Category Archives: The Loves of Mars and Venus

JOHN WEAVER – VULCAN

Who was John Weaver? How did he create the role of Vulcan in his ballet The Loves of Mars and Venus?

John Weaver was born in 1673 in Shrewsbury, the son of a dancing master. By the mid-1690s, he was himself a dancing master in the same town, but by the end of that decade he was probably in London working in the theatre as a professional dancer. His earliest known billing is at the Drury Lane Theatre on 6 July 1700, when he appeared in ‘a new Entry’ with two other dancers. Few advertisements for theatrical performances survive from this period, so it is very difficult to chart individual performers’ careers, but the bill suggests that Weaver was an established member of the Drury Lane company. The handful of advertisements that mention Weaver in the first years of the 18th century indicate that his forte was comic dancing, although as a dancing master he would surely have had a thorough knowledge of the serious or ‘French’ style and technique of dancing for both the ballroom and the stage. He returned to Shrewsbury to teach dancing in late 1707 or early 1708.

Weaver returned to Drury Lane for the 1716-1717 season to create and dance in The Loves of Mars and Venus. We do not know whether he danced in his own early pantomimes, The Shipwreck and Harlequin Turn’d Judge, but his later repertoire of entr’acte dances included English Clown, Lads and Lasses, Irish Trot and Sailor and His Lass. None suggest the sophisticated refinements of the serious style of dancing. Weaver went on dancing at Drury Lane until the end of the 1728-1729 season, when he was 55 years old. His last visit to London came in 1733, when he created his final work for the stage The Judgment of Paris, after which he returned to Shrewsbury and his dancing school for good.

There is no known portrait of John Weaver.

In the scenario for The Loves of Mars and Venus, Weaver provides a pen-portrait of Vulcan drawn from classical authors.

vulcan-in-words

John Weaver, The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717), p. xv

The description suggests that he portrayed Vulcan as lame in his ballet, following contemporary depictions of the god.

vulcan

A late 17th-century depiction of a stage Vulcan.

Weaver continues to draw Vulcan’s character throughout The Loves of Mars and Venus. The god first enters part way through scene 2 to a ‘wild rough air’. When he joins with Venus in the ‘Dance being altogether of the Pantomimic kind’, Vulcan’s passions are powerful – jealousy, anger, anguish are among them – and strongly expressed. Anger has ‘The left Hand struck suddenly with the right; and sometimes against the Breast’. His accustomed habitat is ‘Vulcan’s Shop, to which scene 3 opens showing the Cyclops as they work to ‘a rough Consort of Musick … adapted to the particular Sounds’ hammering and filing arms and armour for the gods. This provides the soundscape for the Entry danced by Vulcan and his workmen.

A different side of Vulcan appears when the shop is shown again, with the god ‘leaning in a thoughtful Posture on his Anvil’. Weaver is not explicit about his mood when he dances alone as the Cyclops complete the net that will enable his revenge on his wife and her lover. Did he maintain Vulcan’s lameness as he danced? Did he express pleasure, as Weaver’s gesture ‘Pleas’d at some Contrivance’ indicates, or something darker?

Vulcan must have dominated the final scene of The Loves of Mars and Venus. His control of the action reaches its highest point in the ‘insulting Performance’ he and the Cyclops give before the imprisoned Mars and Venus. Even after the arrival of the other gods, Vulcan remains the most active figure on stage as Weaver performs ‘Triumphing’, described as ‘To shake the Hand open, rais’d above our Head, is an exulting expression of Triumph’. How did Weaver show Vulcan’s responses as Neptune tries to persuade Vulcan ‘at length’ to forgive Mars and Venus? Vulcan must have taken part in the ‘grand Dance’ which concludes the ballet. Was this dance in the serious style or was it closer to a country dance in its steps and figures?

Vulcan’s dances post questions of genre, style and technique which are not easy to answer. All of them must have been ‘comic’ but what did this mean in practice? I will try to return to the subject of comic dancing in a later post.

