Category Archives: Steps & Figures

WERE THERE LIFTS IN EARLY 18TH-CENTURY BALLET?

Is there any evidence that male dancers lifted their partners in stage duets in the early 18th century? The short answer is very little. I know of only one report that says, incontrovertibly, that it happened. The Grub Street Journal for 8 January 1736 included a letter in which the writer complained about a duet by Michael Poitier and Catherine Roland.

‘Every one who has seen her dance knows, that at the end of the dance she is lifted by Poitier, that she may cut the higher, and represent to the whole house as immodest a sight as the most abandoned women in Drury-lane can shew. Her whole behaviour is of a stamp with this; for during the whole dance, her only endeavour is to shew above her knees as often as she can.’

The dance may well have been within the ‘Grand New Ballet Le Badinage de Provence’ first given at Drury Lane on 22 October 1735 and repeated numerous times that season. This letter, by ‘Cato’, needs careful analysis to disentangle the various issues the writer is addressing. However, there is no doubt that Poitier lifted Mlle Roland.

The surviving theatre dance duets, many for a man and a woman (although there are quite a few for two men as well as two women), definitely do not include any lifts. The two dancers perform alongside one another and rarely even touch hands. The lack of any references to, or notation for, lifts (assuming that Beauchamp-Feuillet notation could indeed record such moves) suggests that they did not form part of the vocabulary of serious dance.

I did wonder whether the nature of the costumes worn at the time might clinch any argument against the use of lifts, but I am not sure. I believe that women’s bodices were less rigidly boned and their skirts shorter than those acceptable in polite society long before La Camargo is said to have shortened her skirts (for skirt lengths, see my post ‘Long Skirts or Short?’ The various versions of Lancret’s portrait of Mlle Camargo also suggest light boning in her bodice). So far as the feasibility of lifts in such attire is concerned, I am inclined to draw a parallel between dancers’ stage costumes in the early 1700s and those in modern ballroom dancing. For the latter, men wear formal suits with jackets that fit tightly and have tails, while the women have long full skirts to their dresses (as well as heeled shoes). As everyone who watches Strictly Come Dancing knows, there are lifts aplenty in ballroom dancing!

Returning to the 18th century, the problem is that we have a very tiny snapshot of what was actually danced on stage. There is no information from the professionals themselves (beyond the relatively few theatrical choreographies created by a handful of leading ballet masters). Pierre Rameau’s promised treatise on theatrical dancing does not survive, if it was ever written and published – although I doubt that it would have mentioned lifts, whether or not they existed, as he probably would have meant it for members of the audience rather than professional dancers.

The passage quoted above seems to indicate that lifts were not a normal part of the serious style. It is unlikely that modern ballet’s supported adagio existed, if only because the technique of early 18th-century ballet has only the beginnings of the movements that would develop into the developés and grands ronds de jambe that are integral to ballet’s adage. So, there is little likelihood that stage duets included lifts associated with these slower movements. The report of Poitier and Mlle Roland apparently describes a lift to allow her to perform more brilliant batterie, so were lifts used elsewhere for this purpose? They certainly exist in modern ballet, although (so far as I know) their history for this purpose is yet to be traced. Back in the 18th century did such lifts belong to the comic genre, about which we know much less? The one pictorial source we have from this period, Lambranzi’s Neue und curieuse theatrialische Tantz-Schul of 1716, provides no evidence.

So, in answer to the question in my title, I think that there were lifts in early 18th-century ballet but only in certain genres and in particular contexts. If Poitier and Mlle Roland were the first to introduce them to the London stage, they were unlikely to have been the last – whatever the strictures of ‘Cato’.

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Pas de Zephyr: Two More Versions

I recently gave a paper on dancing on the London stage during the regency period. During my research, I encountered Monsieur Albert, a dancer and dancing master I had heard of but knew little about. He wrote a treatise on ballroom dancing L’Art de danser à la ville et à la cour, published in Paris in 1834. He, too, includes the pas de Zephyr among the steps he suggests for use in the contredanse française or quadrille.

‘Le pas de zephyr se fait par le balancé.

Jeté du pied droit de devant à la troisième position, contre-temps du pied gauche à la quatrième position, en avant; la même chose du pied gauche; plus, encore une fois du pied droit; jeté et assemble devant pour finir le balancé.

Le même pas de zephyr se fait avec balonné derrière, du pied gauche, pour commencer le même balancé et continuer.’

