Category Archives: Dancing at Court

THE RESTORATION COURT BALL

Samuel Pepys provides us with two descriptions of balls at the Restoration court that deserve to be better known.

The first took place on 31 December 1662. After seeing the Duke and Duchess of York at supper, Pepys went ‘into the room where the Ball was to be, crammed with fine ladies, the greatest of the Court’, all waiting for the ball to begin.

‘By and by comes the King and Queen, the Duke and Duchesse, and all the great ones; and after seating themselfs, the King takes out the Duchess of Yorke, and the Duke the Duchesse of Buckingham, the Duke of Monmouth my Lady Castlemayne, and so other lords other ladies; and they danced the Bransle. After that the King led a Lady a single Coranto; and then the rest of the Lords, one after the other, other ladies. Very noble it was, and a great pleasure to see. Then to Country dances; the King leading the first which he called for; which was – says he, Cuckolds all a-row, the old dance of England. … The manner was, when the King dances, all the ladies in the room, and the Queen herself, stands up; and endeed he dances rarely and much better then the Duke of Yorke.’

Pepys enjoyed the occasion. ‘Having stayed here as long as I thought fit, to my infinite content, it being the greatest pleasure I could wish now to see at Court, I went out, leaving them dancing.’

On 15 November 1666, Pepys wrote of ‘the Ball at night at Court, it being the Queenes Birthday’. He took himself along to Whitehall Palace to watch the event.

‘Anon the house grew full, and the candles lit, and the King and Queen and all the ladies set. And it was endeed a glorious sight to see Mrs. Steward in black and white lace – and her head and shoulders dressed with Dyamonds. And the like a great many great ladies more (only, the Queene none); and the King in his rich vest of some rich silk and silver trimming, as the Duke of York and all the dancers were, some of cloth of silver, and others of other sorts, exceeding rich. Presently after the King was come in, he tooke the Queene, and about fourteen more couple there was, and begun the Bransles.’

Pepys tried to recall all the dancers, but could remember only some of them, ‘But all most excellently dressed, in rich petticoats and gowns and Dyamonds – and pearl.’ He then turned back to the dancing.

‘After the Bransles, then to a Corant, and now and then a French Dance; but that so rare that the Corants grew tiresome, that I wished it done. Only, Mrs. Steward danced mighty finely, and many French dances, especially one the King called the New Dance, which was very pretty. But upon the whole matter the business of the dancing itself was not extraordinarily pleasing. But the clothes and sight of the persons was indeed very pleasing, and worth my coming, being never likely to see more gallantry while I live – if I should come twenty times.’

Pepys does not say what time the ball began, but ‘About 12 at night it broke up’. He had mixed feelings about it ‘between displeased at the dull dancing, and satisfied at the clothes and persons.’

Pepys is not the most reliable narrator when it comes to dancing. His attention was constantly drawn to the women, particularly the countess of Castlemaine, and it is doubtful that he knew much about dance steps and figures. Nevertheless, he provides us with valuable information about the sequence of dances at court balls. These began with branles, led by the King, followed by a series of courantes (also initiated by the monarch) which might be interspersed with ‘French Dances’ before the country dances with which the ball ended. The ‘French Dances’ were perhaps choreographed duets – earlier versions of the ballroom dances published in notation in the early 1700s – whereas the country dances may well have been regarded as distinctly English.

The order, with its emphasis on precedence according to rank, is very similar to that outlined by Pierre Rameau in chapter 16 of Le Maître a danser, published in 1725. Charles II was the son of a French princess, Henrietta Maria, and had spent part of his exile in Paris, so he must have been well aware of the protocol governing the court balls of Louis XIV. There was also a French dancing master at the Restoration court, Jerome Francis Gahory, who must surely have been involved in organising these balls and perhaps creating choreographed dances for them, as his successors Mr Isaac and Anthony L’Abbé certainly did.

Charles II Dancing

Gonzales Coques, Charles II dancing at the Hague, May 1660? (Identification of the dancers is uncertain, but their deportment is very similar to other versions in which Charles II is recognisable)

It seems that there was a long tradition behind the grand balls at the early 18th-century French court, which was shared by the English court. Although Charles II rarely celebrated his birthday with a ball, those for his Queen became almost annual occasions. Such birthday balls would continue from the Restoration well into the 18th century. The bransles disappeared and the courante was replaced by the minuet but, except for these changes, later evidence suggests that the sequence of dances observed by Pepys remained much the same throughout the reigns of William and Mary, Queen Anne and the first three Georges.

A DANCE FROM THE LAST BALL AT MARLY: LA ROYALLE

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

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

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

Marie-Adelaide de Savoie

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

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

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

Henrietta Anne

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

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

La Royalle 1

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

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

 

The Origins of the Pas de Zephyr: Dancers

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

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

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

Zephyr Deshayes or Duport

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

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

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

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

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

Pas de Zephyr Poster

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

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

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

Duport was famed for taking virtuosity to new extremes.

