Category Archives: Steps & Figures

Reconstructing The Louvre (Aimable Vainqueur)

I have written about Pecour’s 1701 duet Aimable Vainqueur in at least three posts. This popular dance was mentioned in Favourite Ballroom Duets and Famous French Ballroom Dances. In Aimable Vainqueur on the London Stage, I looked at one strand of the performance history of The Louvre – the title by which Aimable Vainqueur was known in London’s theatres. In this post, I will look at the process of reconstructing the dance, as I have been doing just that using John Weaver’s version of the notation (titled The Louvre), which he included in the second edition of Orchesography in 1722. This is the version I will use for my exploration here.

The Louvre (Aimable Vainqueur) is a loure to music from André Campra’s 1700 opera Hésione. I don’t know whether London audiences knew that, possibly not as they were unlikely to have heard of the opera, but they must have appreciated the tune or the dance would not have survived in the entr’acte repertoire as long as it did. The music in Weaver’s version, as in Feuillet’s original of 1701, has the time signature 3 and the dance notation has one pas composé to each bar of music. Other loures, including the first part of Mr Isaac’s ball dance The Pastorall of 1713, have music in 6/4 with two pas composés to each bar of music on the dance notation. I will return to the relationship between the dance and the music later.

Weaver’s notation has some minor differences from Feuillet’s original, which suggest that he derived his version from Richard Shirley’s notation of the dance, published in London in 1715. Weaver copied Shirley’s floor patterns on the second plate as well as some of Shirley’s notations of individual steps – and he repeated some of Shirley’s mistakes. I assume that Shirley had access to Feuillet’s notation and either he, or possibly his engraver, made the changes. The Louvre has six plates of notation, with the dance divided between them in a way which reflects the music’s structure and phrasing. The music is AABB (A=14 B=24) and plate 1 has the first A, plate 2 has the second A, plate 3 has bars 1-8 of the first B, plate 4 has bars 9-24 of the first B and the second B section is similarly divided between plates 5 and 6.

The notation is clearly set out, although it is not without mistakes and the floor patterns do not always accurately reflect the spatial relationships between the two dancers. Regular users of such notated choreographies will know that it is not possible to entirely reconcile the patterns on the page with those to be performed within the dancing space. Here is the first plate of Weaver’s notation.

All the steps of The Louvre are from the basic vocabulary of baroque dance. The pas de bourée is most often used and the coupé appears in a number of different versions, including coupé simple, coupé à deux mouvements, coupé avec ouverture de jambe and coupé sans poser le corps. Pecour’s figures and step sequences have a classical simplicity (a feature of much of his choreography), although I can’t help feeling that Aimable Vainqueur may have been expressive rather than abstract in performance. The dance takes its title from the first words of an air sung by Venus in act 3 scene 5 of Hésione. The tune was used in the opera for a dance by ‘Ombres de Amans fortunéz’, the shades of happy lovers. At the Paris Opéra, the leading dancers were Claude Ballon and Marie-Thérèse Subligny and it seems unlikely that the choreography they performed closely resembled the ballroom duet created by Pecour for performance before Louis XIV at Marly by several pairs of courtiers – although the two may well have shared some passages. I have to admit that, when I am trying to reconstruct notated dances, it is important that I know about the context for both the music and the dance to help with my interpretation.

The Louvre is in mirror symmetry, except for the last 16 bars of the first B section and bars 9 to 18 of the second B in which the dancers are on the same foot and so in axial symmetry. The sequence within the first B section is of particular choreographic interest and I will analyse it in some detail.

The duet begins conventionally, with the couple side by side and the woman on the man’s right for a passage which travels directly towards the presence. I will use some stage terms to delineate the dancing space, although these are not really appropriate for the ballroom. The dance begins with two coupés à deux mouvements, followed by a pas de bourée and a tems de courante. The sequence is simple but nicely varied rhythmically and calls for a pleasing succession of arm movements. Fewer than a third of the steps in The Louvre are directed towards the presence, although it is apparent that the dancers remain mindful of it throughout – as they would have needed to be both at the court of Louis XIV and on the London stage. The next figure begins with a variant of the pas de bourée en presence, which allows the couple to acknowledge each other for the first time. Then, after another variant of the en presence, they curve away with a contretemps which moves first sideways and then forwards. I am beginning to wonder if such steps, so early in a duet, were a commonplace intended to allow the dancers to address those who surrounded the dancing space, whether in the ballroom or on stage. In The Louvre, the dancers turn back to face the presence, cross (with the woman upstage of the man) and then travel towards the presence again to complete the section with a pas de bourée and a tems de courante.

The second plate (the A repeat) uses much the same vocabulary of steps, although the dancers begin by turning to face one another and travelling sideways rather than forwards. They turn to face the presence for a few steps and then curve away from each other, turn to face and then curve away again before turning to face on the last bar.

Plate 3 begins the B section with the dancers again travelling sideways upstage. Pecour then gives them each a double loop figure, in opposite directions but still in mirror symmetry. They pass one another across the stage, the woman upstage of the man, and end their second loop facing each other up and down the dancing area. The man has his back to the presence. This sequence of 8 bars (five of which are pas de bourée) raises some questions about which way the dancers’ heads turn and where they direct their gaze as they move through the figure.  As they approach each other in the fourth bar, before they cross, do they look at each other rather than over their raised opposition arm (which would result in the man looking at the woman and the woman looking away from him)? In the fifth bar, in which they meet and then pass, do they both look over the raised arm towards the presence? Here is plate three of the dance, to give an idea of what might be happening.

In many ballroom choreographies there must surely have been a continual interplay between the dancers and their spectators, as they regarded each other, looked towards the presence or acknowledged members of the surrounding audience.

The last 16 bars of this first B section are on plate 4. They are surely the heart of this choreography, so I will explore the steps and figures in some detail. Here is the notation.

The dancers begin facing one another up and down the room and the man has his back to the presence. The couple keep to their own areas of the dancing space throughout. The step vocabulary is more varied than it has been, with the addition of half-turn pirouettes and balancé. I am not a musician, but much of the music for The Louvre seems to fall into 2-bar phrases, perhaps reproducing the 6/4 time signature found in other loures, which can seem like a call and response. This idea is clearly evident in this section of the choreography. First, the woman dances away from the man on a diagonal, with a contretemps and a coupé avec ouverture de jambe, turning her back and then turning again to face downstage (she could be looking towards him over her raised arm). She changes feet as she begins the contretemps, so that the symmetry becomes axial. The man waits as she does her steps and then responds by doing the same, ending facing upstage again. They then dance together for 4 bars, but the woman does two half-turn pirouettes followed by balancé, while the man does the balancé first and then the pirouettes. This little 8-bar sequence can surely be made expressive, in harmony with the dance’s original title Aimable Vainqueur. Was it part of Pecour’s choreography for the stage? The couple then travel towards one another on the diagonal with a pas de bourée and a tems de courante (echoing earlier pairings of these steps) before circling away and then coming to face one another across the dancing space. They do another balancé, but the man adds an extra step forward, returning to mirror symmetry.

The next figure, using the first 8 bars of the second B section, has the dancers tracing mirror-image figures of eight (although the notation blurs the pattern). They begin with jetté-chassés, followed by two pas de bourée, then jetté-chassés again and a pas de bourée followed by a coupé to first position facing one another.

In the last 16 bars of the dance, Pecour introduces some fresh choreographic devices. Here is the final plate of The Louvre.

The dancers turn away from each other, the man facing the presence and the woman with her back to it, with a quarter-turn pirouette followed by a demi-coupé sans poser le corps. They have returned to axial symmetry with their pirouettes. They travel sideways towards each other and away again, with a varied series of coupés.  Throughout this sequence the man faces the presence while the woman faces upstage. They curve away from each other, the woman passing directly in front of the presence while the man is further upstage, and come to face one another again, having changed sides. This sequence also poses challenges on where to look and the notation does not agree exactly on the steps of the two dancers (which may or may not be a mistake). This time, they could be looking towards each other as they approach with a pas de bourée – even though this means that the woman is ignoring the presence as she dances past. The sequence finishes with a coupé to first position, preparing a return to mirror symmetry.

