Tag Archives: Baroque Dance

Pas de Sissonne Battu in Stage Dances for Men

The pas de sissonne battu occurs in many, but certainly not all, of the male solos and duets in the 1704, c1713 and c1725 collections of stage dances I am investigating.

The collection of ‘Entrées de Ballet’ by Pecour published in 1704 has 8 male solos and 5 male duets. Of these, two solos and two duets do not include the pas de sissonne battu. In the other dances, some conventions surrounding the step begin to emerge.  The assemblé battu is often followed by a changement rather than the sissonne (a vertical spring from two feet to one, from which the pas de sissonne presumably derives its name). The assemblé battu occasionally incorporates a turn in the air. In the two examples in this collection, it is a half-turn. Although the step is preceded by a variety of pas composés, it is most often followed by a coupé simple and a coupé (sometimes a coupé battu) avec ouverture de jambe. Does this reveal one of Pecour’s favoured choreographic motifs?

Here is an example from a solo, the ‘Sarabande pour un homme non dancée a l’Opera’, bar 46 (plate 215).

Sarabande Pecour 1704 215 (2)

And another from a duet, ‘Entrée pour deux hommes’ a loure danced by ‘Mr. Piffetau et Mr. Cherrier’, bar 11 (plate 165).

Entree Pecour 1704 165 (2)

Another example in this collection may not really be a pas de sissonne battu at all, for the plié is shown on the first beat and there is no following changement or sissonne – ‘Loure pour deux hommes’ danced by Blondy and Philbois, bar 18 (plate 173).

Loure Pecour 1704 173 (2)

In this collection, the pas de bourée en presence also appears a number of times after the pas de sissonne battu.

There are quite a lot of mistakes in the notations within this collection. Is the following, from the ‘Sarabande pour un homme’ bar 35 (Plate 227), an assemblé with an additional beat or simply a pas élevé battu?

Sarabande Pecour 1704 227 (2)

Pecour’s second collection of theatrical choreographies, published around 1713, has three male solos and four male duets. Only one solo and one duet include the pas de sissonne battu. There is no way of telling whether this might point to changing choreographic choices by Pecour or is purely by chance. What is interesting is that the immediate choreographic context for the step is the same in both dances. Here is the step in Pecour’s ‘Entrée seul pour un homme’, bar 32 (plate 106).

Entree Pecour 1713 106 (2)

And here it is in Pecour’s ‘Entrée de cithe dancée par Mrs. Blondy et Marcel’, bar 12 (plate 100).

Entree de Cithe Pecour 1713 100 (2)

In both, the pas de sissonne concludes with a changement. It is immediately preceded by a chassé battu and immediately followed by a pas de bourée en presence.

Could a study of the use of such phrases help us to understand more about the choreographic style of individual dancing masters?

There are hints of individual choreographic style in L’Abbé’s use of the pas de sissonne battu and his contexts for the step. There are four male solos and two male duets in his New Collection of Dances published in the mid-1720s. One of the solos and one of the duets do not contain the step. Among the others, when the assemblé battu is followed by a changement, Le Roussau often uses a variant notation method, for example in L’Abbé’s ‘Spanish Entry Performed by Mr Desnoyer’, bar 20 (plate 74).

Spanish Entry L'Abbe 1725 74 (2)

L’Abbé seems to enjoy placing this step within a phrase of more demanding pas battus, for example entrechats. Although he may simply be exploiting the virtuosity of his male dancers. As in the ‘Chacone of Amadis Perform’d by Mr Dupré’, bar 43 (plate 60).

Chacone of Amadis L'Abbe 1725 60 (2)

Or in the ‘Spanish Entry Performed by Mr Desnoyer’, bar 29 (plate 75).

However, L’Abbé also uses Pecour’s device of a coupé followed by a coupé avec ouverture de jambe from time to time, always after the pas de sissonne battu and sometimes with an extra embellishment such as a rond de jambe (see the ‘Entrée performd’ by Mr Desnoyer’, bars 30-31, plate 81). Apart from the addition of a turn to the assemblé battu and the regular substitution of a changement for the sissonne, L’Abbé does not embellish the pas de sissonne battu itself.