Albert also describes the contre-temps en avant, which closely resembles the early 18th-century step of the same name except that it finishes with an assemblé (which seems not to be included in the pas de Zephyr). He apparently uses the term balancé to denote a sequence of steps as well as the balancé step itself. His version of the pas de Zephyr is very different from those of Payne, Strathy, Mason and Costa, for which I transcribed the descriptions in an earlier post.

There is yet another version of the pas de Zephyr, described by J. H. Gourdoux-Daux in his treatise De l’art de la danse. The step presumably appears in the first edition, published in Paris in 1811, although I have only been able to consult the third edition of 1823. Gourdoux-Daux says:

‘Pour executer ce tems ou pas, suivez la même règle que pour le tems de cuisse à la première position, avec la seule différence que vous passerez une cuisse contre l’autre, sans opérer le mouvement comme pour le battre.’

He describes the tems de cuisse ‘à la première position’ thus:

‘Ainsi pour exécuter le tems de cuisse à la première position, faites un tems préparatoire, soit un jeté à la quatrième position devant, ou une sissone de la jambe qui est derrière; ou lâchez simplement la jambe qui est derrière à la quatrième position de ce côté, en pliant en même tems, ce qui vous placera entièrement sur la jambe de devant, laquelle doit être pliée et l’autre relevée derrière à la quatrième position, le genou un peu plié et bien en dehors. Dans cette attitude, faites un mouvement de la cuisse de derrière, en partant de la hanche comme pour lui faire prendre un élan en la dirigeant un peu de côté; puis enlevez-vous, et de cet élan faites en même tems le mouvement ou le tems de la cuisse, passant contre l’autre à la première position, à laquelle vous retiendrez le mouvement de votre cuisse, comme si elle y rencontrait quelque chose contre laquelle elle heurterait et qui lui ferait éprouver un bondissement un peu en arrière, en la soutenant dans ce bondissement; ramenez-la, et continuez de la passer simplement à la quatrième position devant vous, où vous la tiendrez levée, tendue et en dehors et le corps toujours bien d’aplomb dessus l’autre jambe sur laquelle vous vous êtes enlevé, ayant eu soin de ne se point quitter la place dans cette execution.’

There is a temps de cuisse in modern ballet technique, which may well be the descendant of the step Gourdoux-Daux describes. As can be seen, his version of the pas de Zephyr is different from all the others.

So, what was the pas de Zephyr? Was it a pas composé, a complex individual step, or was it actually an enchaînement, a sequence of steps? Were the different versions drawn from the same source but then amended by individual dancing masters to suit the needs of their own pupils? Was that source perhaps a short variation performed on stage by a leading male dancer, whom many of the teachers (if not their pupils) may have seen? I confess to being baffled by the pas de Zephyr! More research, practical as well as academic, is obviously needed.

Pas de Zephyr: the Step

I first came across the pas de Zephyr a few years ago at a workshop on early 19th-century quadrilles. The name, as well as the step itself, caught my attention. It was taught as part of a dance vocabulary, drawn from contemporary sources, that was very like ballet. I wanted to know more and recently I’ve finally found time to do some research into this step.

So far I have found the pas de Zephyr described in four manuals of social dancing:

  • Edward Payne, The Quadrille Dancer (London, 1818). I discovered this version transcribed on the Regency Dances website and I have yet to look at a copy of the original manual;
  • Alexander Strathy, Elements of the Art of Dancing (Edinburgh, 1822), this was the version I first encountered;
  • Charles Mason, A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société (London, 1827);
  • Giacomo Costa, Saggio analitico-practico intorno all’arte della danza (Turin, 1831).

There may well be other sources that also include it, although I have not found it in the manuals by Carlo Blasis or in Théleur’s 1831 Letters on Dancing. It doesn’t seem to appear in 18th-century dance manuals either.

The four sources I have been able to consult all describe the step slightly differently. Here is Payne’s description, as transcribed on the Regency Dances website:

‘Pas de Zephyr

To perform this step with the right foot behind, in the 4th position sink on your left foot, at the same time making an opening, or half circle with the right, to the 4th position behind, rising with a gentle spring on your left, at the same time making a half circle with the right, to the 4th position before, then bound forward on your right foot, with the knees perfectly extended, and make a battment [sic] with the left, finishing in the 4th position off the floor, repeat the same with the left foot before, to this add two Jettés on your right foot, two on the left, one on your right, one on the left, and finish with a Jetté et assemblé.

This step is applied when you advance, huit measures, tout seul, in la Pastoralle, and occupies eight bars, four advancing and four retiring.’

The pas de Zephyr is presumably not the entire enchainement, only the step Payne explains in detail.

Strathy’s version goes like this:

‘Pas de Zéphyre or Pas Battu

To perform this Step forward with the Right Leg.

