Category Archives: Dancers & Dancing Masters

England’s Royal Dancing Masters, 1714-1788

On 1 August 1714, Queen Anne died and the Elector of Hanover became King George I. He arrived in England with his son, George Prince of Wales, in September. The following month Caroline Princess of Wales arrived with her three daughters, Anne the Princess Royal, Princess Amelia and Princess Caroline. The couple’s son, Prince Frederick, remained in Hanover as the representative of the electoral family. For the first time since the turn of the century, the royal family included children who would need the tuition of a dancing master.

There seem to have been at least two contenders for the role. John Essex made a pitch for the post with a new edition of his translation of Feuillet’s 1706 collection of contredanses, For the Further Improvement of Dancing (first published in 1710). This seems to have appeared in 1715 and is known from a copy now in the British Library in London. Essex reprinted the treatise in a much larger folio format, adding five new country dances and a ballroom duet the Princess’s Passpied. On the title page he pointed out that he taught ‘all the Ball Dances of the English and French Court’. More tellingly, he dedicated the new edition to Caroline, Princess of Wales, with particular reference to her ‘Patronage and Encouragement’ of the art of dancing. The single surviving copy may once have belonged to Caroline herself.

The other contender, who would become royal dancing master, was Anthony L’Abbé. His ballroom duet, The Princess Royale ‘a new dance for his Majesty’s birth day 1715’ must have been published in the Spring of 1715 (George I’s birthday was on 28 May). L’Abbé included a dedication to the five-year-old princess, revealing that he had already been appointed as her dancing master.

‘Madam, I should not think I entirely deserved the Honour of Instructing Your Royal Highness in the Art of Dancing, did I only confine myself in teaching You what has been published by other Masters.’

He went on to offer her his new dance, the first in a series that he (like Mr Isaac before him) would create for royal birthday celebrations.

Anthony L’Abbé had begun his career at the Paris Opéra in 1688 and came to London in 1698 at the invitation of the actor-manager Thomas Betterton. That year, L’Abbé danced before William III at Kensington Palace and in 1699 he and the visiting French star Claude Ballon performed a duet before the King, later published in notation. L’Abbé danced and choreographed in London’s theatres for several years. Like Isaac, he seems initially to have had no official appointment as royal dancing master. By 1720, though, he was receiving an annual salary to teach the three princesses. It is worth noting that L’Abbé was Mr Isaac’s brother-in-law, suggesting an element of family interest (if not inheritance) in the post. His tenure lasted until 1737, just a few years after his eldest pupil Anne the Princess Royal married Prince William of Orange and left England. He may also have taught the younger children of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Prince William, Princess Mary and Princess Louisa.

L’Abbé was succeeded by Leach Glover who, according to Read’s Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer 7 January 1738, ‘was appointed Dancing Master to the Royal Family’ at the beginning of that year. Like L’Abbé, Glover danced for many years on the London stage before retiring as a performer in 1741. The reason behind the choice of him to teach the younger children of George II and Queen Caroline remains obscure – he does not seem to have moved in court circles or to have been related to L’Abbé in any way. Glover apparently taught Prince William and the princesses Amelia, Caroline, Mary and Louisa. Princess Mary married Frederick, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel in 1740, for which Glover created his only known ballroom duet The Princess of Hesse, published in notation that year. He continued to be listed in The Court and City Register as royal dancing master until at least 1759, by which time his only pupil was Princess Amelia (Princess Caroline had died in 1757 and Princess Louisa had married Prince Frederick of Norway in 1743). Leach Glover died in 1762.

Prince Frederick had his own dancing master in Hanover. George Desnoyer was first advertised on the London stage at Drury Lane on 11 January 1721, dancing there for the rest of the season and returning in 1721-1722. Three dances created for him by Anthony L’Abbé and published in notation around that time show him to have been a virtuosic dancer. He may have been born in Hanover, where his father (who had danced at the Paris Opéra) was dancing master to the Elector. In 1722, Desnoyer was appointed in succession to his father, who had died the previous year. The Weekly Journal or Saturday’s Post 15 September 1722 reported:

‘One Mr. De Noye, a Dancing Master, is gone over to teach Prince Frederick, for which we hear his Majesty allows him a Sallary of Five Hundred Pounds per Annum.’