THE DRAMATICK ENTERTAINMENT OF DANCING IN ACTION

The only surviving evidence for The Loves of Mars and Venus is the scenario written by John Weaver to accompany the first performances of the ballet. There were probably several reasons for its publication. Weaver writes in his Preface ‘I know it will be expected that I should give the Reader some Account of the Nature of this kind of Entertainment in Dancing, which I have here attempted to revive from the Ancients in Imitation of their Pantomimes’, thereby presenting himself as a scholar as well as a dancing master. The detail within the scenario suggests that he was rather more concerned that the audience might not understand the story, and the gestures used by the dancers, without some help. He acknowledges that ‘I have not been able to get all my Dancers equal to the Design’, admitting that ‘I have in this Entertainment too much inclin’d to the Modern Dancing’. So, what does the scenario tell us about Weaver’s dance drama?

The ballet unfolds in six scenes, for each of which Weaver describes the action – dance, gesture and even music – quite closely. The first scene is devoted to Mars and is preceded by a ‘Martial Overture’.

mars

A late 17th-century costume design for a ‘Combattant’. Did Weaver’s Mars look something like this?

The four ‘Followers of Mars’ enter to perform a ‘Pyrrhic Dance’ which Weaver explains as an exercise in training for combat. After a ‘Warlike Prelude’, Mars joins them. He dances a solo ‘Entry’ and then performs the Pyrrhic Dance with them.

The second scene provides a complete contrast, as Venus is discovered ‘at her Toilet’ surrounded by Cupid, the Graces and ‘one of the Hours’ (this character is probably one of the ‘Horae’ or Seasons, most likely Flora).

venus

A mid-17th century costume design for Venus (danced by a man). Nothing in her dress declares that she is a goddess.

She is introduced by a ‘Simphony of Flutes’ and rises to dance a passacaille, in which she is joined by the Graces and the Hour. They have just finished their dance when a ‘Wild Rough Air’ heralds the arrival of Vulcan. Everyone except Venus hastily departs. There follows what Weaver describes as a ‘Dance being altogether of the Pantomimic kind’ – a mute quarrel between Venus and Vulcan, for which Weaver specifies in great detail their gestures. This duet surely reaches to the heart of Weaver’s ambition to recreate the ‘surprizing’ performances of the mimes and pantomimes of classical antiquity.

The third scene belongs to Vulcan and his workmen the Cyclops.

vulcan

A late 17th-century depiction of a stage Vulcan. Did Weaver make his god lame?

It begins with a set piece probably familiar from other works on the London stage. Vulcan ‘strikes at the Scene’ and it opens to show the Cyclops, blacksmiths like Vulcan himself, at work to a ‘Rough Consort of Musick’. Four Cyclops dance an ‘Entry’, joined by Vulcan. The ‘Entry’ is, of course, very different from the one performed by Mars in the first scene. The pantomime, as Vulcan plans his revenge on his wife and her lover, differs from that between Venus and Vulcan in scene two.

As well as setting the plot in motion, these three scenes introduce, successively, the principal characters in the drama, through contrasting music, dance and gestures.

Scene four brings Mars and Venus together for the first time. Weaver explains that ‘This Performance is alternate, as representing Love and War’, adding ‘As to the Gestures made use of in this Scene; they are so obvious, relating only to Gallantry, and Love, that they need no Explanation’. Mars and Venus meet and embrace, and Mars woos the goddess in mime. The two deities and their respective Followers then dance another ‘Entry’ which, Weaver says, portrays ‘Strength and Softness, reciprocally, and alternately’. The dance, and the scene, end ‘with every Man carrying off his Woman’.

In scene five, the Cyclops are again shown at work and Vulcan dances a solo showing his pleasure as his plan moves to fruition. The final scene of the ballet begins with a ‘soft Symphony of Flutes’, to which the scene opens showing Mars and Venus sitting together. Their ‘pleas’d Tenderness which supposes past Embraces’ is rudely interrupted as Vulcan and the Cyclops enter and catch the two in a net and then give an ‘insulting Performance’. After that, ‘Jupiter, Apollo, Neptune, Juno, Diana, and Thetis’ arrive to witness the humiliation of Mars and Venus. Finally, Neptune persuades Vulcan to forgive the lovers and release them. Much of this scene was played in gestures, again described by Weaver. The ballet concludes as ‘Mars, with the rest of the Gods, and Goddesses, dance a Grand Dance’. This choreography was, presumably, for nine. Weaver’s wording suggests that Mars danced alone, with the other gods and goddesses in couples. Although it is surely likely that Mars, Venus and Vulcan came together for a trio at some point.

