Category Archives: Stage Dancing

Stage Dances for Women and Feuillet’s Pas Battus

I have long been sceptical about the claim that Mlle Camargo was the first woman to perform an entrechat-quatre on stage, not least because I know that several of the earlier notated stage dances for women contain pas battus not so far removed from that feat. I thought it was time I looked more closely at the vocabulary in those dances, focussing on batterie in the jumped steps rather than the percussive pas battus used to embellish so many of the walking steps in choreographies created for the stage.

I listed the four principal sources for notated stage dances in an earlier post. Between them these collections contain 16 female solos and 7 female duets. The publication dates range over some 25 years, more than a generation of dancers, although the choreographies themselves may range from the 1690s to the 1720s. We don’t know how these notations relate to what was actually performed onstage and there is no consensus about the purposes behind their publication. Were they intended to record the choreographies performed by leading dancers, for dancing masters working in the theatre or even for fans? Were they actually simplified versions of the original dances intended for the teaching of talented (but not necessarily professional) pupils? Whatever the truth, they provide invaluable evidence of the dancing we have lost. They are well worth detailed exploration.

In Choregraphie, Feuillet provides tables for ‘Cabrioles, et demi Cabrioles’ as well as ‘Entre-chats et demy entre-chats’.

In addition, he includes aerial pas battus in his tables of ‘Contre-temps; and ‘Pas de sissonne’.

I should point out that there are differing interpretations of Pierre Rameau’s description of the contretemps in chapter 37 of Le Maître a danser. He uses the phrase ‘se relever en sautant dessus’, which has led some scholar-practitioners to adopt a relevé rather than a sauté. The former means that it is not, technically, a jumped step.

Feuillet was himself the notator of the 1700 collection of his own choreographies, as well as the 1704 collection of Pecour’s ‘Entrées de Ballet’. Both Gaudrau, who notated the Pecour collection of around 1713, and Le Roussau, who notated L’Abbé’s New Collection, used the system published by Feuillet in Choregraphie. Which, if any, of these pas battus appear in the notated dances for professional female dancers recorded in these collections?

Notated Dances for the Stage

Among the many dances published in notation in the early 18th century are four collections ostensibly for the stage.

  • Raoul Auger Feuillet. Recüeil de dances (Paris, 1700)
  • Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Recüeil de dances (Paris, 1704)
  • Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Nouveau recüeil de dances (Paris, c1713)
  • Anthony L’Abbé. A New Collection of Dances (London, c1725)

Feuillet’s 1700 collection has 15 of his own choreographies, the music for many being taken from French operas. The 1704 collection has 35 choreographies by Pecour and is described on the title page as ‘contenant un tres grand nombres, des meillieures Entrees de Ballet’. Many of these are linked, in the head titles on the first plate of individual notations, to specific performers in the operas from which the music is taken. The Nouveau Recüeil, dated to 1713 on internal evidence, is described on its title page as ‘Dance de Bal et celle de Ballet contenant un tres grand nombres des meillieures Entrees de Ballet’. It contains 9 ballroom dances and 30 choreographies for the stage. Many of the latter are also linked to specific performers in particular French operas. L’Abbé’s New Collection is dated, again on internal evidence, to around 1725. It contains only 13 choreographies, all but one of which are linked to dancers who appeared in London’s theatres and most of which use music from French operas.

These collections between them provide many insights into the dances performed onstage in both Paris and London during the first quarter of the 18th century (and perhaps the decade before). However, with so small a corpus of material, representing only three dancing masters, and uncertainty about the purpose of these collections it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the dance repertoire in either of the two cities.

Here are some statistics relating to the contents of each collection:

Feuillet (1700): 2 duets for a man and a woman; 3 male duets; 7 male solos; 2 female solos; one dance for 9 men (the only example of a stage dance for a group of dancers among all the surviving notations). The first dance in the collection is Le Rigaudon de la Paix, a duet for a man and a woman.

Pecour (1704): 15 duets for a man and a woman; 5 male duets; 1 female duet; 8 male solos; 6 female solos. The first dance in the collection is Sarabande pour une femme, to music from the Entrée for L’Espagne in the ‘Ballet de Nations’ within Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. Prominent among the named performers are Ballon and Mlle Subligny.

Pecour (c1713), stage dances only: 12 duets for a man and a woman; 4 male duets; 5 female duets; 3 male solos; 6 female solos. The first stage dance in the collection is the Entrée pour un homme et une femme, danced by Ballon and Mlle Subligny in Lully’s Thesée, although this time the most prominent of the named performers are Mlle Guyot and David Dumoulin.

