Tag Archives: Baroque Dance

The Passacaille

As every musician knows (but not necessarily every dancer), the passacaille is a set of variations over a repeated 4-bar bass line. It shares this musical form with the chaconne, although the notated dances surviving from the 18th century reveal several differences between them. In her recent book Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera, Rebecca Harris-Warrick looks at passacailles and chaconnes from various perspectives. Her observations are of interest in relation to the appearance of these dances on the London stage. Harris-Warrick points out that passacailles have a slower tempo than chaconnes and that they are often found in association with women ‘not infrequently when seduction is involved’ (p. 60). She also explains that they are the longest of the dances performed on stage and usually feature soloists and groups of dancers in their choreography (although this is not the case with the notated dances).

Passacailles are indeed the longest of the surviving recorded choreographies, in particular two solos created for female professional dancers: Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ for Hester Santlow to music from Desmaret’s 1697 opera Vénus et Adonis, 209 bars; Guillaume-Louis Pecour’s ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ for Marie-Thérèse Subligny to music from Gatti’s 1701 opera Scylla, 219 bars. In all six passacailles survive in notation, published between 1704 and the mid-1720s. All are to music from French operas, four are female solos, one is a female duet and one is a duet for a man and a woman.

Advertisements indicate that the passacaille was performed in the entr’actes at London’s theatres quite regularly between the 1705-1706 and 1735-1736 seasons. It was given either as a solo or a duet but not, apparently, as a group dance. The solos are exclusively performed by women, from Mrs Elford at the Queen’s Theatre on 13 June 1706 (when she danced a ‘Chacoon and Passacail’) to Mrs Bullock at Goodman’s Fields on 13 October 1735. Duets were quite rare, although four different couples were billed between 1715-1716 and 1725-1726. After 1735-1736, the dance type disappears from the bills, except for a single performance of ‘A New Dance call’d Le Passecalle de Zaid’ by Anne Auretti at Drury Lane on 26 March 1754 (the occasion was her benefit). The passacaille reappears in the early 1770s for occasional performances until the mid-1780s.

For most of the passacailles performed in London, it is all but impossible to know what was danced either in terms of the music or the choreography. There are exceptions. The earliest is Pecour’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s 1686 opera Armide, created as a solo for Mlle Subligny and performed by her ‘en Angleterre’ during the winter of 1701-1702 – the only time she visited London. This demanding solo (a mere 149 bars) was published in notation around 1713.

Pecour Passacaille Armide 1

Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ‘Passacaile’, Nouveau recueil de danse de bal et celle de ballet (Paris, [c1713]), pl. 79

Anthony L’Abbe’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s Armide was created as a female duet, and must have been danced late in the 1705-1706 season in the brief interval between Mrs Santlow’s debut and Mrs Elford’s retirement.

Labbe Passacaille Armide 1

Anthony L’Abbé, ‘Passacaille of Armide’, A New Collection of Dances (London, c1725]), pl. 7

In his Preface to The Art of Dancing, the manual of dancing he published in 1735, Kellom Tomlinson referred to ‘Miss Frances, who, on the Theatre Royal in Little Lincoln’s Inn Fields, performed the Passacaille de Scilla, consisting of above a thousand Measures or Steps, without making the least Mistake’. He seems to be referring to the music from Gatti’s Scylla, if not to the choreography created by Pecour for Mlle Subligny (although neither the music nor the notated dance extends to a thousand bars). A Miss Francis did in fact dance a ‘new Passacaille’ at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 19 March and again on 27 April 1719. The other exception is, of course, L’Abbé’s solo for Mrs Santlow referred to above. Although no date or place for a performance of this choreography is known, it is a stunning example of the challenges of such a dance.

Was the music for the other passacailles billed in the early 18th century invariably French? There are some beautiful examples of the dance type (usually titled chaconnes but with the features of passacailles) among late 17th-century music by English composers. Some of these were undoubtedly danced in the semi-operas of the period. Did any of the other performers billed in passacailles dance the choreographies that have survived? Mrs Bullock is known to have been a virtuoso dancer. She danced a passacaille with Charles Delagarde at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 7 May 1716 as well as her later solo, either of which could have drawn on notated dances. Since they were showpieces, it is not surprising that most passacailles were billed for benefit performances, although not always the dancer’s own. It is interesting that not one of the named performers, male or female, of passacailles given in London up to 1735-1736 is French. There are many puzzles about French dancing in London’s theatres in the early 18th century.

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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.

