Tag Archives: Claude Ballon

A Year of Dance: 1714

A while ago, I had the idea of looking at significant dance events year by year, placing them within a wider context and slowly developing a more detailed chronology than most dance histories can provide. 1714 seems as good a place to start as any. The year was notable for the death of Queen Anne, on 1 August, and the accession to the British throne of her protestant cousin the Elector of Hanover as King George I.

At the English court the social calendar revolved around royal birthdays, the accession and coronation days of the current monarch, New Year’s Day and Twelfth Night. All were occasions for dancing. Queen Anne’s birthday on 6 February had been the occasion of festivities throughout her reign. 1714 was no exception, with music, a ball and a ‘splendid entertainment’ at Windsor in the presence of the Queen herself. Her dancing master Mr Isaac created a new dance in her honour, The Godolphin named for Lady Harriot Godolphin the grand-daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and (at the age of fifteen) a lady of the bedchamber to the Queen. The dance was published in notation on 11 February 1714.

Mr Isaac. The Godolphin (London, 1714). Title page.

Mr Isaac. The Godolphin (London, 1714). Title page.

The status of another dance, published on 4 March 1714, is uncertain. The only surviving copy of The Siciliana by Siris has no title page but, like Isaac’s choreography, it was published by John Walsh and may have been intended to capitalise on the Queen’s birthday celebrations.

George I arrived in England before the end of September 1714, with his son the new Prince of Wales. His daughter-in-law Princess Caroline arrived in London, with her three daughters, in October. The coronation took place in late October 2014. There are no records of any balls at court or the publication of any dances until the following year, when the usual festivities were resumed.

One other event of note was the re-opening of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, renewing theatrical competition in London. This led very quickly to a great deal more dancing in the playhouses.  It seems that there was dancing at the first performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and there were at least six dancers (two women and four men) in the company. They appeared regularly throughout the season.

In London, dances were often published singly in notation whether or not they had a royal connection. In Paris, small collections of dances were published ‘pour l’année’ in time for the balls held during the carnival season (between Twelfth Night and the beginning of Lent). The XIIe Recueil de danses pour l’année 1714, published by Jacques Dezais, contained three duets – La Gavotte de Seaux and a Rigaudon by Claude Ballon and Dezais’s La Chamberi.

The Château de Sceaux was the venue for an experiment in dancing. At one of the duchesse du Maine’s ‘Grands Nuits’ of entertainments during 1714, Mlle Prévost and M. Ballon (leading dancers at the Paris Opéra) gave a scene from Corneille’s tragedy Les Horaces as a ‘danse caracterisée’. They performed with such intensity that they reduced themselves, as well as their audience, to tears. This event calls into question the idea that French stage dancing was fundamentally inexpressive. By 1714, Louis XIV’s long reign was drawing to a close and changing times were signalled at the Paris Opéra by the production of its first lyric comedy, Mouret’s Les Fêtes de Thalie.

Were all these events quite separate? Surely not, although the influences that flowed between them have yet to be explored.

Dancing on the London Stage

Dancing in London’s theatres during the 18th century is a topic that has not attracted dance historians. There are very few reliable accounts and no extended study has so far been published. My work in this area began when I did my PhD on the English dancer-actress Hester Santlow, whose dancing career began in 1706 and ended when she retired from the stage in 1733. I found myself trying to reconstruct the context within which she danced, as well as her dancing repertoire. My thesis was entitled ‘Art and Nature Join’d: Hester Santlow and the Development of Dancing on the London Stage, 1700-1737’. Since then, I have extended my interest to dancing on the London stage from 1660 to 1760. Central to this period are, of course, the notated theatrical dances published in the early 18th century to which I referred in my earlier post Stage Dancing.

The paradox of any research into dancing on the London stage is that the dances, with the exception of the handful of notated choreographies, have entirely disappeared. There are also very few portraits of dancers or depictions of dancing before the late 18th century. Any research is therefore very challenging. This is probably why the period has attracted little or no interest from dance researchers. There is also the bias towards dancing in Paris, which is widely seen as the sole centre of serious dancing at this time.

Yet, this was a particularly exciting period for London audiences, who were avid followers of dancers and their repertoire. ‘French Dancing’ reached London from Paris not long after the Restoration in 1660. French stars came to the English capital, where they could make good money in the commercial theatres. Claude Ballon made a brief visit in 1699 and his favourite dancing partner, the ballerina Marie-Thérèse de Subligny, came in 1702. There were also home-grown dance celebrities who could equal them in the style and technique of serious dancing, notably Hester Santlow. The British developed their own dances and genres of dancing. Among the former was the hornpipe, acknowledged as an ‘English’ dance. Among the latter was the first modern ballet, created by John Weaver, a theorist as well as a dancer and a dancing master. The Loves of Mars and Venus, performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1717, was the first dance work with recognisable characters and a story in which the entire narrative was conveyed through dance and gesture alone, with no sung or spoken words. This was a significant development in the art of dancing and must surely have influenced the French ballerina Marie Sallé, who also came to dance, and experiment with dancing, in London.

Dancing was popular in London’s theatres throughout the 18th century. Dances were regularly performed between the acts of plays (entr’acte dances). There was a great deal of dancing (serious as well as comic) in the pantomimes that became popular from the 1720s and there were dance divertissements in plays and musical works. The entr’acte dances were many and various, from speciality comic dances drawing on indigenous dance forms to complex and virtuosic serious dances deploying the style and technique of French professional dancing.

I will try to reveal some of this wealth of innovative dance entertainment in future posts.

John Ellys. Hester Santlow as Harlequine. c.1725

John Ellys. Hester Santlow as Harlequine. c.1725