Category Archives: Ballet de Cour

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.

 

 

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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

 

A Year of Dance: 1663

The most significant event of 1663, so far as the London stage was concerned, was the opening of the new Theatre Royal in Bridges Street (just off Drury Lane) on 7 May. The playhouse, built for Thomas Killigrew and his King’s Company, occupied the site which is still home to today’s Drury Lane Theatre.

So far as dancing in London’s theatres is concerned, we still know very little, although Pepys did record seeing ‘the little girl’ (Moll Davis) dance in ‘boy’s apparel’ at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 23 July 1663. There was also a ‘greate Masque’ at court on 2 July, mentioned by John Evelyn in his diary, but nothing is known about it.

In France, the Ballet des Arts was given at the Palais Royal in Paris on 8 January 1663 (N.S.). The King danced with his sister-in-law Madame, in the first Entrée, as a Berger to her Bergère. That was his only appearance in the ballet. Madame returned to dance Pallas Athene, surrounded by court ladies as Amazones, in the final Entrée. Later in the year, on 3 October 1663 (N.S.), Louis XIV appeared as a Fille du Village and a Bohemien (Gypsy) in the mascarade Les Noces de Village performed at the château de Vincennes. The cast of this comic piece (which cannot be classed as a ballet de cour, despite its text by Benserade and performances by the king, his courtiers and professional dancers) was entirely male.

Louis XIV had begun a liaison with Louise de la Vallière in 1661. Their first child together, named Charles de la Baume le Blanc, was born on 19 December 1663 (N.S.). He lived for only 18 months. In England, Charles II’s mistress Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, gave birth to his son on 28 September 1663. The boy was named Henry FitzRoy and would later become Duke of Grafton.

A Year of Dance: 1662

The diary kept by Samuel Pepys is one of the most important sources of information about the public theatres in London during the 1660s. His testimony reveals that by 1662 dancing had become part of the entertainments offered on the newly revived stage. Although it seems to have been little more than an occasional light interlude within or alongside plays.

On 18 February 1662, Pepys went to see The Law Against Lovers (Sir William Davenant’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure with additions from Much Ado About Nothing) at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre. He commended ‘the little girl’s (whom I never saw act before) dancing and singing’. She may well have been Moll Davis, who played the role of Viola in the play. She would later become one of Charles II’s many mistresses. Pepys records seeing dancing in other plays during the first months of the 1662-1663 theatrical season, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream on 29 September 1662. He thought it an ‘insipid ridiculous play’ but there was ‘some good dancing’.

At court, the most notable event of the year was the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza. She landed at Portsmouth on 13 May and the wedding took place there on 21 May 1662. Just a few weeks earlier, on 30 April, Anne the wife of James Duke of York had given birth to a daughter Mary (who would later become joint ruler of Britain with her husband William of Orange). On 18 June, Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine gave birth to the king’s illegitimate son – named Charles after his father.  As if that was not enough, in July 1662 the Queen Mother Henrietta Maria visited London, bringing with her Charles II’s 13-year-old illegitimate son James Crofts. He quickly became a favourite at court.

In France, the only ballet de cour of 1662 was the Ballet d’Hercule Amoureux inserted into Cavalli’s opera Ercole amante composed in honour of Louis XIV’s marriage in 1660. The whole entertainment was performed in the new Salle des Machines in the Tuileries Palace in Paris on 7 February 1662 (N.S.). Louis XIV ‘representant la Maison de France’ danced the first Entrée, accompanied by the Comte de St. Aignan as Valour. The King and the Queen (as ‘la Maison d’Austriche’) both danced in the second Entrée, with Louis’s brother Monsieur as Hymen. The king made further appearances as Pluton in the eighth Entrée and Mars in the ninth. One of the handful of female professional dancers at the French court, Mlle Girault, danced as La Lune in the tenth Entrée, while another, Mlle de Verpré, danced as L’Aurore in the sixteenth Entrée. She had the distinction of heralding the final appearance of the king in the eighteenth and penultimate Entrée of the ballet, as Le Soleil. Sadly, no design seems to survive to show how Louis XIV looked as a young adult in his signature role.

At court, Louis XIV’s sister-in-law Madame gave birth to her first child on 26 March 1662 (N.S.), a daughter named Marie Louise. She later became Queen of Spain. On 18 November, the Queen gave birth to her second child and first daughter, named Anne Elisabeth. The baby died before the end of the year. Late in December, Nicolas Fouquet was sentenced to be banished, ensuring that he would never return to power to challenge the French king’s cultural supremacy.