Entree Thesee 1 (2)

L’Abbé (c1725): 4 duets for a man and a woman; 2 male duets; 1 female duet; 4 male solos; 2 female solos. The first dance in the collection is the Loure or Faune performd, before his Majesty King William the 3d bÿ Monsr. Balon and Mr. L’Abbé. The leading dancers in this collection are Dupré and Mrs Santlow, who each feature in four dances.

Loure or Faune 1

So, we get a flavour of changing emphases between the dances included in each collection, for example the increasing proportion of female solos and female duets in the two Pecour recüeils. The bedrock of the repertoire throughout all four remains the duets for a man and a woman and the solos and duets by men, which may well reflect the distribution as well as the status of dances within the original stage context.

Love’s Mistress

One of the most interesting productions of the Restoration period, so far as stage dancing is concerned, is Thomas Shadwell’s Psyche, first given with music by Matthew Locke at the Dorset Garden Theatre on 27 February 1675. I have written elsewhere about the piece and St André’s choreography for it. Shadwell drew heavily on Lully’s tragédie-ballet Pysché with its text by Molière, Quinault and others, given an exceptionally lavish production at the French court in 1671.

The London Psyche also has an English antecedent – Thomas Heywood’s Psyche; or Love’s Mistress (often titled Love’s Mistress; or, The Queen’s Mask) which was performed several times during the 1660s. Heywood’s play dates back to the 1630s and was one of the post-Restoration revivals from the pre-Civil War theatre. Samuel Pepys saw it on a number of occasions, the last he recorded was at the Bridges Street Theatre on 15 August 1668 when he wrote ‘the thing pretty good, but full of variety of divertisement’, indicating that the production included dancing.

The 1669 revival of Love’s Mistress was attended by two foreign visitors, both accompanying the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de’ Medici. The account of the play by Lorenzo Magalotti is readily accessible, for it is printed in part one of The London Stage as commentary on the performance at Bridges Street on 24 May 1669.

‘To the story of Psyche, the daughter of Apollo, which abounded with beautiful incidents, all of them adapted to the performers and calculated to express the force of love, was joined a well-arranged ballet, regulated by the sound of various instruments, with new and fanciful dances after the English manner, in which different actions were counterfeited, the performers passing gracefully from one to another, so as to render intelligible, by their movements, the acts they were representing.’

Also with the Grand Duke at that performance was Filippo Corsini, whose account is less well-known, although it was published (in the original Italian as well as an English translation) in Theatre Notebook back in 1980. Corsini described Love’s Mistress as an ‘opera’.

‘It dramatized the marriage of Psyche and was full of scene changes and dances, among them one of the 10 Cyclops and another of the 16 Gods. The play was very stylish to look at, which was all we could enjoy, not understanding the language.’

Both commentators reveal the sophistication of English stage entertainments within ten years of the Restoration. Magalotti, apparently, recognises a specifically ‘English’ style of dancing which seems to have been based on expressive actions.

Heywood’s Love’s Mistress was printed a number of times, first in 1639 with a further edition in 1640, another in the early 1660s (dated ‘1640’ on the title page) and yet another as late as 1792 (which claimed to reprint one of the ‘1640’ editions). I haven’t done a careful comparison of these, but a rapid check of the real 1640 edition against that of 1792 (both of which are accessible digitally) shows that they include the same dances.

In act 1, there is a series of dances each of which is followed by the entrance of a different character, first a ‘Proud Ass with Ears’, then a ‘Prodigal Ass’, followed by a ‘Drunken Ass’, a ‘Usurer’, a ‘Young Gentleman’ and an ‘Ignorant Ass’. The scene ends with a dance before the characters exit.  I will not try to analyse these dances, except to point out that the story of Cupid and Psyche comes from The Golden Ass by Apuleius and that Heywood uses Apuleius and Midas as onstage commentators. Midas, of course, was provided with ass’s ears for judging against Apollo in a musical contest.

In act 2, there is a dance by ‘Pan, Clown, Swains and Country Wenches’. All are characters associated with the countryside and rusticity. Pan was the god of shepherds. In the 17th and 18th centuries a ‘Clown’ was an unsophisticated countryman, while swains and country wenches were the common countryfolk, not the refined shepherds and shepherdesses of the pastoral tradition.  This dance would undoubtedly have been lively and based around the steps and figures of popular dancing.

In act 3, another dance is performed by ‘a King and a Beggar, a Young Man and an Old Man [in the 1792 edition an old woman], a Lean Man, a Fat Woman’. This must have been a comic dance as it presented a series of contrasts in status, age and physique. It could well have been based on actions as much as dance steps.

