Tag Archives: Cotillion

What’s in a name: Gallini’s forty-four cotillons

Somebody recently mentioned one of Gallini’s cotillons to me, with particular reference to its name. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at his dance titles to see if any patterns emerge. Meaningful analysis is difficult without access to a comprehensive list of cotillon titles, French as well as English, throughout the period when this contredanse was popular. However, a little while ago I compiled a list of the titles of the earliest English cotillons which might help.

All but one of Gallini’s titles are French. The exception is La Graziosetta which is, presumably, Italian. The same is true for all the other early cotillons published in London, although Gherardi occasionally adds English versions, for example La Poison d’Avril or the April Fool.  Thomas Hurst who was insistent that his dances were ‘New English Cotillons’ nevertheless gave his titles first in French and then in English, as Le Moulinet. The Windmill and La Belle Angloise. The British Beauty.

There are a fair number of titles which include place names, perhaps hinting at the fashionable pastimes to be enjoyed there. Gallini has Les Amusements de Spa and Le Bois de Boulogne, among others. Gherardi is more inclined to London and its environs, for example Les Folies d’Ormond Street and Les Plaisirs de Tooting.

There are plenty of titles which are commonplaces, such as Gallini’s La Belle Paisanne and Les Quatre Saisons (Siret also has a cotillon entitled Les Quatre Saisons). It would be interesting to know how many of the cotillons that share a title also use the same music and, conversely, how many use the same music but have different titles. A few cotillons have titles that are the same as those of much earlier contredanses, for example Le Pistolet and La Pantomime (both in collections by music publishers). Are there any links between the dances or their music?

There are allusions to royalty, as in Gallini’s Le Prince de Galles and La Royale. There are also acknowledgements of other dancing masters. Gallini has Les Plaisirs de Carel, but his Le Rondeau de Fischer may refer to the composer and oboist Johann Christian Fischer who spent some time in London. Carel also features in the 1768 cotillon collection by the music publishers Thompson (La Carel and La Nouvelle Carel). Villeneuve includes the cotillon La Dubois in his collection.

There are, of course, many allusions to love, in keeping with the galanterie inseparable from the cotillon. Gallini has L’Amour Fidelle and L’Amour du Village as well as, less obviously, Les Plaisirs Enchantés and La Pouvoir de la Beauté. The cotillon mentioned to me was La Zone de Venus. The Figure goes as follows:

Gallini Zone of Venus 1

Gallini’s Instructions for La Zone de Venus

Is it intended to represent homage to Venus and to love? In the 18th century the ‘Zone’ of Venus was identified as her girdle or ‘Cestus’, which was decorated to encourage desire. There is a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds entitled ‘Cupid untying the Zone of Venus’, which shows him undoing the ribbon around her waist. It seems that the ‘Cestus’ became an object of interest (if indeed it was not invented) during the early 1700s. So, was Gallini’s title innocently referring to youthful love or was it intended to be risqué?

The Fundamental Step of the Cotillon

In his Le Repertoire des Bals of 1762 de La Cuisse set down the steps to be used in cotillons, although he did not explain how to perform them. One of these steps is:

‘Le Pas de Gavote ou Demi-Contretems … un Pas naturel; C’es le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse; C’est enfin avec ce Pas que se font les Ronds, les Moulinets, les Courses, et prèsque toutes les figures des Contredanses. Chacun de ces Pas vaut une demie-mesure de Musique.’

So, the demi-contretems was much used in France when dancing cotillons. As the name, as well as de La Cuisse’s explanation, implies, there were two demi-contretems to each bar of music.

