Category Archives: Stage Dancing

Describing a Saraband

Quite some time ago, I wrote a piece on the saraband which included the following description from Pomey’s Le Dictionnaire royal augmentée (1671) in a translation by Patricia Ranum.

‘At first he danced with a totally charming grace, with a serious and circumspect air, with an equal and slow rhythm, and with such a noble, beautiful, free and easy carriage that he had all the majesty of a king, and inspired as much respect as he gave pleasure.

Then, standing taller and more assertively, and raising his arms to half-height and keeping them partly extended, he performed the most beautiful steps ever invented for the dance.

Sometimes he would glide imperceptibly, with no apparent movement of his feet and legs, and seemed to slide rather than step. Sometimes, with the most beautiful timing in the world, he would remain suspended, immobile, and half leaning to the side with one foot in the air; and then, compensating for the rhythmic unit that had just gone by, with another more precipitous unit he would almost fly, so rapid was his motion.

Sometimes he would advance with little skips, sometimes he would drop back with long steps that, although carefully planned, seemed to be done spontaneously, so well had he cloaked his art in skilful nonchalance.

Sometimes, for the pleasure of everyone present, he would turn to the right, and sometimes he would turn to the left; and when he reached the very middle of the empty floor, he would pirouette so quickly that the eye could not follow.

Now and then he would let a whole rhythmic unit go by, moving no more than a statue and then, setting off like an arrow, he would be at the other end of the room before anyone had time to realise that he had departed.

But all this was nothing compared to what was observed when this gallant began to express the emotions of his soul through the motions of his body, and reveal them in his face, his eyes, his steps and all his actions.’

This passage is well-known among dance historians and has been cited by many of us.

Recently, I was looking at an essay in the volume The Ancient Dancer in the Modern World, edited by Fiona Macintosh and published in 2010, and I came across the following quotation (p. 30):

‘What would someone admire more? The continuity of their many pirouettes or, after this, their suddenly crystallised posture, or the figure held fixed in this position? For they whirl round, as if borne on wings, but conclude their movement in a static pose, as if glued to the spot; and with the stillness of the pose, the image presents itself.’

This passage comes from one of the Orations of the Greek rhetorician Libanius, describing a dancer in the classical period. I was immediately struck by the link between Libanius’s description and that of Pomey more than a thousand years later and, of course, many writers of Pomey’s era (and later) were steeped in classical literature.

I haven’t followed this up, and I don’t really intend to, but I do have a couple of questions. Is there a direct link between the two passages? If there is, what might that tell us about dancing, and particularly the saraband, in the late 17th century?

Minuets on the London Stage

Those of you who are familiar with the minuet probably know it best as the pre-eminent ballroom duet of the 18th century. Some will have encountered it within the figure dances in Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, published in 1711, while others may have learnt one or other of the notated minuets. How many of you have discovered that the minuet, in various guises, was regularly performed in London’s theatres throughout the 1700s? I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of these stage minuets.

Some time ago, I compiled a list of entr’acte performances of minuets on the London stage between 1700 and 1760. Extensive as it is, the list certainly has omissions, since the surviving advertisements do not always provide full details of the dances performed each evening. The earliest mention is a solo Minuet, performed with a Chacone and a Jigg by the dancer Miss Lindar at Drury Lane on 30 October 1717. This is very unlikely to have been the first solo minuet given in London’s theatres. The ‘Menuet performd’ by Mrs Santlow’, published in notation within Anthony L’Abbé’s A New Collection of Dances in the mid-1720s, may well date to between 1708 and 1712 – although there is no advertisement to confirm this. I have danced this choreography many times and I love the intricacy of its steps, its subtly allusive figures and its unusual use of the stage space. Here is the final plate of the dance, which I think shows all of those characteristics.

Menuet Solo 1725 21

Hester Santlow is not billed in a solo minuet until 25 March 1731, when she danced a Chacone and a Minuet in the entr’actes at Drury Lane, but the dance must surely have been part of her repertoire long before then. There is no way of telling whether she continued to perform L’Abbé’s solo, or had new minuet choreographies created for her (or crafted her own dances) over the years.

Another solo minuet which has escaped record in The London Stage is Kellom Tomlinson’s ‘Minevit’ created for Mrs Schoolding to dance in The Island Princess at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1716. In comparison to Mrs Santlow’s ‘Menuet’, this is a miniature (32 bars of music and 16 minuet steps to 120 bars and 60 minuet steps), but Tomlinson adds complexity with successive half-turns in several steps (which are all variants on the contretemps du menuet).

MInevit Tomlinson 1

Later solo minuets in the period I am looking at apparently include a ‘Minuet in Boy’s Cloaths’, danced by Mlle Grognet at Lincolns Inn Felds on 18 April 1734. I am uncertain about this one, as Mlle Grognet was billed as dancing a minuet in ‘Men’s Clothes’ with other female dancers several times that season. I suggest that they were dancing a version of the ballroom minuet.

Solo minuets were rarely advertised and the last examples before 1760 were performances by young actresses. At Drury Lane Miss Pritchard ‘Danc’d a Minuit for the King’ in a Masquerade Dance inserted into Mrs Centlivre’s The Wonder on 8 November 1756. The performance had been commanded by George II. Was this choreography closer to Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet … for a Girl than to Mrs Santlow’s sophisticated ‘Menuet’? If it was, in fact, a solo minuet.

The minuet was usually performed as a duet in London’s theatres, although the earliest advertisement dates only to 14 April 1726 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, when Glover and Mrs Laguerre did the honours. As with the majority of bills on which the Minuet appears, the performance was a benefit (in this case for the actor-singer John Laguerre and his wife Mrs Laguerre). The next advertisement for a Minuet was not until 3 May 1731, when Glover danced at his own benefit with Mlle Sallé. Thereafter, the minuet became a fixture in the bills for benefit performances. It was given by a galaxy of star dancers (as well as those of lesser rank) – Desnoyer and Mrs Booth (Hester Santlow before her marriage in 1719), Desnoyer and Mlle Sallé in 1735 (performed at each other’s benefits), Desnoyer and Signorina Barberini in 1741 and 1742. If Glover began the idea, Desnoyer seems to have established the minuet as an entr’acte dance of choice for benefits. Anne Auretti would do the same from 1748 into the early 1750s.