The action of The Loves of Mars and Venus was a mixture of old and new. The dancing of Mars and Venus seems to have used the current French stage style and technique and the final ‘Grand Dance’ followed a well-established convention. Vulcan and the Cyclops probably danced in a comic style commonly seen in the entr’actes in London’s theatres. However, Weaver went well beyond accepted ideas in his use of dance to establish the individuality of his characters. His use of gesture and, apparently, its combination with conventional dance steps was completely new and was, for the first time, the means through which a story was told. Weaver was boldly experimental and innovative, despite his use of a great deal of ‘Modern Dancing’ and the justification of his work through an appeal to classical antiquity.

I will say more about the dances and Weaver’s gestures in future posts on The Loves of Mars and Venus.

THE LOVES OF MARS AND VENUS IN CONTEXT

The theatre world of 18th-century London was very different from ours today. There were only two theatres allowed by law to perform plays, an arrangement that went back to the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. By 1717, one of these playhouses was Drury Lane (on the same site as the present theatre, but much smaller) while the other was Lincoln’s Inn Fields (demolished in 1848, but on a site now occupied by the Royal College of Surgeons of England). There was also the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket (on the site now occupied by Her Majesty’s Theatre) which presented only Italian opera. The most capacious of the three (at least when it was full to bursting) was Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which could hold some 1400 people. Drury Lane and the King’s Theatre could seat around 800 – 1000 patrons.

Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields were both wholly commercial ventures and thus dependant on paying audiences for their survival. They were, of necessity, rivals. Dancing was a key element in their struggle to fill their auditoriums each night. Most dancing, at both houses, took place in the entr’actes, i.e. between the acts of the plays which were the main part of the bills. John Rich, manager of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, was well aware of the popularity of dancing and made it an important feature as soon as he took over the theatre in 1714.

lincolns-inn-fields

John Wykeham Archer, Building formerly Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, 1847. © British Museum

At Drury Lane, the actor-managers Colley Cibber, Robert Wilks and Barton Booth, together with their fellow manager Sir Richard Steele, favoured drama – not least because they had the best actors in London. Despite their serious intent, they were forced to try and emulate Rich as his success drew away their audiences.

old-drury-lane-1794

View of the Drury Lane Theatre (Bridges Street front by Robert Adam), c1794? © British Museum

This was the world within which John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus was first produced.

Theatre seasons ran from September or October to June or July the following year. So, The Loves of Mars and Venus received its first performance some way through Drury Lane’s 1716-1717 season. During that season, the playhouse offered some nine afterpieces (short farces or other entertainments performed after the main comedy or tragedy), but only The Loves of Mars and Venus and The Shipwreck; or, Perseus and Andromeda, a ‘New Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’ also by Weaver, were danced. In their first season the former received seven performances before the end of March 1717, while the latter had three in April.

More than twenty years later, in his Apology, Colley Cibber explained how and why Weaver’s experimental ballet was allowed to go ahead. He began with the disparity between the two companies, and Lincoln’s Inn Fields’s need ‘to exhibit some new-fangled Foppery’ if it was to compete with Drury Lane’s higher reputation.

‘Dancing therefore was, now, the only Weight in the opposite Scale, and as the New Theatre [Lincoln’s Inn Fields] sometimes found their Account in it, it could not be safe for us, wholly to neglect it. To give even Dancing therefore some Improvement, and to make it something more than Motion without Meaning, the Fable of Mars and Venus, was form’d into a connected Presentation of Dances in Character, wherein the Passions were so happily express’d, and the whole Story so intelligibly told, by a mute Narration of Gesture only, that even thinking Spectators allow’d it both a pleasing, and a rational Entertainment; tho’, at the same time, from our Distrust of its Reception, we durst not venture to decorate it, with any extraordinary Expence of Scenes, or Habits; but upon the Success of this Attempt, it was rightly concluded, that if a visible Expence in both, were added to something of the same Nature, it could not fail of drawing the Town proportionably after it.’

Colley Cibber obviously had no great respect for dancing, but he had to admit that Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus was not only completely new, it was also a proper drama and a success.

The Loves of Mars and Venus was given another sixteen performances in 1717-1718, seven performances in 1718-1719 and eight more in 1719-1720. It then disappeared from the repertoire until 1723-1724, when it was performed five times before it was dropped completely. Its success in all the seasons when it was performed suggests that there may have been other reasons why it did not survive beyond the mid-1720s.