Gallini made no mention of the demi-contretems among the steps in his A New Collection of Forty-four Cotillons. Perhaps this was a deliberate omission, for he writes ‘it is intended here to explain only those [steps] which are used in the following cotillons’. Gherardi included ‘Demi contre-tems d’un Pied et de l’autre’ within his list of ‘The Names of the French Country Dance Steps’ in his Fourteen Cotillons or French Dances published around 1767, repeated in his subsequent collections. Contrary to what I said in my post Dancing the Cotillon: Gherardi’s Steps, the dancing master did list some individual steps among the sequences. However, he did not explain how this, or any other, step should be performed. Hurst says nothing about steps and Siret also remains silent. Villeneuve’s list of steps does not include the demi-contretems.

The demi-contretems is a step for travelling forwards in a variety of figures, as recommended by de La Cuisse. This is how it is recorded in the 1705 dance for four Le Cotillon. This is also how it has been used in those modern reconstructions of cotillons which I have danced. I don’t know why it was ignored by some of the dancing masters publishing in London – unless the cotillons in their collections hold the answer.

In the dance manuals of the early 18th century, the first mention by name of the demi-contretems seems to be in Pierre Rameau’s Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode published around 1725. He includes notated versions of the step, with its name, in his table ‘Suitte des contretems’ (p.65) but he does not describe it. In Rameau’s Le Maître a danser it is not mentioned by name, but its manner of performance may be taken from the description of the contretems de gavotte (translation by John Essex, The Dancing-Master, p. 97):

‘To make one with the right Foot, the Body must be on the Left in the fourth Position, the Heel of the right behind up; then sink upon the Left, and rise upon it with a Spring; but at the same Time the right Leg, which was ready to go, moves forwards in the fourth Position and on the Toes, both Legs well extended; …’

Instead of making the second step, to perform a contretems de gavotte, the dancer should transfer his or her weight onto the right foot to repeat the demi-contretems on the left.

The instruction ‘rise upon it with a Spring’ (Rameau writes ‘se relever en sautant dessus’) has resulted in two different modes of execution by dancers today. One is simply a hop followed by a step (usually onto a flat foot). The other begins with a small spring onto the ball of the foot, much like a rélevé in classical ballet, followed by step onto the ball of the foot and a quick sink into plié. The latter is more difficult and travels less, but gives a pleasing vivacity and crispness to both the step and the figures in which it is used. The demi-contretems can also be performed with a pas rond, in which the working leg traces a small half circle in the air as it passes from back to front. This little embellishment suits the rococo elegance of the cotillon very well.

A Year of Dance: 1716

In both England and France relatively little of importance happened politically during 1716. The Jacobite uprising which had begun in 1715 suffered its final failure when James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, fled Scotland for France in February 1716. That same month, some of the Jacobite leaders were executed in London. In France, the duc d’Orléans continued to act as regent for his great-nephew Louis XV.

The Paris Opéra offered no significant new works this year, although there was a revival of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, the first since 1691. However, the duc d’Orléans invited a troupe of commedia dell’arte players to Paris for the first time since the suppression of the Comédie-Italienne in 1697. There had been Italian comedies and comedians in the Paris fair theatres in the intervening years, but the Nouveau Théâtre Italien took up residence at the theatre in the Palais-Royal thereby showing royal approval. They gave their first performance there on 18 May (New Style) and played regularly for the rest of 1716.

Was it simply a coincidence that London audiences saw the beginnings of pantomime that same year? The new genre was introduced not at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where the manager John Rich was to become a noted Harlequin, but at Drury Lane where Sir Richard Steele engaged two forains (fair performers) to provide entr’acte entertainments. Sorin and Baxter gave an afterpiece The Whimsical Death of Harlequin at Drury Lane on 4 April 1716. They were described as ‘lately arriv’d from Paris, who have variety of Entertainments of that Kind, and make but a short Stay in England’. London’s playhouses had advertised any number of commedia dell’arte characters and scenes among their entr’acte entertainments over the years, but the billing of The Whimsical Death of Harlequin as an afterpiece was surely intended to signal something new.