In act 4, Vulcan appears for a scene with four of his workmen the Cyclops. Later, they dance together. Their style is likely to have gone beyond the comic to the grotesque. Corsini’s remarks indicate that the speaking Cyclops were joined by several dancing Cyclops.

The final dance comes near the end of act 5 with ‘Cupid, Psiche, the gods and goddesses’. The various entrances beforehand suggest that the gods and goddesses included Pluto, Proserpine, Mercury, Phoebus, Pan, Venus and Vulcan, although Corsini specifies that there were 16 altogether, presumably including Cupid and Psyche. This dance would surely have been based on belle dance, the aristocratic style and technique developing rapidly at the court of Louis XIV, or perhaps the earlier version of it practised at the pre-Civil War English court. It may have been based more on figures than on steps. Was this dance the ‘well-arranged ballet’ with expressive gestures noted by Magalotti?

All of the dancers in act 5 are actors and actresses, but the dances in the preceding acts are by non-speaking characters who enter just to dance and then exit. Were some of these specialist professional dancers? If they were, there must have been at least six of them – perhaps four men and two women. There seems to be no way of determining who they were. Nor do we know who provided the music for the performances of Love’s Mistress during the 1660s, although the link with the King’s Company suggests that it could have been John Banister. No music survives, so far as we know, not even as tunes in the early editions of Playford’s The Dancing Master.

It is difficult to get an idea of ‘English’ dancing at this period, but perhaps Heywood’s Love’s Mistress provides us with some clues.

There are many paintings and sculptures depicting Cupid and Psyche, notably from the late 18th century. This is an Italianate work from the century before Heywood’s Love’s Mistress.

Psyche and Mercury Louvre

Adriaen de Vries, Mercury carrying Psyche to Cupid (1593)

Dances on the London Stage: Blouzabella

On 8 June 1703, the entr’acte entertainments at Lincoln’s Inn Fields included a duet by Prince and Mrs Elford entitled Blouzabella. The dance must have been at least moderately successful, because it was repeated on 11 June by (according to The London Stage) L’Abbé and Mrs Elford. Blouzabella was revived at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1703-1704, 1704-1705 and, for the last time, in 1711-1712 when it was given at Drury Lane. At each of these revivals it was danced by Prince, initially with Mrs Clark and finally with Mrs Bicknell.

The title of the dance suggests that it was a comic number. Blowzabella is the vulgar, ostentatious and shameless wife of the hero of Thomas Durfey’s The Famous History of the Rise and Fall of Massaniello, inspired by the Italian fisherman who in 1647 led a revolt against the rulers of Naples. Durfey’s play was first given at Drury Lane in May 1699. According to The London Stage, Massaniello was short-lived, although both it and the entr’acte dance it inspired may have enjoyed more performances than are recorded there.

There are some puzzles about this duet and its performers. We know all too little about Mrs Elford and her repertoire, except that the sparse surviving evidence suggests that she was an accomplished exponent of belle danse. She is generally advertised in serious dances and her one recorded choreography is a passacaille danced as a duet with the young Hester Santlow, probably in 1706 the year Mrs Elford left the stage. She seems an unlikely performer of a duet that draws on the antics of a low comedy character.

Mrs Elford regularly danced with Anthony L’Abbé, but the suggestion in The London Stage that they danced Blouzabella together is very likely to be wrong. The original advertisement for the performance says:

‘Also an Entertainment of several Dances by Monsieur Labbe, Mrs Elford, and others; particularly the Wedding Dance, and Blouzabella. The Medley Dance by Mr Prince and his Daughter. …’

The wording ‘and others’, together with Prince’s appearance on this bill as well as the one for 8 June, suggests that it was he and not L’Abbé who danced Blouzabella with Mrs Elford. As for Prince’s later partners, we know next to nothing about Mrs Clark and Mrs Bicknell was well-known as a comic actress as well as a dancer, although her range did not usually extend to low comedy.

Prince’s appearance in probably all of the known performances raises the possibility that he was the choreographer of Blouzabella. Who was Mr Prince? Was he the Joseph Prince who married Judith, the daughter of the dancing master Luke Channell, in 1678 and was in his mid-forties in the early 1700s? Or was he perhaps a son of Joseph Prince, who might then have been in his early twenties?

Any research into dances on the London stage must be undertaken with caution. Even well into the 18th century we cannot be entirely sure who danced these choreographies, where, when or with whom. Nor can we always be sure what sort of dances they were. Durfey’s Massaniello has several dance numbers, some of which were serious, so was Blouzabella not as comic a dance as its title might suggest?