However, there were later dance pieces titled Mars and Venus and at least one of these may have been a revival of Weaver’s ballet. This was given at Drury Lane on 2 May 1739 at a benefit for the dancer Essex. He was, very probably, William Essex the son of John Essex who translated Rameau’s Le Maître a danser for publication in London in 1728. William Essex danced Vulcan, with Desnoyer as Mars and Mrs Walter as Venus. All three had worked with John Weaver. Essex had danced in Drury Lane’s 1728 pantomime Perseus and Andromeda. With the Rape of Colombine: or, The Flying Lovers, for which Roger had created the serious scenes while Weaver had undertaken the comic action. Even though Essex had danced in Roger’s scenes, he must have worked alongside Weaver. Desnoyer had created the role of Paris in Weaver’s last dance drama The Judgment of Paris, given at Drury Lane in 1733. Mrs Walter had also danced in The Judgment of Paris, as the goddess Juno.

There were, therefore, many opportunities for Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus to influence other, later dance works even beyond its last certain performances in the 1723-1724 season.

A Year of Dance: 1717

1717 was a busy year on the London stage, at least so far as dancing was concerned. With hindsight, the most significant event was the performance at the Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717 of John Weaver’s ‘New Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing after the Manner of the Antient Pantomimes’ The Loves of Mars and Venus – now widely recognised as the first modern ballet. Weaver followed it up on 2 April with a ‘New Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’, The Shipwreck; or, Perseus and Andromeda. Together, the two afterpieces were surely intended to show the full range of the expressive dancing that Weaver was eager to promote. On 5 December 1717, Weaver’s Harlequin Turn’d Judge was given at Drury Lane. It was later advertised as an ‘Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’ but was, to all intents and purposes, a pantomime (a genre new to London’s theatres). Both The Loves of Mars and Venus and Harlequin Turn’d Judge were successful enough to survive into the 1720s.

The popularity of Weaver’s danced afterpieces attracted several responses from John Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Rich began with The Cheats; or, The Tavern Bilkers on 22 April 1717. The alternative title apparently refers to a much earlier piece by Weaver, which the dancing master claimed was performed at Drury Lane in 1702. Although, as Weaver’s The Tavern Bilkers was never revived, how did Rich know about it? A few months later, Rich turned his attention to Weaver’s new ballet with Mars and Venus; or, The Mouse Trap, given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 22 November 1717. He then produced Colombine; or, Harlequin Turn’d Judge on 11 December. Neither of Rich’s ripostes were anything like as successful as the originals. However, The Jealous Doctor; or, The Intriguing Dame, a pantomime given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 29 April 1717 continued to be popular until the mid-1720s.

All these afterpieces had casts of dancers, and Rich did not neglect entr’acte dancing. His star dancers in 1717 were the ‘two Children, Scholars of M Ballon, lately arriv’d from the Opera at Paris’. Francis and Marie Sallé had made their London debut at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 18 October 1716. Rich billed them frequently, in a varied repertoire of serious and comic dances, between then and their last performance on 20 June 1717. Was their ‘New Comic Scene’ entitled The Loves of Harlequin and Colombine, given on 23 April 1717, intended as another hit at The Loves of Mars and Venus? They also performed ‘The Submission, a new Dance, compos’d by Kellom’ on 21 February 1717 demonstrating their versatility.

Kellom Tomlinson’s The Submission was one of the only two notated dances to be published in London this year. The other was L’Abbé’s The Royal George, according to newspaper advertisements published ‘for the Princess’s Birth Day’ in March 1717 although the title page says only a ‘A New Dance … for the Year 1717’. The title must thus honour the Prince of Wales her husband. Fortunately, the dance appeared several months before the serious quarrel between the King and his son the following November, which would divide the royal family for the next few years. The other noteworthy cultural event of 1717 was the first performance on 17 July of Handel’s Water Music for George I as he travelled by barge along the River Thames.

In Paris, the annual dance publication was the XV Recüeil de danses pour l’année 1717 published by Dezais. It contained three short ballroom duets, La Clermont and La de Bergue by Claude Ballon and La Ribeyra by Dezais himself. The last of them was dedicated ‘A Madame l’Ambassatrice de Portugal’, providing an insight into the naming of such choreographies. At the Paris Opéra, besides the usual revivals of works by Lully, André Campra was represented not only by revivals of his Fragments de M. Lully and Tancrède but also by a new opera Camille, Reine des Volsques given on 9 November 1717 (N.S.).