What were these minuets like? Were they essentially the ballroom minuet, designed as demonstrations of perfect – and perfectly restrained – style and technique, albeit scaled-up for the stage? Or were they heightened forms of the dance, with virtuoso steps and figures and perhaps few, or no, minuet steps? I will return to this question in a later post.

One issue I will explore here is the question of costume. When George Desnoyer and Marie Sallé danced a Minuet together at Drury Lane on 17 March 1735 (for his benefit) and he then performed a Minuet with Mrs Walter for another benefit on 22 March, they were described as dancing ‘in modern Habits’. They were not so described when Desnoyer danced a Minuet with Marie Sallé at Covent Garden on 24 April 1735 (for her benefit). The phrase ‘in modern Habits’ had not been used in advertisements before then and was only occasionally used later – most often, but not always, when Desnoyer was dancing – and only for minuets. The last such usage seems to have been for his benefit on 13 March 1738, when he again danced a Minuet with Mrs Walter.

What did ‘in modern Habits’ mean? When I first encountered it, I assumed that it meant that the dancers were wearing fashionable dress, rather than more archaic court costume (the ‘grand Habit’ of formal court wear). Returning to it now and looking more closely at its use in advertisements, I wonder if I had that the wrong way round. What illustrations there are of couples dancing the minuet in a ballroom setting (I know of none in a theatre) all show them in what looks like fashionable dress. The range of dancers who performed minuets in London’s theatres suggest that this was the case on stage too. So, did ‘in modern Habits’ suggest that Desnoyer and his partners wore the latest form of court dress, with him in an elaborate but fashionable suit and her in a court mantua with a hooped skirt rather than the stiff-bodied gown that was already beginning to disappear in England? I really need a costume expert to answer this!

Here is Augusta, Princess of Wales, in a stiff-bodied gown. The portrait, by Charles Philips, was painted at the time of her marriage in 1736.

Augusta Princess of Wales 1736

I have been unable to find a depiction of a court mantua of that period, but here is a portrait of Lady Betty Germain (also by Charles Philips) in a very elaborate mantua painted in 1731.

(c) National Trust, Knole; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In both cases the skirt is far smaller than the dimensions it would attain in the 1740s. Desnoyer was, of course, part of court circles as dancing master to Frederick, Prince of Wales and some of his siblings, as well as (from 1736) Princess Augusta.

A minuet was quite often added to another ball dance at benefit performances. I have written in other posts about Aimable Vainqueur (the ‘Louvre’) and La Mariée on the London stage. Both were quite often performed with a Minuet, as were L’Abbé’s Prince of Wales’s Saraband, The Britain or Britannia (most likely Pecour’s La Bretagne) and even Isaac’s The Union, as well as a variety of named and unnamed ball dances that have not survived in notation. There were also minuets for three and for four, a Grotesque Minuet and a Mock Minuet. I hope to return to some, if not all, of these in later posts.

The Humours of Bedlam

Another play that I thought had dancing in it was The Pilgrim. This was originally a Jacobean verse drama by John Fletcher, which may have been revived in the 1660s and 1670s. It was adapted by John Vanbrugh and first performed in its new guise in the spring of 1700. The new version also had a ‘Secular Masque’ by John Dryden. The advertisement for 6 July 1700 announced The Pilgrim ‘Revis’d with Large Alterations, and a Secular Masque’. There were entr’acte dances at that performance, but there was no indication of dancing in the play. The Pilgrim was performed every season until the early 1730s and then regularly revived until the early 1750s. There were further revivals in 1761-1762 and 1762-1763 and then the play disappeared from the repertoire – except for a few performances in the 1780s.

Vanbrugh’s version of The Pilgrim was published in 1700, with Dryden’s ‘Secular Masque’, and there were further editions in 1724, 1742, 1745 and 1753. I have been able to check the editions of 1700 and 1724 and no dancing is mentioned. The ‘Secular Masque’ is preceded by Dryden’s ‘Song of a Scholar and his Mistress, who being Cross’d by their Friends, fall Mad for one another; and now first meet in Bedlam’. (Several scenes in The Pilgrim are set in a madhouse.) No dancing is mentioned in either the ‘Song’, which is actually a short scene, or the ‘Secular Masque’. When I worked my way through all the performances of The Pilgrim in The London Stage, I discovered that it didn’t include dancing, except for two brief periods during its long stage life.

The revised version of The Pilgrim was first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre, but from 1715-1716 it was also given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. From 1720-1721, it was only given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (and then Covent Garden) until 1737-1738 – with the exception of a run of performances at the Goodman’s Fields Theatre in 1730-1731 and a single performance there in 1731-1732. The Pilgrim returned to the Drury Lane repertoire in 1738-1739, but it was only given there until 1740-1741. It then returned to Covent Garden, where it was performed occasionally until 1762-1763. There was a small flurry of performances at Drury Lane in 1750-1751, when The Pilgrim was given with ‘Proper Dances’ (dances within the play) although the advertisements do not say what these were.

The first time The Pilgrim was billed with dancing which related to the play was on 16 November 1723 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, when the entr’acte dances included The Humours of Bedlam. When both were repeated on 27 November, the bills provided a cast list for the dance. Here is an extract from the Daily Courant for 27 November 1723.

LIF 27 Nov 1723 Daily Courant (2)

The mad dancing characters were not the same as those in the cast list of the play, although there was an overlap in the Mad Taylor (taken by an actor in the play and a dancer in the The Humours of Bedlam). At later performances the bills indicate that The Humours of Bedlam was actually given in the play and the two were regularly given together until the 1728-1729 season, after which the dance disappeared from the advertisements. At Goodman’s Fields The Humours of Bedlam was also given with The Pilgrim, although four dancers instead of six were advertised.

I suggest that The Humours of Bedlam was performed as part of the ‘Song of a Scholar and his Mistress’ and that the choreographer was Francis Nivelon, who was initially billed as the Mad Taylor and seems to have been the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre’s dancing master. The following season Nivelon danced the Mad Soldier (originally performed by his brother, who had left the company), the role he kept until 1726-1727. He was always named first in the dance’s cast list. Nivelon’s frequent dancing partner was Mrs Rogier (after her remarriage Mrs Laguerre), who appeared as the Mad Lady. She and several other dancers appeared every time The Humours of Bedlam was given. Nivelon was succeeded by Poitier in 1727-1728 and Francis Sallé in 1728-1729.