If the reporter had not highly inflated the amount, it must have reflected Desnoyer’s appointment as court dancing master and not simply as personal tutor to the prince.

In 1729, Prince Frederick came to London at the command of his father, now King George II. Desnoyer was dismissed from his post in Hanover the following year. He later followed his pupil to England, making his first appearance in nearly ten years at Drury Lane on 20 December 1731. He would enjoy a renewed and very successful career on the London stage until 1742. There is much evidence to suggest that Desnoyer was close to Prince Frederick, so it is not surprising that when the Prince married Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha in 1736 Desnoyer quickly became her dancing master. He subsequently began to teach the couple’s children. The General Advertiser 1 August 1748, reporting on the celebrations for the birthday of their eldest daughter, described Desnoyer as ‘Dancing Master to the Prince of Wales’s children’. By then, there were five – Princess Augusta, Prince George (later King George III), Prince Edward, Prince William and Prince Henry. George Desnoyer continued to receive a salary as dancing master to Princess Augusta’s children until 1764 (Prince Frederick died in 1751). He may have died not long after.

The last of the royal dancing masters with whom I am concerned provides further evidence of a hereditary strand to the appointment. Philip Denoyer (his preferred spelling) is listed as dancing master in the household of the Princess Dowager of Wales by the Royal Kalendar in 1767, having taken up the post the previous year. Over the following years, he appears as dancing master to the children of King George III and Queen Charlotte. He taught George Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and King George IV), Prince Frederick, Prince William, Prince Edward, Prince Ernest and Prince Adolphus. He continued as dancing master to the younger princes until 1788, the year he died. There is no evidence to suggest that Philip Denoyer ever appeared on the stage, marking a break in tradition. Such dance training as he received must surely have been from his father, and may well have been limited to ballroom and country dances. He brings to an end the service by the Desnoyer family to the Hanoverian royal family that had lasted for nearly 100 years, from the first employment of his grandfather by the Elector of Hanover in 1694.

There are, so far as I know (and I would be happy to be proved wrong), no surviving portraits of Anthony L’Abbé, Leach Glover, George Desnoyer or his son Philip. There is only Hogarth’s caricature of George Desnoyer, used in his painting ‘Taste in High Life’ as well as the print ‘The Charmers of the Age’ and within plate 1 to The Analysis of Beauty. Hogarth’s cruel depiction probably belongs to the final years of Desnoyer’s career in the early 1740s. Here he is with his last dancing partner La Barberina in ‘The Charmers of the Age’.

Charmers of the Age BM

England’s Royal Dancing Masters, 1660-1714

When Charles II was restored to his throne in 1660, it seems that he lost little time in appointing a royal dancing master. The patent for Jerome Francis Gahory as ‘dancing master to his Majesty’ is dated 19 April 1665, but other evidence suggests that he had taken up his post by Christmas 1660. He was the first of a series of dancing masters employed to teach members of the royal family during the late 17th and 18th centuries. This post looks at the period 1660 to 1714. A second post will look at 1714 to 1788.

Gahory was sworn as a ‘Groom of her Majesty’s Privy Chamber’ on 21 July 1663 but, as my post on Catherine of Braganza suggests, he must have begun teaching her some months earlier. A later document specifies his duties as ‘attending and teaching the art of dancing to the King and Queen at all times when he shall be required’.Gahory may well have been required to decide on and teach the dances given at court balls and even been involved in the more elaborate court entertainments that included dancing. Various records suggest that he held his post until at least 1688, and that he was called upon to teach royal scholars even later.

In Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, published in 1711, Gahory is mentioned in the dedication of part two as ‘the admirable Mr. Goree’. The dedicatee is the Duchess of Buckingham and Normanby who is described as his ‘last Masterpiece’ and Pemberton tells us that Gahory ‘had the Honour to teach eight or nine Crown’d Heads, and likewise most of our Quality’ during his long career. Apart from Charles II and his Queen, who were these ‘Crown’d Heads’? He certainly taught three more Queens, for in 1669 he is listed among the officers and servants to James, Duke of York’s eldest daughter Princess Mary (later Queen Mary II) and in 1677 he is recorded as dancing master to the Duchess of York (Mary of Modena, later James II’s Queen) and the Duke’s younger daughter Princess Anne (later Queen Anne). By implication, he may have taught the Duke of York (later James II) himself and perhaps even William of Orange (later William III and known as a good dancer) when he married Princess Mary in 1677. Gahory had begun his career in Paris, where he appeared in the Ballet du Dérèglement des Passions in 1648. Might he also have given lessons to the young Louis XIV? His last royal pupil seems to have been Anne’s son William, Duke of Gloucester, to whom he gave lessons in 1694. Jerome Gahory died, a very rich man, in 1703.

