Category Archives: Stage Dancing

Dancers on the London Stage

Back in 2015, I wrote a short piece about dancing on the London stage from 1660 to 1760, a topic that still receives scant attention from dance historians. In the course of writing a recent post about one particular set of dances performed in London’s theatres, it crossed my mind that I should also pursue the dancers who worked there. Many of them have never featured in dance histories, which generally confine themselves to the same few famous names.

London’s best-known dancers, in their own time as well as ours, were quite often from Europe. They came from France in particular, but also from Italy as well as what is now Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. There were also many native-born dancers in London’s theatres, although they seem (more often than not) to have taken supporting roles to the visiting European stars. Claude Ballon and Marie-Thérèse de Subligny were acclaimed when they came to London in the years around 1700. Hester Santlow and John Shaw were two English dancers who always took leading roles – they were quite definitely not members of the corps de ballet.

We can only really trace the dancers in London’s theatre companies from the early 18th century, when newspaper advertising takes off. Even so, although this gives us records of their performances and, if we are lucky, the repertoire of individual dancers, there is still very little other evidence about their lives and careers. We know of very few portraits, even of the most famous dancers.

By the early 1700s, the playhouses and the opera house seem to have had small dance companies alongside the acting companies. There was also a dancing master, who may or may not be identifiable as such, who was a dancer, choreographer and (probably) the teacher of the actors and actresses of the main company. He would (probably) have been responsible for teaching new repertoire to the other dancers and even rehearsing them, in the group numbers at least. (The leading dancers would probably have taken care of their own solos and duets). I will take a look at some of these men in future posts. There is very little direct evidence of the dancing master’s status and duties – these have to be inferred from occasional references to him or his work. If there were any female dancers who fulfilled this role (and we know that some professional female dancers taught dancing), their status was never mentioned.

The dancers themselves had a range of skills and experience. In the early 18th century many of the female dancers were also actresses, even those who had a level of dance virtuosity equal to that of the visiting French ballerinas. At the same period, most of the leading male dancers (English as well as French) were solely dancers. Several English male dancers were, by repute, able to match the skills of their French counterparts. Lower down the rankings, male as well as female dancers had to deploy a range of performing skills. So far as we can tell, many of the native-born dancers on the London stage had some training in French belle danse, but probably as many did not.

The leading dancers in each company performed regularly in the entr’actes and, from the late 1710s, would take the principal dancing roles in pantomime afterpieces. Ballets, as we understand the term, only came into their own in the later 1700s (although the first example of the genre, John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus, dates to 1717). Pantomimes also needed a number of players who included dancing among a range of other skills. These supporting performers rarely, if ever, gave dances in the entr’actes unless they had a popular dance speciality. Actors and actresses were called upon to take part in country dances within plays – they rarely danced otherwise.

So, there is quite a range of lives and careers among the dancers on the London stage from 1660 to 1760, and beyond, ripe for investigation. As and when I write about them, I will use their repertoire to try and appraise their dancing skills as well as their status within the dance companies.

Advertisements

Dances on the London Stage: L’Allemande

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

Allemande Pecour

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

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

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

Allemande Hold Pecour

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

The Passacaille

As every musician knows (but not necessarily every dancer), the passacaille is a set of variations over a repeated 4-bar bass line. It shares this musical form with the chaconne, although the notated dances surviving from the 18th century reveal several differences between them. In her recent book Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera, Rebecca Harris-Warrick looks at passacailles and chaconnes from various perspectives. Her observations are of interest in relation to the appearance of these dances on the London stage. Harris-Warrick points out that passacailles have a slower tempo than chaconnes and that they are often found in association with women ‘not infrequently when seduction is involved’ (p. 60). She also explains that they are the longest of the dances performed on stage and usually feature soloists and groups of dancers in their choreography (although this is not the case with the notated dances).

Passacailles are indeed the longest of the surviving recorded choreographies, in particular two solos created for female professional dancers: Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ for Hester Santlow to music from Desmaret’s 1697 opera Vénus et Adonis, 209 bars; Guillaume-Louis Pecour’s ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ for Marie-Thérèse Subligny to music from Gatti’s 1701 opera Scylla, 219 bars. In all six passacailles survive in notation, published between 1704 and the mid-1720s. All are to music from French operas, four are female solos, one is a female duet and one is a duet for a man and a woman.