Place the feet in the fifth position, the left foot before; balance the body entirely on the left leg; bend on it, and at the same time slide the right foot, on the point, back to the fourth position; rise on the point of the left foot, bring up the right foot to the third position behind, and, sustaining yourself still on the point of the left foot, pass the right foot by the first position into the fifth position before; then gently place the heels.’

By ‘rise on the point’ Strathy presumably means a rise onto the ball of the foot and not onto the tips of the toes. He offers several variations of the pas de Zephyr, beginning with those which have an extension of the free foot to second position rather than fourth. Strathy’s pas de Zephyr is notable for its use of a rise instead of a jump.

Mason writes as follows:

‘Jeté Ballonné et Tems de Zephyre

Make a jeté before with the right foot, disengaging the left to a fourth position behind; then ballonné or sissonne upon the right, pointing the left to a fourth before; reverse it; if, as you make the ballonné, a little battement forward and back be made with the other foot, it becomes a tems de zephyre.’

Although he gives it a different name, Mason’s version is similar to Payne’s.

I don’t have access to a good translation of Costa’s version (and my Italian is not up to a reliable translation of my own) but here is what he has to say in the original Italian:

‘Passo dello Zeffiro

Il piede destro che sta in quarta avanti per aria, gettasi a terra piegando, e distendendo il piede che sta addietro, s’incava alla quarta in aria avanti; gettando a terra il sinistro, piegando, s’incava nuovamente il destro alla quarta in aria avanti, e si avranno fatti due passi di seguito, sempre avanti.

Contiene esso due tempi soltanto, uno piegato, l’altro disteso. Il primo nel gettare a terra il piede che sta alla quarta in aria, piegando le ginocchia; il secondo, uscendo avanti il piede che trovasi addietro nell’atto che distendonsi le ginocchia, e che il piede che sta per terra fa il salticello, che discesi jeté.’

Costa’s explanation is notable for omitting the battement, which seems to me to be a fundamental element of the pas de Zephyr.

A very basic analysis of these four versions of the pas de Zephyr suggest that it is a pas composé which brings together a jeté, a sissonne and a battement (the last two performed either sequentially or simultaneously). Strathy omits the opening jeté called for by Payne and Mason, while Costa (apparently) substitutes a second jeté for the sissonne. Looking at modern technical dictionaries of classical ballet, I wonder if the pas de Zephyr relates to the brisé or the brisé vole. I suggest that all the versions in social dance manuals are modifications of a more demanding step for the stage. I will discuss a possible choreographic source for that stage step in a later post.

Strathy’s Elements

Alexander Strathy’s Elements of the Art of Dancing was published in Edinburgh in 1822. In his introduction, Strathy observes ‘Dancing may be said to be to the body, what reading is to the mind … It embellishes and perfects the work of nature, and enables us to present ourselves in society with an amiable and becoming ease’. He ends by explaining ‘Although the elementary steps described in this essay apply to dancing in general, I have more especially in view that style of dancing denominated La Danse de la Ville, or the Quadrille’. Despite his emphasis on social dancing, Strathy’s treatise makes considerable demands on amateur dancers.

A first clue to these demands appears in the second plate, showing a young lady ready to dance. The positions of the feet at the bottom of the page are recognisably derived from ballet, and require a full ninety-degree turnout.

Strathy Plate Lady

Strathy. Elements of the Art of Dancing (1822), plate II.

Strathy does indeed describe these positions (which had been established in the mid-17th century) and emphasises the importance of proper turnout of the legs. He goes on to describe several training exercises, from bends and rises to various grand battements and petit battements while holding on to a support for balance. Many of these still form part of the barre work in a ballet class today.

Strathy’s steps include assemblés, jetés, glissades, sissonnes, temps levés, chassés and changements. Some of these relate closely to their modern ballet equivalents while others differ in certain respects. One important difference is the omission of the jump from assemblés and jetés. These are performed with a sink and rise, which provides a similar effect but makes them more elegant and provides a contrast with the other jumped steps. Some steps seem to have been taken from the stage, for example the pas de Zéphyre (which I will explore further in a later post).

Strathy’s little treatise is a good place to start for dancers willing, and with the skill, to add more demanding steps to their quadrilles. It is also a great introduction to early 19th-century dance for those with some background in ballet.

Reconstructing Isaac’s Rigadoon

After several sessions, I have finally learnt the whole of Isaac’s Rigadoon and I am beginning to feel comfortable enough with the choreography to work on shaping it as if for performance.