Another coincidence was the publication in Nuremberg of Gregorio Lambranzi’s Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul, a collection of 101 engraved illustrations of dances. It provides virtually the only visual record we have of the dances that were performed on stages throughout Europe. This plate shows Harlequin and Scaramouch in what must have been an ‘Italian Night Scene’, popular as an entr’acte piece on the London stage from the early 1700s and one of the precursors of the pantomime.

Lambranzi, Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul (1716), Part 1, Plate 29

Lambranzi, Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul (1716), Part 1, Plate 29

The dances that appeared in notation during 1716 could not have been more different. In Paris, Dezais published a XIIIIe Recüeil de danses pour l’année 1716. This had two choreographies by Claude Ballon, La Gavotte du Roy a quatre and the duet La Bouree Nouvelle, together with Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie by Dezais himself. In the Avertissement at the beginning of the collection Dezais declared that La Gavotte du Roy had been created for the six-year-old Louis XV. The brevity and simplicity of La Bouree Nouvelle suggests that it, too, might have been created for the child King. The cotillon is an early example of the contredanse for eight that would become a dance craze in the 1760s.

In London, Edmund Pemberton published Anthony L’Abbé’s The Princess Anna ‘a new Dance for his Majesty’s BirthDay 1716’, dedicated to the King’s eldest granddaughter the young Princess Royal. As in the previous year, the birthday dance was quickly pirated by the music publisher John Walsh, who also tried to undercut Pemberton. The dancing master was having none of it and attacked Walsh in the Evening Post for 14 June 1716.

‘Whereas the judicious Mr. Walsh has condescended to sell Mr. Isaac’s dances for 1s. 6d. each, the usual price being 5s. It is to be hop’d his tender conscience will cause him to refund the overplus of every 5s. he has receiv’d for 8 or 10 years past, but as it appears his design is equally level’d against me his friend, he having pirated upon me the last birth day dance, compos’d by Mr. Labee. The main reason he gives for it, is, he loves to be doing, and by the same rule, a highwayman may exclaim against the heinous sin of idleness, and plead that for following his vocation: as I have attain’d to a mastery in my art, ‘tis but reasonable I should reap some advantage by it; the masters are impos’d upon by his impression, it being faulty in several places, particularly in the footing. The original is sold against Mercer’s street, Long-Acre, by me the author, E. Pemberton.’

Pemberton had worked for Walsh as a notator of Isaac’s dances, and was clearly acquainted with his wiles.  Walsh gave up without a fight. Presumably Pemberton’s patrons (who extended ultimately to the King) were too powerful for him.

The publication of Kellom Tomlinson’s second ball dance The Shepherdess, a forlana, could have been little more than a sideshow to the publicly expressed rivalry over the printing of the birthday dances created by the royal dancing master. Similarly the appearance of the 16th edition of The Dancing-Master (printed by W. Pearson and sold by John Young) and even Nathaniel Kynaston’s Twenty Four New Country Dances for the year 1716 (printed for Walsh and his partner Hare) were simply part of the normal round of music and dance publishing.

Various Authenticities

When I first began to study baroque dance, I tried very hard to be authentic – not least because I was so often criticised for my ‘balletic’ approach. It took me some time to realise that such authenticity is impossible. We know a great deal about dancing in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (far more than most people realise), but there is just as much that we don’t and indeed cannot know. My own reconstructions of dances, particularly the solos danced by Mrs Santlow and Mlles Subligny and Guiot, owe as much (if not more) to my personal style and technique as a ballet-trained dancer as they do to the notations and dance manuals of the early 1700s.

The subject of authenticity came into my mind again a week or so ago, when I went to a talk at the Wallace Collection. The speaker was the choreographer and Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet David Bintley. His new ballet The King Dances is based on Le Ballet de la Nuit, the 1653 ballet de cour in which the fourteen-year-old Louis XIV appeared as the rising sun and became known ever after as the ‘Sun King’. Bintley talked about his forays into history and the world of baroque dance as he developed his choreography. He had gone so far as to have a baroque dance expert give instruction to his dancers – only to find that the unfamiliar style and technique was too difficult to learn in a short period. Although it marked the beginning of ballet, baroque dance was far from the strength and extension now characteristic of its descendant.