In all these collections the assemblé battu is notated just as it appears in the women’s dances. Of course, the men may have added their own ornamentations in performance, just as the women may have done.

When is a Changement not a Changement?

Among the many steps notated by Feuillet in Choregraphie one looks in vain for one named ‘changement’ or indeed for notation of a step that is recognisable as one. This basic step is described thus in a modern dictionary of classical ballet:

‘Changements are springing steps in the fifth position, the dancer changing feet in the air and alighting in the fifth position with the opposite foot in front.’

When I wrote my PhD thesis back in the 1990s, I compiled a ‘Glossary of Terms for Early Eighteenth-Century Dance’ which, in shortened form, became Appendix II. I combed through all of the principal sources for the dance vocabulary and technique of the period, but I did not find any sign of the changement.

I obviously did not do my research thoroughly enough, for in his The Art of Dancing of 1735 Kellom Tomlinson wrote of the changement in the context of two different pas composés, although he did not use that term. In chapter XXIX, he calls it a ‘Spring with both feet at the same Time’ and describes a pas tombé ending with:

‘half the Weight [on the left foot] in the fourth Position behind the right Foot, with the Knees bent … from whence the Spring is immediately made with both Feet, … changing the right Foot backwards and the left forwards’ (p. 87)

I have omitted the references to the timing of the step. Tomlinson provides notation of the pas composé ‘Fall, Spring with both Feet at the same Time, and Coupee to a Measure’ which actually shows the ‘Spring with both Feet’ starting and finishing in the 3rd position.

Tomlinson Plate I (2)

Tomlinson, The Art of Dancing (London, 1735), plate I (detail)

In chapter XXX, Tomlinson calls it an ‘upright Spring’, referring to it as part of ‘the Close beating before and falling behind in the third Position, upright Spring changing to the same before, and Coupee to a Measure’. He again provides notation of the pas composé.

Tomlinson Plate I (3)

Tomlinson, The Art of Dancing (London, 1735), plate I (detail)

A fresh look at Feuillet’s step tables reveals another piece of information I overlooked. In his ‘Table des Cabrioles’, Feuillet notates a ‘cabriole droitte le pied devant retombe derriere’.

Cabrioles Feuillet 2 (2)

Feuillet, Choregraphie (Paris, 1701), pl. 85

This is, of course, a changement with the addition of a beat of the legs in the air.

My interest is not so much in the changement as in its use in notated dances in relation to jumps incorporating pas battus – in particular entrechats. Did female professional dancers of the early 1700s really only ever do changements while their male counterparts did entrechats-quatre and entrechats-six? Do the notated dances perhaps suggest otherwise?

Stage Dances for Women and the Demie Cabriole

There is another pas composé which appears in many of the stage dances for women, although Feuillet does not include it specifically in his step tables. This is how it is notated in the ‘Entrée pour une femme Dancée par Mlle Victoire au Ballet du Carnaval de Venise’, a forlane included in the 1704 collection of Pecour’s ‘Entrées de Ballet’ (plate 7):

Forlana 7 (2)

The first element of the step is the same as Feuillet’s jetté ‘en avant et le second emböetté derriere’ (Choregraphie, pl. 72).

Choregraphie Jettes 72 (2)

This particular jetté is the basis for Feuillet’s ‘demie cabriole en avant’, which he also calls a ‘jetté battu’ (Choregraphie, pl.84).

Cabrioles Feuillet 1 (2)

In the women’s dances, it is notated as a jetté, without the third line that denotes the cabriole movement, the beating together of the legs in the air.

The demie cabriole is one of the few theatrical steps to get a mention in Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître a danser of 1725, in his chapter XXXVI ‘Des Jettez, ou demies Cabrioles’ (the translation is by John Essex, from The Dancing-Master of 1728, p. 96)

‘They  [jettés] are yet made after another Manner which requires more Strength in the Spring, Quickness in the Rise, and Extension of the Legs, striking them one against the other, falling on the contrary Foot to that sunk upon, and then change their Names and are called half Capers: But as these are Steps for the Stage, and in this Treatise I undertook to teach the Manner of making Steps used in Ball Dancing, I shall not trouble my Reader with these latter, which are only for those whose Form is exquisitely nice, and who make Dancing their Business.’