Advertisements indicate that the passacaille was performed in the entr’actes at London’s theatres quite regularly between the 1705-1706 and 1735-1736 seasons. It was given either as a solo or a duet but not, apparently, as a group dance. The solos are exclusively performed by women, from Mrs Elford at the Queen’s Theatre on 13 June 1706 (when she danced a ‘Chacoon and Passacail’) to Mrs Bullock at Goodman’s Fields on 13 October 1735. Duets were quite rare, although four different couples were billed between 1715-1716 and 1725-1726. After 1735-1736, the dance type disappears from the bills, except for a single performance of ‘A New Dance call’d Le Passecalle de Zaid’ by Anne Auretti at Drury Lane on 26 March 1754 (the occasion was her benefit). The passacaille reappears in the early 1770s for occasional performances until the mid-1780s.

For most of the passacailles performed in London, it is all but impossible to know what was danced either in terms of the music or the choreography. There are exceptions. The earliest is Pecour’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s 1686 opera Armide, created as a solo for Mlle Subligny and performed by her ‘en Angleterre’ during the winter of 1701-1702 – the only time she visited London. This demanding solo (a mere 149 bars) was published in notation around 1713.

Pecour Passacaille Armide 1

Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ‘Passacaile’, Nouveau recueil de danse de bal et celle de ballet (Paris, [c1713]), pl. 79

Anthony L’Abbe’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s Armide was created as a female duet, and must have been danced late in the 1705-1706 season in the brief interval between Mrs Santlow’s debut and Mrs Elford’s retirement.

Labbe Passacaille Armide 1

Anthony L’Abbé, ‘Passacaille of Armide’, A New Collection of Dances (London, c1725]), pl. 7

In his Preface to The Art of Dancing, the manual of dancing he published in 1735, Kellom Tomlinson referred to ‘Miss Frances, who, on the Theatre Royal in Little Lincoln’s Inn Fields, performed the Passacaille de Scilla, consisting of above a thousand Measures or Steps, without making the least Mistake’. He seems to be referring to the music from Gatti’s Scylla, if not to the choreography created by Pecour for Mlle Subligny (although neither the music nor the notated dance extends to a thousand bars). A Miss Francis did in fact dance a ‘new Passacaille’ at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 19 March and again on 27 April 1719. The other exception is, of course, L’Abbé’s solo for Mrs Santlow referred to above. Although no date or place for a performance of this choreography is known, it is a stunning example of the challenges of such a dance.

Was the music for the other passacailles billed in the early 18th century invariably French? There are some beautiful examples of the dance type (usually titled chaconnes but with the features of passacailles) among late 17th-century music by English composers. Some of these were undoubtedly danced in the semi-operas of the period. Did any of the other performers billed in passacailles dance the choreographies that have survived? Mrs Bullock is known to have been a virtuoso dancer. She danced a passacaille with Charles Delagarde at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 7 May 1716 as well as her later solo, either of which could have drawn on notated dances. Since they were showpieces, it is not surprising that most passacailles were billed for benefit performances, although not always the dancer’s own. It is interesting that not one of the named performers, male or female, of passacailles given in London up to 1735-1736 is French. There are many puzzles about French dancing in London’s theatres in the early 18th century.

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.

Dance Types on the London Stage

For a number of years, I have been researching dancing on the London stage between 1660 and 1760. There are several studies of theatrical dancing in the French ballets de cour and French operas of that period, but dancing in London has been largely ignored. This neglect is understandable, up to a point. In London’s theatres, dances were usually performed between the acts of plays, in the divertissements within semi-operas or, later, in the masques and pantomimes that followed the main tragedy or comedy of the evening. Other than their titles, and who danced them, we know little about them. If we are lucky, a tune with the same title as a dance may survive in a collection of country dances, a music tutor or elsewhere (although the tune may turn out to have little to do with the dance). Except in a handful of cases, no choreography survives. Despite all these difficulties, I just cannot rid myself of my fascination with this lost repertoire and its dancers.

Dancing on the London stage was much influenced by French belle danse. One area of interest, which might also be fruitful in research terms, lies in the various dance types known from the corpus of dances notated in the early 1700s. Some of these dances appear explicitly in the entr’actes and some do not. Among those that can be found are the Allemande, Chaconne, Folia (‘Folie d’Espagne’), Forlana (billed once only as a ‘Forlanta’), Hornpipe, Gigue (actually the ‘Jig’ which may, or may not, be a French Gigue), Loure (mainly in the form of the ‘Louvre’, i.e. the ball dance Aimable Vainqueur), Minuet, Musette, Passacaille, Rigaudon and Saraband (to which I have previously devoted a post). Entr’acte dances with these dance types in their titles were billed and it seems likely that many of them were what they claimed to be. Those not billed are the Bourrée, Canary, Courante, Gavotte and Passepied. They may well have been performed, but they are never mentioned among the advertisements for entr’acte dances. I cannot explain why some of these dances were not among those named in the bills (though some, like the Courante, may simply have gone out of fashion).

From time to time, I will take a closer look at some of the dance types that were performed on the London stage.