Tag Archives: Baroque Gesture

The First Ballet at Covent Garden

In a recent TV dance programme, the presenter told us that the first ballet was given at Covent Garden in 1734. I assume that she meant the first ballet to be given at that theatre and not the first ballet to be given in London, which had been John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1717. She did not name the work, but the date indicates that she was referring to Pygmalion, first given at Covent Garden on 14 January 1734. Was this really the first ballet to be performed at John Rich’s new playhouse, the first such building on the site of what we now know as the Royal Opera House?

What was a ballet in early 18th-century London? The definition I work with is a stage work in which the narrative is told through dance, mime and music only, with no words. This describes John Weaver’s intention, although he called his stage works dramatic entertainments of dancing not ballets. For the purposes of this post, I will draw on that definition while concentrating on dancing at the Covent Garden Theatre from its opening on 7 December 1732 to the first performance of Pygmalion on 14 January 1734.

I’ll begin by looking more closely at Pygmalion. It is now attributed to the ballerina Marie Sallé, who took the role of the Statue Galatea. Her creations for the London stage were much applauded in Paris, where she was known as a dancer at the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opéra). A description of Pygmalion was published in the Mercure de France for April 1734, in the form of a letter from London dated 15 March – by which date the ballet had been performed at least fourteen times, demonstrating its success with London audiences. The dance historian Cyril Beaumont published a translation of the letter in his Three French Dancers of the 18th Century in 1934. The ballet itself is described thus:

‘Pygmalion enters his studio accompanied by his sculptors, who execute a characteristic dance, mallet and chisel in hand. Pygmalion bids them throw open the back of the studio which, like the forepart, is adorned with statues. One in the middle stands out above all the others and attracts the admiration of everyone. Pygmalion examines it, considers it, and sighs. He puts his hands on the feet, then on the body; he examines all the contours, likewise the arms, which he adorns with precious bracelets. He places a rich necklace around the neck and kisses the hands of his beloved statue. At last he becomes enraptured with it; he displays signs of unrest and falls into a reverie, then prays to Venus and beseeches her to endow the marble with life.

Venus heeds his prayer; three rays of light appear, and, to the surprise of Pygmalion and his followers, the statue, to suitable music, gradually emerges from its insensibility; she expresses astonishment at her new existence and at all the objects which surround her.

Pygmalion, amazed and transported, holds out his hand for her to step from her position; she tests the ground, as it were, and gradually steps into the most elegant poses that a sculptor could desire. Pygmalion dances in front of her as if to teach her to dance. She repeats after him the simplest as well as the most difficult and complicated steps; he endeavours to inspire her with the love which he feels, and succeeds.’

Pygmalion was always given as an entr’acte entertainment, never as an afterpiece, and (apart from calling it ‘new’ at its first performances) the advertisements drew no particular attention to it. It is never called a ‘ballet’.

The account of the action suggests that it began with a group dance by the Sculptors, followed by an extended mime sequence for Pygmalion. There was a little bit of scenic business (as Venus ‘heeds his prayer’) and then a mime sequence by the Statue, Galatea, followed by solos and a duet for her and her creator. The whole piece is essentially a single scene. It draws on a number of antecedents, one of which is indicated by Gregorio Lambranzi in his Neue unde Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul of 1716 in a plate showing sculptors at work (part 2, plate 24).

Lambranzi Part 2 Plate 24

The dancers at Covent Garden were Malter and Mlle Sallé, who performed as Pygmalion and Galatea, together with Dupré, Pelling, Duke, Le Sac, Newhouse and Delagarde, all regular members of Rich’s company.

What earlier entertainments at the new theatre might be classed as ballets? There are three contenders: The Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow given 27 March 1733; The Amorous Clown; or, The Courtizan given 3 May 1733; The Cobler; or, The Merry Wife Constant given 4 May 1733. All were performed by a principal couple with a group of supporting dancers and their titles suggest a narrative with action conveyed through dance and mime. All three pieces were created for benefit performances and only The Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow was given more than once.

