Tag Archives: Drury Lane Theatre

Dancing in London’s Theatres, the 1725-1726 season

Since October 2020, I have written more than 15,600 words in a total of twelve posts devoted to dancing in London’s theatres during the season of 1725-1726. This survey covered the capital’s four theatres, who gave nearly 460 performances between them. No dancing was advertised at the King’s Theatre, while both Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields billed entr’acte dancing at about half of their performances. Drury Lane offered afterpieces with dancing about 25% of the time and Lincoln’s Inn Fields did the same at nearly 45% of its performances. There was little overlap between entr’acte dancing and afterpieces – bills at Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields generally included either one or the other, but rarely both – so at least 70% of that season’s bills (other than at the King’s Theatre) must have had some sort of dancing. That amounts to more than 330 performances.

So much dancing called for a group of specialist dancers at London’s two theatres royal. Drury Lane had thirteen dancers (seven men and six women), while Lincoln’s Inn Fields had sixteen (nine men and seven women). Among the women, several were also actresses (Drury Lane’s leading dancer, Hester Booth, was also one of the company’s leading actresses). At both playhouses, these dancers formed a company within the theatre company which brought together performers with different backgrounds as well as of various ages and experience. Several seem to have had quite extensive training in the French serious style (several more did not) and some had skills in speciality dance techniques. All the dancers, in both companies, seem to have been expected to dance in a range of styles and genres. Far more research is needed into the careers and repertoires of both leading and supporting dancers at this period to help us to understand how dancers were recruited and deployed. Such knowledge is closely linked to any attempt to analyse the repertory of dances at the two theatres.

This season, as in many others during the late 17th and 18th centuries, there were a number of French dancers on the London stage. Some, like Marie Sallé at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, were ‘guest artists’ while others, like her brother Francis and Monsieur Roger at Drury Lane, became members of the theatre’s dance company. Attention has been focussed on visitors from the Paris Opéra, but dancers from the Opéra Comique and the Paris fairs (the forains) were equally if not more influential. ‘French’ dance on the London stage is another topic that awaits detailed research and analysis.

As explained in my earlier pieces, 28 entr’acte dances were given at Drury Lane and 43 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The majority of these were duets. There seem to have been around eight choreographies which (on the evidence of their titles) were performed at both playhouses. The lack of music as well as other sources makes it difficult to distinguish between dances with the same, similar or otherwise related titles. A study over a longer period than a single season might help us to resolve some of these queries, as well as providing insights into the entr’acte dance repertoire at each of the two patent theatres.

Even this one season of 1725-1726 gives us some clues about the popularity of individual dances. For example, many of the duets given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields were, or would become, staples of the repertoire with stage lives extending over many seasons. The same was true at Drury Lane, although to a lesser extent. It is difficult to assign many of these dances to a single, specific genre, although the editors of The London Stage made an attempt at a list of categories (Introduction to Part Two, pp. cxxxiii – cxxxv) and so did I in chapter three of my PhD thesis ‘Art and Nature Join’d: Hester Santlow and the Development of Dancing on the London Stage, 1700-1737’ (2000). I won’t set out details of these categorisations here, although I make some use of them in what follows.

At Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1725-1726, the most popular dances fall into the ‘National’ genre – French, Dutch, Irish and Spanish foremost among them. Many of these dances overlap with the ‘Character’ genre, dances performed by particular character types of which the most popular were Peasants. The ‘National’ dances were followed quite closely by choregraphies titled according to their dance type – Passacaille, Chacone, Saraband, Minuet, and so on. There were, relatively speaking, few dances linked to commedia dell’arte characters, who were being steadily absorbed into the pantomime afterpieces, and not as many ‘Pastoral’ dances as might be expected although the longevity of group dances like Myrtillo and Le Badinage Champetre (which was new in 1725-1726) suggest that over time the hierarchy of popular dances might look different. There is also the question of the number of performances enjoyed by each entr’acte dance, which might change the pecking order. One factor, which needs detailed research, is the influence of the dancers themselves (more specifically the dancer-choreographers) over their own and their theatre’s repertoire. And, there were the theatre managers who had the final say on each evening’s bill. John Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields is known to have favoured dance, while at Drury Lane Colley Cibber, Robert Wilks and Barton Booth thought it detracted from the serious drama.