The last six bars of The Louvre seem to be grouped in twos: half-turn pirouette, coupé avec ouverture de jambe, in which the couple turn away from each other and perhaps look towards the presence as they each extend their downstage leg; half-turn pirouette and a quarter-turn into a tems de courante travelling upstage, during which they might look at each other; finally a pas de bourée and a half-turn into the coupé which brings them side by side ready to bow to the presence.

The Louvre is certainly susceptible to interpretative choices which can change the focus of the dance and the interplay between the dancers. There is a great deal of information within the notation, although this is not always clear. There is much that is missing, too – not only the obvious, like arm movements, and the less obvious, like épaulement and the placing of the head, but also pointers to the meaning of the choreography. Is it abstract or is it expressive? We can make choices as we both reconstruct and recreate this delightful dance and try to understand what made it so popular for so long.

Money for Entrechats: Valuing the Virtuosic Male Dancer – Delagarde and Dupré

The second male duet in L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances is the ‘Canaries performd’ by Mr La Garde & Mr Düpré’. Here is the first plate of the notation.

The dance probably dates to the 1714-1715 London theatre season, the only period when the two dancers were in the same company and are known to have danced together. This duet was performed during a period of peace with France following a long and debilitating war, as the War of the Spanish Succession had finally ended in the spring of 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. More significant, in 1714 Queen Anne died and was succeeded by the Elector of Hanover as George I. The new King arrived in England on 18 September and was crowned on 20 October 1714. One outcome of the change of dynasty was the renewal of theatre rivalries, when the King allowed John Rich to open a playhouse in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and provide fresh competition for Drury Lane. Rich very quickly revealed his entrepreneurial flair and a predilection for singing and dancing alongside the usual fare of comedies and tragedies. ‘Entertainments’ were a feature of his opening bill on 18 December 1714, and several dancers were billed by name for the performance on 22 December. Like Thomas Betterton (with whom he otherwise had little in common), Rich was interested in French opera and French dancers. Over his years as a playhouse manager he would engage a series of French dancers as a draw for audiences.

Charles Delagarde was born in 1687 or 1688 and first appears in a bill for the Queen’s Theatre on 12 December 1705, performing in a Grand Dance led by Anthony L’Abbé. This was probably not his first performance on the London stage. John Essex tells us:

‘Mr. L’Abbe bred up Mr D’ la Garde, who maintained the genteel Part of Dancing upon the Stage many years after his Master, and with great Honour supported the Character the World had long before entertained of Mr. L’Abbe

Mr. D’ la Garde was happy enough in his Comic Performances, but more graceful and pleasing in the Serious.’

His career is hard to trace in detail, but Delagarde spent some years at the Queen’s Theatre as a dancer and dancing master for the opera there. The bill for Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 1 January 1715 offered dancing ‘By de la Garde, who has not appear’d these six years’, which was not true as he had appeared at Drury Lane as recently as 2 May 1712. His repertoire in his first season with the new company ranged from a Spanish Entry to a Dutch Skipper. Delagarde remained at Lincoln’s Inn Fields until 1718-19, after which he retired from the stage. His value to the company and appeal to audiences is shown by the receipts at his benefit performance on 2 April 1715. His was the sixth performer’s benefit of the season and the first given to a dancer and pulled in £119. 8s. (equivalent to around £13000 today).

Louis Dupré’s origins and background are still to be discovered, although it has long been known that he was not ‘le grand’ Dupré who enjoyed an exceptionally long and successful career at the Paris Opéra. Dupré was apparently first engaged by Rich, for the 1714-1715 season marks the beginning of his career in London. Essex does not mention him, but he seems to have been a versatile dancer with a repertoire that ranged from a solo Harlequin dance to the exceptional technical demands of the solo ‘Chacone of Amadis’ which also appears in L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances. He danced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields for most of his career, and died around 1735. Dupré’s benefit on 7 April (the eighth performer’s and second dancer’s benefit) brought in £121.5s (equivalent to around £13500 today) making it just a little more successful than Delagarde’s. Sadly, there are no known portraits of either Dupré or Delagarde.

It is worth trying to put these benefit earnings into a wider context. For both Delagarde and Dupré, these are the highest benefit receipts recorded for them (although there are a number of their benefit performances for which we do not have such figures). From this period, we only have accounts for Rich’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre – there is nothing comparable for Drury Lane, so we cannot compare the dancers at the two theatres. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the highest benefit earnings in 1714-1715 were for the actor Theophilus Keene, whose receipts amounted to £170.1s (around £18000 today) while the actress Frances Maria Knight gained £141.1s (around £15500) and the singer Richard Leveridge received £133.14s (around £14800). It is worth looking more closely at the benefit earnings of dancers around this time – I hope to do this in a later post. Ballon’s 500 guineas were for a five-week engagement (although we do not know how often he performed) and these benefit figures of some fifteen years later provide another perspective on his earnings.

Returning to the ‘Canaries’ duet, this is a dance in 6/8 similar to a gigue but faster. As a fast dance, it was quite popular as a showcase for male dancers. Three ‘canary’ male duets were published in notation. The other two were Feuillet’s ‘Canary à deux’ for two unnamed men to music from an unknown source, published in 1700, and Pecour’s ‘Canary pour deux hommes’ for Piffetot and ‘Chevrier’ (probably the dancer René Cherrier) to music from Desmarest’s opera Didon, published in 1704. L’Abbé’s choreography has 48 bars of music, taken from act five scene three of Lully’s 1677 opera Isis, and a musical structure AABBAABB (A=4 B=8).

The duet opens conventionally with the two men side by side upstage, standing in third position ready to step forward on the outside foot. As with the ‘Loure or Faune’ the choreography uses mirror symmetry throughout. The speed of the dance allows for less ornamentation, but even so around 40% of the steps have turns, some 30% incorporate beats and about 10% have other embellishments like pas glissés or ronds de jambe. Unlike the earlier dance, the ‘Canaries’ has some repetition of steps or phrases, particularly at the beginning and near the end. There are the usual virtuosic steps, such as assemblé battu en tournant, with a full turn in the air and an entrechat-six, and pirouettes, one of which has a full turn with beats while the other has one-and-a-half turns without embellishment. Other steps are featured, for example the pas tortillé or ‘waving step’ in which the dancer uses toe and heel swivels to move from turned-out to parallel positions and back again. Parallel positions of the feet were described as ‘Spanish’ so their inclusion here is perhaps a nod to the earlier history of the canaries. There are several cabrioles, including a soubresaut (a vertical jump in fifth position) with a cabriole followed immediately by an assemblé battu. Here is the third plate of the duet, with pas tortillés as well as the assemblé battu en tournant with its additions. These virtuoso steps are interspersed with plain pas de bourée and a demi-contretemps.

The dance ends with a demie cabriole en tournant un tour en saut de basque – a jump with a turn, a beat in the air and a final step forward. The men end on the same side as they began the dance.

We do not know when or where this choreography was performed, although there was a performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields which seems particularly appropriate. On 10 March 1715, the King ‘honour’d that House [Lincoln’s Inn Fields] with his presence the first Time since they open’d’. Delagarde and Dupré were both billed to appear. Could they have performed the ‘Canaries’ for Britain’s new monarch?

The ‘Loure or Faune’ and ‘Canaries’ duets in L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances highlight the virtuosity attained by male professional dancers in the years around 1700. They provide an insight into their power, speed and dexterity and show the intricacy of the ornamentations they were expected to master. The male repertoire of the early 1700s, which has so far been little studied by dance historians, makes demands that go well beyond the technique expected of professional female dancers at the time (at least that is what the notated dances suggest). The vocabulary of steps depends on male strength, of course, but much of the embellishment is located in the lower leg and male legs were clearly visible (as the portraits of Ballon demonstrate). Alongside the sheer physical display of such dancing, ‘Frenchness’ was obviously a key component of its appeal. France led Europe in dancing, whether in the ballroom or on stage, as the notated dances testify, and French ballet and opéra-ballet were widely influential, even in London where French opera never found favour. Despite the late 20th-century focus on the leading female dancers at the Paris Opéra and elsewhere, the men were the real stars at this period.

