Tag Archives: Ballet

A Year of Dance: 1662

The diary kept by Samuel Pepys is one of the most important sources of information about the public theatres in London during the 1660s. His testimony reveals that by 1662 dancing had become part of the entertainments offered on the newly revived stage. Although it seems to have been little more than an occasional light interlude within or alongside plays.

On 18 February 1662, Pepys went to see The Law Against Lovers (Sir William Davenant’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure with additions from Much Ado About Nothing) at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre. He commended ‘the little girl’s (whom I never saw act before) dancing and singing’. She may well have been Moll Davis, who played the role of Viola in the play. She would later become one of Charles II’s many mistresses. Pepys records seeing dancing in other plays during the first months of the 1662-1663 theatrical season, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream on 29 September 1662. He thought it an ‘insipid ridiculous play’ but there was ‘some good dancing’.

At court, the most notable event of the year was the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza. She landed at Portsmouth on 13 May and the wedding took place there on 21 May 1662. Just a few weeks earlier, on 30 April, Anne the wife of James Duke of York had given birth to a daughter Mary (who would later become joint ruler of Britain with her husband William of Orange). On 18 June, Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine gave birth to the king’s illegitimate son – named Charles after his father.  As if that was not enough, in July 1662 the Queen Mother Henrietta Maria visited London, bringing with her Charles II’s 13-year-old illegitimate son James Crofts. He quickly became a favourite at court.

In France, the only ballet de cour of 1662 was the Ballet d’Hercule Amoureux inserted into Cavalli’s opera Ercole amante composed in honour of Louis XIV’s marriage in 1660. The whole entertainment was performed in the new Salle des Machines in the Tuileries Palace in Paris on 7 February 1662 (N.S.). Louis XIV ‘representant la Maison de France’ danced the first Entrée, accompanied by the Comte de St. Aignan as Valour. The King and the Queen (as ‘la Maison d’Austriche’) both danced in the second Entrée, with Louis’s brother Monsieur as Hymen. The king made further appearances as Pluton in the eighth Entrée and Mars in the ninth. One of the handful of female professional dancers at the French court, Mlle Girault, danced as La Lune in the tenth Entrée, while another, Mlle de Verpré, danced as L’Aurore in the sixteenth Entrée. She had the distinction of heralding the final appearance of the king in the eighteenth and penultimate Entrée of the ballet, as Le Soleil. Sadly, no design seems to survive to show how Louis XIV looked as a young adult in his signature role.

At court, Louis XIV’s sister-in-law Madame gave birth to her first child on 26 March 1662 (N.S.), a daughter named Marie Louise. She later became Queen of Spain. On 18 November, the Queen gave birth to her second child and first daughter, named Anne Elisabeth. The baby died before the end of the year. Late in December, Nicolas Fouquet was sentenced to be banished, ensuring that he would never return to power to challenge the French king’s cultural supremacy.

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A FAVOURITE BALLET

I have been doing some research for an article, for which I have been looking through 18th-century newspapers. Although it has nothing to do with my topic, a piece in the Courier and Evening Gazette for 11 January 1799 caught my attention with a detailed account of an evening of private theatricals. The entertainment was given at Lord Shaftesbury’s house in Portland Place on 7 January 1799 by his ten-year-old daughter Lady Barbara Ashley-Cooper and some of her friends.

‘Lady Barbara’s entertainments consisted of two pretty little Dramatic Pieces; and for the purpose of performing them a Theatre was fitted up in one of the largest apartments, by the Painters and Machinists from Drury-lane House. ̶ Scenery all new, and Orchestra for the Band, seats for the audience rising behind each other, and every thing was constructed to make it a perfect Theatre.

The first performance was a little French piece in dialogue, by the three eldest Miss Bouveries. … The audience bestowed great applause on the performance.

The second piece was the favourite Ballet of Little Peggy’s Love, as represented at the Opera House. This was got up under the care of Madame Hilligsberg, who for two or three weeks had been instructing all the performers, and superintending the rehearsals, and who on Monday night still acted as directress.

The Dramatis Personae were as follows:

Jamie …………………  Lady Barbara Ashley Cooper

Old Man …………….  Miss Bellasyse

Old Woman ……….  Miss J. Parkyns

Lady …………………..  Miss C. Bouverie

Peggy ………………..   Miss Parkyns

Dancers, the three Miss Parkyns, and the two youngest Miss Bouveries.