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

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

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

Monsieur Albert Alcides

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

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

A Year of Dance: 1667

In England, the Anglo-Dutch War ended with the Treaty of Breda on 21 July 1667, but not before the Dutch had sailed up the Medway and raided Chatham Dockyard. Lady Castlemaine gave birth to a daughter, named Barbara Fitzroy but not acknowledged by the King. She was probably the child of John Churchill, later to become Duke of Marlborough. Barbara Villiers’s reign as Charles II’ s principal mistress was drawing to a close.

In France, Louise de la Vallière had the last of her children by Louis XIV. Their son Louis de Bourbon was born on 2 October 1667 (N.S.). The daughter she had borne the King in 1666, Marie Anne de Bourbon, had been legitimised in May. The King’s new love, Françoise-Athénaïs de Montespan, became his principal mistress during the year. The Queen also gave birth, on 2 January 1667 (N.S.), to a daughter named Marie-Thérèse after her mother and known as Madame Royale. She would live only until 1672.

In London, theatrical life picked up quickly once the theatres had reopened. The pattern remained the same, with the King’s Company under Killigrew in Bridges Street, off Drury Lane, and the Duke’s Company led by Sir William Davenant in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Samuel Pepys attended plays on several occasions and recorded quite a bit of dancing during the truncated 1666-1667 season and the early months of 1667-1668. He was again much taken with ‘Little Mis Davis’ who danced a jig in boy’s clothes at the end of John Caryll’s The English Princess, given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 7 March 1667. He confided to his diary ‘the truth is, there is no comparison between Nell’s dancing the other day at the King’s house in boy’s clothes and this, this being infinitely beyond the other’. Pepys had seen Moll Davis and remarked on her dancing back in 1662 and 1663. The performance by Nell Gwyn, in which he disparaged her dancing, was presumably as Florimell in Dryden’s Secret Love; or, The Maiden Queen which he saw at Bridges Street on 2 March. Pepys was overwhelmed by her acting ‘so great a performance of a comical part was never, I believe, in the world before as Nell do this, both as a mad girle, then most and best of all when she comes in like a young gallant; and hath the motions and carriage of a spark the most that ever I saw any man have. It makes me, I confess, admire her’. Pepys probably rather more than ‘admired’ both Nell Gwyn and Moll Davis.

Accompanied by his wife, Pepys saw Moll Davis again ‘dancing in shepherd’s clothes’ in James Shirley’s Love Tricks; or, The School of Compliments at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 25 August 1667, which ‘did please us mightily’. Was Moll playing the leading role of Selina, who disguises herself as a shepherd? Pepys also saw Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in the version by Sir William Davenant, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 19 April 1667, ‘which, though I have seen it often, yet is it one of the best plays for a stage, and variety of dancing and musique, that ever I saw’. Macbeth, with its singing and dancing witches, would have a long stage life. Pepys also noted the ‘very fine dance for variety of figures, but a little too long’ in Boyle’s The Black Prince, which he saw at Bridges Street on 19 October 1667. Towards the end of September, he had seen Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage, also at Bridges Street, finding it memorable only for ‘a most admirable dance at the end, of the ladies, in a military manner’. Dancing had become a fixture of performances on the London stage.

Paradoxically, there was very little in the way of dance performances at the French court this year. The only ballet de cour was the Ballet des Muses, which had begun its run of performances in December 1666 and was last given on 19 February 1667 (N.S.).

 

A Year of Dance: 1666

England continued to be involved in the second Anglo-Dutch War, with sea battles in June and July and a raid on Holland in August 1666, but the most significant event of the year (as destructive of property as the plague of the previous year had been of life) was the great fire of London in early September.

Great Fire of London

Anon. The Great Fire of London. Ludgate in flames with St Paul’s Cathedral (in the background) catching Fire (c1670)

The blaze left much of the city in ruins and it would take some years before life returned to normal. London’s theatres, in what was becoming the ‘West End’ were too far from the city itself to be directly affected. They reopened in December 1666 following their 18-month closure because of the plague. With so few performances in 1666, it is hardly surprising that there was no mention of dancing.

In France, the Queen Mother Anne of Austria died on 20 January 1666 (N.S.). Louise de la Vallière gave birth to Louis XIV’s daughter on 2 October (N.S.). She was known as Marie Anne de Bourbon and then, after she was legitimised, as Mlle de Blois. The first danced entertainment of the year preceded the death of the Queen Mother. The mascarade Le Triomphe de Bacchus was performed at the Palais Royal on 9 January 1666 (N.S.) with a cast entirely of male professional dancers. Pierre Beauchamps danced Bacchus. That year’s ballet de cour was delayed until mourning for the Queen Mother was over. The Ballet des Muses was first given at St Germain-en-Laye on 2 December 1666 (N.S.) and continued to be performed until February 1667. Louis XIV renewed his dance partnership with his sister-in-law Madame, who was indisputably the ballet’s leading female dancer. They appeared together in the 4th Entrée as a Berger and Bergère, in the 6th Entrée as an Espagnol and Espagnolle and in the 14th and final Entrée as a Maure and Mauresque. In addition, Madame appeared among the ladies of the court as the leading Pieride in the 11th Entrée. The King also danced as Cyrus in the 8th Entrée and as a Nymphe in the 12th Entrée. The latter marked his last appearance in a female role.