Dance Types on the London Stage

For a number of years, I have been researching dancing on the London stage between 1660 and 1760. There are several studies of theatrical dancing in the French ballets de cour and French operas of that period, but dancing in London has been largely ignored. This neglect is understandable, up to a point. In London’s theatres, dances were usually performed between the acts of plays, in the divertissements within semi-operas or, later, in the masques and pantomimes that followed the main tragedy or comedy of the evening. Other than their titles, and who danced them, we know little about them. If we are lucky, a tune with the same title as a dance may survive in a collection of country dances, a music tutor or elsewhere (although the tune may turn out to have little to do with the dance). Except in a handful of cases, no choreography survives. Despite all these difficulties, I just cannot rid myself of my fascination with this lost repertoire and its dancers.

Dancing on the London stage was much influenced by French belle danse. One area of interest, which might also be fruitful in research terms, lies in the various dance types known from the corpus of dances notated in the early 1700s. Some of these dances appear explicitly in the entr’actes and some do not. Among those that can be found are the Allemande, Chaconne, Folia (‘Folie d’Espagne’), Forlana (billed once only as a ‘Forlanta’), Hornpipe, Gigue (actually the ‘Jig’ which may, or may not, be a French Gigue), Loure (mainly in the form of the ‘Louvre’, i.e. the ball dance Aimable Vainqueur), Minuet, Musette, Passacaille, Rigaudon and Saraband (to which I have previously devoted a post). Entr’acte dances with these dance types in their titles were billed and it seems likely that many of them were what they claimed to be. Those not billed are the Bourrée, Canary, Courante, Gavotte and Passepied. They may well have been performed, but they are never mentioned among the advertisements for entr’acte dances. I cannot explain why some of these dances were not among those named in the bills (though some, like the Courante, may simply have gone out of fashion).

From time to time, I will take a closer look at some of the dance types that were performed on the London stage.

THE MILLER’S DANCE

In my post exploring who may have performed the Cyclops in John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus, I promised to take a closer look at the Miller’s Dance occasionally given among the entr’acte entertainments in London’s theatres. Apart from trying to shed more light on the performances within Weaver’s dance drama, I’ll investigate whether it is possible to get some idea of the dancing within those pieces for which we know little other than the title and names of the performers.

Dances with the word ‘Miller’ in the title were given on the London stage from at least the first decade of the 18th century into the 1760s. For reasons as yet unclear (but probably to do with individual performers), they seem to have disappeared from the repertoire between the mid-1710s and early 1720s and for most of the 1730s. In this post, I will concentrate on the earliest period – from around 1703-1704 to 1715-1716. These are the dances in which some of the ‘Comedians’ who may have danced the Cyclops appeared.

The earliest Miller’s Dance recorded in advertisements is a solo given by William Pinkethman at Drury Lane on 5 June 1704, which he repeated on 10 August. There is nothing to indicate the music or the nature of the dance. A few seasons later, on 26 December 1707 also at Drury Lane, the advertisement specified that the dancing would include ‘an old English Dance call’d, Miller’s Dance’. This might suggest the use of a familiar tune and could, perhaps, link the dance to Miller’s Jig first published in the 7th edition of John Playford’s The Dancing Master in 1686. This tune appeared in every subsequent edition up to the 18th around 1728, so it must have been well known. Only three dancers were billed in the entr’actes that evening, so it seems the Miller’s Dance couldn’t have been a country dance. It is possible that Pinkethman reprised his solo, since he gave an ‘Equi-vocal Epilogue after the old English manner’ for the main play that same evening.

During the 1709-1710 season there were, ostensibly, three different versions of the Miller’s Dance at Drury Lane. On 25 March 1710, Leigh and Prince performed a Miller’s Dance which they repeated at least once, on 23 May. On 12 April, Leigh and Birkhead danced Miller and his Wife. Was the Miller’s Dance given on 25 April by unnamed performers performed by Leigh and Prince or Leigh and Birkhead? The Miller and his Wife was given at the Greenwich theatre in 1710-1711 and 1711-1712, when the company included Leigh. This dance may well have been the same as the one he performed with Birkhead.

The third dance was the Whimsical Dance between a Miller, his Wife, and a Town Miss, first given at Pinkethman’s Greenwich theatre on 5 August 1710 and repeated at five more performances before the end of the summer season there. The only performer billed for this trio was Leigh as the Miller’s Wife. In 1714-1715 and again in 1715-1716 a Miller’s Dance was given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields by James Spiller, his wife Elizabeth and Leigh. Could this have been the Whimsical Dance of a few years earlier? Elizabeth Spiller performed with the Greenwich company in 1709-1710 and her husband may well have done so too. The title Whimsical Dance between a Miller, his Wife, and a Town Miss suggests some characterisation and comic action, including the low comedy associated with a cross-dressed Miller’s Wife. Spiller was adept at playing old men (in 1710 he was, apparently, only 18) and he presumably danced the Miller. Hogarth’s benefit ticket shows him some 10 years later.