In 1681, the reversion of Gahory’s post was granted to Francis Thorpe who thereby became his designated successor. Quite by accident, I discovered that Francis Thorpe was the famous Mr Isaac. The clue lay in Gahory’s will, for he left the residue of his English estate (he also had a considerable estate in France) to ‘Francis Thorpe his nephew (known by the name of Isaac)’. Francis Thorpe was the son of Gahory’s sister and Isaac Thorpe. His father, named as ‘Monsr. Isac’ was described in 1653 as one of the best dancing masters in Paris. Francis Thorpe may have used the name ‘Mr Isaac’ as a compliment to his father as well as to show his lineage with its associated status. Isaac Thorpe may have danced alongside Gahory in the 1648 ballet de cour mentioned above. Francis Thorpe seems to have danced (under the name Isaac) in the French comédies-ballets Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and Psyché (1671).  By 1673 the younger ‘Mr Isaac’ was in England and in 1675 he danced in the English court masque Calisto.

Isaac Thorpe died in London in 1681, so references to the dancing master ‘Mr Isaac’ after that date must refer to his son. There is evidence for him teaching several young women, some of who appeared at court, including Katherine Booth, who may have danced a solo at a birth night ball in 1689, and Anne South, one of the Maids of Honour, in 1694. Oddly, there seems to be no direct evidence of him teaching Princess Anne, apart from the testimony of John Essex in his Preface to The Dancing-Master in 1728.

‘The late Mr. Isaac, who had the Honour to teach and instruct our late most excellent and gracious Queen when a young Princess, first gained the Character and afterwards supported that Reputation of being the prime Master in England for forty Years together: He taught the first Quality with Success and Applause, and was justly stiled the Court Dancing-Master, therefore might truly deserve to be called the Gentleman Dancing-Master.’ (p. xi)

Princess Anne married Prince George of Denmark in 1683 and thereafter was very often pregnant, so perhaps Mr. Isaac taught her (on behalf of his uncle) before then. Mr Isaac is now best known for his series of annual dances, published in notation between 1706 and 1716, several of which were created to celebrate Queen Anne’s birthday and probably performed at the birth night balls given at court. He died in 1721 and was buried at St James’s Church in Piccadilly.

After the death of William, Duke of Gloucester in 1700 there were no young princes or princesses for England’s royal dancing master to teach. This changed with the death of Queen Anne and accession of George I in 1714. I will turn to the later royal dancing masters in my next post.

So far as I know, there is no portrait of Jerome Francis Gahory, but Francis Thorpe – Mr Isaac – was painted by Louis Goupy. The original portrait apparently does not survive, but it was engraved by George White and published early in the 18th century.

Mr Isaac

La Camargo and the Entrechat-Quatre

Popular histories of ballet often tell us that Marie Anne Camargo was the first female dancer to perform the entrechat-quatre. Where does the story come from? Is it true?

I have been looking at pas battus in the notated stage dances for women in a series of other posts. These choreographies record them regularly performing assemblés battus as well as demi entre-chats and even demie cabrioles. There are hints, if no clear evidence in the notations, that female professional dancers performed entrechats-quatre long before Mlle Camargo made her debut at the Paris Opéra.

The story was examined by the publisher, bookseller and dance historian Cyril Beaumont in his Three French Dancers of the 18th Century: Camargo, Sallé and Guimard, published in 1954. He identified the originator of the story as Louis de Cahusac, citing his ‘La Danse et les Ballets’. I thought at first that Beaumont meant Cahusac’s La Danse ancienne et moderne of 1754, but I didn’t find it in the modern edition I have of that text and I couldn’t track down another work by Cahusac with the title Beaumont cites. Cahusac contributed many articles on dance topics to the famous Encyclopédie edited by Diderot and d’Alembert and published in the mid-18th century. Volume 5 of this great work has an entry for ‘Entrechat’, written by Cahusac, which includes the following paragraph:

‘J’ai vû naître les entrechats des danseuses; mademoiselle Salley ne l’a jamais fait sur le théatre; mademoiselle Camargo le faisoit d’une maniere fort brillante à quatre; mademoiselle Lany est la premiere danseuse en France qui l’ait passé au théatre à six.’