The cast list for this choreography suggests a series of solos in character, some of which may have had more pantomime than dancing, and a duet by Nivelon and Mrs Rogier – unless she danced with each of the men in turn. John Barrett’s surviving music for The Pilgrim all dates to the early 1700s, long before The Humours of Bedlam. Could some of it have been used for the dance?

There were occasional Mad Dances in the entr’actes at London’s theatres, some of which were given by French performers, but none of which can be linked either to The Pilgrim or The Humours of Bedlam. Nivelon, if he was indeed the choreographer, may have been drawing on a dance topic from the Paris fairs.

The only other dance to be associated with The Pilgrim was The Lunaticks, first performed at Drury Lane on 13 December 1740 in the entr’actes to Comus. It was given with The Pilgrim on 18 December 1740 and 6 January 1741. At the latter performance it was advertised within act 4 of the play. This group dance had four principal dancers – Fausan, Signora Fausan, Muilment and Mlle Chateauneuf, with supporting dancers (billed only as ‘&c.’). It was, presumably, by Fausan and lasted only this one season.

With both The Humours of Bedlam and The Lunaticks, the idea was most likely to entice fresh audiences to a familiar play. The importance of dancing on the London stage should never be overlooked.

 

Harlequin, Scaramouch and The Emperor of the Moon

Another play with dancing that held the London stage for several decades was Aphra Behn’s The Emperor of the Moon. It was probably first performed in March 1687 at the Dorset Garden Theatre and was published the same year. Behn’s principal source was Fatouville’s Arlequin empereur dans la lune, itself first performed by the Italian comedians in Paris on 5 March 1684. I am not going to attempt an analysis of the relationship between the two plays. My interest, as ever, is dancing and – in this case – the roles of Harlequin and Scaramouch, as performed on the London stage.

According to the printed play, Harlequin was first performed by ‘Mr Jevon’ and Scaramouch by ‘Mr Leigh’. Thomas Jevon and Anthony Leigh were both comedians with the company. Jevon had begun as a dancing master and regularly added dancing to his stage performances, while Leigh was known for ad-libbing and his wide variety of roles. Both must have been able to give a good account of commedia dell’arte-style action, for Behn’s play includes several lazzi for the two, including a fight which ends in a dance in act 1 scene 3.

‘They go to fight ridiculously, and ever as Scaramouch passes, Harlequin leaps aside, and skips so nimbly about, he cannot touch him for his life; which after a while endeavouring in vain, [Scaramouch] lays down his sword’.

Admitting defeat as a swordsman, ‘Scaramouch pulls out a flute doux, and falls to playing. Harlequin throws down his [sword], and falls a-dancing. After the dance, they shake hands’. Both are, of course, speaking (as well as miming) characters.

Scaramouch is described in the stage directions as ‘dressed in black, with a short black cloak, a ruff, and a little hat’, his customary costume, suggesting that Harlequin also wore his traditional parti-coloured suit with a mask. Aphra Behn is thought to have seen Fatouville’s piece in Paris in 1684, but it is not clear where Jevon and Leigh learnt their action since there had been no Italian comedians in London since the late 1670s.

The Emperor of the Moon revolves around the usual pairs of young lovers, who employ Harlequin and Scaramouch to trick Doctor Baliardo into allowing them to wed. The Doctor is obsessed with the world in the Moon and the final scene of the play has an elaborate masque in which the two young men descend to earth as the ‘Emperor of the Moon’ and the ‘Prince of Thunderland’ and marry their sweethearts. The action of the play includes three ‘antic’ dances, the last of which comes in this finale and is probably performed by the attendants of the ‘Emperor’ and ‘Prince’. According to the cast list they are ‘persons that represent the court cards’.

Revivals of The Emperor of the Moon up to 1700 are difficult to chart. The play was given in 1687-1688 and 1691-1692 and perhaps also in 1699-1700, although its later popularity suggests that it was performed far more often. The first known performance after 1700 was on 18 September 1702 at Drury Lane, with another famous comedian, William Pinkethman, as Harlequin. He experimented by trying to play the role without a mask, but – as Colley Cibber recorded in his Apology of 1740, ‘Penkethman could not take to himself the Shame of the Character without being concealed – he was no more Harlequin – his Humour was quite disconcerted!’. The Drury Lane performance on 20 December 1704 advertised ‘All the original Dances which were perform’d, particularly the Card Dance’. In 1709-1710, a Night Scene with commedia dell’arte characters was advertised alongside The Emperor of the Moon but may perhaps have been performed within the play.

When the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre was allowed to open in 1714, it gave The Emperor of the Moon in competition with Drury Lane, finally taking over the play altogether from 1717-1718. Behn’s play was given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields nearly every season until 1731-1732, usually with William Bullock Sr as Scaramouch and James Spiller as Harlequin. Both were established comedians and Spiller also occasionally danced in the entr’actes. When the company moved to its new Covent Garden Theatre, The Emperor of the Moon went too.

The Emperor of the Moon was given a well-advertised revival at the Goodman’s Fields Theatre on 15 October 1735, with William Pinkethman Junior as Harlequin and James Rosco as Scaramouch. Pinkethman was following in his father’s footsteps, while Rosco was a leading actor in the company with a very varied repertoire. The bills announced that the play would be given with ‘the original Songs’ and ‘New Dances, adapted to the opera, particularly A Dance of Court Cards’. According to the advertised cast list, actors and not dancers performed this dance, while the company’s dancers gave ‘other dances’. The Emperor of the Moon was performed more than a dozen times at Goodman’s Fields in 1735-1736, but was not subsequently revived there.