All but one of the afterpieces with dancing given at the two theatres royal this season were pantomimes, still a new and emerging genre. These brought together comic and serious dancing, by commedia dell’arte characters and figures from classical mythology, in productions that made full use of scenes, machines, tricks and transformations to entertain and amaze audiences. In 1725-1726, Drury Lane revived three pantomimes that had been successful in earlier seasons, notably Harlequin Doctor Faustus, while Lincoln’s Inn Fields revived five (including The Necromancer) and put on one new production. Drury Lane used dancers for the serious plots in its pantomimes, while Lincoln’s Inn Fields preferred singers. The Lincoln’s Inn Fields Apollo and Daphne was an exception to this rule, since it responded to the Drury Lane pantomime of the same name by casting Francis and Marie Sallé in the title roles. Both versions of Apollo and Daphne seem to have had affinities with John Weaver’s earlier dramatic entertainments of dancing – a link that remains largely unexplored, although the lack of detailed evidence about these pantomimes makes this difficult.

How much time was devoted to dancing each evening? Entr’acte dances must have varied in length, but one or two minutes is a reasonable average for solos and duets while group dances might take five or six minutes (or longer in those cases where there was a narrative thread to the choreography). So, the entr’acte dances might take up ten to fifteen minutes in an evening, more or less. Pantomimes are thought to have lasted around 40 minutes altogether, with varying amounts of comic and serious dancing depending on the production. Around fifteen to twenty minutes of actual dancing might be a reasonable guess. This is another area that needs research and analysis.

The 1725-1726 season fell within a pivotal period for dancing on the London stage. Pantomimes had just begun their long reign, dancers from France were bringing new choreographies that would be influential as the dancing in London’s theatres changed. Throughout the 18th century dancing was an integral and far from negligible part of most performances in London’s principal theatres, yet, in the absence of surviving choreographies and even their music, it remains intangible and unintelligible to all but those dance historians specialising in the period. I hope that this will change as more research is done.

I have still to look at the dancing at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, which I will do in a separate piece by way of an epilogue to this lengthy investigation.

Season of 1725-1726: Shared Entr’acte Duets at Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields

In the entr’actes, duets were far more popular than group or solo dances during 1725-1726. At Drury Lane 13 were given, while at Lincoln’s Inn Fields there were 22. The following duet titles were advertised at both theatres:

Polonese

Dutch Skipper

Pastoral

Saraband

Minuet

Peasants

I will begin with these shared dance titles and go on to the other duets at each of the theatres in later posts.

The Polonese was performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 1 October 1725 by Lally and Mrs Wall and then at Drury Lane on 25 November 1725 by Rainton and Miss Robinson. This duet had been advertised for the first time at Drury Lane in 1724-1725, where Rainton and Miss Robinson danced it on 18 March 1725 followed by Lally and Mrs Wall on 20 April. This duet would last for several seasons. The title must surely mean ‘Polonaise’ – perhaps prompted by the forthcoming marriage of the French King Louis XV to the Polish Princess Maria Leszcynska on 5 September 1725 (N.S.).

The Dutch Skipper was given on 21 April 1726 by Thurmond Junior and Miss Tenoe, for the shared benefit of Rainton. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields it was performed by Pelling and Mrs Ogden on 24 June. Although ‘Dutch’ dances can be traced back to the 17th century in London, the earliest known billing of the Dutch Skipper was 7 June 1704, when Philippe Du Ruel danced it with his wife at Drury Lane. The duet quickly entered the repertoire and, following the opening of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1714, was regularly performed in the entr’actes at both playhouses. It was usually a duet for a man and a woman, but was sometimes danced by two men or even two women. It was also occasionally danced as a solo – in 1725-1726 it was so performed at Drury Lane by Sandham (or perhaps his son). Music for the Dutch Skipper, sometimes called ‘Du Ruel’s Dutch Skipper’ survives in several sources, none of them earlier than the second decade of the 18th century. This version comes from the Lady’s Banquet, 3d Book, published around 1732 (although an earlier edition, which does not survive, was dated 1720):

Lambranzi depicts a Dutch sailor and his wife in part 2 of his Neue und curieuse theatrialisches Tantz-Schul, who might provide a clue to the costuming of the Dutch Skipper dances on the London stage.