The most important dance publication of the year, at least for many 21st-century dance historians, was Gottfried Taubert’s monumental treatise Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister which appeared in Leipzig and provided a German view of French dancing. It shows not only how influential la belle danse was around Europe but also how this French style and technique could be moulded to suit other national tastes and ideas.

 

Reviving Dance in History

I have not written very much for Dance in History in recent months and it has been a while since my last post. My excuses? I have been busy, not just writing a short essay and some talks but also doing quite a lot of more modern dancing (I am a recent convert to ballroom and Latin dancing and I also make occasional forays into Victorian and even ragtime dance). I have various dance history projects lined up for next year, so I’m hoping I will be able to return to writing more regularly from January.

2017 is, of course, a notable year for the history of ballet. It marks the 300th anniversary of the first performance of the first modern ballet, John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus. This ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ was given at London’s Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717. I am involved in an exciting project to celebrate that event, and I will report on it elsewhere as well as adding a variety of posts on Weaver’s ballet to these pages.

My longstanding interest has been dancing on the London stage, which I will try to pursue during 2017 with a variety of posts on dances, dancing and dancers in London’s theatres from the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 to the eve of the Romantic ballet in 1830. I will probably be focussing on the 18th century for much of the next year, not only because of The Loves of Mars and Venus but also because 2017 is the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great actor David Garrick. He was born just a couple of weeks before the first performance of John Weaver’s dance drama. Garrick later became manager of the Drury Lane Theatre, and he married a dancer – the Viennese ballerina Eva Maria Veigel, known as Violette. I am exploring dancing at Drury Lane during the period of Garrick’s management for a paper I am giving in February, so there may be posts on that topic too.

It isn’t easy to keep up my baroque dance practice, but I hope to continue with my solo sessions and to write about some of the dances I’ll be revisiting or learning afresh. Maybe I’ll find time to write about some of the baroque solos I have danced, and loved so much, in the past. If I have the chance to take part in workshops on regency, Victorian or even ragtime dancing, one or two posts might look in those directions. There is always the possibility that a little modern ballroom and Latin might sneak in (sequence dancing has an interesting relationship to the social dancing of earlier periods).

So, I’ve got plenty of ideas – all I need to do is get on with the work!

WHY A ‘DRAMATIC ENTERTAINMENT OF DANCING’?

As a dancer and a dancing master, John Weaver had deep concerns about the status of dancing. In An Essay Towards an History of Dancing, published in 1712, he tried to address these. His ‘Prefatory Introduction’ set out Weaver’s underlying aim:

‘an undeserved Contempt has been cast unwarily on this Art, as Low and Mechanick; I have here endeavour’d to set it in its true Light; and to shew, that it is an Art both Noble and Useful; and not unworthy the Encouragement of all Lovers of Elegance and Decorum; …’

His strategy for establishing dancing as an ‘Art’ was to link not only its past but also its current practice to classical antiquity.

In the final chapter of his Essay, entitled ‘Of the Modern Dancing’, Weaver laid the foundations for what he would call a ‘Dramatic Entertainment of Dancing’. He wanted the London stage to present dancing that was something more than the ‘Motion, Figure and Measure’ seen in the technically accomplished French dancers who were so successful there. Weaver’s ambition was to present dancing that could rival drama. Appealing to classical antiquity, he wrote:

‘Stage-Dancing was at first design’d for Imitation; to explain Things conceiv’d in the Mind, by the Gestures and Motions of the Body, and plainly and intelligibly representing Actions, Manners and Passions; so that the Spectator might perfectly understand the Performer by these his Motions, tho’ he say not a Word.

Weaver’s concept of the mute art of dancing was one in which the body provided a means of expression as powerful as the spoken word. He wished to imitate (and improve upon) ‘that surprising Performance of the Pantomimes’ he had written about in his Essay Towards an History of Dancing.

There had, of course, been ballets well before Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus. The English masque of the early 1600s and the French ballet de cour, which reached its apogee in the mid-17th century, gave a central place to dancing. However, both were dependant on spoken and sung words to express emotions as well as unfold the story. The same was true of French opera, from the tragedies en musique of Lully to the opéra-ballets of Campra and others. The English semi-opera, which became popular in the 1690s thanks to Purcell’s music, used dance simply as part of divertissements alongside the drama. In none of these works did dance stand alone.

