question of Spanish Dances in London’s theatres is complicated by occasional advertisements for the Folies d’Espagne (although these are rare), solo Louvres (the Louvre duet was almost always Aimable Vainqueur) and Sarabands (many of which were certainly French, although – given the identification of the Saraband with the Spanish in English plays of the period – some must surely have indeed been Spanish). I looked briefly at ‘Spanish’ Dances and Dancing ‘Spaniards’ in earlier posts, but the topic is certainly worth more detailed investigation at a future date.
In my next post, I will look at the solos performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1725-1726. The topic of dancing in London’s theatres during the 1725-1726 season is turning into a marathon and I still have danced afterpieces and mainpiece plays with dancing to explore!
I am not going to undertake a lengthy and exhaustive investigation of the ‘Z’ figure of the minuet. My aim is simply to discover the origins of the version I originally learned. Here, I will look at two sources in particular, and glance at some others.
The earliest notated source for a minuet comes from Jean Favier’s notation for Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos of 1688. This minuet is for four dancers and was performed within an entertainment given by professional dancers at the court of Louis XIV. It thus falls outside my present topic. Details can, of course, be found in Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV: Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos by Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol G. Marsh, a study published in 1994 which includes a facsimile reprint of the manuscript.
The treatise by I.H.P. ‘Maître de danse, oder Tantz-Meister’, published in Glueckstadt and Leipzig in 1705, contains the ‘Menuet d’Anjou’ a ballroom duet for a couple. This is a choreographed dance rather than a conventional ballroom minuet, so it too falls outside my topic. The dance and its notation, together with a translation of the treatise can be found in Barocktanz / La Danse Baroque / Baroque Dance, edited by Stephanie Schroedter, Marie-Thérèse Mourey and Giles Bennett and published in 2008.
The next treatise to deal with the ballroom minuet, and apparently the earliest to look at the basic form of this dance, is Gottfried Taubert’s Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister published in Leipzig in 1717. This valuable treatise is now available in an English translation by Tilden Russell published in 2012. Taubert turns to the minuet in chapter 30 of his second book. After a lengthy discussion of the various minuet steps, he discusses the ‘principal figure of the minuet’ in chapter 33. He gives a short history of the ‘Z’ figure and identifies three versions currently in use – a reversed ‘S’, a ‘2’ and the ‘Z’. For the reversed ‘S’, Taubert prescribes sideways pas de menuet for the first semi-circle and forward pas de menuet for the second. For the ‘2’ he suggests various combinations of sideways and forwards pas de menuet, but he also says:
‘Some use only side steps throughout, in this way: three or four to the left, bringing them down to the beginning of the straight line, along which they turn and make one or two side steps to the right, thus using no forward steps in the principal figure, which I find displeasing. Also it should be remembered that nowadays many do not make the turn to the left [at the straight line], but instead, after having passed by the woman with side steps, always keeping her before their eyes, they dance backward, and then sideways to the right.’ (p. 640 original text, p. 529 translation)
So, we have another backwards step – although Taubert’s sequence is not the same as Rameau’s.
For the ‘Z’ version of the figure, Taubert says ‘Two side steps to the left are made along the upper horizontal line, two or three forward steps along the long middle line, and another one or two side steps to the right along the lower horizontal line’ (p. 640, p. 529. Taubert is describing the figure as danced by the man). He adds ‘Recently it was reliably reported to me that two royal personages were seen dancing this figure with nothing but side steps from right to left, circling round each other at the same time; but I would never lightly advise anyone to try this’. Taubert also notates the ballroom minuet – the ‘Z’ figure looks like this (p. 658, p. 541):
As you can see, there are two pas de menuet à trois mouvements to the left, two more forward and two pas de menuet à deux mouvements to the right having turned around the left shoulder. The half turn is divided into two quarter-turns performed over the final demi-jeté of the fourth pas de menuet and first demi-coupé of the fifth.
In Le Maître a danser, some eight years later, Rameau explained that Guillaume-Louis Pecour had been responsible for changing the original reversed ‘S’ to a ‘Z’ figure (chapter 22, p. 84).
In his Trattato del Ballo Nobile published in Naples in 1728, Giambatista Dufort has a second section devoted to the minuet and looks at the ‘Z’ figure in chapter 5. Essentially, he prescribes two pas de menuet to the left, two more to cross and then two to the right. He does not mention any backwards steps.