The last revival of Behn’s play was during the 1748-1749 season, when David Garrick at Drury Lane vied for audiences with John Rich at Covent Garden. Both theatres advertised it as ‘forthcoming’ a few days before Christmas and both performed The Emperor of the Moon on 26 December 1748. At Drury Lane it was given as an afterpiece, with Henry Woodward as Harlequin and Richard Yates as Scaramouch. Both were comic actors and Woodward (trained by John Rich) would become London’s leading Harlequin. Garrick’s production included dancers, but did Rich’s? At Covent Garden, The Emperor of the Moon was the mainpiece, with a pantomime The Royal Chace (which did have dancing) as an afterpiece. There was no mention of dancing in the play, but the entr’acte dances included a solo Scaramouch and a Grand Masquerade Dance – or were they both given in The Emperor of the Moon?

Aphra Behn used commedia dell’arte at a period when it was still quite new to English actors and The Emperor of the Moon established a place in the repertoire some years before Joseph Sorin and other French forains came to perform in London. The tradition begun by Thomas Jevon may well have influenced some of London’s dancing Harlequins, while Pinkethman’s and Spiller’s performances may have contributed to the rise of ‘Lun’ (John Rich’s ‘Harlequin’ identity). The dances in The Emperor of the Moon didn’t make their way into the entr’actes, but the antics of Harlequin and Scaramouch must surely have played a part in the development of the English pantomime.

Claude Gillot’s various depictions of scenes from the Italian comedies given in Paris provide a flavour of performances there – here are Arlequin and Scaramouch fighting in Arlequin empereur dans la lune. What were the English like?

Gillot Arlequin Scaramouch combat

The ’Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ and Professional Female Dancing

The ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ was choreographed by Anthony L’Abbé for Drury Lane’s (and London’s) leading dancer Hester Santlow. It was published in notation around 1725 in his A New Collection of Dances. It is the female counterpart to the ‘Chacone of Amadis’ for Louis Dupré who, like Mrs Santlow, has four dances in the collection. We do not know where or when she performed this solo, although I have wondered whether the ‘Passagalia’ might have been created for performance before George I at the Hampton Court Theatre. During September and October 1718, the Drury Lane Company (including Hester Santlow) gave seven performances there, some of which included ‘Entertainments of Dancing’ which were later repeated at their own theatre. Mrs Santlow was a favourite performer of the King and it would surely be appropriate for the royal dancing master to create a new choreography for her to dance before him.

I have myself performed the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ many times and I have also written about it. Returning to this dance after quite a while, partly for the purpose of writing this post, it still amazes me. It isn’t the longest of the surviving notated dances – that honour goes to Pecour’s ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ created for Mlle Subligny to music from Gatti’s Scylla and published in 1704 (with 219 bars of music it is 10 bars longer than L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia’). Nor is it the best known – it cannot compete with Pecour’s ‘Passacaille pour une femme … de lopera darmide’ again created for Mlle Subligny and published around 1713 in the Nouveau recüeil de dance de bal et celle de ballet. The latter is regularly performed by specialists in baroque dance and has attracted analysis by a number of scholars.

Here, I am concerned only with the pas battus in L’Abbé’s solo, which is to music from Desmarest’s 1697 opera Vénus et Adonis. Unusually for a passacaille, this has a central 80-bar section in duple time framed by tripe-time sections of 64 and 65 bars respectively. The music provides the basis for a choreography that is richly expressive, but my focus is simply on what the notation might tell us about the technique of a leading female professional dancer at this period.

In a post of almost exactly a year ago, I looked at the jetté ‘emböetté’ and asked whether it might usually have been performed by women on stage as a demie cabriole. This step turns up several times in the ‘Passagalia’. It features in the very first variation of the dance (bar 4, plate 46) in a variant form at the beginning of a pas composé and is used, again as the first element of a pas composé, within a short passage in which Mrs Santlow travels rapidly downstage (bars 34-35, plate 48). The density of the notation makes the second of these difficult to show, but here is the first.

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 46 (2)

Another instance on plate 48 (bar 40) presents a puzzle, for at some point the notation was amended. In the British Library copy, it looks like this.

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 48 (2)

In the Bodleian Library copy, it looks like this.

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 48 Bodley (3)

In the second version, Mrs Santlow takes off from both feet and a pas battu is clearly notated. There are several small differences between the notations in these two copies. It is difficult to be certain, but these differences suggest that the Bodleian copy is a later issue than that in the British Library.

The jetté-step sequence also turns up in the duple-time section, within a repeated sequence in which the pas composé it begins alternates with another (coupépas plié). This is repeated three times and here is the second occurrence (bars 92-93, plate 51).

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 51 (2)

It is also inserted into pas composés which alternate with chassés as Mrs Santlow retreats upstage (bars 122-125, plate 52). In this case, each pas composé is different – bars 122-123 are shown first, followed by bars 124-125.

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 52 (3)

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 52 (4)

In the final triple-time section, L’Abbé plays with a similar idea (in this section, the music has the feel of duple-time). Here are the concluding bars of the sequence (bars 187-188, plate 55).

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 55 (2)

He uses the jetté-step again as the dance draws to a conclusion (bars 206-207, plate 56).

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 56 (2)

These are the last steps in which Mrs Santlow advances, before she makes her final retreat to end the solo.

There is no question that Hester Santlow could have performed any, or all, of these steps as demies cabrioles. There are just two more steps that I wish to draw attention to within this complex and surprising choreography. One is the demi entre-chat within the first triple-time section, which begins a pas composé which continues with a coupé to plié and a coupé battu avec ouverture de jambe (bar 50, plate 49).

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 49 (2)

The other is that quintessentially male step the demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque within the duple-time section (bar 129, plate 52).

Passagalia of Venus & Adonis 52 (5)

Mrs Santlow does only a half-turn in the air (Feuillet notated it with a three-quarter turn followed by a quarter-turn on the concluding step), but she does perform a pas cabriolé.

The ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ is an exceptionally demanding solo – because of its length, the complexity of its steps (there are no exactly repeated variations), its changes in time signature and its expressivity. For me, it signals very clearly that the leading female professional dancers of the early 18th century were fully the equals of their male partners when it came to pas battus.