The Cobler; or, The Merry Wife Constant can also be associated with a dance recorded by Lambranzi, who shows a Cobbler ‘with the tools of his trade, the use of which he expresses in mime’ before he is joined by his wife and the two dance together (part 2, plates 29, 30).

This entr’acte dance has a cast list which pairs the characters with commedia dell’arte characters (the Cobler is Punch, but the ‘Merry Wife’ has no counterpart), an idea used in some of Rich’s pantomime afterpieces. This suggests expressive action drawn from the commedia dell’arte, which by this period was common on the London stage. The Cobler; or, The Merry Wife Constant was probably created by Newhouse, who danced the Cobbler, for his own benefit.

The other two pieces involved Francis Nivelon, who was Rich’s leading dancer and probably the dancing master at Covent Garden. He shared a background in French fair theatre with Marie Sallé. The Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow was created for Nivelon’s own benefit and he and Mrs Laguerre took the title roles. She was Rich’s leading English female dancer, with skills that allowed her to take over some of Marie Sallé’s pantomime roles notably Daphne and Flora in Apollo and Daphne. Mrs Laguerre was also an actress, albeit a minor one. They were supported by Newhouse, Pelling, Le Sac, Delagarde, Miss La Tour, Mrs Pelling, Mrs Ogden and Miss Baston. The men would all appear in Pygmalion the following season.

The Amorous Clown; or, the Courtizan has the strongest claim to be considered a ballet. It was given right at the end of the performance, following the afterpiece, suggesting that it was a more substantial piece. It was created for the benefit of Dupré and Mrs Pelling, probably by Nivelon for the cast list had ‘Clowns by Nivelon and Pelling; Wives by Miss Latour and Mrs Ogden; Courtizan – Mrs Pelling’. In this context a ‘Clown’ was an unsophisticated Countryman or Rustic. The title suggests that the piece centred on Nivelon and Mrs Pelling and contained mime sequences as well as dances.  Mrs Pelling, like Mrs Laguerre, had skills that extended to serious dance and allowed her, too, to take over some of Marie Sallé’s pantomime roles.

These dance pieces have been overlooked by dance historians because they had very limited stage lives and were never noticed in the newspapers or elsewhere (it is worth recalling that Pygmalion received little attention in the British newspapers). Unlike Pygmalion, we have no accounts of their action. All three are comic rather than serious (although one or more of them may well have included some serious dancing). They make no use of the classical mythology used as a yardstick for the importance of dance works by so many 20th-century dance writers. Despite all that, I suggest that Pygmalion was not the first ballet given at the new Covent Garden playhouse – that honour should arguably go to The Amorous Clown; or, the Courtizan. Marie Sallé’s ballet was created within, and as a result of, the rich and varied repertoire of dancing (which included many such small ballets, serious as well as comic) in London’s theatres during the early 1700s.

 

Comus, Dance and Gesture

On 4 March 1738, Comus was performed at Drury Lane. The advertisements declared that the piece was ‘Never Acted before. Alter’d from Milton’s Masque perform’d (upwards of a Hundred Years since) at Ludlow-Castle and now adapted to the Stage’. The production was lavish, as the advertisement for the third performance on 7 March (a benefit) indicates, ‘To prevent any Interruption in the Musick, Dancing, Machinery or other Parts of the Performance, Side Boxes only will be form’d on the Stage, for the Accommodation of the Ladies’. Comus, an adaptation from Milton by the poet John Dalton with music by Thomas Arne, quickly became a staple of the London stage.

Although the advertisement for the first performance lists only four dancers, there were very likely more. When Comus was revived on 28 November 1738, there were two principal dancers (George Desnoyer and Marie Chateauneuf) supported by six men and six women.