At the time of writing, I have not seen Bintley’s The King Dances so I cannot comment on the ballet. However, the photographs of the production are stunning. The young male dancers look as fabulously glamorous as their youthful antecedents at the French court must have done. When they are caught in mid-step the effect is strangely evocative of the ballet de cour, as we glimpse it through the few surviving designs for costumes and scenes. Could Bintley’s work possibly be ‘authentic’ in ways that a production consciously attempting complete ‘authenticity’ could not?

I thought about authenticity again this weekend, while I was taking part in a dance display for a heritage open day which also gave me time to watch. The dances – several cotillons by Dezais and a couple of ballroom duets – were all faithfully reconstructed from 18th-century sources. The costumes were handsome and in good period style, right down to the corsets. However, these were not the essential factors that made the display authentic. There was a range of skills and experience among the dancers and the dances were practised but not perfect. The dances were lively and all the dancers very evidently enjoyed performing them. They took pleasure in dancing with each other and for their audience. I couldn’t help thinking that it must have been very similar at many real balls in the 18th century – except that we may well have danced better than our forebears did.

Authenticity surely resides as much, if not more, in the spirit of the reconstruction as in the letter.


Two more Dezais dance names

There are just two more dances in Dezais’s 1725 Premier Livre de Contre-Dances that I haven’t considered yet – L’Inconstante and L’Esprit Follet. Again, I won’t look at the choreographies but pursue the sources of the dances’ names.

L’Inconstante, for four dancers, is the second dance in the collection. Its duple-time music is identified on the notation as a tambourin. The music has A and B strains of eight and sixteen bars respectively, while the dance has the ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure of a cotillon. So far, I have not been able to find a plausible source for the title. Marivaux’s play La Double Inconstance was given at the Thêâtre Italien on 6 April 1723, but there seems to be nothing to link it to Dezais’s choreography. It is interesting to note that, in London, Farquhar’s play The Inconstant was revived at the Drury Lane Theatre on 16 October 1723. It is unlikely that there is a link, so is there another source which also flirts with the idea of inconstancy?

L’Esprit Follet, for eight dancers, is the seventh dance in the Premier Livre. The duple-time music is titled ‘Rigaudon’ but has the half-bar upbeat of a gavotte. The A strain has four bars and the B strain has eight. The dance has the familiar structure of a cotillon. I haven’t got to the bottom of this title either. ‘Esprit follet’ can be translated as ‘goblin’, which gives me the idea of mischievous (if not malicious) playfulness. Esprits follets featured in the ballets de cour of the mid-17th century and there is a 1684 play by Noël Le Breton de Hauteroche titled L’Esprit Follet. There is no singing or dancing in any of the editions I’ve looked at, so I’m tempted to go in a different direction.

The repertoire of the Italian comedians in 17th-century Paris included a play entitled Arlequin Esprit Follet. I haven’t been able to track down any performances in Paris either at the fairs or the Théâtre Italien in the early 18th century, but a piece with that title was played in London intermittently between 1719 and 1735. The earliest of these performances were given by a troupe led by Francisque Moylin which included the Sallé children Francis and Marie. This suggests that Arlequin Esprit Follet was a given regularly in Paris and elsewhere.  In the absence of a text and, particularly, any music it is impossible to prove, but could Dezais’s  cotillon L’Esprit Follet draw on music from the commedia dell’arte piece Arlequin Esprit Follet?

Do such links, which may be less tenuous than I suggest, say anything about the spirit in which these contredanses should be performed?


Le Cotillon de Surenne

Le Cotillon de Surenne, for eight dancers, is the fourth contredanse in Dezais’s 1725 Premier Livre de Contre-Dances. The music is a gavotte, with A and B strains of four bars each, and the dance has the cotillon ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure. I’m not going to examine the choreography. Instead, I’ll pursue possible sources for the name of this dance.