Dancing Witches on the London Stage

Most of my research is concerned with dancing on the London stage during the period 1660 – 1760. I spend a lot of time delving into entr’acte dances (the solos, duets and group dances performed between the acts of plays) as well as danced afterpieces (mainly pantomimes but also the occasional ballet or even masque). One area I haven’t really explored, because it would take a great deal of work, is dancing in the mainpieces – those plays that were the principal attraction on each evening’s bill. Most have little more than a concluding country dance (if that), although some include dances that are more significant. Even though most of London’s theatres had a stock repertoire repeated each season, new plays were regularly introduced – there are just too many of them to make it practicable to read every single one in case it has something of interest.

However, I have found a partial solution to this problem. I’ve recently begun charting in detail the dancing in London’s theatres season by season and I’ve realised that there were several mainpieces for which dancing was an important part of the action. These were so popular that they were regularly revived and the dancing was almost always mentioned in advertisements, albeit with stock phrases. I was already familiar with some of them, for example The Tempest and The Island Princess, but there were others which I hardly knew at all. These seem worth some investigation within the context of Dance in History.

I decided to start with Thomas Shadwell’s The Lancashire Witches, first given at the Dorset Garden Theatre in 1681. It was described thus by John Downes in his Roscius Anglicanus of 1708:

‘… a kind of Opera, having several Machines of Flyings for the Witches, and other Diverting Contrivances in’t: All being well perform’d, it proved beyond Expectation; very Beneficial to the Poet and Actors.’

The Lancashire Witches was still being given at Drury Lane in most seasons into the 1720s. Its last recorded performance was on 2 December 1729.

Shadwell’s play has two distinct but intertwining plots. One concerns two pairs of young lovers who surmount various obstacles before their eventual marriages. The other follows the antics of a coven of witches led by Mother Demdike and of Teague O Divelly (who provides the play’s subtitle), an Irish priest described in the cast list as ‘an equal mixture of Fool and Knave’. The witches, of course, proved the excuse for ‘all the Risings, Sinkings, and Flyings’ emphasised in most of the advertisements for performances. ‘Dancing’ and ‘Dances’ were regularly advertised in The Lancashire Witches from the early 1700s, although the dancers are almost never named. Mother Demdike and her witches were never named in cast lists, suggesting that they were performed by supporting players, while Teague O Divelly was a plum part for one of the company’s leading comic actors.

We don’t know who provided the music for the original production, although John Eccles was the composer of some songs from it. The Drury Lane performance on 8 July 1712 seems to mark a fresh production, for it had ‘All the Musick both Vocal and Instrumental Compos’d by Mr. Barret’. He was John Barrett (c1676-1719), who regularly composed music for the theatres. His music must have been popular since it continued to be mentioned in later years. Unfortunately, none of it survives.

What of the witches dances? As usual, we have little to go on. The 1691 edition of The Lancashire Witches has witches’ scenes in each of the first three acts, the last of which is the most elaborate. The play text tells us that the witches ‘Dance with fantastick unusual postures’ and Shadwell’s footnotes (unusual in a published play) quote from one source that ‘says they Dance with Brooms’. The only mention of a choreographer was in the bill for 16 July 1714, which said ‘The Witches’ Dances Compos’d by Mr. Prince and perform’d by him and others’. Prince was advertised among the entr’acte dancers at other performances of The Lancashire Witches, so he may have continued to dance in the play over the next two to three years. (It isn’t always possible to be sure whether the dances and dancers advertised for the entr’actes alongside plays such as The Lancashire Witches actually appeared in them).

There was a far more famous and popular contemporary play which had singing, dancing and flying witches – Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as revised by Sir William Davenant. Macbeth’s trio of witches were always played by leading comic actors within the company. Despite the popularity of both Macbeth and The Lancashire Witches, dancing witches seem never to have made their way into the repertoire of entr’acte dances in London’s theatres. Although this image from Lambranzi’s Neue und curieuses theatrialisches Tantz-Schul of 1716 (Part II, Plate 50) suggests they may have turned up between the acts elsewhere, to dance with ‘crouched bodies’ and ‘droll jumps’.

Lmabranzi Part 2 Plate 50 Witches

Pas Battus in L’Abbé’s Stage Duets for a Man and a Woman

My investigation of the choreographies for men in the three published collections of stage dances has shown that Anthony L’Abbé made much greater use of pas battus than Guillaume-Louis Pecour. The three collections have, between them, 31 duets for a man and a woman (around 40% of the total), but I am going to look only at the male-female duets in L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances (c1725). I won’t attempt a full analysis of each, I’ll simply focus on specific pas battus in each choreography. L’Abbé’s four dances are the ‘Chacone of Galathee performd’ by Mr La Garde and Mrs Santlow’ (plates 22-30), the ‘Saraband of Issee performd’ by Mr Düpré & Mrs Bullock’ (plates 31-36), which is followed by a ‘Jigg’ performed by them (plates 37-39), and the ‘Türkish Dance performd’ by Mr Desnoyer & Mrs Younger’ (plates 84-96). All of the performers were leading dancers in London’s theatres. One of the dances, the ‘Jigg’, has little in the way of pas battus of the sort I am exploring, so I will not include it in this post.

The ‘Chacone of Galathee’ is to music from Lully’s Acis et Galatée of 1686, which was regularly revived after its first performances. It is possible that L’Abbé performed in it at the Paris Opéra. His choreography for Delagarde and Mrs Santlow probably dates to the period 1708-1712, when the two could have danced together, and the duet was evidently meant to be a virtuoso showpiece. The chacone has five 8-bar variations and is played through twice, so the dance has 80 bars of music. It begins with a coupé preparation and a single pirouette en dedans, which sets the tone for what is to follow. The dancers perform in mirror symmetry and do the same steps (on opposite feet) for much of the duet. However, in bar 38 (plate 25), Mrs Santlow begins a pas composé with a jetté emboîté, which is followed by a pas, a pas battu derrière into plié and a demi entre-chat. Delagarde does the same, except that he begins with a demie cabriole or jetté battu, beating his legs together in the air. I wrote about the jetté emboîté in my post Stage Dances for Women and the Demie Cabriole back in April 2019 and concluded that (despite the notation – which may owe as much to social convention as to stage practice) women may well have performed the step as a demie cabriole. I should add that Le Roussau’s notation for this dance has a number of (usually minor) errors.