Kellom Tomlinson published The Art of Dancing in London in 1735 (although he claimed to have completed the work in 1724, before Rameau published Le Maître a danser). He provides a detailed account of the steps and figures of the minuet in book two, reaching the ‘Figure of S reversed’ in chapter 7. Tomlinson uses eight pas de menuet for the figure. He begins with four pas de menuet à trois mouvements sideways – two to the left and two on the diagonal to meet in the middle – followed by four pas de menuet (‘one and a fleuret’) forwards to complete the ‘S reversed’. He adds that the last of the eight pas de menuet may be made sideways. Like Taubert, Tomlinson includes a notation for his ballroom minuet with two ‘S reversed’ figures in which he varies the last step.
Tomlinson also includes several engravings showing couples dancing the minuet. In this one they are about to begin the ‘S reversed’ figure.
Not only does the ‘Z’ figure include a pas de menuet backwards, in more than one treatise, but the type of step as well as the number used varies according to the different dancing masters who wrote about it in the early 1700s. I wish I had known this when I was learning the dance. The version I learned most closely resembles Taubert’s notation, although I do not remember him ever being cited as the source. I am not going to take this particular line of enquiry any further, at least for the time being, but I think there is ample material for some practical research by those who would like to get a little closer to how the minuet might have been danced at balls and assemblies in the 18th century.
I recently saw a demonstration of the ‘Z’ figure of the minuet that gave me pause for thought. Citing Pierre Rameau and the diagram in Le Maître a danser, the figure was danced with two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two forwards on the diagonal and one backwards to the right. So far as I can remember, I have never been taught the ‘Z’ figure in this way, but instead of rushing to the conclusion that the interpretation must be wrong, I decided to do some research. A quick look on YouTube revealed very few videos of the ballroom minuet, let alone Rameau’s version of this dance. Of the two videos I found, the couple in one danced the final section of the ‘Z’ figure with two pas de menuet sideways to the right (turning around the right shoulder for the necessary quarter-turn), while the other couple did indeed do a single pas de menuet backwards. It was interesting that the latter video was far more recent than the former, so was I looking at a fresh interpretation of Rameau’s instructions?
Rameau deals with the figures of the ballroom minuet in his chapter XXII, ‘Du Menuet, & de la maniere de le danser régulierement’. Here is Rameau’s illustration of the ‘Z’ figure – ‘Figure Principal du Menuet’ – from this chapter.
As you can see, it says that both dancers perform two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two more forwards to pass one another by the right shoulder ‘en effaçant l’épaule’ and one backwards to the right (‘un en arriere du coté droit’).
When we turn to Rameau’s text, his written instructions are less clear.
Although he includes the numbers 1, 2 and 3 on his diagram, Rameau refers only to 2 and 3 in his text. In fact, he says nothing at all about the final step of the ‘Z’ figure. Is it possible that a part of Rameau’s instructions was omitted when the book was printed? So far as I am aware, there has been no detailed bibliographical study of this text that might address such issues.
I turned to John Essex’s 1728 translation of Rameau’s treatise, The Dancing-Master, to see whether he might have made good the omission in the original. Essex reproduces Rameau’s diagram, titling it ‘The fourth & Principal Figure of the Menuet’ and he too shows ‘two menuet Steps to ye left’ followed by ‘two forward, shading the shoulder’, but he has ‘two backwards to the right’.
Essex has made a change to Rameau’s illustration, but he merely translates the associated text without alteration.
Although Rameau’s treatise was published in 1725, was he perhaps reflecting an earlier French convention for the performance of the ‘Z’ figure? Was Essex merely making a faithful translation, or was he referring to a convention still current in English performances of the minuet?
Why was I taught a ‘Z’ figure with two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two forwards on the diagonal and two sideways to the right? Does the answer lie in other dance manuals of the early 18th century rather than in an idiosyncratic approach to dance reconstruction? I will turn to the other sources for the ‘Z’ figure in a new post.
My curiosity about the change in step vocabulary between the cotillons of the 1760s and 1770s and the quadrilles of the early 1800s has been further piqued by information from an additional source. I had heard of Josson’s Traité abrégé de la danse of 1763 – I had even seen and catalogued a copy in a private collection – but I had never really taken note of its contents. Catherine Turocy of the New York Baroque Dance Company drew my attention to the digital copy on Gallica, prompting me to take a proper look. Josson is probably best known for what he has to say about the minuet but his Traité also deals with ‘les différens pas & figures des contre-danses en usage’. At the time he was writing, I think we can assume that these contredanses were in fact cotillons.
