Tag Archives: Cotillion

What’s in a date?

Some of the dances in Dezais’s Premier livre de contre-dances may have been created in the early 1720s, but others were probably at least ten years old. In his ‘Avertissement’ at the beginning of the XIII Recueil de danses pour l’année 1715, Dezais wrote:

‘On donne avis qu’il y a un tres grand nombres de Contredanses à huit qui ne sont pas imprimées et qui se vendent écrit à la main: scavoir le Cotillon nouveaux, la Christinne, le Pharaon, la Bœmienne, la Utrech, le Cotillon de Surenne, l’Esprit Follet, et le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie.’

The ‘Avertissement’ reveals the popularity of cotillons in the early 1700s. It also highlights the topicality of some of the dance names. ‘la Utrech’ must surely refer to the Peace of Utrecht, the name given to the several treaties signed in Utrecht during 1713 and 1714 which between them ended the War of the Spanish Succession. Dezais published Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie in his XIIIIe. Recueil de danses pour l’année 1716. Mouret’s opéra-ballet Les Fêtes ou le Triomphe de Thalie was first given at the Paris Opéra in 1714. Le Cotillon de Surenne and L’Esprit Follet must surely be the choreographies published in the 1725 Premier livre de Contre-dances so they were not quite so topical when they finally appeared in print. I will try to unravel the references within the names of both in later posts.

I will resist the temptation to investigate the other dance names in Dezais’s 1715 list. As several dance historians have noted, the names of dances may indicate that they were created some years before being published in notation. The discrepancy in dates (which may not be obvious) can also lead to false conclusions when trying to discover the references within dance names. My suggestions for the dedicatees of Dezais’s  contredanses L’Infante and La Carignan may, or may not, be correct.

What’s in a name?

Many ballroom duets and country dances have distinctive names. These might link the choreographies to their music, to a play, or to a place or a dedicatee. Dance names provide glimpses of the social and cultural milieu within which the dances were performed.

I’ve been looking at the Premier livre de contre-dances published by Dezais in 1725 and I thought it would be interesting to follow up some of the dance names in this collection. At first, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to discover very much but as I pursued my research I began to see links with other areas of my dance history interests – the ballet de cour of Louis XIV, royal and aristocratic dancers and dancing on the London stage, among other topics. I very quickly gathered enough information for several posts.

I’ll look at just a couple of the dance names here, both linked to royalty. L’Infante, the third dance in the collection, is a contredanse for eight with a structure similar to the later cotillon. The name obviously refers to a Spanish princess or Infanta. The French and Spanish royal families intermarried several times during the 17th and 18th centuries. Louis XIV’s mother was a Spanish princess and so was his wife. His successor Louis XV was briefly betrothed to the Spanish infanta Mariana Victoria. She was the daughter of King Philip V, younger brother to Louis’s father the duc de Bourgogne, so the two were first cousins. She arrived in Paris in 1721 to live at the Palais du Louvre until she was old enough for the marriage to take place. The young King was eleven, but his intended bride was only three years old. By 1725, following the King’s serious illness, the King’s ministers had realised they must find a princess who was old enough to be married and quickly provide an heir to the throne. The betrothal with the little Infanta was ended and she was sent back to Spain in March that year. In September 1725, Louis XV married the 22-year-old Polish princess Marie Leszczyńska. Mariana Victoria married the Prince of Brazil, heir to the Portuguese throne, in 1729. Was she the Infanta of Dezais’s contredanse?

Nicolas Largilliere. The Infanta Mariana Victoria. 1724

Nicolas Largilliere. The Infanta Mariana Victoria. 1724

La Carignan, the last dance in the Premier livre, is a minuet for four. The dance’s name links it to the royal house of Savoy. Victor-Amedée of Savoy, prince de Carignan was probably the dedicatee of Pecour’s ballroom duet La Carignan, published by Feuillet in the IIme Recueil de danses de bal pour l’année 1704. Dezais’s contredanse may have honoured another member of the Savoy-Carignan family. Victor-Amedée, his wife Marie-Victoire of Savoy and their children had been resident in France since the late 1710s. Their daughter Anne-Thérèse, born in Paris in 1717, is a possible dedicatee of the 1725 choreography.