Spiller Benefit Hogarth

William Hogarth. Benefit ticket for James Spiller [London, 1720] © British Museum

Despite these clues, there is no way of knowing what any of these Miller’s Dances were like. No music survives for any of them. The dancing would surely have been the antithesis of la belle danse, although it is unlikely to have had its own vocabulary of steps.

How did audiences recognise that it was a ‘Miller’s Dance’? Was the advertisement of the title in the evening’s bill enough? Was the dance familiar from earlier (but unrecorded) performances? Were there very obvious mimed actions? Did the music provide a strong clue? The dance is likely to have been performed against whatever scenery was in place for that evening’s play, which might even have conflicted with the piece on offer. There are many things we simply don’t know about entr’acte dancing on the London stage in the 18th century.

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.

 

Serious Dancing

In his An Essay towards an History of Dancing (1712), John Weaver described three distinct genres of stage dancing ‒ serious, grotesque and scenical. He drew on all three in The Loves of Mars and Venus, beginning with serious dancing in the first two scenes of the ballet, which introduce in turn Mars and Venus. I have quoted this passage from Weaver’s Essay before, in a piece about stage dancing posted more than two years ago, but it is worth repeating:

Serious Dancing, differs from the Common-Dancing usually taught in Schools, as History Painting differs from Limning. For as the Common-Dancing has a peculiar Softness, which would hardly be perceiveable on the Stage; so Stage-Dancing would have a rough and ridiculous Air in a Room, when on the Stage it would appear soft, tender and delightful.’

Weaver was drawing attention to the greater power and amplitude in the performance of dancing on stage. His list of ‘some Steps peculiarly adapted to this sort of Dancing’ reveals its innate tendency to virtuosity, for he mentions ‘Capers, and Cross-Capers of all kinds; Pirouttes [i.e. pirouettes], Batteries, and indeed almost all Steps from the Ground’. These are among the more difficult steps recorded in Feuillet’s Choregraphie and Weaver had himself recorded them in notation for his translation of that work.

Is he contradicting himself when, in his next paragraph, he declares that serious dancing is ‘the easiest attain’d’ of the genres, even if he adds that ‘a Man must excel in it to be able to please’?

Despite his dismissal of serious dancing, at least so far as his ambitions for dance drama are concerned, Weaver provides further insights into its demands.

‘There are two Movements in this Kind of Dancing; the Brisk, and the Grave; the Brisk requires Vigour, Lightness, Agility, Quicksprings, with a Steadiness, and Command of the Body; the Grave (which is the most difficult) Softness, easie Bendings and Risings, and Address; and both must have Air and Firmness, with a graceful and regulated Motion of all Parts; but the most Artful Qualification is a nice Address in the Management of those Motions, that none of the Gestures and Dispositions of the Body may be disagreeable to the Spectators.’

He is, of course, talking about the rigours of classical dancing, the genre that strives for formal technical perfection.

Weaver is forced to admit that ‘the French excel in this kind of Dancing’ and he singles out Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ballet master at the Paris Opéra, as an exemplar in the genre. It is interesting that Weaver lauds Pecour for his mastery of ‘the Chacoone, or Passacaille, which is of the grave Movement’. In London, Anthony L’Abbé created two highly virtuosic solos: the ‘Chacone of Amadis’, to music from Lully’s 1684 opera Amadis, for Louis Dupré – Weaver’s Mars; and the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’, to music from Desmarets 1697 opera Venüs & Adonis, for Hester Santlow – Weaver’s Venus. Both choreographies post-date Weaver’s Essay and perhaps date to shortly before The Loves of Mars and Venus. They reflect the tradition of French serious dancing to which Weaver’s two principal dancers, and indeed Weaver himself (as a teacher at least), belonged.

CYCLOPS ‘BY THE COMEDIANS’

Neither Weaver’s scenario nor the advertisements for the first performances of The Loves of Mars and Venus tell us who played the Cyclops, Vulcan’s Workmen. It was only on 12 March and the fourth performance of the ballet that the bills announced ‘4 Cyclops by the Comedians’ (Weaver’s scenario calls for seven Cyclops in all). Weaver does not give the Cyclops individual names, although these were used elsewhere including the masque by Motteux that was his main source.