Josson lists as the basic steps – ‘les pas dont on fait usage dans les Contre-danses’ – balancé, pas de rigaudon, pas de gavotte, chassés and pirouettes. He also describes how they should be performed and there are some interesting differences from what is said elsewhere, notably by De la Cuisse. I will not go into detail here, but I will mention the pas de gavotte. Josson’s version is not the same as that of De la Cuisse (who equates it to the demi-contretems). This is what Josson says (p. 77):
This isn’t the pas de gavotte I was taught in years past either – a contretems forwards or backwards followed by an assemblé into first position, with or without a pas marché to fill the upbeat – although it obviously relates to that pas composé.
My attention was also drawn to Josson’s supplementary list of steps (p. 81):
The entre-chat, sissonne brisé and jetté battu can claim to be steps for the stage, although there is evidence beyond Josson’s Traité they were also used in the ballroom. However, I am now wondering about the term brisé. So far as I know, it isn’t found in the early 18th-century treatises, although it certainly appears in Magri’s Trattato teorico-prattico di ballo as well as some of the various treatises on the cotillon and the quadrille. In the context of social dancing, what is a brisé? Also, why does Josson list the demi-contretems here? It presumably isn’t the step described by de La Cuisse as ‘le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse’ but something altogether more demanding.
Josson has upset my notion of the cotillon as a dance with a circumscribed step vocabulary in which the emphasis is on the figures. His Traité raises questions about the range of steps actually used in these contredanses. How could this showy vocabulary be fitted into the tight figures and relentless momentum of cotillons? We still have much to learn about these demanding little choreographies.
A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts about the cotillon steps recorded by London’s dancing masters in the 1760s. In 1762, De la Cuisse (who began the cotillon craze by publishing these dances) listed six steps in his Le Repertoire des bals ou theorie-pratique des contredanses – balancé, rigaudon, contretems, chassé, pirouette and pas de gavotte (the demi-contretems, which he described as ‘un Pas naturel; C’es le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse’). All are familiar from the dance manuals of the early 1700s. Between them, Gallini, Gherardi and Villeneuve added another six – assemblé, glissade, ‘brizè à trois pas’, ‘chassé à trois pas’, double chassé and sissonne. Three of these were also described in the earlier manuals, while three – the brizé and chassé ‘a trois pas’ and the double chassé were apparently more recent.
The step vocabulary for the early 19th-century quadrille was more extensive and some of the steps were certainly more challenging than any used in the cotillon. One of the earliest works to deal with the quadrille was Notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse by J. H. Gourdoux-Daux, published in Paris in 1804. The second edition was titled Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse pour la ville and appeared in 1811. It was presumably this edition that was translated into English for publication in Philadelphia in 1817 as Elements and Principles of the Art of Dancing as used in Polite and Fashionable Circles. This translation describes nine steps for use in quadrilles – the ‘change of foot’ (changement de jambe), assemblé, jeté, sissonne, échappé, temps levé, grand coupé, chassé and glissade. Only one, chassé, is among the cotillon steps prescribed by De la Cuisse, while three more appear in the collections published in London – assemblé, glissade and sissonne. The last of these occurs only in Villeneuve’s Collection of Cotillons and he does not describe it. By the time Gourdoux-Daux was writing, the sissonne had become a spring from two feet to one, beginning in third position and ending with the free foot either extended to second or fourth position or brought into the ankle. It is recognisable as the second part of the pas de sissonne recorded in the early 1700s.
Gourdoux-Daux published a third edition of his treatise titled simply De l’art de la danse in 1823, which is accessible digitally. It adds a tems du balonné, pas de bourrée, tems de cuisse, demi-contretems, brisé and entrechat. His third edition is described as ‘revue, corrigé et augmenté’, indicating that it contains new material. However, without access to Gourdoux-Daux’s earlier editions, it is not possible to know whether he included any of these steps before 1823 or whether his American translator simply omitted them as either not generally used or, perhaps, not appropriate for social dancing.
In 1822, Alexander Strathy published his Elements of the Art of Dancing in Edinburgh. His list has twelve quadrille steps – assemblé, jeté, glissade, sissonne, temps levé, chassé, échappé, pirouette, changement de jambe, pas de Zéphyre or pas battu, jeté tendu and jeté du côté. His vocabulary overlaps with that of Gourdoux-Daux, but both have steps not included by the other.