These dance names, like many others, were topical, but were dances always created – and named – close to their publication date?


Cotillon Balls in 1769

In 1769, cotillon balls were even more popular than they had been the year before. The earliest advertisement of the year appeared in the Public Advertiser for 27 February 1769.

‘Mr. Noverre’s Ball will be where it was last Year, on Wednesday the First of March. Tickets at Half a Guinea each; to be had only of his Scholars, or at his House in Surry-street in the Strand. … After the Minuets and French Cotillons till Ten o’Clock by Mr. Noverre’s Scholars, there will be a Ball and Refreshments for those Ladies and Gentlemen who Honour him with their Company.’

A later advertisement provided the additional information ‘The Doors to be opened at half an Hour after Six. Minuets to begin at seven precisely’. The time devoted to minuets and cotillons was extended to ten-thirty.

Mr. Noverre was Augustin, younger brother of the famous choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre. Augustin pursued a career as a dancer and dancing master in England, publishing at least two collections of cotillons and other dances. He later moved to Norwich, where he established his son Francis as a leading dancing master. He is one of very few dancers and dancing masters of the period for whom we have a portrait.

Augustin Noverre. Artist Unknown. The portrait was presumably painted while Augustin was working in London.

Augustin Noverre. Artist Unknown. The portrait was presumably painted while Augustin was working in London.

Cotillons are currently enjoying a revival in 21st-century Norwich.

The Public Advertiser for 1 March 1769 repeated Noverre’s notice of his ball. It also advertised ‘Mr. Yates’s Ball’ to be given on 7 March at Haberdashers Hall. Tickets were again half a guinea and ‘After the Minuets and Cotillons are over [these were presumably performed by Mr Yates’s pupils], there will be a Ball for the Ladies and Gentlemen’. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 9 March 1769 advertised ‘the first of the two Nights Subscription for Minuets and Cotillons’ (the date of this event is illegible) at Almack’s, as well as Mr. Prevel’s ball on 15 March which offered the usual pattern of minuets and cotillons by his scholars followed by a ball. The ladies and gentlemen who attended the latter ‘(tho’ they are not his scholars) may dance the minuet, country dances, and cotillons, if they chuse it’. There seem to have been some well-established conventions surrounding these events.

Gallini’s turn came a little later. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 16 March 1769 announced:

‘Mr. Gallini’s Annual Ball … at Almack’s Assembly-Room, in King-street, St. James’s square, on Friday the 7th of April. After his scholars have danced Minuets, Cotillons and Allemandes, the company in general may dance Country-dances and Cotillons.’

These events seem to have been intended to recommend the dancing master’s teaching through the performances of his scholars. The minuets at such balls were apparently a showpiece for well-drilled pupils. The ‘company in general’ were expected to do no more than watch a sequence of these exacting duets, before they enjoyed the easier dances.

As spring advanced, the pleasure gardens began to offer their entertainments. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 8 May carried advertisements from both Vauxhall Gardens and Ranelagh. On 10 May, Vauxhall was to offer ‘A Ridotto al Fresco, (for one night only) to consist of Grand Illuminations, Extraordinary Decorations, a Concert, and a Ball’. Three different spaces were allotted for dancing, with one room devoted to cotillons. On 12 May, at Ranelagh there would be ‘A Jubilee Ridotto, or Bal Pare. … besides the usual entertainments, there will be country dances and cotillons’. The new contredanses françaises were indispensible not only at balls, but also at London’s most fashionable amusement venues.

Unfortunately, a report in the St James’s Chronicle for 9-11 May 1769 revealed that at Vauxhall ‘The Place was so crowded, that no Ladies of Condition chose to dance, … Some few Cotillons however were danced in the Princes Room’. Would-be dancers may have fared better at Ranelagh where, according to the London Chronicle for 11-13 May 1769, despite the ‘exceedingly numerous’ participants and a great variety of other attractions ‘The company also danced country dances and cotillions’.