Although the solo Dutch Skipper was usually performed by speciality dancers, the duet was often given by those who also performed a belle danse repertoire suggesting that it was not simply a comic-grotesque number.

A Pastoral duet was danced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 29 September 1725 by Lally and Mrs Wall and on 5 January 1726 by Le Sac and Miss La Tour, who performed it several times before the end of the season. During the Lincoln’s Inn Fields summer season, the Pastoral was taken up by Burny and Mrs Anderson. At Drury Lane, a Pastoral duet was first given by Boval and Mrs Brett on 3 May 1726 and then taken up at later performances by Michael Lally and Mrs Walter. Were all these duets the same or different choreographies, or were they perhaps variations around a shared choreographic theme? The first Pastoral to be advertised on the London stage was a solo by Miss Schoolding at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1717-1718, while the duet was first given in a version danced by Delagarde’s two sons in 1718-1719. It is possible that, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields at least, the choreography for the 1725-1726 duets derived from the Pastoral performed by Glover and Mrs Wall in 1723-1724. Glover was also the lead dancer in a group Pastoral Dance given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1726-1727, so he may have been the choreographer of both versions. Without music, it is difficult to have much idea of what these dances were like – although we could, perhaps, look to Myrtillo for clues.

The Saraband and Minuet are well-known as dance types and at Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields both were performed at benefit performances as duets. In 1725-1726 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Glover and Mrs Laguerre danced a ‘Saraband and Minuet’ together for the benefit she shared with her husband the actor-singer John Laguerre on 14 April 1726. At Drury Lane, Boval and Mrs Brett danced the same combination at her shared benefit on 6 May 1726. As a duet, the Saraband seems to have reached the entr’actes only in 1723-1724, although it had been danced as a solo from at least 1713-1714. Similarly, the solo entra’cte Minuet dates back to at least the first decade of the 18th century. It made its first entr’acte appearance as a duet with Glover and Mrs Laguerre in 1725-1726 – also the first time that a Saraband and Minuet were billed together. The Minuet was also given with other ‘Ball Dances’, although it was rarely performed in the entr’actes other than for benefits. I give more information about both dances in my earlier posts about the Saraband and the Minuet on the London stage.

The other duet performed at both playhouses was Peasants, which might perhaps be classified as the opposite to the Pastoral duet. ‘Peasant’ dances were very popular and I included them in my post The Most Popular Entr’acte Dances on the London Stage, 1700-1760. One of the issues in 1725-1726, as in other seasons, is whether the dances variously billed as French Peasants and Peasants are actually the same dance. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a Peasants duet was given by Nivelon and Mrs Bullock on 19 October 1725 when he had danced a French Peasant with Mrs Laguerre on 29 September. At Drury Lane, Sandham’s children danced Peasants on 25 May 1726 (there was no entra’cte French Peasants duet there that season). Peasants duets apparently entered the entr’acte repertoire a decade later than French Peasants, in the 1710s. The first such duet to be advertised was danced by Shaw and Mrs Younger at Drury Lane in 1718-1719. Again, without music it is difficult to know what such dances might have been like, although I suspect that they were similar in many respects to the French Peasant dances, for which both music and choreography may be found in French sources.

In my next post I will look at the other duets given at Drury Lane.