This could form the basis of another whole blog post on the topic of female batterie, but is it the source of the story of La Camargo and her ‘first’ entrechat-quatre? Note that Cahusac does not actually say she was the first, although this may perhaps be inferred from his words.

La Camargo’s virtuoso technique was certainly immediately recognised. Her debut at the Paris Opéra on 5 May 1726, was reviewed thus in the Mercure de France:

‘ … la Dlle Camargo, Danseuse de l’Opera de Bruxelles, qui n’avoit jamais paru ici, dansa les Caracteres de la Danse, avec toute la vivacité & l’intelligence qu’on peut attendre d’une jeune personne de quinze à seize ans. Elle est Eleve de l’illustre Mlle Prevost, qui la presenta au Public. Les Cabrioles & les Entrechats ne lui coûtent rien; & quoiqu’elle ait encore bien des perfections à acquerir pour approcher de son inimitable Maîtresse, le Public la regarde comme une des plus brillantes Danseuses qu’on sçauroit voir, surtout pour la justesse de l’oreille, la legereté & la force.’

There is no suggestion here that cabrioles and entrechats were new to female dancers, Camargo’s ease and brilliance of execution are noted but her vocabulary excites no comment.

In 1733, in Le Temple du Goût, Voltaire included the lines:

Legere & forte en sa souplesse,

La vive Camargo sautoit,

A ces sons brillans d’allegresse,

Et de Rebel et de Mouret.

Voltaire placed Camargo between Marie sallé ‘D’un pas guidé par la justesse’ and the actress Adrienne Lecouvreur ‘avec cette grace divine’. A footnote to the lines declares ‘Mademoiselle Camargo, la première qui ait dansé comme un homme’ without further elaboration. It seems to refer to the ‘attack’ in her dancing and not to her actual steps, contrasting her with the performers either side in the verses.

Marie Anne Camargo retired from the Paris Opéra twice, first in 1734 or 1735 (both dates are given in different sources and I haven’t yet found a contemporary reference) only to return in 1740 and then retire, finally, in 1751.

When she died in 1770, obituaries recalled Camargo at the height of her powers. Les Spectacles de Paris pour l’année 1771 included a biography of her with an appraisal of her dancing:

‘ … exécuta-t-elle tous les genres possibles de la dame noble, les menuets, les passe-pieds d’une manière bien supérieure à Mlle Prévost, et elle y conserva ce je ne sais quoi de piquant qu’elle avoit pris de sa maîtresse, ainsi que dans les entrées de pures grâces. Les gavottes, les rigaudons, les tambourins, les loures, tout ce qu’on appelle les grands airs étoit rendus dans leurs caractères, par la variété des pas qui y étoient propres, car elle les avoit tous dans la jambe et si elle n’a pas fait usage de la gargouillade, c’est qu’elle la croyait peu convenable aux femmes. Elle y substitua le pas de Basque dont elle seule et Dumoulin ont fait usage. Jamais personne qu’elle n’a fait ces beaux pas de menuet sur le bord des lampes, d’un côté du théâtre à l’autre, d’abord de gauche à droite et ensuite en revenant de droite à gauche.’

This text was transcribed by Émile Campardon in his L’Académie Royale de Musique au xviiie siècle, published in Paris, 1884 (pp. 88-89). It provides a more nuanced view of La Camargo’s dancing than is usually given, although allowance must be made for the developments in style and technique  since her retirement which may well have influenced the writer.

As late as 1804, in the last edition of his works, Jean-Georges Noverre wrote of having seen Camargo dance:

‘J’ai vu danser la Dlle. Camargo. C’est à tort que quelques auteurs lui ont prêté des graces. La nature lui avoit refusé tout ce qu’il faut pour en avoit; elle n’étoit ni jolie ni grande ni bienfaite; mai sa danse étoit vive, légère et pleine de gaieté et de brillant. Les jettés battus, la royale, l’entrechat coupé sans frottement, tous ces tems aujourd’hui rayés du catalogue de la danse et qui avoient un éclat séduisant, la Dlle. Camargo les exécutoit avec une extrême facilité, elle ne dansoit que des airs vifs, et ce n’est pas sur ces mouvemens rapides que l’on peut déployer de la grace: mais l’aisance, la prestesse et la gaieté la remplacoient; …’

The steps he mentions are those we today associate with the male dancers of the period, but Noverre talks only of her facility, thereby suggesting that they were routinely performed by women.