Does the difference in the monetary values set on the individual male dancers discussed in these two posts reveal something other than the initial shock of the new and its waning with the passage of time? L’Abbé obviously benefitted from being the first leading French dancer of his generation to visit London. He went on to a successful career there and became a widely admired and respected royal dancing master. Ballon made a far greater and longer-lasting impact in one short visit. He seems to have had something extra, which justified the extravagance lavished upon him. He undoubtedly had the style and technique to amaze audiences, but he surely had more – a glamour and sheer physical allure that bewitched those who saw him and persuaded those who hadn’t that no price was too high for the privilege.

This post was originally the second section of a conference paper, given several years ago but never published, which I have revised.

Reading List:

Moira Goff, ‘John Rich, French Dancing, and English Pantomimes’ in Berta Joncus and Jeremy Barlow (eds) “The Stage’s Glory” John Rich, 1692-1761 (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2011), 85-98.

Moira Goff, The Incomparable Hester Santlow (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).

Moira Goff, ‘The “London” Dupré’, Historical Dance, 3.6 (1999), 23-6.

Anthony L’Abbé, A New Collection of Dances. Originally published by F. Le Roussau London c.1725 (London, 1991).

F. Le Roussau, Chacoon for a Harlequin (London: Le Roussau, [1729?]).

Pierre Rameau, trans. John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728), The Preface.

Money for Entrechats: Valuing the Virtuosic Male Dancer – L’Abbé and Ballon

Anthony L’Abbé’s A New Collection of Dances Containing a Great Number of the Best Ball and Stage Dances, published around 1725, was dedicated to George I. It brought together in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation thirteen choreographies, almost all of which were described as having been performed by London’s leading professional dancers. At the time of publication, L’Abbé was dancing master to the King’s granddaughters. He had been a dancer as well as a choreographer, working both at the Paris Opéra (where he began his career) and in London’s theatres. The first dance in the New Collection was a ‘Loure or Faune performd’ before his Majesty King William ye 3d bÿ Monsr Balon and Mr L’abbé’. The details in the head-title suggest that the dance had been performed in 1699, the year that Claude Ballon (a leading male dancer at the Paris Opéra) had come to London for the first and last time. Ballon had apparently been able to command a fabulously high fee for his London appearances. The writer and collector Narcissus Luttrell recorded that ‘Monsieur Ballon, the famous French dancing master, … having leave to come hither for 5 weeks, is allowed by the playhouse 400 guineas for that time, besides which the Lord Cholmley has sent him a present of 100 more’. Ballon was obviously exceptionally highly valued as a performer (500 guineas is the equivalent of around £60,000 now), but what was the playhouse management and the audience paying to see? The all-male duets and male solos in L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances (six choreographies in all) provide evidence of the spectacular virtuosity of leading male dancers in the early eighteenth century, which was obviously part of their appeal. Here I will look at the skills and rewards of Ballon and L’Abbé. In a second post, I will look at Delagarde and Dupré who were dancing in London’s theatres a few years later and fared somewhat differently.

The ‘Loure or Faune’ was performed against a complex background of international and cultural politics, extending from Anglo-French diplomacy surrounding the succession to the Spanish crown to rivalries between London’s theatre companies. Anthony L’Abbé first came to dance in London in May 1698 at the invitation of Thomas Betterton, the leading actor of the recently formed company at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre which was in fierce competition with the rival company at Drury Lane. Only one of L’Abbé’s London performances was recorded, in the Post Boy for 14-17 May 1698:

‘On Friday night last [13 May] there was fine Dancing at Kensington, where his Majesty was present,  as also his Excellency the French Ambassador: The Frenchman, who is lately come over and Dances now at the Play-house, was sent for to dance there, and performed his part very dexterously.’

‘Kensington’ was, of course, Kensington Palace, where the performance took place before King William III and the Comte de Tallard, who had been sent to London by Louis XIV for negotiations to agree a successor to the Spanish King Carlos II whose death without issue was expected imminently. Both England and France were war-weary following the conclusion of the Nine Years War with the Treaty of Ryswick in September 1697. The visits of both L’Abbé and Ballon occurred during the few years of peace when French cultural leadership in Europe could be readily acknowledged and enjoyed, before hostilities between the two countries resumed in May 1702 with the War of the Spanish Succession.

Anthony L’Abbé was born in 1666 or 1667 and made his debut at the Paris Opéra in 1688. It is difficult to trace his repertoire there over the next ten years, in the absence of complete cast lists for many productions, but he is recorded as dancing in Lully’s Cadmus et Hérmione in 1690 and in Lully and Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme in 1691. He undoubtedly danced in several other productions as well during that period, and his appearance at Kensington Palace was in a divertissement entitled Le Palais des Plaisirs which was essentially a pastiche of scenes from Lully’s operas. According to an analysis of a rare surviving copy of the livret, the entertainment included scenes from Lully’s Le Carnaval Mascarade (1675), Armide (1686) and Roland (1685) with a cast of both English and French singers and dancers. L’Abbé pleased spectators in two dances from Le Carnaval Mascarade, first as a Spaniard in an Italian Night Scene alongside characters from the commedia dell’arte and then (in the final scene of the entertainment) as the leader of six Matassins. These roles suggest that L’Abbé’s technical virtuosity was to the fore. The dancing master John Essex (who may well have seen L’Abbé on the London stage at this time) later wrote that ‘His Talent chiefly lay in the grave Movement, and he excelled all that ever appeared on the English Stage in that Character’, again alluding to L’Abbé’s virtuosity. There is no way of knowing what L’Abbé danced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1698, but according to the theatre’s prompter John Downes his first London engagement placed him among the ‘exorbitantly expensive’ foreign performers engaged by Betterton. L’Abbé continued to work in London as a dancer and a choreographer, and then a dancing master, for another forty years.

Claude Ballon arrived in London in April 1699. His date of birth has been variously given as 1671 and 1676 and he made his debut at the Paris Opéra in 1690 in Cadmus et Hérmione. Like L’Abbé, his early repertoire is difficult to trace. He also danced in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme in 1691, and in 1697 he appeared in Destouches’s opera Issé as a Faune and Campra’s extremely successful opéra-ballet L’Europe galante as a Spaniard and as a Moor. Ballon seems to have arrived around Easter and was advertised in the Post-Man of 4-6 April 1699 for a performance on 10 April:

‘On Easter Monday, at the New Theatre in Little Lincoln’s Inn Fields, will be an entertainment of Dancing, performed by Monsieur Balon newly arrived from Paris.’

Ballon’s monetary rewards come into sharper focus in relation to an advertisement in the Post Boy of 13-15 April 1699, which announced the forthcoming appearance at Drury Lane of ‘Signior Clementine’ a castrato of such ‘extraordinary Desert in Singing’ that he was to be given a yearly salary of £500.

Ballon’s success is attested by a later source, the anonymous A Comparison Between the Two Stages published in 1702:

‘… with Balon; the Town ran mad to see him, and the prizes were rais’d to an extravagant degree to bear the extravagant rate they allow’d him.’

Unfortunately, apart from the ‘Loure or Faune’ we have no idea what he danced. Nor have the date and occasion of his appearance with L’Abbé before William III been identified. The performance was presumably also at Kensington Palace and must have taken place either before or after the King’s visit to Newmarket for the racing from 11 to 19 April. Ballon was later described by the dancing master John Weaver, who may have seen him in London, as the best of the ‘French Dancers, who have been seen with so much Applause, and follow’d with so great an Infatuation’ although he offered ‘nothing more than a graceful Motion, with strong and nimble Risings, and the casting of his Body into several (perhaps) agreeable Postures’. Weaver found Ballon’s dancing technically impressive but lacking in expression and meaning. Ballon never returned to London after his 1699 visit. He pursued his career at the Paris Opéra and later became dancing master to the young Louis XV and, in turn, that monarch’s family.