This little fairy groupe rivalled the Opera House and Drury-lane in the correctness and spirit, the characteristic gestures and deportment of their performances. Lady Barbara was wonderfully happy in Jamie, and the Lord Chancellor [Alexander Wedderburn, Lord Loughborough, one of the guests that evening] seemed to be quite delighted with his little countryman. Hilligsberg had instructed her to turn in her toes, and adopt aukward gestures and attitudes, in which she was so successful, that a stranger could scarcely have believed her to be so graceful and accomplished as she really is in her own character.’

All of the performers must have been children. The newspaper account includes details of the dancers’ costumes and volunteers the information that the performance began at six and concluded around eight, after which the company went to play cards before going into dinner. The evening was a celebration of twelfth night.

Little Peggy’s Love (sometimes billed simply as Peggy’s Love) had first been performed at London’s King’s Theatre on 21 April 1796, advertised as ‘a new Dance in the Scotch style’ and with ‘the Pantomime and Principal Steps composed by Didelot’. The music was by Bossi. Mme Hillisgberg had, presumably, originally taken the title role, since the performance was for her benefit. Peggy’s Love had most recently been revived at the King’s Theatre and would be given further performances the same season. Although described as a ‘Dance’ it was evidently a small-scale ballet.

Charles-Louis Didelot was one of the most important choreographers of the late 18th century. He had first worked in London 1788 to 1789 and had returned in 1796 for a stay that would last until 1801. Madame Hilligsberg, who had been a pupil of Gaëtan Vestris in Paris, had first appeared in London late in 1787. She danced at the King’s Theatre throughout the 1790s and until 1803. One of her specialities was to dance in male attire.

Madame Hiligsberg Jaloux Puni

H. de Javry, engraved by J. Conde. Mademoiselle Hilligsberg in the Ballet of Le Jaloux Puni (London, 1794)

The report of this private theatrical performance suggests that children were learning steps and choreographies that related to the stage in their dancing lessons. Other sources of the time indicate the same, among them the early 19th-century social dance manuals that include steps and sequences that would now be identified with classical ballet. Some of the dancing at late 18th and early 19th century balls must have been truly accomplished.

A Year of Dance: 1661

I have been writing a great deal around the 300th anniversary of John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus – the first modern ballet. Weaver was, of course, indebted to the dancing of earlier periods and I would like to return to one of my other strands within Dance in History. Here is a new ‘Year of Dance’ and there will be more to follow soon – I hope!

After the temporary arrangements following the Restoration of Charles II, theatrical life in London began to settle into a pattern. At the beginning of the year, Thomas Killigrew and the King’s Company were already playing in a converted tennis court in Vere Street. By June 1661, William Davenant and the Duke’s Company had opened their theatre in a converted tennis court in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The two companies established a monopoly which would endure over very many years and through many changes of companies and theatres.

The repertoire for the 1661-1662 season (theatrical seasons ran from September to the following June or July, although this post is concerned only with the calendar year) included a play entitled The Dancing Master, possibly played in December by the King’s Company. There is otherwise no reference to dancing in the scant evidence that survives for the year’s stage offerings. In the autumn, a visiting troupe of players from France performed some of the ‘machine plays’ popular in Paris. They were apparently able to reproduce many of the scenic marvels associated with the genre at the Cockpit Theatre in Drury Lane. They also played at court.

In England, the year had begun with an act of political revenge, when Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed and posthumously executed on 30 January, the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I. A happier event was the coronation of Charles II at Westminster Abbey on 23 April. The available sources are silent as to any dancing that might have formed part of the celebrations.

In France, Cardinal Mazarin died in March and Louis XIV (at the age of twenty-two) decided to rule in person without a chief minister. That same month, Charles II’s sister Henriette married Louis XIV’s brother Philippe. She became duchesse d’Orléans and was henceforth known by the courtesy title of Madame. The first child of Louis and his Queen Marie-Thérèse, a dauphin named Louis for his father, was born in November.