We might assume that Rameau (as well as his translator) refers to male professional dancers, but he does not specifically say so.

So, where does this jetté ‘emböetté’ appear in the solos and duets for women within the three collections I am looking at? The other solo dance in the Pecour collection of 1704 which includes it is Mlle Subligny’s ‘Gigue pour une femme’, to music from Gatti’s Scylla, first in bar 22 (plate 43, shown below) and again in bar 34 (plate 44).

Gigue Angleterre 43 (2)

She starts with the right foot the first time and the left foot when the step reappears. Both times it is preceded by a pas de bourée emboîté and followed by a coupé battu. The step is embedded within a repeated 12-bar sequence of steps danced to the first and second repeats of the B section of the music.

It also occurs in the one duet in the 1704 collection, the forlane danced by Mlle Victoire and Mlle Dangeville in the Ballet des Fragments de Lully (bar 17, plate 53).

Forlana duet 53 (2)

Here, it is preceded by an assemblé / pas simple combination and followed by a coupé battu.

The jetté emboîté occurs in three of the women’s solos in Pecour’s Nouveau recüeil of around 1713. The first is the ‘Gigue pour une femme seul’ from Campra’s Tancrède (bar 18, plate 75), danced by Mlle Guyot.

Gigue Tancrede 75 (2)

Here, it follows a contretemps backwards and is followed by a coupé battu.

In the ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ danced by Mlle Subligny to music from Lully’s Armide it appears twice. First in bar 62 (plate 82, shown below left), where it is preceded by a pas de bourée and followed by a coupé battu, then in bar 74 (plate 83, shown below right), where it follows a pas de bourée emboîté. This second time, the concluding pas simple becomes a pas plié and the dance bar ends with a coupé avec rond de jambe.

Passacaille Armide 82 (2) Passacaille Armide 83 (2)

 

This proto-cabriole turns up in both the canary duets for women in this collection. In the ‘Canarÿe’ it occurs twice, first in bar 10 (plate 43, see below top), where it is preceded by a pas de bourée emboîté and followed by a coupé battu. The second time, in bar 38 (plate 45, see below bottom), it begins the final musical section after the assemblé / pas simple which finishes a pas de rigaudon and is followed by a coupé battu.

Canarye Guyot Prevost 43 (3)

Canarye Guyot Prevost 45 (2)

In the ‘Entrée de deux Bacchante’, like the ‘Canarÿe’ danced by Mlle Guyot and Mlle Prévost, it also begins the final musical section (bar 26, plate 63) and is preceded by a pas de bourée and followed by a coupé battu.

Bacchante Guyot Prevost 63 (2)

In his New Collection of around 1725, L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ provides Mrs Santlow with several variants on the basic jetté emboîté which I will discuss in another post. In the ‘Passacaille of Armide’ danced by Mrs Elford and Mrs Santlow, this proto-cabriole comes in bar 100 (plate 13), immediately preceding the assemblé battu which closes the musical variation. It is preceded by a pas composé comprised of a coupé to first position, a pas plié and a jetté. And, as you see, there are three of these variant jettés emboîtés in the bar rather than the more usual two.

Passacaille Armide Duet 13 (3)

Like the pas de sissonne battu, this jetté emboîté is a commonplace in stage dances for women. Should we make anything of the fact that in the majority of the dances by Pecour it is followed by coupé battu? If nothing else, it seems to point to one of his favoured choreographic devices.

Why have I dealt with this topic at such length? Am I the only one who has danced all these choreographies to wonder whether the jetté emboîté should really be a demie cabriole? The female professional dancers for whom these dances were created undoubtedly had the strength and the technical skill to perform cabrioles, which would have been clearly seen under the shorter skirts we know they wore. Did the notations follow a convention related to the one that routinely depicts leading ballerinas in floor-length skirts? I believe they did.

 

Pas de Sissonne Battu in Stage Dances for Women

The pas de sissonne battu, shown in Feuillet’s ‘Table des Pas de Sissonne’ turns up in several of the notated stage solos and duets for women. I am not going to attempt any detailed analysis in this post, I will simply point out where the step occurs.