The differences become more obvious, and more interesting, with the repeat of the music. In bar 43 (plate 26), both dancers perform a full-turn pirouette en dehors on both feet. This is the preparation for their next step – Mrs Santlow performs a tour en l’air with a changement, while Delagarde does an entre-chat droit à 6 without a tour.

Chacone of Galathee 1725 26 (2)

The couple then dance the same steps as each other until bar 72 (plate 29), when Mrs Santlow simply does a changement while Delagarde performs another entre-chat droit à 6.

Chacone of Galathee 1725 29 (2)

They have exactly the same steps, in mirror symmetry, until the end of the choreography. It is obvious that the notation is wrong in one or other (or both) of these places, but how? Is Mrs Santlow’s tour en l’air in bar 44 a mistake, or should Delagarde have had one too? Should the repetition of the changement and the entre-chat in bar 72 have tours as well? Can we really be sure that Mrs Santlow, shown in other dances to have had a virtuoso technique, could not have performed an entre-chat droit à 6?

The ‘Sarabande of Issee’ is to music from Destouches’s opera Issé, first performed in 1697 and given its first revival in 1708. Dupré is, of course, London’s Louis Dupré. Ann Bullock, a pupil of Delagarde, began her career (as Miss Russell) at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1714. Their duet probably dates to around 1715. It begins with a preparatory ouverture de jambe, followed by a pas battu (notated as a spring but possibly performed with a relevé sauté) in which each dancer’s inside leg beats front, back, front around their supporting leg. Throughout the dance, except for the steps I will be singling out, Mrs Bullock dances the same vocabulary as Dupré.

In bars 11 and 19 (plate 32), she and Dupré do something different.

Sarabande of Issee 1725 32

At the bottom of the page, Dupré performs an entre-chat droit à 6 while Mrs Bullock does a changement. In the middle of the page (the tracts running left to right), he does an entre-chat à 5 followed by two demi-contretemps, but she does only a contretemps battu before the two demi-contretemps. In bar 42 (plate 34), Dupré does another entre-chat droit à 6 to Mrs Bullock’s changement. They do the same for a third, and final, time in bar 60 (plate 36). The preceding pas composé for Dupré joins two entre-chats à 5 with an assemblé battu, while Mrs Bullock has a coupé to point, a coupé avec ouverture de jambe and a pas emboîté. The last of these is odd, as the notation for bar 37 (plate 34) shows her matching Dupré with an assemblé battu which has a half-turn in the air. Here is the whole of the final plate for this saraband. You can see the sequence culminating in the entre-chat droit à 6 / changement in the tracts running bottom to top nearest the centre of the page.

Sarabande of Issee 1725 36

Surely Mrs Bullock was capable of performing an entre-chat droit à 6, given her other technical feats in this dance. Does the notation really tell us the steps she did, or were some deliberately simplified for the purposes of publishing the notation?

In the ‘Türkish Dance’ I want to draw attention to three steps in the duet. This choreography uses music from the Entrée ‘La Turquie’ in Campra’s L’Europe galante of 1697. L’Abbé’s dance must date to 1721 or 1722, when George Desnoyer made his first visit to London and apparently enjoyed a dance partnership with the dancer-actress Elizabeth Younger. In bars 17-18 (plate 94, I have numbered the bars from the beginning of the last piece of music in this duet), Desnoyer and Mrs Younger each perform a cabriole one after the other. They repeat this feat in bars 37-38 (plate 96) and, as they move away from each other a few steps later, they do another cabriole in bar 44. The notated cabrioles appear just above the centre of the page and then to right and left as the tract begins to straighten.

Turkish Dance 1725 96

What is going on here? Does the nature of these steps permit a woman to do a cabriole? Did Le Roussau fail to edit out the cabrioles (which are indicated by a single additional short stroke at right-angles to the step) from his notation? Or, were women routinely performing pas cabriolés all along?

My last post on this topic will look at the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ created by L’Abbé for Hester Santlow, a solo which further calls into question the supposed limitations on the technique of female professional dancers.

Entre-Chats in Male Solos and Duets

My last post on the topic of pas battus in stage dances for men and women (back in November 2019) looked at Feuillet’s ‘Table des Entre-Chats’ in Choregraphie. Here, I will investigate the entre-chats notated in the male solos and duets within Pecour’s collections of 1704 and c1713, as well as L’Abbé’s of c1725. Once again, there are some interesting differences between their use in the three collections and by the two choreographers.

In Pecour’s 1704 collection, four of the thirteen choreographies for men have no entre-chats – the ‘Sarabande pour un homme non dancée a l’Opera’ (plates 210-215), the ‘Folies d’Espagne pour un homme’ (plates 221-224, this is also a sarabande), the ‘Sarabande pour deux hommes’ (Piffetot and Cherrier, plates 154-157) and the ‘Entrée pour deux hommes’ (Piffetot and Cherrier, plates 164-168). The absence of this step from the sarabandes may reflect a convention particular to that dance type, but loures present a more complex picture.

In the 1704 collection, Pecour’s preference seems to be for the entre-chat à 3 which is used in seven of the dances. There are four in the ‘Canary pour deux hommes’ (Piffetot and Cherrier, plates 158-163). The entre-chat à 5 is used in four of the dances, although none has more than two. The entre-chat à 6 is used in six of the dances, but never more than once. Pecour’s ‘Entrée d’Appolon’ which was also ‘non dancée à l’Opera’ has no entre-chat à 6, but there are entre-chats à 5, entre-chats à 4 and entre-chats à 3. Pecour joins one entre-chat à 4 with an entre-chat à 5 to form a new pas composé (bar 12, plate 196, the sequence can be seen on the right-hand side).

Entree Appolon 1704 196

Pecour’s use of entre-chats in his c1713 collection is different. Only one of the seven choreographies for men has no entre-chats – the ‘Entrée de deux homme’ (Marcel and Gaudrau, plates 91-94, to the ‘Entrée des divinitez infernales’ from Lully’s Persée). Of the other six, only one does not have an entre-chat à 6 – the ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ (danced by ‘Klin’, plates 102-103) – although it does have what seems to be an entre-chat à 5 with a full turn in the air (bar 32, plate 103). The ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’ (plates 107-108, to a loure from Campra’s Les Fêtes vénitiennes) has three entre-chats droit à 6. Two are danced together (bars 15-16, plate 107), while the third comes within a sequence of jumped steps (bar 38, plate 108).