Isaac focusses on the changing rhythms and shifting dynamics of the Rigadoon’s steps. The footwork is not complicated, there are no quasi-theatrical steps but they are difficult to perform clearly and accurately, particularly at speed. The dance does need to be quite fast to make its proper effect. Isaac repeats steps and even short sequences, but he never exactly replicates sequences elsewhere in the choreography. I have found The Rigadoon quite hard to learn and I am still struggling to find the best way to perform the basic steps. How far should these travel? How much spring should there be in the jettés that come at the end of so many of them? I have performed many of the notated theatrical dances, which need amplitude and force even in basic steps. The Rigadoon requires neither, although it certainly demands swift and lively dancing.

The famous figure with glissades, that according to Kellom Tomlinson ‘forms a perfect Square’ (The Art of Dancing, p. 56), is very hard to get right.

Isaac Rigadoon 2

Isaac, The Rigadoon (1706), plate 2/15.

Each bar has two glissades and so has two mouvements and two steps with glissé. These need fast reactions in feet and ankles and downward pressure, without being heavy. The notation of the pas de bourées used to turn the corners is interesting. Each is different and three of them apparently require the first demi-coupé to move on an outward diagonal. I haven’t got this right yet, but it must surely serve to align the partners within the dancing space as well as with each other. The perfect square is formed by the paths of both dancers, who should end where they began but facing each other up and down the room instead of across it. I would love to work on this figure with a partner.

It is hard to get a proper sense of the figures in a duet when working on it alone. This is particularly true of the asymmetric figure in The Rigadoon, in which the man performs three quarter-turn sprung pirouettes as the woman dances around him with pas de bourées and he then moves around her with a coupé, a contretems with a bound and a pas de bourée as she does a coupé to first position, a half-turn pirouette and a coupé.

Isaac Rigadoon 4

Isaac, The Rigadoon (1706), plate 4/17

It is such a shame that I am unlikely to get to work on this dance with a partner. I would love to sort out exactly what happens in this section and how it should be performed.

I can’t really analyse the whole dance within a single blog post, so I will just look at those of Isaac’s choreographic effects that I really enjoy (from the point of view of the lady, as this is the side I have been working on). One is his use of the coupé to first position, in the second B section and the third A section. It brings the dancer to a dynamic stop after a lively sequence of pas de bourées. In both cases it is followed by a pirouette. The two B sections in the third AABB repeat reveal Isaac’s love of rhythm as well as his wit. The first B sequence comes at the top of the page, just below the music, in the plate illustrated above. There is a little game with the mouvement in demi-coupés, coupé and pas de bourée. Then in the second B (on the next plate of the dance, not shown here) there is a contrast between sliding steps and springs in two consecutive pas de bourée. I love the way Isaac has the couple bound towards one another before turning to face the back in order to travel away from the presence. Even though I can’t try this out with a partner, it always makes me smile.

The point is, of course, that Isaac’s Rigadoon isn’t simply a difficult dance exercise. It is a challenging choreography that is rewarding to learn and wonderful fun to perform. The same is true of the other dances by him that I have performed, including The Richmond, The Saltarella, The Pastorall and even The Union.

 

What’s in a name: Gallini’s forty-four cotillons

Somebody recently mentioned one of Gallini’s cotillons to me, with particular reference to its name. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at his dance titles to see if any patterns emerge. Meaningful analysis is difficult without access to a comprehensive list of cotillon titles, French as well as English, throughout the period when this contredanse was popular. However, a little while ago I compiled a list of the titles of the earliest English cotillons which might help.

All but one of Gallini’s titles are French. The exception is La Graziosetta which is, presumably, Italian. The same is true for all the other early cotillons published in London, although Gherardi occasionally adds English versions, for example La Poison d’Avril or the April Fool.  Thomas Hurst who was insistent that his dances were ‘New English Cotillons’ nevertheless gave his titles first in French and then in English, as Le Moulinet. The Windmill and La Belle Angloise. The British Beauty.

There are a fair number of titles which include place names, perhaps hinting at the fashionable pastimes to be enjoyed there. Gallini has Les Amusements de Spa and Le Bois de Boulogne, among others. Gherardi is more inclined to London and its environs, for example Les Folies d’Ormond Street and Les Plaisirs de Tooting.

There are plenty of titles which are commonplaces, such as Gallini’s La Belle Paisanne and Les Quatre Saisons (Siret also has a cotillon entitled Les Quatre Saisons). It would be interesting to know how many of the cotillons that share a title also use the same music and, conversely, how many use the same music but have different titles. A few cotillons have titles that are the same as those of much earlier contredanses, for example Le Pistolet and La Pantomime (both in collections by music publishers). Are there any links between the dances or their music?