It can be found in two of the choreographies in the 1704 collection of Pecour’s ‘Entrées de Ballet’: the ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ performed by Mlle Subligny in Gatti’s Scylla; and the ‘Entrée Espagnolle pour une femme’ danced by her in Campra’s L’Europe galante.

It is notated twice in the passacaille, first in bar 96 (plate 28), when it is not (strictly speaking) a pas de sissonne since the assemblé battu is followed by a changement, and the dance bar concludes with a coupé simple.

Passacaille Scylla 28 (2)

It is danced again in bar 152 (plate 31). In both cases, the step is preceded by a coupé soutenue and followed by a coupé battu avec ouverture de jambe.

In the ‘Entrée Espagnolle’ it comes in the penultimate bar of the dance, bar 29 (plate 40) – the loure is notated with two pas composés to each bar of the music. The pas de sissonne is preceded by a contretemps and has an ouverture de jambe on the concluding spring. The assemblé battu is performed with a half turn in the air.

Entree Espagnolle 40 (2)

In Pecour’s Nouveau recüeil of around 1713, the pas de sissonne battu turns up in four of the female solos and just one of the duets. The ‘Gigue pour une femme’ danced to music from Louis Lully’s and Marais’s Alcide is a highly embellished choreography. The unnamed danseuse has a wealth of steps incorporating pas battus, although only one is a pas de sissonne battu. It comes early in the dance, bar 11 (plate 69) and concludes with a changement. It is preceded by two unusual pas composés incorporating tortillé movements (only one is shown here) and followed by a pas de bourée.

Gigue Alcide 69 (2)

I have often wondered whether the anonymous female soloist was, in fact, Mlle Guyot who is the female star in this collection.

Mlle Guyot is named as the performer of the ‘Gigue pour une femme’ from Campra’s Tancrède. This lively little number has a pas de sissonne battu in bar 32 (plate 76), although again it has a concluding changement rather than a spring onto one foot. It is followed by a coupé simple and a coupé avec ouverture de jambe, recalling the sequence in the passacaille from Scylla.

Gigue Tancrede 76 (2)

The ‘Entrée pour une femme seul’, a gavotte from Lully’s Atys, also danced by Mlle Guyot, has a pas de sissonne battu in bar 22 (plate 78). It, too, has a changement instead of a spring and is followed by a pas de bourée battu.

Gavotte Atys 78 (2)

The choreographic masterpiece in this collection, so far as the dances for women are concerned, is the ‘Passacaille pour une femme dancée par Mlle. Subligny en Angleterre’, presumably during her visit to London in the winter of 1701-1702. The music is from Lully’s opera Armide.

Mlle Subligny performs two assemblés battus during the solo. The first comes in bar 101 (plate 84) as a new variation begins in the music. It is followed by a changement and a coupé simple.

Passacaille Armide 84 (2)

The second is in bar 147 (plate 86), as the solo draws to its conclusion, and is the step just before she begins her final retreat. Again, it is followed by a changement and a coupé simple.

Passacaille Armide 86 (2)

The collection of c1713 is notable for the five duets performed by Mlle Guyot and Mlle Prévost. These characterful choreographies are full of pas sautés, although only the ‘Canarÿe dancée … au triomphe de l’amour’ includes a pas de sissonne battu (bar 8, plate 43). This example has a half-turn in the air and is preceded by a contretemps and followed by a pas de bourée.

Canarye Guyot Prevost 43 (2)

In L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances, published around 1725, neither of Mrs Santlow’s solos include a pas de sissonne battu. However, the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ is an astounding choreography, so far as our ideas of the conventions of female dance technique are concerned. I have performed it numerous times and written about in several different contexts. I hope to return to it later.

L’Abbé’s ‘Passacaille of Armide’ danced by Mrs Elford and Mrs Santlow has one assemblé battu in bar 101 (plate 13). It draws attention to itself not only because it marks the transition to a new musical variation but also because it is followed by two beats in which the dancers come to a dynamic stop – a moment of stillness in which energy continues to flow through their bodies as they wait to resume their dance.