The various accounts of La Camargo’s dancing need more detailed analysis, as they surely provide us with important information about the style and technique open to some (if not all) female professional dancers of her time. The story of the entrechat-quatre masks a far more compelling picture of the dancer Marie Anne Camargo, whose brilliance of technique convinced audiences that she danced with the virtuosity of a man.

Camargo Wallace Collection

Nicolas Lancret, Mlle Camargo Dancing, 1730

Demie Cabriole en Tournant un Tour en Saut de Basque – a Step Solely for a Man?

My previous post, about the jetté emboîté – pas simple and the demie cabriole or jetté battu – pas simple, indicated that male dancing was not necessarily always about the more difficult steps. However, there is one virtuosic step that is almost always found in dances for men but (with one exception) never in dances for women – the demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque. Here is Feuillet’s notation for it in Choregraphie (p. 85):

Cabrioles Feuillet 2 (3)

It is a bit easier to list those male dances in the three collections I am concerned with which do not include this step.

In the 1704 Pecour Recüeil: ‘Sarabande pour un homme’; ‘Folies d’Espagne pour un homme’; ‘Sarabande pour un homme’ (music Colasse, Enée et Lavinie); ‘Sarabande pour deux hommes’. (3 of the 8 solos and 1 of the 5 duets)

In the Pecour Nouveau recüeil of c1713: ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ (music Cavalli, Xerxes); ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ (music Stuck, Méléagre); ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ (music Campra, Les Fêtes vénitiennes); ‘Entrée de deux hommes’ (Blondy and Marcel, music Campra, Les Fêtes vénitiennes). (all 3 solos and 1 of the 4 duets)

L’Abbé’s New Collection of c1725: ‘Pastoral by a Gentleman’; ‘Spanish Entrée’ (Desnoyer, music Lully, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme). (2 of the 4 solos and neither of the 2 duets)

All of the dances from the 1704 Recüeil are sarabands (including the ‘Folies d’Espagne’). In Pecour’s collection of c1713, one of the dances is actually an entrée grave while another is a loure. In L’Abbé’s collection, both are loures. Is a pattern emerging? Are sarabands and loures less likely to include such virtuosic steps?

None of L’Abbé’s choreographies have more than one demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque. Two of Pecour’s include as many as three – the solo ‘Entrée d’Appolon’ and the ‘Entrée pour deux hommes’ danced by Piffetau and Cherrier to music from Campra’s L’Europe galante. The latter is a loure, disrupting the possible pattern I mentioned earlier.

In the majority of instances, the demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque is preceded by a contretemps. It also usually has a three-quarter turn in the air, often clockwise and often starting facing stage left and finishing facing stage front. In three of the solos and seven of the duets it is the final step of the dance.

The demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque is notated in only one of the stage dances for a woman, the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ created by Anthony L’Abbé for Hester Santlow (plate 52, bar 129):

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 52 (2)

As you can see, the step is preceded by a contretemps. I will return to this solo in another post.

Demie Cabrioles in Male Solos and Duets

Given the frequent use of the jetté emboîté followed by a pas simple (which I abbreviate as jetté-pas simple) in the women’s dances, I expected to find many examples of this step with a demie cabriole (also called a jetté battu) instead of a jetté in the choreographies for men. In fact, where it appears in Pecour’s dances he prefers the less virtuosic version.  L’Abbé, on the other hand, does make good use of it.

In the 1704 collection of Pecour’s stage dances, the demie cabriole with a step appears only in the ‘Chacone pour un homme’ (bar 14, plate 177) and the ‘Entrée d’Appolon’ (bar 9, plate 195). In the former it is preceded by a contretemps and followed by a jetté-chassé. In the latter, the demie cabriole takes a variant form with the working foot coming into emboîté derrière and then stepping forward – making it a different step, to which Pecour adds a half-turn:

Entree Pecour 1704 195 (2)

Both dances include the jetté-pas simple version, and this also appears in four of the other six male solos as well as three of the five duets.