Weaver must have been familiar with the semi-operas and obviously knew a great deal about French dancing, even if his experience of French opera was limited. The underlying reason for his dissatisfaction must surely have been that all the dancing he saw was merely decorative. It embellished the arts of music and drama, but fell short of being an art itself. Weaver’s appeal to the ‘Pantomimes of the Ancient Greeks and Romans’ who (in his Preface to the published scenario for The Loves of Mars and Venus) he characterised as ‘Dancers that represented a Story or Fable in Motion or Measure; Imitators of all things, as the Name of Pantomime imports’ offered a way forward.

He had an example closer to hand in the commedia dell’arte, whose exponents were once again finding their way into London’s theatres in the early 1700s. In his Essay, Weaver wrote of ‘that surprising Performance of the Pantomimes, the Ruins of which remain still in Italy; but sunk and degenerated into Pleasantry, and merry conceited Representations of Harlequin, Scaramouch, …’ describing the players as ‘these modern Mimes inimitable’. He could not help admiring their expressive abilities, depending on actions not words. He admired (grudgingly) the French dancing of his own time, too. In ‘Of the Modern Dancing’ he set down its virtues as well as what he saw as its vices.

John Weaver worked in theatres where drama and dance were juxtaposed and intertwined at almost every performance. He was that rarest of combinations, a scholar as well as a dancer. His ambitions for dancing, and the means by which he chose to pursue them, sprang out of both his theoretical reading and his practical experience. Weaver’s bold experiment of 1717 was enough of a success for him to follow it with another ‘Dramatic Entertainment of Dancing’, Orpheus and Eurydice in 1718. This failed and he did not return to the genre until 1733, when he created The Judgment of Paris in which he abandoned his early ideals by introducing songs.

My focus in these posts is his first great venture with his new genre, The Loves of Mars and Venus, the very first modern ballet.

A VERY IMPORTANT DANCE ANNIVERSARY

Next year marks the 300th anniversary of John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus. His ‘dramatic entertainment of dancing’ was first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717.

Loves Title Page Detail

John Weaver, The Loves of Mars and Venus, detail from title page

Why is this often overlooked dance work so important? It is the first modern ballet – the first theatrical work to tell a story and represent its characters solely through dance, mime and music. Unlike all the ballets that had come before it, including the much celebrated French ballets de cour and English masques, there were no spoken or sung words. The Loves of Mars and Venus was a dance work, nothing more and nothing less.

Weaver’s ballet tells the story of the love affair between the goddess Venus and Mars, the god of War, and the revenge enacted on them by her husband Vulcan. It draws on classical mythology, but contemporary passions abound. Despite Weaver’s appeal to the revered performances of the ‘mimes and pantomimes’ of classical antiquity, who he wished to emulate, his ballet was a thoroughly modern work in tune with the sophisticated comedies of his own time.

The Loves of Mars and Venus has six short scenes. Mars appears with his soldiers and performs a war dance. Venus is shown surrounded by the Graces and displays her allure in a sensual passacaille, but when Vulcan arrives she quarrels with him in a ‘dance of the pantomimic kind’. Vulcan retires to his smithy to devise revenge with the help of his workmen the Cyclops. Mars and Venus meet and, with their followers, perform dances expressive of love and desire. Vulcan completes his plan of revenge against the lovers. In the final scene, Vulcan and the Cyclops catch Mars and Venus together and expose them to the derision of the other gods, until Neptune intervenes and harmony is restored in a final ‘Grand Dance’. The entire ballet took, perhaps, about 40 minutes.

John Weaver was a dancer as well as a choreographer. He is also one of the very few dance practitioners who have written about their art. He was Vulcan. Venus was Hester Santlow, also an actress and a dancer of consummate skill and expressiveness. Mars was Louis Dupré, a virtuoso dancer who was probably French (although not Louis ‘le grand’ Dupré, with whom he is still often confused). Weaver’s bold experiment had the best dancers on the London stage.

This first modern ballet was a remarkable work and enjoyed success in its own time. It was subsequently far more influential than many realise. It may well have been seen by the young dancer Marie Sallé, who would herself later experiment with narrative and expressive dancing. Sallé, of course, influenced Jean-Georges Noverre when he came to create his ballets d’action. They led to the story ballets of the romantic period and onwards to today’s narrative dance works.

Has Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus been consigned to history or can it be recovered? I will explore this innovative ballet further in later posts.