Passacaille Armide Duet 13 (2)

I suggest that, given the number of examples in these collections, the assemblé battu, within the pas de sissonne battu (which is often in a variant concluding with a changement) or alone, was a step integral to the vocabulary of early 18th-century professional female dancers. If they regularly performed this step, what other jumped pas battus might they have performed? There are some hints in the notated female solos and duets and also in the male-female duets as well as the dances for men.

Stage Dances for Women and Feuillet’s Pas Battus

I have long been sceptical about the claim that Mlle Camargo was the first woman to perform an entrechat-quatre on stage, not least because I know that several of the earlier notated stage dances for women contain pas battus not so far removed from that feat. I thought it was time I looked more closely at the vocabulary in those dances, focussing on batterie in the jumped steps rather than the percussive pas battus used to embellish so many of the walking steps in choreographies created for the stage.

I listed the four principal sources for notated stage dances in an earlier post. Between them these collections contain 16 female solos and 7 female duets. The publication dates range over some 25 years, more than a generation of dancers, although the choreographies themselves may range from the 1690s to the 1720s. We don’t know how these notations relate to what was actually performed onstage and there is no consensus about the purposes behind their publication. Were they intended to record the choreographies performed by leading dancers, for dancing masters working in the theatre or even for fans? Were they actually simplified versions of the original dances intended for the teaching of talented (but not necessarily professional) pupils? Whatever the truth, they provide invaluable evidence of the dancing we have lost. They are well worth detailed exploration.

In Choregraphie, Feuillet provides tables for ‘Cabrioles, et demi Cabrioles’ as well as ‘Entre-chats et demy entre-chats’.

In addition, he includes aerial pas battus in his tables of ‘Contre-temps; and ‘Pas de sissonne’.

I should point out that there are differing interpretations of Pierre Rameau’s description of the contretemps in chapter 37 of Le Maître a danser. He uses the phrase ‘se relever en sautant dessus’, which has led some scholar-practitioners to adopt a relevé rather than a sauté. The former means that it is not, technically, a jumped step.

Feuillet was himself the notator of the 1700 collection of his own choreographies, as well as the 1704 collection of Pecour’s ‘Entrées de Ballet’. Both Gaudrau, who notated the Pecour collection of around 1713, and Le Roussau, who notated L’Abbé’s New Collection, used the system published by Feuillet in Choregraphie. Which, if any, of these pas battus appear in the notated dances for professional female dancers recorded in these collections?

Love’s Mistress

One of the most interesting productions of the Restoration period, so far as stage dancing is concerned, is Thomas Shadwell’s Psyche, first given with music by Matthew Locke at the Dorset Garden Theatre on 27 February 1675. I have written elsewhere about the piece and St André’s choreography for it. Shadwell drew heavily on Lully’s tragédie-ballet Pysché with its text by Molière, Quinault and others, given an exceptionally lavish production at the French court in 1671.

The London Psyche also has an English antecedent – Thomas Heywood’s Psyche; or Love’s Mistress (often titled Love’s Mistress; or, The Queen’s Mask) which was performed several times during the 1660s. Heywood’s play dates back to the 1630s and was one of the post-Restoration revivals from the pre-Civil War theatre. Samuel Pepys saw it on a number of occasions, the last he recorded was at the Bridges Street Theatre on 15 August 1668 when he wrote ‘the thing pretty good, but full of variety of divertisement’, indicating that the production included dancing.

The 1669 revival of Love’s Mistress was attended by two foreign visitors, both accompanying the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de’ Medici. The account of the play by Lorenzo Magalotti is readily accessible, for it is printed in part one of The London Stage as commentary on the performance at Bridges Street on 24 May 1669.

‘To the story of Psyche, the daughter of Apollo, which abounded with beautiful incidents, all of them adapted to the performers and calculated to express the force of love, was joined a well-arranged ballet, regulated by the sound of various instruments, with new and fanciful dances after the English manner, in which different actions were counterfeited, the performers passing gracefully from one to another, so as to render intelligible, by their movements, the acts they were representing.’

Also with the Grand Duke at that performance was Filippo Corsini, whose account is less well-known, although it was published (in the original Italian as well as an English translation) in Theatre Notebook back in 1980. Corsini described Love’s Mistress as an ‘opera’.