There are allusions to royalty, as in Gallini’s Le Prince de Galles and La Royale. There are also acknowledgements of other dancing masters. Gallini has Les Plaisirs de Carel, but his Le Rondeau de Fischer may refer to the composer and oboist Johann Christian Fischer who spent some time in London. Carel also features in the 1768 cotillon collection by the music publishers Thompson (La Carel and La Nouvelle Carel). Villeneuve includes the cotillon La Dubois in his collection.

There are, of course, many allusions to love, in keeping with the galanterie inseparable from the cotillon. Gallini has L’Amour Fidelle and L’Amour du Village as well as, less obviously, Les Plaisirs Enchantés and La Pouvoir de la Beauté. The cotillon mentioned to me was La Zone de Venus. The Figure goes as follows:

Gallini Zone of Venus 1

Gallini’s Instructions for La Zone de Venus

Is it intended to represent homage to Venus and to love? In the 18th century the ‘Zone’ of Venus was identified as her girdle or ‘Cestus’, which was decorated to encourage desire. There is a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds entitled ‘Cupid untying the Zone of Venus’, which shows him undoing the ribbon around her waist. It seems that the ‘Cestus’ became an object of interest (if indeed it was not invented) during the early 1700s. So, was Gallini’s title innocently referring to youthful love or was it intended to be risqué?

The Fundamental Step of the Cotillon

In his Le Repertoire des Bals of 1762 de La Cuisse set down the steps to be used in cotillons, although he did not explain how to perform them. One of these steps is:

‘Le Pas de Gavote ou Demi-Contretems … un Pas naturel; C’es le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse; C’est enfin avec ce Pas que se font les Ronds, les Moulinets, les Courses, et prèsque toutes les figures des Contredanses. Chacun de ces Pas vaut une demie-mesure de Musique.’

So, the demi-contretems was much used in France when dancing cotillons. As the name, as well as de La Cuisse’s explanation, implies, there were two demi-contretems to each bar of music.

Gallini made no mention of the demi-contretems among the steps in his A New Collection of Forty-four Cotillons. Perhaps this was a deliberate omission, for he writes ‘it is intended here to explain only those [steps] which are used in the following cotillons’. Gherardi included ‘Demi contre-tems d’un Pied et de l’autre’ within his list of ‘The Names of the French Country Dance Steps’ in his Fourteen Cotillons or French Dances published around 1767, repeated in his subsequent collections. Contrary to what I said in my post Dancing the Cotillon: Gherardi’s Steps, the dancing master did list some individual steps among the sequences. However, he did not explain how this, or any other, step should be performed. Hurst says nothing about steps and Siret also remains silent. Villeneuve’s list of steps does not include the demi-contretems.

The demi-contretems is a step for travelling forwards in a variety of figures, as recommended by de La Cuisse. This is how it is recorded in the 1705 dance for four Le Cotillon. This is also how it has been used in those modern reconstructions of cotillons which I have danced. I don’t know why it was ignored by some of the dancing masters publishing in London – unless the cotillons in their collections hold the answer.

In the dance manuals of the early 18th century, the first mention by name of the demi-contretems seems to be in Pierre Rameau’s Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode published around 1725. He includes notated versions of the step, with its name, in his table ‘Suitte des contretems’ (p.65) but he does not describe it. In Rameau’s Le Maître a danser it is not mentioned by name, but its manner of performance may be taken from the description of the contretems de gavotte (translation by John Essex, The Dancing-Master, p. 97):

‘To make one with the right Foot, the Body must be on the Left in the fourth Position, the Heel of the right behind up; then sink upon the Left, and rise upon it with a Spring; but at the same Time the right Leg, which was ready to go, moves forwards in the fourth Position and on the Toes, both Legs well extended; …’

Instead of making the second step, to perform a contretems de gavotte, the dancer should transfer his or her weight onto the right foot to repeat the demi-contretems on the left.

The instruction ‘rise upon it with a Spring’ (Rameau writes ‘se relever en sautant dessus’) has resulted in two different modes of execution by dancers today. One is simply a hop followed by a step (usually onto a flat foot). The other begins with a small spring onto the ball of the foot, much like a rélevé in classical ballet, followed by step onto the ball of the foot and a quick sink into plié. The latter is more difficult and travels less, but gives a pleasing vivacity and crispness to both the step and the figures in which it is used. The demi-contretems can also be performed with a pas rond, in which the working leg traces a small half circle in the air as it passes from back to front. This little embellishment suits the rococo elegance of the cotillon very well.