The ‘Loure or Faune’ danced by Ballon and L’Abbé is a loure or gigue lente in 6/4 time. Its music is the ‘Entrée des cyclopes’ from act two scene six of Lully’s 1686 pastorale héroïque Acis et Galatée. Here is the first plate of the notation.

The dance has only 36 bars of music, lasting for little more than a minute, but there are two complex and demanding steps to each bar which make it a showpiece despite its brevity. The loure, taken at a slow tempo, was a favoured dance type for male duets and was often used for male solos. Music treatises of the period characterise the loure as slow or grave, and also as strong and noble, making it particularly suitable for choreographies danced by men.

Ballon and L’Abbé begin conventionally, side by side upstage facing the King (I will use the stage terms, although the two men probably danced in a space similar to a ballroom, with the King as the ‘presence’). Each dancer stands on his inside foot, with the outside foot free to begin the first step. This mirror symmetry is maintained throughout the dance. In the first bar they perform two balonnés, springing steps which bring them downstage towards William III. The choreography is highly ornamented throughout: around 75% of the bars have steps which incorporate turns; more than 50% of bars have steps with beats (which vary in nature and complexity); more than 33% have another form of decoration, for example an added slide or a rond de jambe. There are only six bars with steps which have no beats, turns or other embellishments to enrich the vocabulary.

There are several technically very difficult and spectacular steps in this duet. In bar 7, when the two dancers have completed their opening passage downstage (another convention in choreographies of the period) and are side by side in front of the King, they perform an entrechat-six with a simultaneous full turn in the air. In Bar 22, when the men are centre stage, they perform a contretemps followed by an assemblé battu en tournant. The latter begins with a powerful swing of the working leg which provides the impetus for a full turn in the air and initiates the beaten element of the step, another entrechat-six. The final section of the dance begins (in bar 32) with a triple pirouette over 2 bars of music, with the two men (who turn in mirror image directions away from one another) again downstage in front of the King. This adagio turn, which requires powerful control, would have been taken with the working leg open in a second position and is more demanding in performance than the modern pirouette (which has the working leg bent at the knee and the foot in front of the upper calf or knee of the supporting leg). The triple pirouette in the ‘Loure or Faune’ is extended by another quarter-turn and completed with a sliding and beaten jetté which adds yet another quarter turn. The duet ends with the conventional retreat upstage, but unconventionally the men end facing one another, each standing on his upstage leg with the other leg in front of him, perhaps in a low attitude. Equally unconventionally, they have changed sides.

Acis et Galatée had been revived at the Paris Opéra as recently as 1695 and it is possible that both Ballon and L’Abbé had danced in the production, although not necessarily together. It is unlikely that L’Abbé’s choreography was performed then, for the dances would have been created by the maître de ballet at the Opéra Guillaume-Louis Pecour. There are few depictions of dancers at this period, although Ballon is represented in a number of engravings – one of which is below – there seems to be no image of L’Abbé dancing.

If the surviving portraits of Ballon represent the style of costumes worn by him and L’Abbé for their ‘Loure or Faune’ the effect must have been stunning in performance, heightening the power and refinement of their steps, displaying the grandeur as well as the sophistication of the French ballet and evoking the glamour of the court of Louis XIV as well as the Paris Opéra.

This post was originally part of a conference paper, given several years ago but never published, which I have revised.

Reading List

Julie Andrijeski, ‘A Survey of the Loure through Definitions, Music, and Choreographies’ (Unpublished doctoral thesis, Case Western Reserve University, 2006).

A Comparison Between the Two Stages (London, 1702).

John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus, ed. Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume (London, 1987).

Kenneth H. D. Haley, ‘International Affairs’ in Robert P. Maccubbin and Martha Hamilton-Phillips (eds), The Age of William III and Mary II: Power, Politics, and Patronage  1688-1702 (Williamsburg, 1989).

Anthony L’Abbé, A New Collection of Dances. Originally published by F. Le Roussau London c.1725 (London, 1991).

Narcissus Luttrell, A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs from September, 1678 to April 1714. 6 vols. (Oxford, 1857), Vol. 4.

Claude and François Parfaict, Dictionnaire des théâtres de Paris. 7 vols. (Paris, 1767), Vols. 1, 2.

Pierre Rameau, trans. John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728).

Jennifer Thorp, ‘Monsieur L’Abbé and Le Palais des Plaisirs: a New Source for a London Spectacle’ in Society of Dance History Scholars [Conference July 9-11, 2010 held at the University of Surrey, Guildford] (SDHS, 2010).

John Weaver, An Essay Towards an History of Dancing (London, 1712).

Mr Isaac’s ‘The Favorite A Chaconne Danc’d by her Majesty’

I have been learning Mr Isaac’s The Favorite, described on its first plate as ‘A Chaconne Danc’d by her Majesty’. This duet was one of the six notated choreographies included in A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court published in 1706 by John Weaver and perhaps intended to accompany Orchesography, Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie. ‘Her Majesty’ was, of course, Queen Anne, although by the time of the dance’s appearance in notation poor health had forced her to give up dancing. Mr Isaac has an idiosyncratic choreographic style and his ballroom duets shed important light on court culture under the late Stuart monarchs, so I thought it would be worth looking more closely at this dance.

The Favorite is actually in two parts, for it is a chaconne followed by a bourée. The music was first published in Amsterdam in 1688 and it appeared as ‘the new French Dance’ in 1690 in the sixth edition of Apollo’s Banquet. When it was reissued by John Walsh around 1712, the title page named the composer as ‘Mr. Paisible’. The chaconne has three variations, which are then repeated, giving 64 bars in all. The bourée has the structure AAAABB and a petite reprise of four bars to give 36 bars. At 80 bars, the dance seems long for a ballroom choreography intended for performance at court but Isaac’s other dances in A Collection of Ball-Dances are mostly the same or even longer (the exception is The Richmond at only 52 bars).

This dance probably dates to the years around 1690, when the music was first published. Princess Anne (as she then was) hosted a ball for William III’s birthday in November 1688, while her sister Queen Mary II gave a dance for the Princess’s own birthday in February 1691. Both were occasions when Anne (then between pregnancies) might have performed before the assembled court a duet specially created by her dancing master.

Can this notated choreography tell us anything about Isaac’s approach to choreographing these dances of display or Princess Anne’s dancing skills? The notation shows that Isaac used a basic vocabulary of steps throughout the two parts of the dance, although he sometimes combined them in ways that required particular skill from his dancers. For example, the first plate includes two balancés. The first ends in first position on beat two, with a pause on beat three, while the second has a battu on the second beat with an extension of the working leg in the air on beat three (as a preparation for the pas tombé and jetté in the next bar). It is a point for debate whether the Princess would have balanced on the ball of each foot in turn or performed these balancés on a flat foot. The fifth plate, with notation for the bourée, includes several bars which have two coupés travelling sideways. Much practice is needed to execute these fast-moving steps clearly and correctly.

Isaac ornaments only one of Princess Anne’s steps, the coupé avec ouverture de jambe in bar 22 of the chaconne, which has a pas battu around the ankle before the working leg opens towards the fourth position. There are five bars within the chaconne in which the man’s steps have either a pas battu or a rond de jambe. Such explicit ornamentation of the man’s steps, but not the woman’s, occurs in other notated dances by Isaac.

The chaconne has some 17% of steps with small jumps within them, whereas the bourée has around 44%. The steps most often used throughout the two parts of The Favorite are the pas de bourée, with its final jetté, the contretemps and (in the bourée section) the pas de sissonne. Isaac also repeats sequences in both the chaconne and the bourée.