‘It dramatized the marriage of Psyche and was full of scene changes and dances, among them one of the 10 Cyclops and another of the 16 Gods. The play was very stylish to look at, which was all we could enjoy, not understanding the language.’

Both commentators reveal the sophistication of English stage entertainments within ten years of the Restoration. Magalotti, apparently, recognises a specifically ‘English’ style of dancing which seems to have been based on expressive actions.

Heywood’s Love’s Mistress was printed a number of times, first in 1639 with a further edition in 1640, another in the early 1660s (dated ‘1640’ on the title page) and yet another as late as 1792 (which claimed to reprint one of the ‘1640’ editions). I haven’t done a careful comparison of these, but a rapid check of the real 1640 edition against that of 1792 (both of which are accessible digitally) shows that they include the same dances.

In act 1, there is a series of dances each of which is followed by the entrance of a different character, first a ‘Proud Ass with Ears’, then a ‘Prodigal Ass’, followed by a ‘Drunken Ass’, a ‘Usurer’, a ‘Young Gentleman’ and an ‘Ignorant Ass’. The scene ends with a dance before the characters exit.  I will not try to analyse these dances, except to point out that the story of Cupid and Psyche comes from The Golden Ass by Apuleius and that Heywood uses Apuleius and Midas as onstage commentators. Midas, of course, was provided with ass’s ears for judging against Apollo in a musical contest.

In act 2, there is a dance by ‘Pan, Clown, Swains and Country Wenches’. All are characters associated with the countryside and rusticity. Pan was the god of shepherds. In the 17th and 18th centuries a ‘Clown’ was an unsophisticated countryman, while swains and country wenches were the common countryfolk, not the refined shepherds and shepherdesses of the pastoral tradition.  This dance would undoubtedly have been lively and based around the steps and figures of popular dancing.

In act 3, another dance is performed by ‘a King and a Beggar, a Young Man and an Old Man [in the 1792 edition an old woman], a Lean Man, a Fat Woman’. This must have been a comic dance as it presented a series of contrasts in status, age and physique. It could well have been based on actions as much as dance steps.

In act 4, Vulcan appears for a scene with four of his workmen the Cyclops. Later, they dance together. Their style is likely to have gone beyond the comic to the grotesque. Corsini’s remarks indicate that the speaking Cyclops were joined by several dancing Cyclops.

The final dance comes near the end of act 5 with ‘Cupid, Psiche, the gods and goddesses’. The various entrances beforehand suggest that the gods and goddesses included Pluto, Proserpine, Mercury, Phoebus, Pan, Venus and Vulcan, although Corsini specifies that there were 16 altogether, presumably including Cupid and Psyche. This dance would surely have been based on belle dance, the aristocratic style and technique developing rapidly at the court of Louis XIV, or perhaps the earlier version of it practised at the pre-Civil War English court. It may have been based more on figures than on steps. Was this dance the ‘well-arranged ballet’ with expressive gestures noted by Magalotti?

All of the dancers in act 5 are actors and actresses, but the dances in the preceding acts are by non-speaking characters who enter just to dance and then exit. Were some of these specialist professional dancers? If they were, there must have been at least six of them – perhaps four men and two women. There seems to be no way of determining who they were. Nor do we know who provided the music for the performances of Love’s Mistress during the 1660s, although the link with the King’s Company suggests that it could have been John Banister. No music survives, so far as we know, not even as tunes in the early editions of Playford’s The Dancing Master.

It is difficult to get an idea of ‘English’ dancing at this period, but perhaps Heywood’s Love’s Mistress provides us with some clues.

There are many paintings and sculptures depicting Cupid and Psyche, notably from the late 18th century. This is an Italianate work from the century before Heywood’s Love’s Mistress.

Psyche and Mercury Louvre

Adriaen de Vries, Mercury carrying Psyche to Cupid (1593)

THE RESTORATION COURT BALL

Samuel Pepys provides us with two descriptions of balls at the Restoration court that deserve to be better known.

The first took place on 31 December 1662. After seeing the Duke and Duchess of York at supper, Pepys went ‘into the room where the Ball was to be, crammed with fine ladies, the greatest of the Court’, all waiting for the ball to begin.