Season of 1725-1726: Entr’acte Dances at Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields

In my first post about dancing on the London stage during the 1725-1726 season, I provided some statistics for the number of entr’acte dances performed in the theatres. At Drury Lane there were 28 dances in all – 4 group dances, 1 trio, 13 duets and 10 solos. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields there were 43 entr’acte dances – 7 group dances, 2 trios, 22 duets and 12 solos. I should qualify this set of figures immediately by noting that 5 dances – 1 trio, 3 duets and 1 solo – were given only during the Lincoln’s Inn Fields summer season. Nevertheless, the disparity between the two theatres is interesting since Drury Lane had 91 performances with entr’acte dancing billed, whereas (excluding its summer season) Lincoln’s Inn Fields had 81.

As with the dancers, the figures are not quite accurate, although it is probably next to impossible to be sure exactly what dances were performed. At Drury Lane, Roger danced a solo Peasant, a solo Drunken Peasant and a solo French Peasant. Were these all different choreographies? Were all (or perhaps two) of them the same dance, but performed differently according to the various characters depicted? At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Nivelon gave both a solo Wooden Shoe Dance and a solo Wooden Shoe Dance in the Character of a Clown. Were these actually the same choreography? There were also two Shepherd and Shepherdess duets given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields during the course of the season, one by Francis and Marie Sallé and the other, titled Shepherd and Shepherdess representing Acis and Galatea, by Le Sac and Miss La Tour. I think that these had different music and different choreographies (which may, however, have been related in terms of steps, figures and even choreographic motifs). The duet by Le Sac and Miss La Tour may have used music by Handel, whose Acis and Galatea had first been performed some years previously, although it would not reach the London stage (in a revised version) until 1731. The duet was performed at their joint benefit on 11 May 1726, when Miss La Tour also played a ‘Set of Mr Hendel’s Lessons’ on the harpsichord as an entr’acte entertainment. It seems likely that the Sallés danced to music from a French opera. I also made a mistake when I included the new Dance of Slaves advertised on 25 October 1725 among the entr’acte dances. When I took another look, I concluded that it was probably danced within Oroonoko which was the mainpiece that evening.

There is an overlap in the dance titles advertised at the two theatres, suggesting a common source for some dances and perhaps shared music, if not similar choreographies. Here are those titles.

Myrtillo, a group dance

Polonese, a duet

Dutch Skipper, a duet

Pastoral, a duet

Saraband, a duet

Minuet, a duet

Peasants, a duet

Spanish Entry / Spanish Dance, a solo

I will use these dances as the starting point to look more closely at the repertoire of entr’acte dances given at Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1725-1726. I will deal with each of the dance types – group (including trios), duet and solo – in separate posts. Curiously, there is quite a lot we can discover (and that I can say) about them, even though we cannot reach the actual choreographies.

Season of 1725-1726: Dancers at Drury Lane

In my first post devoted to the 1725-1726 season on the London stage, I gave the number of dancers billed in the entr’actes at the Drury Lane Theatre as 19 (12 men and 7 women). Further research has shown that these numbers were not correct and also revealed some of the problems with the information in both The London Stage, 1660-1800 and the Biographical Dictionary of Actors, which were my principal sources. (I provide full references for these at the end of this post).

For the total number of dancers who appeared in the entr’actes, I first read through the calendar of performances for the season noting down the names as they appeared. When I went back to check the number of entr’acte appearances by each of those dancers, I discovered that some of them were billed only once. The Topham advertised only on 25 September 1725 is identified by the Biographical Dictionary as John Topham, although he may equally well have been his brother H. Topham. In any case, his single performance shows that he was not a regular member of the Drury Lane company in 1725-1726. The ‘Cheshire Boy’ was billed only on 6 January 1726 and his performance record over the seasons suggest that he was an occasional ‘guest artist’ and not a member of the Drury Lane company in this or other seasons. Sandham, who was billed for a single entr’acte appearance on 5 May 1726, may or may not have been the father of the two Sandham children who performed on a number of occasions (the billing may instead have referred to ‘Master Sandham’, his son, but I am not sure). The London Stage also records Nivelon as dancing a Drunken Peasant on 3 November 1725, but the advertisement in the Daily Courant for that day clearly records the performer as Monsieur Roger.

There was also the puzzle of two dancers, one named Rainton and the other Young Rainton. The Biographical Dictionary records them as two different individuals. However, a comparison of their respective dance repertoires in 1725-1726 as well as checks on the original newspaper advertisements show that they were one and the same.