Anthony L’Abbé, in his collection of c1725, is far more lavish in his use of the entre-chat within his six dances for men. He likes to combine the entre-chat with a tour en l’air, as in the ‘Loure or Faune’ (danced by himself and Claude Balon, plates 1-6) which has both an entre-chat à 6 and an entre-chat à 5 with a tour (bar 7, plate 1; bar 22, plate 4) and the ‘Spanish Entrée’ (George Desnoyer, plates 72-75) which has two consecutive entre-chats à 5  (bar 11, plate 73) as well as an entre-chat à 6  (bar 24, plate 75) each with a tour.

The most demanding dance in L’Abbé’s collection is the ‘Chacone of Amadis’ (plates 57-64), danced by London’s Louis Dupré, well-known for its three entre-chats droit à 6 to be performed within a single bar of music (bar 10, plate 57).  L’Abbé also gives Dupré an more extended sequence based on the entre-chat à 5 which is worth closer analysis (bars 41-44, plate 60).

Chacone of Amadis L'Abbe 1725 60

I admit that I am not sure whether these steps are entre-chats à 5 as Feuillet understood them (the ‘Chacone of Amadis’ probably dates to 1717 or 1718, nearly twenty years after the publication of Choregraphie). They can plausibly be seen as variants on that step, but the notation suggests that they were similar to the modern brisé volé. The first of these entre-chats (bar 41) takes one beat and ends with the left leg extended forward in the air – the position is held for two beats. The second (bar 42) is the same, but without an extension of the free right leg (the foot comes to third position behind). The third (bar 43) begins with a repeat of these two steps, each with the same timing but no pauses, and ends with an assemblé battu. The sequence ends with an entre-chat droit à 6 (bar 44) also completed on the first beat and followed by a two-beat pause. The four bars show not only speed and dexterity but also formidable control. The use of dynamic pauses is a feature of baroque choreographies all too often overlooked.

In my next post, I will look at a couple of L’Abbé’s stage duets for a man and a woman in which the pas battus are definitely notated differently – but were they necessarily performed that way?

The First Ballet at Covent Garden

In a recent TV dance programme, the presenter told us that the first ballet was given at Covent Garden in 1734. I assume that she meant the first ballet to be given at that theatre and not the first ballet to be given in London, which had been John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1717. She did not name the work, but the date indicates that she was referring to Pygmalion, first given at Covent Garden on 14 January 1734. Was this really the first ballet to be performed at John Rich’s new playhouse, the first such building on the site of what we now know as the Royal Opera House?

What was a ballet in early 18th-century London? The definition I work with is a stage work in which the narrative is told through dance, mime and music only, with no words. This describes John Weaver’s intention, although he called his stage works dramatic entertainments of dancing not ballets. For the purposes of this post, I will draw on that definition while concentrating on dancing at the Covent Garden Theatre from its opening on 7 December 1732 to the first performance of Pygmalion on 14 January 1734.

I’ll begin by looking more closely at Pygmalion. It is now attributed to the ballerina Marie Sallé, who took the role of the Statue Galatea. Her creations for the London stage were much applauded in Paris, where she was known as a dancer at the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opéra). A description of Pygmalion was published in the Mercure de France for April 1734, in the form of a letter from London dated 15 March – by which date the ballet had been performed at least fourteen times, demonstrating its success with London audiences. The dance historian Cyril Beaumont published a translation of the letter in his Three French Dancers of the 18th Century in 1934. The ballet itself is described thus:

‘Pygmalion enters his studio accompanied by his sculptors, who execute a characteristic dance, mallet and chisel in hand. Pygmalion bids them throw open the back of the studio which, like the forepart, is adorned with statues. One in the middle stands out above all the others and attracts the admiration of everyone. Pygmalion examines it, considers it, and sighs. He puts his hands on the feet, then on the body; he examines all the contours, likewise the arms, which he adorns with precious bracelets. He places a rich necklace around the neck and kisses the hands of his beloved statue. At last he becomes enraptured with it; he displays signs of unrest and falls into a reverie, then prays to Venus and beseeches her to endow the marble with life.

Venus heeds his prayer; three rays of light appear, and, to the surprise of Pygmalion and his followers, the statue, to suitable music, gradually emerges from its insensibility; she expresses astonishment at her new existence and at all the objects which surround her.

Pygmalion, amazed and transported, holds out his hand for her to step from her position; she tests the ground, as it were, and gradually steps into the most elegant poses that a sculptor could desire. Pygmalion dances in front of her as if to teach her to dance. She repeats after him the simplest as well as the most difficult and complicated steps; he endeavours to inspire her with the love which he feels, and succeeds.’

Pygmalion was always given as an entr’acte entertainment, never as an afterpiece, and (apart from calling it ‘new’ at its first performances) the advertisements drew no particular attention to it. It is never called a ‘ballet’.

The account of the action suggests that it began with a group dance by the Sculptors, followed by an extended mime sequence for Pygmalion. There was a little bit of scenic business (as Venus ‘heeds his prayer’) and then a mime sequence by the Statue, Galatea, followed by solos and a duet for her and her creator. The whole piece is essentially a single scene. It draws on a number of antecedents, one of which is indicated by Gregorio Lambranzi in his Neue unde Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul of 1716 in a plate showing sculptors at work (part 2, plate 24).

Lambranzi Part 2 Plate 24

The dancers at Covent Garden were Malter and Mlle Sallé, who performed as Pygmalion and Galatea, together with Dupré, Pelling, Duke, Le Sac, Newhouse and Delagarde, all regular members of Rich’s company.

What earlier entertainments at the new theatre might be classed as ballets? There are three contenders: The Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow given 27 March 1733; The Amorous Clown; or, The Courtizan given 3 May 1733; The Cobler; or, The Merry Wife Constant given 4 May 1733. All were performed by a principal couple with a group of supporting dancers and their titles suggest a narrative with action conveyed through dance and mime. All three pieces were created for benefit performances and only The Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow was given more than once.