‘By and by comes the King and Queen, the Duke and Duchesse, and all the great ones; and after seating themselfs, the King takes out the Duchess of Yorke, and the Duke the Duchesse of Buckingham, the Duke of Monmouth my Lady Castlemayne, and so other lords other ladies; and they danced the Bransle. After that the King led a Lady a single Coranto; and then the rest of the Lords, one after the other, other ladies. Very noble it was, and a great pleasure to see. Then to Country dances; the King leading the first which he called for; which was – says he, Cuckolds all a-row, the old dance of England. … The manner was, when the King dances, all the ladies in the room, and the Queen herself, stands up; and endeed he dances rarely and much better then the Duke of Yorke.’

Pepys enjoyed the occasion. ‘Having stayed here as long as I thought fit, to my infinite content, it being the greatest pleasure I could wish now to see at Court, I went out, leaving them dancing.’

On 15 November 1666, Pepys wrote of ‘the Ball at night at Court, it being the Queenes Birthday’. He took himself along to Whitehall Palace to watch the event.

‘Anon the house grew full, and the candles lit, and the King and Queen and all the ladies set. And it was endeed a glorious sight to see Mrs. Steward in black and white lace – and her head and shoulders dressed with Dyamonds. And the like a great many great ladies more (only, the Queene none); and the King in his rich vest of some rich silk and silver trimming, as the Duke of York and all the dancers were, some of cloth of silver, and others of other sorts, exceeding rich. Presently after the King was come in, he tooke the Queene, and about fourteen more couple there was, and begun the Bransles.’

Pepys tried to recall all the dancers, but could remember only some of them, ‘But all most excellently dressed, in rich petticoats and gowns and Dyamonds – and pearl.’ He then turned back to the dancing.

‘After the Bransles, then to a Corant, and now and then a French Dance; but that so rare that the Corants grew tiresome, that I wished it done. Only, Mrs. Steward danced mighty finely, and many French dances, especially one the King called the New Dance, which was very pretty. But upon the whole matter the business of the dancing itself was not extraordinarily pleasing. But the clothes and sight of the persons was indeed very pleasing, and worth my coming, being never likely to see more gallantry while I live – if I should come twenty times.’

Pepys does not say what time the ball began, but ‘About 12 at night it broke up’. He had mixed feelings about it ‘between displeased at the dull dancing, and satisfied at the clothes and persons.’

Pepys is not the most reliable narrator when it comes to dancing. His attention was constantly drawn to the women, particularly the countess of Castlemaine, and it is doubtful that he knew much about dance steps and figures. Nevertheless, he provides us with valuable information about the sequence of dances at court balls. These began with branles, led by the King, followed by a series of courantes (also initiated by the monarch) which might be interspersed with ‘French Dances’ before the country dances with which the ball ended. The ‘French Dances’ were perhaps choreographed duets – earlier versions of the ballroom dances published in notation in the early 1700s – whereas the country dances may well have been regarded as distinctly English.

The order, with its emphasis on precedence according to rank, is very similar to that outlined by Pierre Rameau in chapter 16 of Le Maître a danser, published in 1725. Charles II was the son of a French princess, Henrietta Maria, and had spent part of his exile in Paris, so he must have been well aware of the protocol governing the court balls of Louis XIV. There was also a French dancing master at the Restoration court, Jerome Francis Gahory, who must surely have been involved in organising these balls and perhaps creating choreographed dances for them, as his successors Mr Isaac and Anthony L’Abbé certainly did.

Charles II Dancing

Gonzales Coques, Charles II dancing at the Hague, May 1660? (Identification of the dancers is uncertain, but their deportment is very similar to other versions in which Charles II is recognisable)

It seems that there was a long tradition behind the grand balls at the early 18th-century French court, which was shared by the English court. Although Charles II rarely celebrated his birthday with a ball, those for his Queen became almost annual occasions. Such birthday balls would continue from the Restoration well into the 18th century. The bransles disappeared and the courante was replaced by the minuet but, except for these changes, later evidence suggests that the sequence of dances observed by Pepys remained much the same throughout the reigns of William and Mary, Queen Anne and the first three Georges.