Tag Archives: Ballet

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’.

 

 

A DRAMATIC ENTERTAINMENT OF DANCING

It has been a little while since my last blog posts. I’ve been busy with a project to celebrate the 300th anniversary of John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus, the first modern ballet, originally performed at London’s Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717. The Weaver Dance Company was formed to create an entertainment that would tell the story of Weaver and his ballet, interwoven with excerpts recreated using his scenario published in 1717 – the only evidence to survive. So far, there have been three highly successful performances of The Loves of Mars and Venus; or, Mr. Weaver’s Dramatick Entertainment and there are more to come.

For more information about this project go to The Weaver Dance Company website:

Home

I will be writing more about John Weaver’s ‘Dramatic Entertainment of Dancing’ as well as other facets of dancing from the late 17th to the early 19th centuries in the weeks and months to come.

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.

JOHN WEAVER – VULCAN

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

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

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

There is no known portrait of John Weaver.

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

vulcan-in-words

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

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

vulcan

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

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

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

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

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