The Cobler; or, The Merry Wife Constant can also be associated with a dance recorded by Lambranzi, who shows a Cobbler ‘with the tools of his trade, the use of which he expresses in mime’ before he is joined by his wife and the two dance together (part 2, plates 29, 30).

This entr’acte dance has a cast list which pairs the characters with commedia dell’arte characters (the Cobler is Punch, but the ‘Merry Wife’ has no counterpart), an idea used in some of Rich’s pantomime afterpieces. This suggests expressive action drawn from the commedia dell’arte, which by this period was common on the London stage. The Cobler; or, The Merry Wife Constant was probably created by Newhouse, who danced the Cobbler, for his own benefit.

The other two pieces involved Francis Nivelon, who was Rich’s leading dancer and probably the dancing master at Covent Garden. He shared a background in French fair theatre with Marie Sallé. The Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow was created for Nivelon’s own benefit and he and Mrs Laguerre took the title roles. She was Rich’s leading English female dancer, with skills that allowed her to take over some of Marie Sallé’s pantomime roles notably Daphne and Flora in Apollo and Daphne. Mrs Laguerre was also an actress, albeit a minor one. They were supported by Newhouse, Pelling, Le Sac, Delagarde, Miss La Tour, Mrs Pelling, Mrs Ogden and Miss Baston. The men would all appear in Pygmalion the following season.

The Amorous Clown; or, the Courtizan has the strongest claim to be considered a ballet. It was given right at the end of the performance, following the afterpiece, suggesting that it was a more substantial piece. It was created for the benefit of Dupré and Mrs Pelling, probably by Nivelon for the cast list had ‘Clowns by Nivelon and Pelling; Wives by Miss Latour and Mrs Ogden; Courtizan – Mrs Pelling’. In this context a ‘Clown’ was an unsophisticated Countryman or Rustic. The title suggests that the piece centred on Nivelon and Mrs Pelling and contained mime sequences as well as dances.  Mrs Pelling, like Mrs Laguerre, had skills that extended to serious dance and allowed her, too, to take over some of Marie Sallé’s pantomime roles.

These dance pieces have been overlooked by dance historians because they had very limited stage lives and were never noticed in the newspapers or elsewhere (it is worth recalling that Pygmalion received little attention in the British newspapers). Unlike Pygmalion, we have no accounts of their action. All three are comic rather than serious (although one or more of them may well have included some serious dancing). They make no use of the classical mythology used as a yardstick for the importance of dance works by so many 20th-century dance writers. Despite all that, I suggest that Pygmalion was not the first ballet given at the new Covent Garden playhouse – that honour should arguably go to The Amorous Clown; or, the Courtizan. Marie Sallé’s ballet was created within, and as a result of, the rich and varied repertoire of dancing (which included many such small ballets, serious as well as comic) in London’s theatres during the early 1700s.

 

Morgiana in the Ballroom

At a workshop recently, I learnt an early 19th-century English dance with the name Morgiana in the title. The teacher (who is always finding new country dances and quadrilles from this period) mentioned that it was only one of several dances in which her name features. So, who was Morgiana and why was she so popular in the ballroom?

A quick search on the web revealed that she is a character in the Arabian Nights’ Entertainment and that she features in the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. This collection of stories reached western Europe in a French translation early in the 18th century and was quickly translated into English in a version which went through many editions and remained popular well into the 19th century. In the modern edition I have, Morgiana is described as ‘a cunning artful slave, so fruitful in her inventions, that she would succeed in the most difficult undertaking’. In fact, she plays a central role in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, saving her master from death several times – it is she who kills the forty thieves.

Morgiana’s last exploit comes as Ali Baba is, unwittingly, entertaining the captain of the thieves who intends to murder him. She employs a particularly interesting ‘invention’ to outwit the would-be killer. She ‘dressed herself like a dancer, girded her waist with a silver-gilt girdle, to which there hung a poniard of the same metal, and put a handsome mask on her face’. The story goes on:

‘Morgiana, who was an excellent dancer, danced after such a manner as would have created admiration …

After she had danced several dances with a great deal of justness, she drew the poniard, and holding it in her hand, danced a dance, which was very surprising for the many different figures and fine movements it required.’

At the end of her dance, Morgiana stabs and kills the captain, saving Ali Baba once again. She has already earned her freedom, so her final reward is to marry Ali Baba’s son.

Such a colourful and exciting tale was ripe for adaptation on the London stage, although it apparently had to wait until the early 19th century for its first production. On 8 April 1806, Drury Lane presented The Forty Thieves, a ‘New Grand Operatical Romance’ with a scenario by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, music by Michael Kelly and ‘Ballets and Action’ by James Harvey d’Egville. The playbill shows that it was a lavish production.

Forty Thieves DL 1806

Other versions of The Forty Thieves soon followed in London’s minor theatres, including one as late as 1835 at the Lyceum. The Drury Lane ‘melo-dramatic romance’ was quickly published, as was its vocal score. Further versions of Ali Baba; or, The Forty Thieves destroyed by Morgiana were published around Britain into the mid-19th century, suggesting that many provincial theatres also gave performances of the piece.

Of course, Morgiana danced in The Forty Thieves. In a printed edition of the play, she is described in the penultimate scene as appearing ‘in a dancing dress, with gold pitcher, (splendid) and goblet’ (the original manuscript ignores the pitcher and goblet but says she has ‘a dagger in her girdle’). While the printed text says only that there is a ‘short dance by Figurantes, then by Morgiana with Tambourine’ the manuscript expands this:

‘Morgiana’s Dance in which imitating two or three of the Passions she prevents Hassarac’s [the captain] attempts to assassinate Ali Baba without her intention being discover’d by Hassarac or Ali Baba & Family – Hassarac has, at last, lifted up his dagger & is on the very point of stabbing Ali Baba when she seizes his arm and in a violent struggle she forces the Robber to plunge his weapon in his own breast.’

It was surely Morgiana’s tambourine dance (as much as her dramatic action) that caught the imagination of the public and encouraged dancing masters to use her name, and perhaps her music, to create new dances for the ballroom – some of which my 21st-century dancing master has re-discovered.

Here is Morgiana dressed to dance, and to kill!

 

Morgiana Gallica