The newspapers for this year record many other balls, in provincial cities as well as in London. However, the craze for cotillons is tellingly underlined by an advertisement of a different sort.

St James’s Chronicle, 1-3 August 1769.

St James’s Chronicle, 1-3 August 1769.

Did this satire ever appear (if indeed the notice is not a spoof, or a reference to another form of entertainment)? I have not yet been able to track down a copy.


The Cotillon Ball

As I explained in earlier posts, the cotillon may have been introduced to London in the mid-1760s by Giovanni-Andrea Gallini. His ‘collection of cotillons or French dances’ was probably first published in 1765. By 1768, the cotillon had become the first-ever dance craze. Newspaper advertisements during that year show that these contredanses françaises were central to the balls and assemblies organised by some of the biggest names in London entertainments for the beau monde.

The St James’s Chronicle for 16-18 February 1768 included a poem satirising this ultra-fashionable dance.

St James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, 16-18 February 1768, from ‘Poets Corner’.

St James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, 16-18 February 1768, from ‘Poets Corner’.

This was one of many such jibes – a sure indication of the dance’s overwhelming popularity.

The first to advertise a cotillon event that year was Teresa Cornelys at Carlisle House in Soho Square, famous for its masquerades and other lavish entertainments. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 8 March 1768 reported:

‘On account of the Royal Family, Nobility, and Gentry, now universally dancing the Cotillons, which are very elegant French country dances lately introduced into the gay and fashionable world, at all their assemblies, a very polite and brilliant company is expected to-morrow at the Annual Assembly in Soho-square … in order to be spectators of, or parties in, these celebrated dances.’

Some weeks later, in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 26 April 1768, Gallini advertised cotillons at his own event:

‘By Desire, Mr. Gallini’s Ball (by subscription) will be at Haberdashers Hall, Maiden lane (for one night only) on Wednesday the 11th of May, where the new Cotillons Allemande will be performed.’

Tickets were half a guinea each (around 52 pence, equivalent to at least £55 today). Gallini had already held at least one ball that year. Although the advertisements for his ball on 23 March 1768, like those for previous years, made no specific mention of the cotillon, Gallini did promise ‘great Variety’ of dances. He may, of course, have been including cotillons in his balls even before the publication of his collection but only felt the need to advertise them when faced with competition.

Over the next few years, the cotillon ball remained very popular. I will pursue this phenomenon a little further in a later post.

Dancing the cotillon: the allemande step

In his A Second Book of Cotillons or French Dances (1768), Gherardi lists the steps and then adds ‘And the steps necessary for the Country Dance in Allemande’. He says nothing more. Similarly, he says nothing about the steps in his collection Twelve New Allemandes, probably published in 1769, despite claiming to include ‘Instructions and Advice respecting the Allemandes’. Instead, he tantalisingly refers to ‘Boiteuse’, ‘Troteuse’ and ‘Sauteuse’ allemandes. His omissions were probably deliberate. On the title page of his Twelve New Allemandes, Gherardi made clear that the collection was aimed at the scholars of his Academy, who would of course be taught the necessary steps for a fee.

I don’t really know my way around the dance collections and treatises of the later 18th century, so it took me a while to track down descriptions of the allemande steps even with the help of modern studies of this dance. I couldn’t find them in La Cuisse’s Le Repertoire des bals, although he explains the steps suitable for cotillons in volume one (1762) and in the ‘Avertisement’ to volume three (1765) he talks about the growing popularity of the allemande and the necessity of learning the steps that go with it.

Guillaume, in his Almanach dansant ou positions et attitudes de l’allemande, published in 1770 and dealing with the duet, describes two different steps for use in the dance and explains how he teaches the step.

‘Le vrai Pas pour l’Allemande ordinaire ou de deux quatre, se fait par une espece de Pas de bourée-jetté, & marque trois tems.