Le Menuet de la Cour

More than three years ago, I posted a piece on Le Menuet d’Espagne, a duet published in 1715 that I had recently performed. I meant to follow it with a series of posts on various aspects of the minuet, but I went on to other topics instead. A few months ago, I performed Le Menuet de la Cour, a choreography published in notation around 1780. This minuet is, arguably, one of the most famous ballroom dances ever created. It inspired many later versions (from duets to quadrilles and beyond) and, in essence, survived for over 150 years.

Le Menuet de la Cour began life as a piece of music in Grétry’s opera Céphale et Procris, first given at Versailles in 1773. The tune was then used by the choreographer Maximilien Gardel for a minuet danced in act 2 of his ballet-pantomime Ninette à la Cour, first performed before the French court in 1777. In that production, and when the ballet arrived on the London stage in 1781, it was danced by two of the Paris Opéra’s stars Gaëtan Vestris and Anne Heinel. Was the dance published in notation by Malpied the same as the stage duet? We don’t know.

This minuet is short, with 78 bars in all, including the opening 8-bar révérence. It has an ABAABA structure. The notated Menuet de la Cour is not an orthodox ballroom minuet, despite containing figures that are quickly recognisable as the taking of right hands, the taking of left hands and the taking of both hands to draw the dance to a close. The Z-figure is there too, but it is hinted at through choreographic elaborations in each of the two B sections. The A section has 8 bars of music, but the B section is unusual with its 19 bars, if you remember that all minuet steps take two bars of music in 3/4 time. There are minuet steps, but these occur only in the two B-sections. However, much use is made of the minuet ‘grace’ steps (included since at least the early 18th century).

I have danced Le Menuet de la Cour on three separate occasions, with three different partners, and it is only this third time that I have felt I was beginning to understand and properly perform the choreography. The music, at least in the version I danced to, is dynamic. To my mind, it lends itself to heightened style and technique which is grand and almost combative. The playfulness that lies within the choreography is less obvious, and perhaps should not be emphasized.

I won’t try to analyse the dance in detail, but here are two plates from the notation. The first shows the end of the first B-section, at the finish of the Z-figure. The sequence is a series of jettés battus (unusual in the context of a minuet) followed by the pas de Marcel.

Menuet de la Cour 4

Maximilien Gardel, Le Menuet de la Cour, notated Malpied [1780?], plate 4

The other follows the second Z-figure and has a series of jettés and assemblés, followed by chassés and then a full turn on both feet ending with an ouverture de jambe. None are steps to be expected in a minuet.

Menuet de la Cour 8

Maximilien Gardel, Le Menuet de la Cour, notated Malpied [1780?], plate 8

Both sequences are followed by the anomalous single bar, used for a rond-de-jambe by the left leg, transferring the weight to leave the right foot free to begin the next step.

Is the notated Menuet de la Cour a ballroom dance? Well, yes, it is. But it is an exhibition ballroom dance meant to display before a discerning audience the technical skills, refined style and sophistication of the couple performing it. The choreography is demanding, in keeping with its stage origin.

A Year of Dance: 1698

On 4 January 1698, Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire. Few of the buildings were left standing, apart from Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House (the only part of the palace to survive today). The disaster was less of a blow than it might have been, for most of the furnishings and movable objects were saved. The sprawling palace was not much loved by King William III, who preferred the more salubrious surroundings of Kensington Palace or Hampton Court. Plans to rebuild Whitehall Palace over the next few years came to nothing.

The visit of the Russian Czar, Peter the Great, between 11 January and 21 April, brought a different sort of chaos as the monarch was oblivious to the niceties of English court life. Abroad, Georg Ludwig succeeded his father as Elector of Hanover on 23 January 1698. His right of succession to the British throne was yet to be enshrined in law.

London’s theatres came under attack with the publication, in March 1698, of Jeremy Collier’s A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage. The effects of his diatribe were insidious and long-lasting. However, dance was (it seems) beyond Collier’s reach. The newspapers announced the arrival of Anthony L’Abbé who was ‘lately come over and Dances at the Play-house’. L’Abbé had swapped the Paris Opéra for London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre. He also danced before William III at Kensington Palace on 13 May 1698. His appearances marked the beginning of a long association with both the court and the theatre in England. November 1698 saw the first performance of John Dennis’s Rinaldo and Armida with music by John Eccles. Given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the piece was not a success although Eccles’s music was appreciated.