The text published to accompany the first performances includes three dances, all in act three. These are performed as part of Comus’s attempt to seduce ‘the Lady’. There is a ‘slow Dance … expressive of the Passion of Love’ by naiads, then a ‘Dance Tambourin’ by fauns and dryads and finally a song by Euphrosyne which, according to the score, was interrupted by several instrumental passages with varying time signatures. Euphrosyne calls for the dancers to represent different moods:

‘Now cold and denying,

Now kind and complying,

Disdaining, complaining,

Consenting, repenting,

Indifference now feigning.’

They seem to have responded as the music changed. It is tempting to draw a parallel with Les Caractères de la Dance (sometimes titled Les Caractères de l’Amour). It is worth noting that Mlle Chateauneuf had danced this choreography during her first visit to London during the 1734-1735 season and would revive it during the season following the first performances of Comus, in 1738-1739.

Could the final sequence of dances in Comus have made use of gesture? In particular, might any of the gestures described by John Weaver more than twenty years earlier, for his The Loves of Mars and Venus, fit the passions called for by Euphrosyne?

The ‘cold and denying’ lover might have used Weaver’s ‘Distaste. The left Hand thrust forth with the Palm turn’d backward; the left Shoulder rais’d, and the Head bearing towards the Right’. When she turns ‘kind and complying’ perhaps this was merely ‘Coquetry … seen in affected Airs’. Could ‘disdaining’ have been Weaver’s ‘Contempt … express’d by scornful Smiles; forbidding Looks; tossing of the head; filliping of the Fingers’? While ‘complaining’ might have been expressed by ‘Upbraiding. The Arms thrown forwards; the Palm of the Hands turn’d outwards; the Fingers open, and the Elbows turn’d inward to the Breast’. Weaver has no gestures for ‘Consenting, repenting’ but perhaps ‘Reconciliation’, with its shaking of hands or an embrace, might convey the former, while ‘Shame. The covering the Face with the Hand’ could represent the latter. While ‘Indifference’ suggests Weaver’s ‘Neglect’ with its ‘scornful turning the Neck; the flirting outward the back of the right Hand, with a turn of the wrist’, ‘feigning’ calls for additional movements which contradict the gesture’s overall effect. As this is, after all, a dance, the gestures would need to accompany steps either simultaneously or sequentially.

Could Weaver’s use of dance and gesture to convey ‘Actions, Manners, and Passions’ have been a regular feature of danced entertainments on the London stage, and not an isolated phenomenon (as it is so often described by modern researchers)? There are hints here and there that such expressive dancing was seen in London’s theatres, both before and after John Weaver’s dramatic entertainments of dancing. The 1738 production of Comus is only one such example.

This later depiction of Comus comes from A Collection of the Dresses of Different Nations, published in four volumes in London between 1757 and 1772. Comus can be found at the end of volume 2.

Comus Costume NYPL

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)

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

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.

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.

THE DRAMATICK ENTERTAINMENT OF DANCING IN ACTION

The only surviving evidence for The Loves of Mars and Venus is the scenario written by John Weaver to accompany the first performances of the ballet. There were probably several reasons for its publication. Weaver writes in his Preface ‘I know it will be expected that I should give the Reader some Account of the Nature of this kind of Entertainment in Dancing, which I have here attempted to revive from the Ancients in Imitation of their Pantomimes’, thereby presenting himself as a scholar as well as a dancing master. The detail within the scenario suggests that he was rather more concerned that the audience might not understand the story, and the gestures used by the dancers, without some help. He acknowledges that ‘I have not been able to get all my Dancers equal to the Design’, admitting that ‘I have in this Entertainment too much inclin’d to the Modern Dancing’. So, what does the scenario tell us about Weaver’s dance drama?

The ballet unfolds in six scenes, for each of which Weaver describes the action – dance, gesture and even music – quite closely. The first scene is devoted to Mars and is preceded by a ‘Martial Overture’.

mars

A late 17th-century costume design for a ‘Combattant’. Did Weaver’s Mars look something like this?

The four ‘Followers of Mars’ enter to perform a ‘Pyrrhic Dance’ which Weaver explains as an exercise in training for combat. After a ‘Warlike Prelude’, Mars joins them. He dances a solo ‘Entry’ and then performs the Pyrrhic Dance with them.