Je leur fais faire un petit jetté à la quatrieme position sur le pied droit, le gauche marque le deuxieme tems en se rapprochant du droit à la troisieme, & le droit se détache en avant entre la troisieme & quatrieme. Les genoux pliés pour recommencer le jetté sur la jambe gauche. Ce Pas se fait de la même maniere de côté & en arriere; & pour lui donner plus d’agrément, on peut faire une petite ouverture de jambes en faisant le jetté, la pointe bien en dehors & le cou du pied tendu.’

Guillaume continues:

‘L’autre Pas, … en trois huit, se fait en posant la pointe du pied droit & sautant dessus, ce qui forme deux tems, ensuite la même chose du pied gauche, soit en avant soit en arriere: ce qu’on appelle balancers dans les Danses Allemandes, n’est autre chose qu’un Pas en avant, & un autre en arriere sans quitter sa place, ou un de côté à droite, & un autre à gauche.’

The only other description of an allemande step I was able to locate comes from the 1776 Supplement to the famous French Encyclopédie, in the entry for ‘Contredanse’.

‘Cette danse [the allemande] n’admet qu’une seule espece de pas boiteuse, formé par un plié & deux pas marchés.’

Was this the step to which Gherardi was referring with his allemande ‘Boiteuse’?

Dancing the cotillon: Villeneuve’s steps

Like Gherardi, Villeneuve simply provides a list of the steps to be used for the dances in his A Collection of Cotillons.

The Balance

The Pirouette

The Rigadoon Step

The Double Chasse forwards and backwards

Contretems forwards, backwards, and in turning

The Glissades to the Right and Left

The Sissoons forwards and backwards

Four of Villeneuve’s steps are among those described by Gallini: the balance; the pirouette; the rigaudon; and the contretems. Gherardi includes glissades within his step sequences. Villeneuve’s double chasse is presumably Gherardi’s chassé double included among the figures in his Second Book of Cotillons. By ‘Sissoons’, Villeneuve must mean pas de sissonne. These are not mentioned by either Gallini or Gherardi.

Between them, Gallini, Gherardi and Villeneuve suggest around a dozen steps to be used in cotillons. All are familiar from the early 18th-century treatises that set out the style, technique and step vocabulary of ‘French’ dancing or la belle danse. However, it was for the dancing masters (and perhaps the dancers as well) to decide how and when to use these steps in individual cotillons.

Dezais, Premier Livre de Contre-Dances: a closer look

I have been curious about the choreography for La Blonde and La Brunne for a long time, because a dance with much the same name was performed on the London stage in the early 1730s. Before I pursue that dance, I want to take a closer look at the Premier Livre de Contre-Dances published by Dezais in 1725. Unfortunately, the collection seems to have been unknown to the dance historians and musicologists who have done such valuable work on the dance notations surviving from the 18th century. So far as I can tell, nothing has been published on it and few concordances for the tunes have so far been identified.

The collection helps to fill a gap in the history of the cotillon, between Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie published by Dezais in 1716 and the 1762 Le Repertoire des Bals by De la Cuisse. There must have been many cotillons danced between those two dates, but the interruption in the publication of notated dances means that they were never recorded in print.

Among the dances in the Premier Livre, the following have the ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure familiar from the later cotillons (although the first two are for four and not eight dancers):

Cotillon Hongrois



Cotillon de Surenne

L’Esprit Follet

All are recorded in a way that shows their structure explicitly, i.e. the ‘Figure’ is notated in full the first time round and the successive repeats are merely noted after each ‘Change’. I haven’t gone so far as to analyse the choreographies for these dances, but such work would undoubtedly shed light on the early development of the cotillon.

The other dances in the collection – La Blonde, La Brunne, L’Ecossoise and La Carignan – are also worth closer investigation. L’Ecossoise is for six, four men and two women (although Dezais says in his Avertissement ‘qu’a la place de 4.  hōmes et 2. fēmes que l’on peut mettre quatre femmes et 2. hommes’.  How unusual are those line-ups among the surviving dances? La Carignan is one of several minuets ‘à quatre’, choreographies worth considering as a group.

There is much to learn from the Dezais Premier Livre de Contre-Dances.