The figures in The Favorite hint that this dance is not simply an abstract display. One of Isaac’s repeated motifs has the dancers coming together and then parting (or vice-versa) across the dancing space. They first do this at the very beginning, with a coupé sideways and a tems de courante forwards, before travelling towards the presence according to convention. The following figure has the dancers travelling sideways away from the presence – the only extended sequence of sideways movement in the dance – which allowed them to face the spectators who would have surrounded them as they moved. These figures can clearly be seen in the first plate, even if you don’t read Beauchamp-Feuillet notation.

They begin the third variation of the chaconne back-to-back, with the woman (Princess Anne) facing the presence – her previous step (a contretemps forwards) can be seen just beneath the word ‘Majesty’ on the notation above. Both perform a coupé battu with a plié on the beat. This has the effect of a bow or curtsey towards those watching at each end of the room, before the dancers turn to face one another and come together. They then turn to their right for a more extended sequence in which they travel apart before turning to come together again.

Apart from the occasional mistakes in the notation, the practice of crowding several figures onto a single page can make it difficult to read. The Favorite has five plates of notation, with plates three and five being the busiest (with 32 bars and 28 bars of music and dance respectively). The second half of the chaconne (notated in full on plate three) begins with a double version of the approach and retreat motif. The dancers first turn towards each other and then away before continuing to travel apart and then return, moving on shallow diagonals. Isaac repeats this theme of retreat and approach twice more with another variation, as he places the dancers side-by-side to face the presence. The chaconne ends with the couple turning to face one another across the dancing space. They have been in mirror symmetry (dancing on opposite feet) for most of it, but the woman does a tems de courante and the man a coupé to begin the bourée in axial symmetry.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, so I will skip to the second plate of the bourée which contains three-quarters of its notated steps.

After two circular figures, the dancers can be seen facing one another up and down the dancing space – the man is nearest the presence with his back to it, while the woman faces him. There must be some distance between them as they have two travelling steps to come together (Beauchamp-Feuillet notation does not show figures with spatial accuracy). They dance in a circle, taking right hands, and then travel away from each other and back again in another instance of the retreat and return motif. Isaac’s repeated use of two coupés in a bar (mentioned earlier) can be seen to either side of the page, about two-thirds from the bottom, then to either side of the centre and finally about a third from the bottom of the page – just before the dancers begin their final sequence of steps to the petite reprise which take them to the back of the dancing space before they turn to face the presence with a coupé soutenu, which presumably precedes their final bow (not included on the notation).

I have enjoyed working on Isaac’s The Favorite. It isn’t a difficult dance technically but it certainly isn’t easy either. It would be rewarding to be able to work on it with a partner and a musician or two, to explore the interpretative possibilities of both music and dance and see how the choreography might work in performance. The steps and figures in these five plates of notation suggest that Isaac’s choreography had wit as well as elegance and liveliness.

Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet

I have recently been working on Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet and I thought I would look more closely at the two different versions of this solo that survive in notation. One was published by Edmund Pemberton, who gives it the subtitle ‘A New Dance for a Girl’, while the other survives in a manuscript version by Kellom Tomlinson. They differ enough from one another to be thought of as two dances rather than two versions of the same dance. There is another solo minuet for a female dancer, Mr Isaac’s Minuet, which was published by Pemberton in 1711 and is clearly linked to both versions of the Slow Minuet. I will mention this third dance from time to time.

The Sources

Mr. Caverley’s Slow Minuet ‘A New Dance for a Girl’ was among the series of notated ball dances published by Edmund Pemberton between 1715 and 1733. The notation is undated and has been ascribed to 1729, a date I accepted when I wrote about Pemberton in 1993 (references to the sources I have used are given at the end of the post). However, fresh examination of the dance notation suggests that it was probably notated and engraved much earlier. The title page (with its mention of ‘Mr. Firbank’ as the composer of the tune) was also used for the anonymous solo La Cybelline – another ‘New Dance for a Girl’ – but has clearly been altered for Caverley’s dance. La Cybelline was published in 1719, so the Slow Minuet might have appeared around the same time. However, there is another piece of evidence which might place the work of engraving the dance a few years earlier. The dance notation is densely laid out, mainly because Pemberton would have wanted to save on the cost of paper for printing by fitting it into four pages. The engraving is somewhat rough and ready, reminiscent of the first dances that Pemberton published independently after he stopped working for the music publisher John Walsh in 1715. Could the Slow Minuet have been the first dance notation that Pemberton produced himself and then re-issued with a new title page at a later date? Both Caverley and Isaac were keen proponents of the new art of dance notation, so Caverley could have favoured Pemberton with a dance just as Isaac had done a few years earlier. Here is the title page alongside the first plate of Pemberton’s version of Caverley’s Slow Minuet.

The manuscript version of the solo, titled ‘The Slow Minnitt: by Mr: Caverley:’ was transcribed by Kellom Tomlinson into his WorkBook, along with other notes and dances. The WorkBook was discovered in New Zealand and published in facsimile in 1992, edited by the dancer and dance historian Jennifer Shennan. Tomlinson was apprenticed to Thomas Caverley between 1707 and 1714 and would go on to publish several of his own dances in notation between 1715 and 1720. His version of the Slow Minuet is undated but probably belongs to the period of his apprenticeship – the WorkBook contains material which can be dated from 1708 to 1721. Tomlinson’s notation is actually more assured than Pemberton’s (he had fewer restrictions as to paper and gives a separate page to each section of the dance). His notational style differs from Pemberton’s (a topic to which I will return). Some of the differences between the two versions are discussed and analysed by Jennifer Shennan in her introduction to the facsimile. Here are the first two pages of Tomlinson’s notation.

The other dance I have mentioned is the Minuet by Mr Isaac, published in notation within Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing in 1711. It follows Isaac’s Chacone and, in his Preface, Pemberton says that Isaac had ‘oblig’d’ him with ‘a single Dance’ suggesting that the two were meant to be performed together as one choreography. The same collection has Pecour’s solo forlana for a woman (titled a ‘Jigg’) and a solo version of Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passacaille’ originally choreographed as a duet for two professional female dancers to music from Lully’s opera Armide. Pemberton’s 1711 collection was published by John Walsh. Here are the first two plates of Isaac’s Minuet.

It is worth adding that Thomas Caverley and Mr Isaac were near contemporaries. Isaac (whose real name was Francis Thorpe, as I discovered some years ago when I was researching Jerome Francis Gahory) was perhaps born around 1650 and was buried early in 1721. Thomas Caverley’s birth date has been given variously as 1641, 1648 or 1651, although he may have been born as late as 1658 or 1659. He lived much longer than Isaac for he died in 1745. Isaac, of course, was a royal dancing master – described by John Essex in the ‘English’ Preface to his translation of Rameau, The Dancing-Master (1728), as ‘the prime Master in England for forty Years together’. Essex wrote of Caverley as ‘the first Master in teaching young Ladies to dance’, a reputation which explains the publication of his Slow Minuet.

The Dances

The two versions of Caverley’s Slow Minuet each use different music. In Pemberton’s version the tune is attributed to the dancing master Charles Fairbank, whereas Tomlinson’s music is anonymous. The solos are different lengths too. Pemberton’s music has the time signature 3 and four AABB repeats (A=B=8). The dance notation has 6 beats to the bar, so each pas composé takes two musical bars in accordance with the usual convention for minuets. Tomlinson also writes his music with a time signature of 3 but his has five AABB repeats (A=B=8). His notation has three beats to each dance bar, although he writes some steps over two bars with liaison lines to make clear that they are single pas composés. Pemberton’s Slow Minuet has 128 bars of music, while Tomlinson’s has 160.

An analysis of both notations reveals that, although these closely related choreographies are minuets, much of their vocabulary consists in demi-coupés, coupés and pas de bourée. The pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet are used mainly in the third repeat of the AA and again in the fourth AA. Tomlinson uses these steps additionally in his fifth and final AA and final B section.