The second scene provides a complete contrast, as Venus is discovered ‘at her Toilet’ surrounded by Cupid, the Graces and ‘one of the Hours’ (this character is probably one of the ‘Horae’ or Seasons, most likely Flora).

venus

A mid-17th century costume design for Venus (danced by a man). Nothing in her dress declares that she is a goddess.

She is introduced by a ‘Simphony of Flutes’ and rises to dance a passacaille, in which she is joined by the Graces and the Hour. They have just finished their dance when a ‘Wild Rough Air’ heralds the arrival of Vulcan. Everyone except Venus hastily departs. There follows what Weaver describes as a ‘Dance being altogether of the Pantomimic kind’ – a mute quarrel between Venus and Vulcan, for which Weaver specifies in great detail their gestures. This duet surely reaches to the heart of Weaver’s ambition to recreate the ‘surprizing’ performances of the mimes and pantomimes of classical antiquity.

The third scene belongs to Vulcan and his workmen the Cyclops.

vulcan

A late 17th-century depiction of a stage Vulcan. Did Weaver make his god lame?

It begins with a set piece probably familiar from other works on the London stage. Vulcan ‘strikes at the Scene’ and it opens to show the Cyclops, blacksmiths like Vulcan himself, at work to a ‘Rough Consort of Musick’. Four Cyclops dance an ‘Entry’, joined by Vulcan. The ‘Entry’ is, of course, very different from the one performed by Mars in the first scene. The pantomime, as Vulcan plans his revenge on his wife and her lover, differs from that between Venus and Vulcan in scene two.

As well as setting the plot in motion, these three scenes introduce, successively, the principal characters in the drama, through contrasting music, dance and gestures.

Scene four brings Mars and Venus together for the first time. Weaver explains that ‘This Performance is alternate, as representing Love and War’, adding ‘As to the Gestures made use of in this Scene; they are so obvious, relating only to Gallantry, and Love, that they need no Explanation’. Mars and Venus meet and embrace, and Mars woos the goddess in mime. The two deities and their respective Followers then dance another ‘Entry’ which, Weaver says, portrays ‘Strength and Softness, reciprocally, and alternately’. The dance, and the scene, end ‘with every Man carrying off his Woman’.

In scene five, the Cyclops are again shown at work and Vulcan dances a solo showing his pleasure as his plan moves to fruition. The final scene of the ballet begins with a ‘soft Symphony of Flutes’, to which the scene opens showing Mars and Venus sitting together. Their ‘pleas’d Tenderness which supposes past Embraces’ is rudely interrupted as Vulcan and the Cyclops enter and catch the two in a net and then give an ‘insulting Performance’. After that, ‘Jupiter, Apollo, Neptune, Juno, Diana, and Thetis’ arrive to witness the humiliation of Mars and Venus. Finally, Neptune persuades Vulcan to forgive the lovers and release them. Much of this scene was played in gestures, again described by Weaver. The ballet concludes as ‘Mars, with the rest of the Gods, and Goddesses, dance a Grand Dance’. This choreography was, presumably, for nine. Weaver’s wording suggests that Mars danced alone, with the other gods and goddesses in couples. Although it is surely likely that Mars, Venus and Vulcan came together for a trio at some point.

The action of The Loves of Mars and Venus was a mixture of old and new. The dancing of Mars and Venus seems to have used the current French stage style and technique and the final ‘Grand Dance’ followed a well-established convention. Vulcan and the Cyclops probably danced in a comic style commonly seen in the entr’actes in London’s theatres. However, Weaver went well beyond accepted ideas in his use of dance to establish the individuality of his characters. His use of gesture and, apparently, its combination with conventional dance steps was completely new and was, for the first time, the means through which a story was told. Weaver was boldly experimental and innovative, despite his use of a great deal of ‘Modern Dancing’ and the justification of his work through an appeal to classical antiquity.

I will say more about the dances and Weaver’s gestures in future posts on The Loves of Mars and Venus.