In the Nouveau Recüeil published around 1713, Pecour makes no use of the demie cabriole and includes the jetté-pas simple version only in the ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ and the ‘Entrée de deux homme’ performed by Marcel and Gaudrau. Does the absence of the demie cabriole from this step, throughout the collection, reflect a deliberate choreographic choice by Pecour?

L’Abbé, by contrast, seems to have thought the demie cabriole version of this step indispensable for he includes it in all four of the solos and both of the duets in his New Collection. We get a hint of his choreographic preferences (or perhaps a glimpse of baroque choreographic conventions) because the step is very often preceded by a contretemps. L’Abbé generally follows it with a variety of more or less complex pas composés. Here are a couple of examples. First, from the ‘Chacone of Amadis’ danced by Dupré (bar 21, plate 58):

Chacone of Amadis L'abbe 1725 58 (2)

Second, from the ‘Entrée’ (an entrée grave) danced by Desnoyer (bar 13, plate 78):

Entree L'Abbe 1725 78 (2)

In the only male dance in which L’Abbé uses the jetté-pas simple, Desnoyer’s ‘Entrée’, he puts two of them together and then adds the demie cabriole version (bar 35, plate 82):

Entree L'Abbe 1725 82 (2)

In the ‘Pastoral performed by a Gentleman’, L’Abbé includes a variant on the demie cabriole version of the step in the hornpipe section of the dance. He follows the practice in this English dance type of beginning a step in one bar and finishing it in the next and does so twice, each time substituting a jetté for the pas simple (bar 33, plate 68,  immediately below and bar 54, plate 71, further below):

Pastoral L'Abbe 1725 68 (2)

Pastoral L'Abbe 1725 71 (2)

In each case the context for the step is quite different. I find it hard to believe that the ‘Gentleman’ who performed this very difficult dance was an amateur. Who could he possibly have been?

I have, of course, entirely ignored the demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque, which is essentially the demi cabriole – pas simple with a turn in the air and is very often used in the male dances. I will turn to that in my next post.

Dances on the London Stage: Castiglione’s A Cortegiano

In the course of my research into dancing on the London stage, I recently came across ‘A new Comic Dance called A Cortegiano by Castiglione’ performed at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket on 29 December 1735, at the end of act 5 of Dryden’s The Spanish Fryar. The dance’s title is a very obvious reference to Il Cortegiano by the dancer’s namesake Baldassare Castiglione, originally published in Venice in 1528.

Who was the dancer Castiglione and why would he create a dance whose title refers to an early 16th century courtesy book?

Castiglione (we have no record of his first name) danced in London between 1734 and 1736. I have not been able to discover anything about his earlier or later career. According to The London Stage, his first appearance in London was on 28 October 1734 at Drury Lane. His last performance was very likely on 29 May 1736 at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, when he appeared as Pierrot in Henry Fielding’s Tumble Down Dick; or, Phaeton in the Suds. The afterpiece was described in advertisements as ‘The Practice of a Dramatick Entertainment of Walking, in Serious and Absurd Characters’, which sounds like a satirical reference to John Weaver and his ‘Dramatick Entertainments of Dancing’ of the 1710s to 1730s.

The dancer Castiglione may have been Italian in origin, but he probably came to London from France. At his benefit performance on 28 March 1735, the mainpiece was Arlequin Balouard given by a company of French comedians including ‘Francisque’ (Francisque Moylin) as Arlequin, while the entr’acte dances were Les Warriors, Les Transfigurations, The Prisoner, a Comical Pantomime Dance, Pierot and Pieraite, a Wooden Shoe Dance and a Pantomime after the Venetian Manner ‘All by Castiglione’. The first three seem to have been performed only this once on the London stage. The titles of the last four of his dances call to mind the French forain repertoire that had been popular in London’s theatres for more than twenty years.

With A Cortegiano, Castiglione was not only showing off his knowledge of his heritage but also capitalising on the English passion for Italian culture.  Il Cortegiano had been published in an English translation as recently as 1724 and a parallel English – Italian edition had appeared in 1727. The latter was accorded a second edition in 1737.