Both choreographies begin with a sequence of two demi-coupés forwards and two backwards, followed by a coupépas de bourée sequence repeated six times. This fills the first AA and, it seems, sets out Caverley’s intention of teaching the minuet not through the conventional step vocabulary of that dance but through its building blocks. He uses these to introduce the girl to the rhythmic variety possible within the steps of this formal dance, among other ideas, as well as to provide a technical foundation. This approach is evidenced elsewhere in both versions of the Slow Minuet. In the third plate of Pemberton’s notation the pas de menuet à trois mouvements with a demi-jeté on the final step is introduced, and in the fourth plate there are pas de menuet à deux mouvements which begin on both the right and the left foot. In his third AA, Tomlinson uses the pas de menuet à deux mouvements, but in his fourth and fifth AA sections he turns to the pas de menuet used by Isaac in his Minuet (in The Art of Dancing, Tomlinson calls this the ‘English Minuet Step’). This is, essentially, a fleuret followed by a jeté and can be seen in the plates from Isaac’s Minuet shown above. This hints at a link between the choreographies and, perhaps, the teaching of both Isaac and Caverley.

Another such hint is provided by a pas composé used in Pemberton’s version of the Slow Minuet. This takes two bars of music and all the steps are linked together by liaison lines. I find such compound steps difficult to break down into their component parts, but this one may be analysed as a variant on the pas de bourée, incorporating an emboîté and ending with a pas plié, followed by two coupés avec ouverture de jambe. A slightly different version of the step is found in Isaac’s Minuet, with jetés-chassés instead of the coupés. Here are the two steps in notation for comparison. First Pemberton’s, from his fourth plate – without being able to examine an original notation it is not possible to be certain, but the initial emboîté shows the foot position on the balls of the feet.

Next Isaac’s, from his third plate – the dots showing the emboîté on the balls of the feet are clear.

Both Pemberton and Tomlinson use a variety of figures, which are quite often not the same or at least are notated differently. The opening figures are actually the same in both versions, although Pemberton notates all the sideways steps around the right line of the dancer’s direction of travel towards the presence, while Tomlinson shows the sideways travel explicitly. In the figures for the third AA, Pemberton notates the dancer travelling a semi-circular path anti-clockwise followed by another clockwise, whereas Tomlinson takes his dancer clockwise in a quarter-circle followed by a tighter three-quarter circle in the same direction and then traces the same figure anti-clockwise. Both dances have figures that reflect some of those in Isaac’s Minuet, notably zig-zags on the diagonal and repeated tight circles. Although some of the figures contain echoes of those in the ballroom couple minuet, parallels are not obvious in either notation.

Both versions of the Slow Minuet are constructed around a series of variations. Some of these are 8 bars long and are danced twice, starting with the right foot and then the left, to match the repeated musical sections. There are also 4 bar sequences, which might or might not be repeated within a musical section. Two of Tomlinson’s plates are missing a couple of bars of dance notation, but the structure of the section and its predecessor (as well as Pemberton’s version) suggest what the missing steps might be. The second BB section (plate 4) appears to be without its final two dance bars.

One suggestion is that the coupédemi-coupé steps that follow the two demi-coupés should take two bars of music each (rather than one bar as notated). I suggest instead that they do take one bar each and that they should be repeated after the last two demi-coupés on the plate, which gives two identical sequences to match the musical repeat.

The other omission comes in the last B of the third BB section (plate 6).

This is more difficult to guess, but I suggest that two contretemps should be added, one sideways to the left after the fourth step (another contretemps) and the other sideways to the right at the end of the sequence. This would then run as a repeated 4-bar sequence of contretempscoupépas de bouréecontretemps.

The different notational styles of Pemberton and Tomlinson are almost worth a post of their own and are evident from the very beginning of the two dances with the opening demi-coupés. Pemberton’s version is on the left and Tomlinson’s on the right.

Or, do these represent different steps? Tomlinson’s demi-coupé finishes on the first beat, followed by a two-beat rest, while Pemberton apparently gives the dancer two beats to bring the free foot into first position – making this a version of a coupé sans poser rather than a demi-coupé. Later on the same plate, Pemberton notates demi-coupés more conventionally, suggesting that the opening steps are not demi-coupés.


I have discussed these two notations in some detail because I believe that such close reading can help us get a better idea of how these notated dances were actually performed. Caverley’s Slow Minuet is one of very few choreographies that survive in more than one version and there is far more to say than I have set down here. I think that the dance was integral to his teaching of young ladies and that it was intended as a display piece for performance at formal balls held by the dancing master at his premises and elsewhere. It makes formidable demands on the young dancer’s mastery of aplomb – not merely her placement but also her address. She has to be secure in balancing on one foot and moving rhythmically (and sometimes quite slowly) from one foot to another. She also has to maintain her erect and easy carriage as she moves through her steps and figures. There are continuous rhythmic challenges as well as demands on her memory as she dances a series of variations no two of which are the same.

If I were called upon to devise a syllabus for teaching the minuet, I would begin with Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet. If aspirant historical dancers can perform this exacting solo (in either version) successfully, the ballroom minuet would surely hold no terrors for them.

This image from Kellom Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing is well known. Does it suggest that he continued to adapt and teach a Slow Minuet to his young female pupils?


Thomas Caverley. Mr. Caverley’s Slow Minuet. A New Dance for a Girl. The Tune Composed by Mr. Firbank. Writt by Mr. Pemberton. [London, c1720?]

For the 1729 dating see Little and Marsh, La Danse Noble, [c1729]-Mnt

An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing; Being a Collection of Figure Dances, of Several Numbers, Compos’d by the Most Eminent Masters; Describ’d in Characters … by E. Pemberton (London, 1711)

Kellom Tomlinson. A WorkBook by Kellom Tomlinson. Commonplace Book of an Eighteenth-Century English Dancing-Master, a Facsimile Edition, edited by Jennifer Shennan. (Stuyvesant, NY, 1992)

Moira Goff, ‘Edmund Pemberton, Dancing-Master and Publisher’, Dance Research, 11.1 (Spring 1993), 52-81.

Moira Goff, ‘The Testament and Last Will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4 (November 2010), 537-542.

Meredith Ellis Little, Carol G. Marsh. La Danse Noble. An Inventory of Dances and Sources. (New York, 1992)

The ‘Z’ Figure of the Minuet: Taubert and Tomlinson

I am not going to undertake a lengthy and exhaustive investigation of the ‘Z’ figure of the minuet. My aim is simply to discover the origins of the version I originally learned. Here, I will look at two sources in particular, and glance at some others.

The earliest notated source for a minuet comes from Jean Favier’s notation for Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos of 1688. This minuet is for four dancers and was performed within an entertainment given by professional dancers at the court of Louis XIV. It thus falls outside my present topic. Details can, of course, be found in Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV: Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos by Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol G. Marsh, a study published in 1994 which includes a facsimile reprint of the manuscript.

The treatise by I.H.P. ‘Maître de danse, oder Tantz-Meister’, published in Glueckstadt and Leipzig in 1705, contains the ‘Menuet d’Anjou’ a ballroom duet for a couple. This is a choreographed dance rather than a conventional ballroom minuet, so it too falls outside my topic. The dance and its notation, together with a translation of the treatise can be found in Barocktanz / La Danse Baroque / Baroque Dance, edited by Stephanie Schroedter, Marie-Thérèse Mourey and Giles Bennett and published in 2008.

The next treatise to deal with the ballroom minuet, and apparently the earliest to look at the basic form of this dance, is Gottfried Taubert’s Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister published in Leipzig in 1717. This valuable treatise is now available in an English translation by Tilden Russell published in 2012. Taubert turns to the minuet in chapter 30 of his second book. After a lengthy discussion of the various minuet steps, he discusses the ‘principal figure of the minuet’ in chapter 33. He gives a short history of the ‘Z’ figure and identifies three versions currently in use – a reversed ‘S’, a ‘2’ and the ‘Z’. For the reversed ‘S’, Taubert prescribes sideways pas de menuet for the first semi-circle and forward pas de menuet for the second. For the ‘2’ he suggests various combinations of sideways and forwards pas de menuet, but he also says:

‘Some use only side steps throughout, in this way: three or four to the left, bringing them down to the beginning of the straight line, along which they turn and make one or two side steps to the right, thus using no forward steps in the principal figure, which I find displeasing. Also it should be remembered that nowadays many do not make the turn to the left [at the straight line], but instead, after having passed by the woman with side steps, always keeping her before their eyes, they dance backward, and then sideways to the right.’ (p. 640 original text, p. 529 translation)

So, we have another backwards step – although Taubert’s sequence is not the same as Rameau’s.