The billing ‘the Comedians’ suggests that audiences would have known which players would take the roles. The Drury Lane company had 25 actors for the 1716-1717 season, including a number who specialised in comedy – several of whom occasionally danced. The cast for Weaver’s ‘Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’ The Shipwreck; or, Perseus and Andromeda included ‘Four Sailors and Wives by the Comedians’. This tells us that there were four (and perhaps, if the ‘Wives’ were played by men, eight) players who might have appeared as Cyclops in Weaver’s ballet. The billing also suggests that the Comedians had been popular enough in The Loves of Mars and Venus for Weaver to be happy to use the idea in a fresh context. Who could these ‘Comedians’ have been?

Most obvious among them is William Pinkethman, who was probably the leading low comedian at Drury Lane during this period. Primarily an actor, Pinkethman sometimes sang and danced. He regularly ran a booth at London’s summer fairs and also managed a theatre during the summer months, first at Greenwich and then at Richmond. His repertoire included Harlequin in Aphra Behn’s The Emperor of the Moon, a role he took early in the 18th century. This indicates that he had physical skills that were akin to dancing. He often appeared with the comic actor William Bullock (who was a member of John Rich’s troupe at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1716-1717). Their respective talents were described in 1709 in an issue of the Tatler.

‘Mr. William Bullock and Mr. William Penkethman are of the same age, profession, and sex. They both distinguish themselves in a very particular manner … Mr. Bullock has the more agreeable sqwal, and Mr. Penkethman the more graceful shrug. Penkethman devours a cold chicken with great applause. Bullock’s talent lies chiefly in asparagus. Penkethman is very dexterous at conveying himself under a table. Bullock is no less active at jumping over a stick.’

The description gives us an idea of the stock in trade of the London stage’s low comedians and suggests something of the physical comedy Pinkethman might have brought to the role of a Cyclops. He is one of the few actors of the period for whom we have a portrait.

Pinkethman 1709

William Pinkethman, mezzotint by John Smith after a portrait by Johann Rudolf Schmutz, 1709. © British Museum

Another comedian at Drury Lane in 1716-1717 was Henry Norris, who often worked with Pinkethman at the fairs and in the latter’s summer theatres. Norris had begun his career by the mid-1690s, perhaps in Dublin. He had arrived in London for the 1699-1700 season, when he played at Drury Lane. Like Pinkethman, he was a comic actor who occasionally sang and danced and quite often managed a booth at the fairs. He, too, was noted for his expressive skills, as a discussion of his appearance in the afterpiece The Country Wake in the Tatler in 1712 reveals:

‘I am confident, were there a scene written wherein Penkethman should break his leg by wrestling with Bullock, and Dicky [i.e. Henry Norris] come in to set it, without one word said but what should be according to the exact rules of surgery in making this extension, and binding up the leg, the whole house should be in a roar of applause at the dissembled anguish of the patient, the help given by him who threw him down, and the handy address and arch looks of the surgeon.’

Such skills and such interplay must surely have been put to good use in the scenes involving the Cyclops.

Also at Drury Lane at this period was the comedian Francis Leigh, who had begun his career in the early 1700s. He later worked with Pinkethman at Greenwich as well as running a fair booth with Norris during the summer. Leigh occasionally danced, although the only piece in which he was explicitly billed was a Miller’s Dance (in which he apparently sometimes appeared as the Miller’s Wife – I will take a closer look at the various versions of this entr’acte dance in due course). Sadly, there is no known portrait of Leigh and no description of him in performance. However, his close association with both Pinkethman and Norris suggests compatible skills.

The fourth comedian at Drury Lane who may have played one of the Cyclops was Josias Miller, who had begun his career around 1704. Like the others I have mentioned, he was a comic actor who occasionally sang and danced (he later took non-speaking roles in some of Drury Lane’s most successful pantomimes). There are a couple of depictions of Miller as different characters, but no description of him in performance.

Miller Josias

Josias Miller, as Teague in Sir Robert Howard’s The Committee. Mezzotint by Andrew Miller after a painting by Charles Stoppelaer, 1739. © British Museum

More research may uncover further information about the performance styles of these four comedians, perhaps shedding light on how they may have played the Cyclops in The Loves of Mars and Venus. Dancing skills were obviously not the point of their appearances in the ballet. They were surely there to make the audience laugh at their antics as they mimed their way through their actions as blacksmiths and responded to the orders of their master, Vulcan.

Cyclops Psyche 1671

Henry Gissey, Design for a Cyclops in the tragédie-ballet Psyché , 1671