A Year of Dance: 1661

I have been writing a great deal around the 300th anniversary of John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus – the first modern ballet. Weaver was, of course, indebted to the dancing of earlier periods and I would like to return to one of my other strands within Dance in History. Here is a new ‘Year of Dance’ and there will be more to follow soon – I hope!

After the temporary arrangements following the Restoration of Charles II, theatrical life in London began to settle into a pattern. At the beginning of the year, Thomas Killigrew and the King’s Company were already playing in a converted tennis court in Vere Street. By June 1661, William Davenant and the Duke’s Company had opened their theatre in a converted tennis court in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The two companies established a monopoly which would endure over very many years and through many changes of companies and theatres.

The repertoire for the 1661-1662 season (theatrical seasons ran from September to the following June or July, although this post is concerned only with the calendar year) included a play entitled The Dancing Master, possibly played in December by the King’s Company. There is otherwise no reference to dancing in the scant evidence that survives for the year’s stage offerings. In the autumn, a visiting troupe of players from France performed some of the ‘machine plays’ popular in Paris. They were apparently able to reproduce many of the scenic marvels associated with the genre at the Cockpit Theatre in Drury Lane. They also played at court.

In England, the year had begun with an act of political revenge, when Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed and posthumously executed on 30 January, the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I. A happier event was the coronation of Charles II at Westminster Abbey on 23 April. The available sources are silent as to any dancing that might have formed part of the celebrations.

In France, Cardinal Mazarin died in March and Louis XIV (at the age of twenty-two) decided to rule in person without a chief minister. That same month, Charles II’s sister Henriette married Louis XIV’s brother Philippe. She became duchesse d’Orléans and was henceforth known by the courtesy title of Madame. The first child of Louis and his Queen Marie-Thérèse, a dauphin named Louis for his father, was born in November.

There was a great deal of dancing at the French court. In February, the Ballet Royal de l’Impatience was given at the Louvre. In July, the Ballet des Saisons was performed at Fontainebleau. The French king danced in both. The first of Molière’s comédie-ballets, Les Fâcheux, was performed in August – first at Vaux-le-Vicomte (the château of Louis’s superintendent of finances Fouquet) and then at Fontainebleau. Fouquet’s entertainments outshone those of the King. He was quickly arrested and imprisoned. So far as dance history is concerned, the most important event of 1661 was the creation of the Académie Royale de Danse in March, which began the never-ending process of codifying and setting standards for the art.

 

Dancing ‘Spaniards’

There were dancing ‘Spaniards’ on stage long before ‘Spanish’ dances were recorded in notation. They appeared in English masques as well as in the French ballets de cour. Charles II is unlikely to have remembered the ‘grave Spanish lover’ in the second antimasque to William Davenant’s Triumphs of the Prince d’Amour, given in 1635 when he was only five years old. During his exile, Charles spent several periods in France. The last of these ran from 1651 to 1654, and the King might well have seen the Ballet des Proverbes when it was performed at the Louvre on 17 February 1654. Its final entrée of ‘Espagnols’ and ‘Espagnolles’ included the young Louis XIV and Pierre Beauchamp among the dancers (the ‘Espagnolles’ were all danced by men).

Dancing Spaniard from designs for Le Ballet de la Nuit, 1653

Dancing Spaniard from designs for Le Ballet de la Nuit, 1653

It is a matter for conjecture as to how such performances might have influenced the entertainments offered by the London theatres. Charles II and his court were certainly committed patrons of the theatres, after they legally reopened with the patents granted to Davenant and Killigrew in 1660. I was interested to come across dancing Spaniards in Dryden’s The Indian Emperor, first given at the Bridges Street Theatre in 1665 and published in 1667. The dance comes in act 4 scene 3 of the play and the stage direction reads ‘two Spaniards arise and Dance a Saraband with Castanieta’s’. The dance follows a song, ‘Ah fading joy, how quickly thou art past?’ sung by ‘many Indian Women’ who are captives of the Spanish (the play deals with the Spanish conquistadors).  The use of castanets suggests a dynamic dance, so perhaps it was meant to contrast with the song. It calls to mind the final entrée in the 1659 Ballet de la Raillerie in which an ‘Espagnolle’ appears ‘dansant avec Castagnettes’. However, Dryden’s inspiration was probably closer to hand. Davenant’s The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, performed and published in London in 1658, also includes a ‘Saraband’ danced by two Spaniards ‘with Castanietos’. The play was revived in 1661 and Dryden must surely have known it.

Was the music for the dance in The Indian Emperor Spanish or French, or did it draw on a more local tune? A country dance called The Spaniard had appeared in The English Dancing-Master when it was published in 1651 and was still included in the third edition of 1665. The music for Davenant’s The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru was by Matthew Locke.