There was a great deal of dancing at the French court. In February, the Ballet Royal de l’Impatience was given at the Louvre. In July, the Ballet des Saisons was performed at Fontainebleau. The French king danced in both. The first of Molière’s comédie-ballets, Les Fâcheux, was performed in August – first at Vaux-le-Vicomte (the château of Louis’s superintendent of finances Fouquet) and then at Fontainebleau. Fouquet’s entertainments outshone those of the King. He was quickly arrested and imprisoned. So far as dance history is concerned, the most important event of 1661 was the creation of the Académie Royale de Danse in March, which began the never-ending process of codifying and setting standards for the art.

 

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’.

THE SUPPORTING CAST

John Weaver’s ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ The Loves of Mars and Venus had a cast of 26 characters, according to the published scenario. In addition to Mars, Venus and Vulcan there was a supporting cast.

‘the 3 Graces, constant Attendants on Venus

‘four Followers of Mars

‘Four Cyclops. … Workmen to Vulcan

‘Three more Cyclops

Gallus, Attendant on Mars

‘One of the Hours attending on Venus

Cupid

Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, Diana, Neptune, Thetis, Gods and Godesses’

Although Gallus accompanies Mars in scenes 1 and 6 and Cupid appears with Venus in scenes 2, 4 and 6, neither seem to have been dancing roles. Gallus is simply a walk-on part, while Cupid is a mime role and must have been played by a child actor. It is likely that there is some doubling of roles, with 3 of the Followers of Mars and (probably) the 3 Graces also dancing the 3 gods and 3 goddesses who descend towards the end of scene 6. The ballet would thus have had 17 supporting dancers and actors in addition to the three principals – it was not a large-scale work but neither was it a negligible one.

I thought I would take a closer look at the supporting roles in The Loves of Mars and Venus, not only the characters but also the dancers who portrayed them. I intended to cover them all in a single blog post, but once I started my research I discovered rather more than I had anticipated. So, I will devote one post each to the ‘Attendants on Venus’, the ‘Followers of Mars’ and the ‘Cyclops’.

 

 

LOUIS DUPRÉ – MARS

What of Louis Dupré, who was a newcomer to the London stage? How did he portray Mars?

Dupré is still too often identified with ‘le grand’ Dupré of the Paris Opéra. Some years ago, I published an article that disproved this idea on the simple grounds that the two men were performing on opposite side of the English Channel simultaneously.

A dancer named Dupré is first advertised on 22 December 1714 at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre and appeared there regularly during the 1714-1715 season. He then moved to Drury Lane, where he danced for the next two seasons, appearing in The Loves of Mars and Venus during that period. Dupré’s skills are often solely identified with the serious style, but from soon after his arrival in London he regularly performed a Harlequin dance. There is even a notated Harlequin choreography dedicated to him, which claims to include some of his characteristic steps and moves. The dancing skills that Dupré was able to bring to the character of Mars are amply demonstrated by the ‘Chacone of Amadis’ created for him by Anthony L’Abbé, probably around the time of The Loves of Mars and Venus. This solo contains a panoply of early 18th-century male virtuosity, from entrechats-six to multiple pirouettes and tours en l’air.

chacone-of-amadis-1

L’Abbé, ‘Chacone of Amadis’, A New Collection of Dances, [c1725], first plate

Dupré returned to Lincoln’s Inn Fields for the 1717-1718 season and continued to dance with John Rich’s company until he died in 1734 or 1735.

There is no known portrait of London’s Louis Dupré. This design reflects contemporary ideas about the appearance of a classical warrior.

mars

A late 17th-century costume design for a ‘Combattant’. 

Although the London Dupré was obviously more than just a serious dancer of the type that Weaver criticised for lack of expression in his Essay towards an History of Dancing, Mars is given fewer explicitly formal gestures than either Vulcan or Venus. Weaver describes the character thus in his scenario for the ballet:

mars-in-words

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

In scene 1, Mars dances an ‘Entry’, probably intended to show his power through a display of virtuosity, and a ‘Pyrrhic’ mimicking hand-to-hand combat with his Followers. In scene 4, he woos Venus in mime but his gestures (as well as those of the other dancers who take part in this scene) ‘are so obvious, relating only to Gallantry, and Love; that they need no Explanation’. Mars is asked to show ‘Gallantry, Respect; Ardent Love; and Adoration’ before Venus, a sequence that creates a crescendo of feeling. In scene 6, after being caught in the net with the goddess, Mars shows ‘Audacity; Vexation; Restlessness; and a kind of unwilling Resignation’. Weaver describes ‘Resignation’ as ‘To hold out both the Hands joyn’d together’ adding that it is ‘a natural Expression of Submission and Resignation’. Were ‘Audacity’ and ‘Vexation’ perhaps modified versions of ‘Threats’ and ‘Impatience’?