For the ‘Z’ version of the figure, Taubert says ‘Two side steps to the left are made along the upper horizontal line, two or three forward steps along the long middle line, and another one or two side steps to the right along the lower horizontal line’ (p. 640, p. 529. Taubert is describing the figure as danced by the man). He adds ‘Recently it was reliably reported to me that two royal personages were seen dancing this figure with nothing but side steps from right to left, circling round each other at the same time; but I would never lightly advise anyone to try this’. Taubert also notates the ballroom minuet – the ‘Z’ figure looks like this (p. 658, p. 541):

As you can see, there are two pas de menuet à trois mouvements to the left, two more forward and two pas de menuet à deux mouvements to the right having turned around the left shoulder. The half turn is divided into two quarter-turns performed over the final demi-jeté of the fourth pas de menuet and first demi-coupé of the fifth.

In Le Maître a danser, some eight years later, Rameau explained that Guillaume-Louis Pecour had been responsible for changing the original reversed ‘S’ to a ‘Z’ figure (chapter 22, p. 84).

In his Trattato del Ballo Nobile published in Naples in 1728, Giambatista Dufort has a second section devoted to the minuet and looks at the ‘Z’ figure in chapter 5. Essentially, he prescribes two pas de menuet to the left, two more to cross and then two to the right. He does not mention any backwards steps.

Kellom Tomlinson published The Art of Dancing in London in 1735 (although he claimed to have completed the work in 1724, before Rameau published Le Maître a danser). He provides a detailed account of the steps and figures of the minuet in book two, reaching the ‘Figure of S reversed’ in chapter 7. Tomlinson uses eight pas de menuet for the figure. He begins with four pas de menuet à trois mouvements sideways – two to the left and two on the diagonal to meet in the middle – followed by four pas de menuet (‘one and a fleuret’) forwards to complete the ‘S reversed’. He adds that the last of the eight pas de menuet may be made sideways. Like Taubert, Tomlinson includes a notation for his ballroom minuet with two ‘S reversed’ figures in which he varies the last step.

Tomlinson also includes several engravings showing couples dancing the minuet. In this one they are about to begin the ‘S reversed’ figure.

Not only does the ‘Z’ figure include a pas de menuet backwards, in more than one treatise, but the type of step as well as the number used varies according to the different dancing masters who wrote about it in the early 1700s. I wish I had known this when I was learning the dance. The version I learned most closely resembles Taubert’s notation, although I do not remember him ever being cited as the source. I am not going to take this particular line of enquiry any further, at least for the time being, but I think there is ample material for some practical research by those who would like to get a little closer to how the minuet might have been danced at balls and assemblies in the 18th century.

The ‘Z’ Figure of the Minuet: Pierre Rameau

I recently saw a demonstration of the ‘Z’ figure of the minuet that gave me pause for thought. Citing Pierre Rameau and the diagram in Le Maître a danser, the figure was danced with two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two forwards on the diagonal and one backwards to the right. So far as I can remember, I have never been taught the ‘Z’ figure in this way, but instead of rushing to the conclusion that the interpretation must be wrong, I decided to do some research. A quick look on YouTube revealed very few videos of the ballroom minuet, let alone Rameau’s version of this dance. Of the two videos I found, the couple in one danced the final section of the ‘Z’ figure with two pas de menuet sideways to the right (turning around the right shoulder for the necessary quarter-turn), while the other couple did indeed do a single pas de menuet backwards. It was interesting that the latter video was far more recent than the former, so was I looking at a fresh interpretation of Rameau’s instructions?

Rameau deals with the figures of the ballroom minuet in his chapter XXII, ‘Du Menuet, & de la maniere de le danser régulierement’. Here is Rameau’s illustration of the ‘Z’ figure – ‘Figure Principal du Menuet’ – from this chapter.

As you can see, it says that both dancers perform two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two more forwards to pass one another by the right shoulder ‘en effaçant l’épaule’ and one backwards to the right (‘un en arriere du coté droit’).

When we turn to Rameau’s text, his written instructions are less clear.

Although he includes the numbers 1, 2 and 3 on his diagram, Rameau refers only to 2 and 3 in his text. In fact, he says nothing at all about the final step of the ‘Z’ figure. Is it possible that a part of Rameau’s instructions was omitted when the book was printed? So far as I am aware, there has been no detailed bibliographical study of this text that might address such issues.

I turned to John Essex’s 1728 translation of Rameau’s treatise, The Dancing-Master, to see whether he might have made good the omission in the original. Essex reproduces Rameau’s diagram, titling it ‘The fourth & Principal Figure of the Menuet’ and he too shows ‘two menuet Steps to ye left’ followed by ‘two forward, shading the shoulder’, but he has ‘two backwards to the right’.

Essex has made a change to Rameau’s illustration, but he merely translates the associated text without alteration.

Although Rameau’s treatise was published in 1725, was he perhaps reflecting an earlier French convention for the performance of the ‘Z’ figure? Was Essex merely making a faithful translation, or was he referring to a convention still current in English performances of the minuet?

Why was I taught a ‘Z’ figure with two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two forwards on the diagonal and two sideways to the right? Does the answer lie in other dance manuals of the early 18th century rather than in an idiosyncratic approach to dance reconstruction? I will turn to the other sources for the ‘Z’ figure in a new post.

The Brisé in the Ballroom

Among the steps listed for use in the cotillon, when the dance became popular in the 1760s, were a sissonne brisé (Josson, 1763) and brizé à trois pas (Gherardi, 1769?). Neither source describes how these steps should be performed, nor does the brisé turn up in earlier dance manuals (at least not under that name). It does appear later among the steps recommended for quadrilles  (where it is described) and it does, of course, also form part of the vocabulary of modern classical ballet. What was a brisé in late 18th and early 19th century social dancing?

The earliest description of a brisé that I know comes from Gennaro Magri’s Trattato teorico-prattico di ballo of 1779. Apart from appearing some ten to fifteen years later than Josson and Gherardi, Magri deals principally with stage dancing. Here is what he has to say about the brisé:

‘The brisé done in its true form has nothing in common with the capriole; indeed an assemblé to the side is more like a capriole than a brisé. This step is greatly used by the French, and although it might be a little thing in itself, none the less it appears to have more value by being a brilliant step, as it makes more effect done by those ballanti with supremely lively footwork than a capriole done by another. In truth then, referring to the subject of the capriole, it is executed as though it were a fourth capriolata to the side, but since it is done on the ground it becomes a step and not a capriole, whence in calling it a capriole the teachers of the art commit an error, showing that they cannot distinguish this from the step. It may be done forwards, backwards, sideways, turning, repeated, or doublé.

To do it forwards, if you wish to take it with the right leg, place yourself in any position except the first and the second, but the best is always the fourth; placed then in this with the right behind, bending, extend the foot to second in the air from where, with the calf of the same leg, beat in front of the instep of the other, which by the same strike is chased to fourth in front.’

(Magri, Theoretical and practical treatise on dancing, translated by Mary Skeaping, 1988, p. 138)

A footnote explains that ‘The right foot cuts in front of the left, which is simultaneously snatched up to touch the calf of the right’. Magri’s remark that ‘it is done on the ground’, without a jump, is particularly interesting in the context of cotillons and quadrilles. Steps that we would today associate with jumps seem to have been done simply with a rise in the ballroom. Magri’s caprioles include the entre-chat and cabriole, i.e. they are steps with both jumps and beats.