Undoubtedly more influential in later years, although we lack direct musical evidence, was Lully’s score for Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, which included the Ballet des Nations with its Spanish, Italian and French entrées as well as the celebrated ‘Turkish’ ceremony. The comédie-ballet was given before Louis XIV at Chambord on 14 October 1670 and repeated later the same year for the public at the theatre in the Palais Royal in central Paris. It was revived in 1689, 1691 and as late as 1716. At the first court performance, the English actor Jo Haines was much applauded when he danced between the acts. Le Bourgeois gentilhomme was translated and adapted for London audiences by Edward Ravenscroft as The Citizen Turn’d Gentleman, given at the Dorset Garden Theatre in July 1672. Although it included Jo Haines as the French tutor and singing master, Ravenscroft’s version omitted the Ballet des Nations. The lasting influence of Lully’s dance music in France is clearly shown by the eight notated dances that use it. Did it also affect dancing on the London stage?

Campra’s opéra-ballet L’Europe galante, first performed at the Paris Opéra on 24 October 1697, was even more influential. Its four entrées were set in France, Spain, Italy and Turkey – the same as the four nations featured in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. L’Europe galante was revived in 1706, 1715, 1724, 1725, 1736 and 1747, providing clear evidence of its lasting popularity. There are nine notated dances to its music. The significance of L’Europe galante to French dance culture is obvious. Its importance to dancing in London is more difficult to determine, although Anthony L’Abbé later used music from the Turkish entrée for a popular stage duet.

There was also a ‘Ballet des Nations’ in Europe’s Revels for the Peace, performed at the English court on 4 November 1697 to celebrate both the Peace of Ryswick which had ended the Nine Years’ War and King William III’s birthday.  This work, with music by John Eccles, has dances by Spanish, Dutch, French and English men and women. The music for these dances was not included in the surviving manuscript score, but some of the tunes were published in Thomas Bray’s Country Dances in 1699. Unfortunately, the ‘Spanish’ dance was not among them. Europe’s Revels for the Peace was revived at the Queen’s theatre in 1706, so perhaps its music and dances did influence ‘national’ dances given on the London stage later in the 18th century.

So, there are some clues to the nature of performances by dancing ‘Spaniards’ during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Do the surviving dance treatises tell us anything about their dance style and technique?

 

Various Authenticities

When I first began to study baroque dance, I tried very hard to be authentic – not least because I was so often criticised for my ‘balletic’ approach. It took me some time to realise that such authenticity is impossible. We know a great deal about dancing in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (far more than most people realise), but there is just as much that we don’t and indeed cannot know. My own reconstructions of dances, particularly the solos danced by Mrs Santlow and Mlles Subligny and Guiot, owe as much (if not more) to my personal style and technique as a ballet-trained dancer as they do to the notations and dance manuals of the early 1700s.

The subject of authenticity came into my mind again a week or so ago, when I went to a talk at the Wallace Collection. The speaker was the choreographer and Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet David Bintley. His new ballet The King Dances is based on Le Ballet de la Nuit, the 1653 ballet de cour in which the fourteen-year-old Louis XIV appeared as the rising sun and became known ever after as the ‘Sun King’. Bintley talked about his forays into history and the world of baroque dance as he developed his choreography. He had gone so far as to have a baroque dance expert give instruction to his dancers – only to find that the unfamiliar style and technique was too difficult to learn in a short period. Although it marked the beginning of ballet, baroque dance was far from the strength and extension now characteristic of its descendant.

At the time of writing, I have not seen Bintley’s The King Dances so I cannot comment on the ballet. However, the photographs of the production are stunning. The young male dancers look as fabulously glamorous as their youthful antecedents at the French court must have done. When they are caught in mid-step the effect is strangely evocative of the ballet de cour, as we glimpse it through the few surviving designs for costumes and scenes. Could Bintley’s work possibly be ‘authentic’ in ways that a production consciously attempting complete ‘authenticity’ could not?

I thought about authenticity again this weekend, while I was taking part in a dance display for a heritage open day which also gave me time to watch. The dances – several cotillons by Dezais and a couple of ballroom duets – were all faithfully reconstructed from 18th-century sources. The costumes were handsome and in good period style, right down to the corsets. However, these were not the essential factors that made the display authentic. There was a range of skills and experience among the dancers and the dances were practised but not perfect. The dances were lively and all the dancers very evidently enjoyed performing them. They took pleasure in dancing with each other and for their audience. I couldn’t help thinking that it must have been very similar at many real balls in the 18th century – except that we may well have danced better than our forebears did.

Authenticity surely resides as much, if not more, in the spirit of the reconstruction as in the letter.