The only other treatise I will look at here is Charles Mason’s A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société published in London in 1827. His vocabulary overlaps with both Gourdoux-Daux and Strathy and also includes steps they do not list. Mason’s list has twenty of what he calls ‘Les Mouvemens’ – changement de jambes, assemblé, jeté, sissonne, tems levé, chassé, glissade, jeté ballonné, tems de Zéphyre, coupé, pas de basque, pas de bourrée, tems de ‘coudepied’, jeté brisé, pas tombé, fouetté, contretems, pirouette, emboîté and petits battemens. Some of these may have been embellishments to steps, rather than steps in their own right, and some may have been used only within the ‘Differens Enchainemens de Pas’ Mason refers to on his title page.
In the following table I have tried to set out the steps recommended for the cotillon and quadrille respectively, with the name of each dancing master to include it listed in order of the date of their first publication in which it appears. For the purposes of this investigation, I have omitted the Allemande step used in so many cotillons – it is probably worth another post of its own (although I did write about it a few years ago). There were, of course, several other works on dancing – and the quadrille – published in the early decades of the 19th century, so my list of steps is probably far from complete and it is certainly not definitive. How and why did the step vocabulary change and expand so much as the cotillon gave way to the quadrille?
I have been discussing quadrille steps with an historical dance teacher of my acquaintance and he has been wondering about the origins of the pas de basque. In 1827, Charles Mason described it thus in his A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société:
There are several versions of this step in both modern and historical genres of dance, some of which can be traced back a long way – although, so far as I know, none are given the name pas de basque before the early 19th century.
I am sure that there are various theories about the origins of the step, although from my perspective it seems likely that the versions used in early 19th-century quadrilles owe something to the vocabulary of early 18th-century ballroom dancing. Recognisably related steps can certainly be found in the notated dances of the early 1700s. Where did the name come from and when did it start to be used?
In the course of another piece of research, I came across an advertisement for a performance at the King’s Theatre on 11 January 1783 which might provide a clue. The bill that evening declared that the ballet to accompany the evening’s opera (the King’s Theatre was London’s opera house) would include ‘two Pas de Basque by Mlle Theodore’. In this case, the ‘Pas de Basque’ were evidently solo dances given by the French ballerina. She repeated her Pas de Basque several times that season. The following season, the bill for Mlle Théodore’s benefit at the King’s Theatre on 13 May 1784 announced that she ‘will also dance the favourite Pas de Basque’.
Mlle Théodore had begun her career at the Paris Opéra, where she made her debut in 1777. She had first come to London, and the King’s Theatre, for the 1781-1782 season where she had quickly become popular with critics and audiences alike.
In 1783, she married the dancer and choreographer Jean Bercher, known as Jean D’Auberval, who would later create La Fille mal gardée with his wife in the title role.
Is it possible that these dances performed in 1783 and 1784 could have given a name to a step that would become part of the quadrille vocabulary? She seems to have made a mark with these solos. A critic in the Public Advertiser for 18 January 1783 wrote ‘The Theodore, in her two Pas de Basque, especially the latter, is every Thing that is meant by the Words Liveliness, Vigour, and Agility’. Another critic, in the Morning Herald a few days earlier on 13 January, gave additional details of the performance:
‘As long as the Theodore confines herself to those light and skipping motions in dancing, which have so powerfully recommended her to public notice, she will ever remain unrivaled. She was greatly and deservedly applauded in her two Pas de Basque; but especially in the last; when there happening a little accident of her shoe slipping off, she went on with her dance, and convinced the spectators, that shod or unshod, she is the liveliest of the lively train.’
Apart from the evident vivacity of her dancing, the mishap may well have drawn extra attention to her steps and ignited a desire to imitate them.
These Pas de Basque were performed in ‘an entirely new Ballet’ Le Tuteur trompé; or, the Guardian outwitted by Charles Le Picq, being performed for the first time on 11 January 1783. It was taken, in part, from Beaumarchais’s Le Barbier de Séville and according to the Morning Herald had dancing ‘which was mostly in the Spanish stile, and of course a novelty on this theatre’. The early 1780s were also a period when quadrilles were being danced both on stage and in the ballroom in London. Quadrilles were still quite new and may well have been establishing and extending both their steps and figures.
I don’t actually believe that Mlle Théodore and her dances introduced this step and gave it the name pas de basque. However, could they have played a part in its adoption into the ballroom and addition to the vocabulary of the newly emerging quadrille and even influenced its naming?