Magri also has a step called the demi-sissonne, described thus:

‘The sissonne, whether it be simple or with a rise and of whatever other category except the repeated, may be halved by ending it with a bend of both knees, without rising after the landing.’ (Skeaping translation, p. 106)

He adds that ‘This demi will have its place whenever another different step which begins with a plié has to be attached, either a jump or a capriole’ and tells us that serious dancers ‘add a pas brisé to it’. Might this shed some light on Josson’s sissonne-brisé?

The sources for quadrilles do explain how to perform the steps they mention. Here is what Gourdoux-Daux has to say in his De l’art de la danse of 1823 about the ‘pas ou tems qu’on nomme brisé dessus et à trois tems’. He begins ‘Pour faire ce pas, les pieds étant à la troisième’ and continues:

Gourdoux-Daux seems to be suggesting that the brisé is followed by a sissonne (the early 19th-century version) and then a close in third position. Was this, in fact, Gherardi’s brizé à trois pas?

Mason describes a jeté brisé dessous in his A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société of 1827 as follows:

‘Jeté devant upon the right foot, passing the left to fourth position behind; make a little battement forward and back; jeté devant upon the left, and continue.’

The pas battu seems to have no jump, in keeping with the conventions of social dancing.

Modern dictionaries of ballet describe the brisé as a small travelling assemblé with a beat. The earlier versions I have been discussing here seem not to travel and to have been executed with a rise and not a jump. Otherwise, the 18th and 19th-century brisé is clearly the ancestor of the modern step. Reading the various early descriptions, I can begin to see how the brisé could be incorporated into the perpetuum mobile of the cotillon and be performed within an early 19th-century quadrille.

More Steps for Cotillons

My curiosity about the change in step vocabulary between the cotillons of the 1760s and 1770s and the quadrilles of the early 1800s has been further piqued by information from an additional source. I had heard of Josson’s Traité abrégé de la danse of 1763 – I had even seen and catalogued a copy in a private collection – but I had never really taken note of its contents. Catherine Turocy of the New York Baroque Dance Company drew my attention to the digital copy on Gallica, prompting me to take a proper look. Josson is probably best known for what he has to say about the minuet but his Traité also deals with ‘les différens pas & figures des contre-danses en usage’. At the time he was writing, I think we can assume that these contredanses were in fact cotillons.

Josson lists as the basic steps – ‘les pas dont on fait usage dans les Contre-danses’ – balancé, pas de rigaudon, pas de gavotte, chassés and pirouettes. He also describes how they should be performed and there are some interesting differences from what is said elsewhere, notably by De la Cuisse. I will not go into detail here, but I will mention the pas de gavotte. Josson’s version is not the same as that of De la Cuisse (who equates it to the demi-contretems). This is what Josson says (p. 77):

This isn’t the pas de gavotte I was taught in years past either – a contretems forwards or backwards followed by an assemblé into first position, with or without a pas marché to fill the upbeat – although it obviously relates to that pas composé.

My attention was also drawn to Josson’s supplementary list of steps (p. 81):

The entre-chat, sissonne brisé and jetté battu can claim to be steps for the stage, although there is evidence beyond Josson’s Traité they were also used in the ballroom. However, I am now wondering about the term brisé. So far as I know, it isn’t found in the early 18th-century treatises, although it certainly appears in Magri’s Trattato teorico-prattico di ballo as well as some of the various treatises on the cotillon and the quadrille. In the context of social dancing, what is a brisé? Also, why does Josson list the demi-contretems here? It presumably isn’t the step described by de La Cuisse as ‘le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse’ but something altogether more demanding.

Josson has upset my notion of the cotillon as a dance with a circumscribed step vocabulary in which the emphasis is on the figures. His Traité raises questions about the range of steps actually used in these contredanses. How could this showy vocabulary be fitted into the tight figures and relentless momentum of cotillons? We still have much to learn about these demanding little choreographies.

Cotillon Steps and Quadrille Steps

The Cotillon

Cotillion Dance 1771 (2)

A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts about the cotillon steps recorded by London’s dancing masters in the 1760s. In 1762, De la Cuisse (who began the cotillon craze by publishing these dances) listed six steps in his Le Repertoire des bals ou theorie-pratique des contredansesbalancé, rigaudon, contretems, chassé, pirouette and pas de gavotte (the demi-contretems, which he described as ‘un Pas naturel; C’es le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse’). All are familiar from the dance manuals of the early 1700s. Between them, Gallini, Gherardi and Villeneuve added another six – assemblé, glissade, ‘brizè à trois pas’, ‘chassé à trois pas’, double chassé and sissonne.  Three of these were also described in the earlier manuals, while three – the brizé and chassé ‘a trois pas’ and the double chassé were apparently more recent.

The Quadrille

Quadrilles - Practising at Home

The step vocabulary for the early 19th-century quadrille was more extensive and some of the steps were certainly more challenging than any used in the cotillon. One of the earliest works to deal with the quadrille was Notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse by J. H. Gourdoux-Daux, published in Paris in 1804. The second edition was titled Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse pour la ville and appeared in 1811. It was presumably this edition that was translated into English for publication in Philadelphia in 1817 as Elements and Principles of the Art of Dancing as used in Polite and Fashionable Circles. This translation describes nine steps for use in quadrilles – the ‘change of foot’ (changement de jambe), assemblé, jeté, sissonne, échappé, temps levé, grand coupé, chassé and glissade. Only one, chassé, is among the cotillon steps prescribed by De la Cuisse, while three more appear in the collections published in London – assemblé, glissade and sissonne. The last of these occurs only in Villeneuve’s Collection of Cotillons and he does not describe it. By the time Gourdoux-Daux was writing, the sissonne had become a spring from two feet to one, beginning in third position and ending with the free foot either extended to second or fourth position or brought into the ankle. It is recognisable as the second part of the pas de sissonne recorded in the early 1700s.

Gourdoux-Daux published a third edition of his treatise titled simply De l’art de la danse in 1823, which is accessible digitally. It adds a tems du balonné, pas de bourrée, tems de cuisse, demi-contretems, brisé and entrechat. His third edition is described as ‘revue, corrigé et augmenté’, indicating that it contains new material. However, without access to Gourdoux-Daux’s earlier editions, it is not possible to know whether he included any of these steps before 1823 or whether his American translator simply omitted them as either not generally used or, perhaps, not appropriate for social dancing.

In 1822, Alexander Strathy published his Elements of the Art of Dancing in Edinburgh. His list has twelve quadrille steps – assemblé, jeté, glissade, sissonne, temps levé, chassé, échappé, pirouette, changement de jambe, pas de Zéphyre or pas battu, jeté tendu and jeté du côté. His vocabulary overlaps with that of Gourdoux-Daux, but both have steps not included by the other.

The only other treatise I will look at here is Charles Mason’s A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société published in London in 1827. His vocabulary overlaps with both Gourdoux-Daux and Strathy and also includes steps they do not list. Mason’s list has twenty of what he calls ‘Les Mouvemens’ – changement de jambes, assemblé, jeté, sissonne, tems levé, chassé, glissade, jeté ballonné, tems de Zéphyre, coupé, pas de basque, pas de bourrée, tems de ‘coudepied’, jeté brisé, pas tombé, fouetté, contretems, pirouette, emboîté and petits battemens. Some of these may have been embellishments to steps, rather than steps in their own right, and some may have been used only within the ‘Differens Enchainemens de Pas’ Mason refers to on his title page.

In the following table I have tried to set out the steps recommended for the cotillon and quadrille respectively, with the name of each dancing master to include it listed in order of the date of their first publication in which it appears. For the purposes of this investigation, I have omitted the Allemande step used in so many cotillons – it is probably worth another post of its own (although I did write about it a few years ago). There were, of course, several other works on dancing – and the quadrille – published in the early decades of the 19th century, so my list of steps is probably far from complete and it is certainly not definitive. How and why did the step vocabulary change and expand so much as the cotillon gave way to the quadrille?

Table of Cotillon and Quadrille Steps