In 1698, Louis XIV turned sixty. He had been King of France for more than fifty-five years. This was the year that he signed the Treaty of the Hague (also called the First Partition Treaty) with William III in a vain attempt to settle the succession to the Spanish throne following the long-expected death of King Carlos II. Louis’s own son, the Grand Dauphin, had a claim through his mother who had been a Spanish Infanta. Louis set this aside, for the moment.

There was little of note at the Paris Opéra in 1698. Desmarets’s ballet Les Fêtes galantes, despite its title, bore no relation to Campra’s L’Europe galante, the great success of the previous year. Its complicated plot about the Queen of Naples and three princes all in love with her probably contributed to its failure.

MEDEA AND JASON ON THE LONDON STAGE

Jean-Georges Noverre’s ballet Medea et Jason, first performed in 1763 in Stuttgart, reached the London stage in 1781 in a version by Gaëtan Vestris (who had danced Jason in Noverre’s original production). This ballet d’action falls well outside my usual areas of research, but my interest was stirred when I came across a playbill for a production which has been overlooked by most writers on Noverre and his work.

On 29 April 1790, the Royal Circus announced a programme which included ‘a Grand Spectacle, called Medea and Jason’. Despite the inclusion of another ‘Splendid Entertainment, called The Triumph of Liberty, or, the Destruction of the Bastille’, Medea and Jason is obviously meant to be the main draw. The playbill provides full details of the ‘Spectacle’ and I have tried to reproduce a flavour of the typography.

MEDEA AND JASON.

With the Overture and original Music composed by GLUCK.

THIS BEAUTIFUL SPECTACLE

Represents the remarkable PARTING between MEDEA and JASON,

When JASON quits that Sorceress, on his Marriage with CREUSA,

DAUGHTER OF CREON, KING of CORINTH;

The SORCERY by which MEDEA’S FURIES prepared

THE CABINET OF WILDFIRE, and the POISON’D NOSEGAY,

By which CREUSA is kill’d, and the Palace FIRED,

The dreadful STORM and LOUD THUNDER, that accompany the

SHOWER of FIRE,

Through which MEDEA rides in a triumphant Car, with her two Children;

Her barbarous Murder of the Infants, in the Presence of, and just before

The DEATH of JASON, amidst a DANCE of FLAMING FURIES,

JASON by MR. PALMER,

Creon, Signor ROSSI; Creusa, Signora SALA; and Medea, Mademoiselle De La CROIX.

The SCENES designed and executed by Mr. CAPON.’

Modern commentators have focussed on Medea and Jason’s expressive pantomime, which is seen as Noverre’s greatest innovation and a significant development for balletic art. However, Noverre’s scenario (as published in Paris in 1780, to accompany performances given under his direction) also describes a great deal of dramatic action. The production by Vestris at the King’s Theatre in 1781, which introduced the work to London, certainly included all the latter.

The Royal Circus (later to become the Surrey Theatre) had first opened in 1782 as a venue for equestrian shows as well as entertainments which offered singing and dancing within spectacular productions. It is hardly surprising that it was attracted by Medea and Jason’s melodramatic plot and scenic extravagances, both of which were likely to appeal to audiences far removed from the elite patrons at the King’s Theatre. The Royal Circus was probably more respectful of the ballet than the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, where a burlesque version of Medea and Jason was given between 1781 and 1785, billed as by ‘Signior Novestris’ (George Colman the elder) with ‘Music by Signior Gluck. With New Scenes, Dresses and Decorations. Machinist and Painter – Signor Rookereschi. Tailor – Signior Walkerino’.

It is tempting to describe Medea and Jason as tailor-made for the Royal Circus, except for the dancing. ‘Mr. Palmer’ was Jason. He may have been the fourteen-year-old son of a previous stage manager at the Royal Circus. Mlle De La Croix, as Medea, seems to have been a young newcomer to the London stage. In 1790, she appeared in the corps de ballet of the Italian Opera as well as at the Royal Circus. At the King’s Theatre, Gaëtan Vestris had appeared with Adelaide Simonet in the title roles – both were leading dancers in the serious style. The Royal Circus playbill makes no claims for the dancing, Medea and Jason is described as a ‘Beautiful Spectacle’ and not as a tragic ballet d’action.

The following illustration, so often reproduced alongside discussions of Medea and Jason, was intended as a satire on the ballet and perhaps gives a flavour of the alternative versions to be seen at the Royal Circus and the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.

Medea and Jason 1781

Francesco Bortolozzi after Nathaniel Dance. Jason et Medée. Ballet tragique. Acquatint (London, 1781)