A Year of Dance: 1665

In 1665 the most significant event by far for England was the great plague of London, which took hold during the summer months and lasted until early 1666. The court moved to Salisbury in July 1665 and only returned to London the following February. The country was in the midst of the second Anglo-Dutch War, which began in March. (The first Anglo-Dutch War had been as long ago as 1652-1654, under the Commonwealth). An equally important event was the birth of a second daughter to the Duke and Duchess of York – Princess Anne would become Queen in 1702. Charles II’s third illegitimate son George Fitzroy, by Barbara Villiers Countess of Castlemaine, was born on 25 December 1665. He would later become Duke of Northumberland.

The diarist John Evelyn recorded a masque at court on 2 February. Samuel Pepys provided some additional details in his diary entry for the following day:

‘Then Mrs Pickering … did, at my Lady’s command, tell me the manner of the masquerade before the King and court the other day. Where six women (my Lady Castelmayne and Duchess of Monmouth being two of them) and six men (the Duke of Monmouth and Lord Arran and Monsieur Blancfort being three of them) in vizards, but most rich and antique dresses, did dance admirably, and most gloriously.’

There are no mentions of dancing in the theatres up to their closure, because of the plague, on 5 June 1665. They did not reopen until the autumn of 1666.

In France, Louis XIV’s mistress gave birth to two sons during 1665, one on 7 January (N.S.) and the other on 27 December (N.S.). Both babies died during 1666. The ballet de cour for 1665 was the Ballet de la Naissance de Vénus, in which the King’s sister-in-law Madame appeared as the goddess in the first Entrée with her husband as the Morning Star. She made her second appearance in the final Entrée as Roxane, with Louis XIV as Alexander the Great. The professional ballerina Mlle de Verpré appeared in the second Entrée of Part 2 as Daphne with a noble dancer, the Marquis de Beringuen, as Apollo. Another comédie-ballet by Molière and Lully, L’Amour Medecin, was given at Versailles on 15 September (N.S.) as an entertainment for a hunting party. It was later performed before the public at the Palais Royal in Paris.

 

 

A Year of Dance: 1664

Socially and politically, 1664 seems to have been a quiet year with no events of importance in either France or England.

In London, there are two tantalising references to dance performances. In January 1664, the play Pompey the Great was given at court. ‘After which a grand Masque is Danc’d before Caesar and Cleopatra, made (as well as the other Dances and the Tunes to them) by Mr John Ogilby’ (quotation from The London Stage, Part 1, which provides no source). The lack of further information is frustrating. Ogilby is now more widely known as a cartographer, but in his early years he had been a dancer and a dancing master and he seems to have plied his old trade alongside newer ones as a translator and a publisher. Pepys continued to be on the lookout for dancing actresses. On 10 September 1664, he saw Davenant’s The Rivals at Lincoln’s Inn Fields ‘which is no excellent play, but good acting in it; especially Gosnell comes and sings and dances finely’ adding (as an admirer of good music) ‘but for all that, fell out of the key, so that the musique could not play to her afterwards, and so did Harris [Henry Harris the actor, who took a leading role in the play] also go out of the tune to agree with her’. Was her dancing better controlled than her singing (and would Pepys have known whether it was or not)?

In Paris, one cultural event was the first performance of Le Mariage forcé a comédie-ballet by Molière and Lully given in the apartments of the Queen Mother at the Louvre on 29 January 1664 (N.S.) and then in the public theatre at the Palais Royal a couple of weeks later. The production featured Mlle Du Parc, a dancing actress, as Dorimène a young coquette. In the Ballet du Roy, which was scattered throughout the play, Louis XIV danced in the third Entrée as an Egyptien (a Gipsy). On 13 February 1664 (N.S.) the Ballet des Amours Deguisés was given at the Palais Royal. Louis XIV danced as Regnaut in the seventh Entrée, and the ballet included not only the Queen as Proserpine in the fourth Entrée but also Mlle de Verpré as Gouvernante d’Egypte in the second Entrée. The presence of the Queen in the cast presumably precluded Mlle de Verpré from dancing alongside the King.

The event of the year was the fête Les Plaisirs de l’Ile Enchantée given at Versailles over several days in May 1664. The entertainments included the Ballet du Palais d’Alcine with Mlle Du Parc as the sorceress Alcine. The King did not take part, so Mlle Du Parc danced the final Entrée with Pierre Beauchamps as Roger. The performance ended with a spectacular firework display depicting the destruction of Alcine’s palace.

Alcine's Palace

Les Plaisirs de l’Ile Enchantée (1664), Plate 9