Cortegiano 1737 title page

For a dancer, Castiglione must have been unusually well read!

Pas de Sissonne Battu in Stage Dances for Men

The pas de sissonne battu occurs in many, but certainly not all, of the male solos and duets in the 1704, c1713 and c1725 collections of stage dances I am investigating.

The collection of ‘Entrées de Ballet’ by Pecour published in 1704 has 8 male solos and 5 male duets. Of these, two solos and two duets do not include the pas de sissonne battu. In the other dances, some conventions surrounding the step begin to emerge.  The assemblé battu is often followed by a changement rather than the sissonne (a vertical spring from two feet to one, from which the pas de sissonne presumably derives its name). The assemblé battu occasionally incorporates a turn in the air. In the two examples in this collection, it is a half-turn. Although the step is preceded by a variety of pas composés, it is most often followed by a coupé simple and a coupé (sometimes a coupé battu) avec ouverture de jambe. Does this reveal one of Pecour’s favoured choreographic motifs?

Here is an example from a solo, the ‘Sarabande pour un homme non dancée a l’Opera’, bar 46 (plate 215).

Sarabande Pecour 1704 215 (2)

And another from a duet, ‘Entrée pour deux hommes’ a loure danced by ‘Mr. Piffetau et Mr. Cherrier’, bar 11 (plate 165).

Entree Pecour 1704 165 (2)

Another example in this collection may not really be a pas de sissonne battu at all, for the plié is shown on the first beat and there is no following changement or sissonne – ‘Loure pour deux hommes’ danced by Blondy and Philbois, bar 18 (plate 173).

Loure Pecour 1704 173 (2)

In this collection, the pas de bourée en presence also appears a number of times after the pas de sissonne battu.

There are quite a lot of mistakes in the notations within this collection. Is the following, from the ‘Sarabande pour un homme’ bar 35 (Plate 227), an assemblé with an additional beat or simply a pas élevé battu?

Sarabande Pecour 1704 227 (2)

Pecour’s second collection of theatrical choreographies, published around 1713, has three male solos and four male duets. Only one solo and one duet include the pas de sissonne battu. There is no way of telling whether this might point to changing choreographic choices by Pecour or is purely by chance. What is interesting is that the immediate choreographic context for the step is the same in both dances. Here is the step in Pecour’s ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’, bar 32 (plate 106).

Entree Pecour 1713 106 (2)

And here it is in Pecour’s ‘Entrée de cithe dancée par Mrs. Blondy et Marcel’, bar 12 (plate 100).

Entree de Cithe Pecour 1713 100 (2)

In both, the pas de sissonne concludes with a changement. It is immediately preceded by a chassé battu and immediately followed by a pas de bourée en presence.

Could a study of the use of such phrases help us to understand more about the choreographic style of individual dancing masters?

There are hints of individual choreographic style in L’Abbé’s use of the pas de sissonne battu and his contexts for the step. There are four male solos and two male duets in his New Collection of Dances published in the mid-1720s. One of the solos and one of the duets do not contain the step. Among the others, when the assemblé battu is followed by a changement, Le Roussau often uses a variant notation method, for example in L’Abbé’s ‘Spanish Entry Performed by Mr Desnoyer’, bar 20 (plate 74).

Spanish Entry L'Abbe 1725 74 (2)

L’Abbé seems to enjoy placing this step within a phrase of more demanding pas battus, for example entrechats. Although he may simply be exploiting the virtuosity of his male dancers. As in the ‘Chacone of Amadis Perform’d by Mr Dupré’, bar 43 (plate 60).

Chacone of Amadis L'Abbe 1725 60 (2)

Or in the ‘Spanish Entry Performed by Mr Desnoyer’, bar 29 (plate 75).

However, L’Abbé also uses Pecour’s device of a coupé followed by a coupé avec ouverture de jambe from time to time, always after the pas de sissonne battu and sometimes with an extra embellishment such as a rond de jambe (see the ‘Entrée performd’ by Mr Desnoyer’, bars 30-31, plate 81). Apart from the addition of a turn to the assemblé battu and the regular substitution of a changement for the sissonne, L’Abbé does not embellish the pas de sissonne battu itself.

In all these collections the assemblé battu is notated just as it appears in the women’s dances. Of course, the men may have added their own ornamentations in performance, just as the women may have done.