Surenne (also spelled Suresne in the 18th century, and now Surêne) is a place in the environs of Paris. Nowadays, it lies within the city’s suburbs around six miles west of its centre. In the 1700s, it seems to have been somewhere that Parisians went for entertainment. Could the title of Dezais’s choreography refer to this? Or could it be linked to a short comédie-ballet, written by Florent Carton Dancourt , with the title L’Impromptu de Suresne? According to the title page of the libretto published in 1713, this piece was played that year by the ‘Comediens du Roy’ at Surêne itself. The composer of the music is not named.

The comédie-ballet ends with a divertissement of singing and dancing, with several dances. There is a Passepied, a Menuet, a Rigaudon, another Menuet, an Entrée and a Gavotte (also titled ‘Branle’). The 1713 libretto has no music, but this was included when the work was republished in Paris in 1760 in volume eleven of Les Oeuvres de Théâtre de M. d’Ancourt.  The following lines are sung to the gavotte tune:

En ces lieux l’Amour amene

Les plaisirs, les jeux, les ris;

Des plus doux nœuds il enchaîne

Les coeurs de ses feux épris,

Chacun déserte Paris

Pour venir rire à Surêne.

While the music is recognisably a gavotte, and has A and B strains of four bars each, it is not the same as that of Dezais’s cotillon. It may or may not be the original music for the divertissement.

It is possible that Dezais drew on earlier music for L’Impromptu de Suresne. It is more than likely that his title Le Cotillon de Surenne refers to the pleasures to be encountered just outside Paris.

Hungarian dances in the ballroom

The first dance in the 1725 Premier livre de contre-dances is the Cotillon Hongrois for four. I cannot  identify with certainty a person or an event that might have inspired the name ‘Hongrois’ but in this post I will explore the wider context for the dance and put forward a suggestion.

Hungary was the largest territory within the Habsburg Austrian monarchy. Charles VI was Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of Austria and King of Hungary from 1711 until 1740. He was also Prince of Transylvania, which had once been part of Hungary and retained strong links with that country. The history of the area in the 17th and early 18th centuries is complex. I will not even attempt to summarise it, except to say that events there influenced and were influenced by what was happening in the rest of Europe.

In his XIIIe Recueil de danses pour l’année 1715, Dezais included La Transilvanie a ballroom duet by Claude Ballon. This choreography has some resemblance to a cotillon. The music is in duple time and, according to Francine Lancelot in La Belle Dance, it is very similar to a gavotte. The musical structure is AABACAA. The choreographic structure has ‘verses’ and a repeated ‘chorus’. The step sequence for the opening section is used again for the third and fourth A repeats, although the direction of travel and the floor pattern is varied each time. This, of course, is the collection in which Dezais advertises his manuscript versions of contredanses for eight, two of which (Le Cotillon de Surenne and L’Esprit Follet) were finally printed in 1725. Although it is not mentioned, was the Cotillon Hongrois another dance that significantly predated its appearance in the Premier livre?

There may, perhaps, be a specific reason for the name La Transilvanie. Before the accession of Charles VI in 1711, the Prince of Transylvania had been Francis II Rácóczi. He led an unsuccessful uprising in Hungary in the early 1700s, with initial encouragement from the French. Between 1713 and 1717 he was in exile in France. Was La Transilvanie dedicated to him? Does the Cotillon Hongrois date to the mid-1710s rather than the mid-1720s and does it refer to Rácóczi and his exploits in Hungary?

Adám Mányoki. Francis II Rákoczi. 1724

Adám Mányoki. Francis II Rákoczi. 1724

A portrait of Rákoczi shows him in dress similar to a hussar. Did this depiction influence the Hungarian dances that were popular on the London stage in the 1720s and 1730s? I will look at these in a separate post.