So far as I can tell, the following dancers appeared at Drury Lane throughout the 1725-1726 season, in both the entr’actes and the pantomime afterpieces:

Rainton

Thurmond Jr

Roger

Lally

Boval

Duplessis

Haughton

Miss Tenoe

Miss Robinson

Mrs Booth

Mrs Walter

Mrs Brett

Miss Lindar

 Thus, there were 13 entr’acte dancers (7 men and 6 women), together with two children – Sandham’s son and daughter – making 15 in all. The adults formed a ‘company within the company’, although that concept is not entirely straightforward. Among the women four also took acting roles (one additionally sang), while the men were all first and foremost dancers.

It is possible to characterise the members of this ‘company’ more precisely, through the number of their appearances and their repertoire. Among the men, Rainton appeared most often (52 entr’acte billings) followed by Boval (49), Thurmond Jr (41), Roger (38), Lally (33), Duplessis (22) and Haughton (20). Among the women, Miss Robinson was the busiest (61 entr’acte billings), followed by Miss Tenoe (47), Mrs Brett (45), Mrs Booth (35), Mrs Walter (24) and Miss Lindar (13). Sandham’s son and daughter made 8 and 6 entr’acte appearances respectively.

The individual repertoires performed by these dancers provide a different perspective. Among the men, Roger and Boval performed the most choreographies – Roger appeared in 3 solos, 1 duet and 3 group dances, while Boval danced 4 duets and 3 group dances. Duplessis and Haughton had the narrowest repertoires with 1 trio and 2 group dances each. Miss Robinson had the most extensive entr’acte repertoire of the women, with 3 solos and 4 duets, while (at the other extreme) Miss Lindar appeared in only 1 group dance. These figures point to dancers at different stages of their careers as well as of varying status within the dance ‘company’. It is worth pointing out that Mrs Booth was also one of Drury Lane’s leading actresses and played 21 principal acting roles during 1725-1726. Miss Tenoe also did a lot of acting, taking 15 supporting roles during the season.

Every one of the 13 entr’acte dances also took roles in Drury Lane’s popular pantomime afterpieces. It is with these productions that the status of individual dancers emerges. All three of Drury Lane’s 1725-1726 pantomimes – The Escapes of Harlequin, Harlequin Doctor Faustus and Apollo and Daphne – had been created by John Thurmond Jr. The title roles in Apollo and Daphne were danced by him and Mrs Booth. Roger was Harlequin in both The Escapes of Harlequin and Harlequin Doctor Faustus, appearing in Apollo and Daphne as both Pierrot and, in the pantomime’s concluding ballet, a Rival Swain. Two of that season’s popular group dances, La Folete and Le Badinage Champetre, were created by Roger. It is possible that both he and Thurmond Jr acted as dancing masters to the Drury Lane company.

Rainton and Miss Robinson enjoyed a dance partnership this season and seem to have been the young, up-and-coming stars. Lally, Boval, Duplessis and Haughton, like Miss Tenoe, Mrs Walter, Mrs Brett and Miss Lindar, were essentially supporting dancers in both the entr’actes and afterpieces. The two Sandham children were really a popular speciality act, although their repertoire drew on the same dances as adult performers.

Apart from the frustration of not really knowing what any of the dances performed on the London stage at this period were like, there is also the disappointment of having no portraits of all but a very few of the dancers. Even leading dancers could rarely afford the services of a portrait painter. Among the dancers at Drury Lane in 1725-1726 we have portraits of only one – Hester Booth, the company’s star ballerina and leading actress. Here she is in the familiar Harlequin portrait and portrayed in more classical guise.

In my next post, I will look more closely at the dancers who appeared in the entr’actes and afterpieces at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1725-1726.