The way in which Weaver depicts Mars is reflective of the God of War as a man of action rather than one of thought or feeling. This may have had more to do with Weaver’s concept of his ballet and its characters than with Dupré’s supposed limitations when it came to gesture.

HESTER SANTLOW – VENUS

In the 1716-1717 season, Hester Santlow was Drury Lane’s leading dancer and one of the company’s leading actresses. Who was she and how might she have danced Venus?

Hester Santlow’s date and place of birth and, indeed, her origins remain unknown. Her name seems to be French in derivation (St Loe) and her family were, apparently, not connected with the theatre. What evidence there is suggests that she was born in 1693 or 1694 (see my 2007 book The Incomparable Hester Santlow). She made her stage debut as a dancer in 1706, adding acting to her professional skills in 1709 when she appeared as Miss Prue in Congreve’s comedy Love for Love. Thereafter, she pursued a double career as both a dancer and an actress. Her acting roles show her as a light comedienne – her most popular roles included Harriet in Etherege’s The Man of Mode and Miranda in Mrs Centlivre’s The Busy Body. She was much admired in breeches roles such as Hellena in Aphra Behn’s The Rover. In tragedy, she was best suited to such roles as Ophelia in Hamlet and Cordelia in Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear, both of which she played for many years.

As a dancer, Hester Santlow had no peer on the London stage. She was trained by the Frenchman René Cherrier and had dances created for her Anthony L’Abbé, royal dancing master and a leading choreographer. L’Abbé’s solo ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ (to music from the opera by Desmarets), published in notation in the mid-1720s, remains a testimony to her virtuoso technique and her expressive powers.

passagalia-1

L’Abbé, ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’, A New Collection of Dances, [c1725], first plate

Her impact is well described by the dancing master John Essex in his Preface to The Dancing Master (his translation of Rameau’s Le Maître a danser).

essex-santlow-1

essex-santlow-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hester Santlow married her fellow actor and Drury Lane manager Barton Booth in 1719. Her career ended in 1733, following the death of her husband. During her final season on the London stage, she created the role of Helen of Troy in Weaver’s last ballet The Judgment of Paris.

In Hester Santlow, Weaver had a Venus ‘Goddess of Love and Beauty’ who could both dance and act. Unsurprisingly, she has the greatest range of gestures in the ballet after Weaver himself as Vulcan. He used her dancing skills and her expressive abilities to the full. He also took every chance to show off her beauty. Another contemporary described Mrs Santlow as ‘a beautiful Woman, lovely in her Countenance, delicate in her form’. She is one of the very few dancers of the 18th century for whom we have several portraits.

vanderbank-santlow

John Vanderbank, Hester Santlow, c1720

Venus is first shown ‘in her Dressing-Room at her Toilet’ surrounded by the Graces with Cupid and the Hour (probably Flora). She ‘rises and dances a Passacaile’ first solo and then with the other women. The choreography could have shared features with L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia’. The ‘Dance … of the Pantomimic kind’ with Vulcan which follows is worth its own post. Weaver entrusted a significant number of gestures to Venus, although she has a far narrower range of ‘Passions’ which have less powerful physical expressions. She is, however, allowed to improvise ‘Coquetry. … seen in affected Airs, given herself throughout the whole Dance’. In scene 4, with Mars, Mrs Santlow’s gestures are again improvisatory – ‘reciprocal Love’ and ‘wishing Looks’. Were these expressions stock-in-trade for Mrs Santlow the actress, or were they new to her?

In the final scene, Venus has to express ‘Shame’, ‘Confusion’ and ‘Grief’. Weaver provides gestures for the first and last of these, leaving her to find her own way of showing ‘Confusion’. How and with whom did Venus dance in the closing ‘Grand Dance’? Were there echoes of her ‘Pantomimic’ dance with Vulcan in scene 2 and of her gestures and dancing with Mars in scene 4? If there were, with her breadth of dance repertoire and her acting skills, Hester Santlow could surely have encompassed them all.