References

For those who might be interested, the full references for The London Stage (the volume that I used for this post) and the Biographical Dictionary of Actors are as follows:

The London Stage, 1660-1800. Part 2: 1700-1729, ed. Emmett L. Avery (Carbondale, Ill., 1960)

A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel, 1660-1800, ed. Philip H. Highfill Jr, Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans. 16 vols (Carbondale, Ill., 1973-1993)

A Season of Dancing: 1725-1726

I have written quite a number of posts on individual dances or groups of dances performed on the London stage during the 18th century. I thought it would be interesting to look in detail at just one season, to get a more rounded view of dancing in London’s theatres. I have chosen, not quite at random, 1725-1726. London’s theatre seasons ran from September to the following June and during the earlier 1700s there were often summer seasons at one or more of the playhouses that extended into July or August. The information I will set out is mostly taken from the calendar of performances provided by The London Stage, 1660-1800.

In 1725-1726, London had four theatres offering stage performances. Chief among them were the Theatres Royal in Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Only they were allowed to present serious drama, under the patents granted by King Charles II following his restoration in 1660. Drury Lane is shown on the left and Lincoln’s Inn Fields on the right, both depictions are later than the period I am looking at.

Although there is an illustration of the Drury Lane auditorium, following the changes made for David Garrick by Robert Adam later in the 18th century, there is no such image for Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The Little Theatre in the Haymarket presented a variety of entertainments even though it was, to all intents and purposes, unlicensed. The King’s Theatre, also in the Haymarket and almost opposite the Little Theatre, was London’s opera house. The Little Theatre is on the left and the King’s Theatre is on the right. Again, both images are later.

The following images show the auditoriums of both theatres. The Little Theatre is on the left (this image is much later) and the King’s Theatre on the right (this image is dated 1724 and shows a masquerade in progress).

It is interesting to note that the present Drury Lane Theatre occupies the same site as its much smaller predecessor, while today’s Theatre Royal Haymarket is right next to the site of the Little Theatre. Her Majesty’s Theatre is where the King’s Theatre once stood. The Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre has entirely disappeared – it was finally demolished to make way for the Royal College of Surgeons of England in the early 19th century – but its successor is the Royal Opera House, on the same site as the new Covent Garden Theatre built for the Lincoln’s Inn Fields company in 1732.

The 1725-1726 season opened at Drury Lane on 4 September 1725 and closed at the King’s Theatre on 7 June 1726. There was also a summer season at Lincoln’s Inn Fields which ran from 17 June to 23 August 1726. Apart from two isolated performances in December 1725 and February 1726, the Haymarket Theatre hosted a company of French players from 24 March to 7 May 1726. In total, there were 186 performances at Drury Lane, 193 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (including the 16 performances of the summer season), 53 at the King’s Theatre and 25 at the Haymarket Theatre.

At this period much of the dancing was given in the entr’actes and in the newly popular pantomime afterpieces. A little straightforward statistical analysis provides an indication of the amount of dancing at the various theatres. At Drury Lane, 91 performances (around 49%) included entr’acte dancing and 44 (about 24%) included afterpieces with dancing. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields there were 97 performances with entr’acte dances (around 50%, although every performance during the summer season had dancing) and 85 (around 44%) included afterpieces with dancing. At both houses far less music was advertised explicitly in the entr’actes, but there would have been a great deal of music associated with the performance in general as well as in the plays and afterpieces – this was taken for granted and not mentioned in the bills. About 13% of performances at Drury Lane and 26% at Lincoln’s Inn Fields had entr’acte music advertised. No dancing of any sort was advertised at the King’s Theatre this season. At the Haymarket, the repertoire of commedia dell’arte pieces was quite different from the fare at the other theatres. The distinction between mainpieces and afterpieces, with or without dancing, is not meaningful. Nevertheless, 16 performances (64%) were advertised with entr’acte dancing. Such analyses for individual seasons can be revealing – the patterns that might emerge over longer periods are yet to be investigated.

How many dancers did Drury Lane, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the Haymarket Theatre employ? The short answer is, we don’t really know. It is possible to chart those dancers who performed regularly in the entr’actes, as well as those who appeared in the pantomime afterpieces, but without the company’s accounts (which rarely survive) it is difficult to be sure of their status.  The leading dancers in the afterpieces were usually those who appeared most frequently in the entr’actes and may have formed ‘a company within the company’. However, some of these professional dancers (usually the women) were also actors. The afterpieces also employed minor players within the company as supporting dancers. In 1725-1726, 19 dancers (12 men and 7 women) were billed in the entr’actes at Drury Lane. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there were 21 entr’acte dancers (14 men and 7 women). At the Haymarket Theatre, 11 dancers (7 men and 4 women) were billed in the entr’actes during the short season given by the French comedians. I will come back to all of these dancers in a later post.

Then, there is the repertoire performed in the entr’actes by these dancers. How many and what sort of dances were performed each season in London’s theatres? This is another question which cannot be answered definitively. Dances with similar titles may or may not be the same (a clue sometimes lies in their performers). Dances with the same title but billed as solos or duets may be the same dance (if the billing is obviously inaccurate), or related versions of a dance, or different dances altogether (again a clue might be in the performers). Very occasionally, a dance with a common title might be attributed to a particular dancer, pointing to a specific choreography – although we do not know how much such choreographies made use of conventional elements. With these caveats in mind, I have interpreted the titles of the dances billed in the entr’actes, dividing them into solos, duets, trios and group dances.

At Drury Lane, 28 dances were billed in the entr’actes: 10 solos, 13 duets, one trio and 4 group dances. Only one dance, the Dutch Skipper, was billed as both a duet and a solo. Lincoln’s Inn Fields advertised 43 entr’acte dances: 12 solos, 22 duets, two trios and 7 group dances. At the Little Theatre in the Haymarket there were only 13 entr’acte dances: 2 solos, 3 duets, one trio and 7 group dances. There was, of course, an overlap in titles (and perhaps choreographies, too) between the three theatres. I will return to these dances in a later post.

In 1725-1726, the most significant dancing beyond the entr’actes came in the pantomime afterpieces. There were three pantomimes in repertoire at Drury Lane: The Escapes of Harlequin, Harlequin Doctor Faustus and Apollo and Daphne. All were by John Thurmond Jr and none were new. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, seven afterpieces included dancing – one of these, St. Ceciliae; or The Union of the Three Sister Arts, was a masque and not a pantomime. The Lincoln’s Inn Fields pantomimes were Jupiter and Europa, The Necromancer, Harlequin a Sorcerer, Apollo and Daphne, The Cheats; or, The Tavern Bilkers and The Jealous Doctor. Only Lewis Theobald’s Apollo and Daphne was new. I will return to all these pantomimes in a later post.

There is one final element in this survey of dancing in London’s theatres in 1725-1726. Some 50 to 60 mainpiece plays, or more, were given each season at the two patent theatres. A small number of these included a significant amount of dancing (enough to be mentioned in the bills with the dancers listed) and were performed season after season over many decades. At Drury Lane, Macbeth (Shakespeare’s play, but with significant revisions and additions by Sir William Davenant) and The Tempest (an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by Davenant, Dryden and Thomas Shadwell) were part of the repertoire. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Macbeth (but not The Tempest), The Prophetess, The Island Princess and The Emperor of the Moon were given. In 1725-1726 there was also The Pilgrim, with the group dance The Humours of Bedlam (which I have written about elsewhere). The Capricious Lovers by Gabriel Odingsells was given with ‘proper Dances’ (that is dances within the play) but it did not last beyond three performances. I will continue to look at these mainpieces with dancing in separate blog posts.

As you can see from this brief analysis, dancing formed a significant part of the entertainments given each evening in London’s theatres but it is not straightforward to chart what was danced, when and by whom. It is safe to say, however, that although much of that dancing was very different to what we see today, it influenced many aspects of the enormous range of dance styles we have in the twenty-first century.

MAINPIECES, AFTERPIECES AND JOHN WEAVER’S BALLET

John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus was an afterpiece, an entertainment intended to follow another, longer play on the theatre bill. During its stage life, what did the ballet accompany on the bills and does it matter?

At the first performance on 2 March 1717, The Loves of Mars and Venus was given after Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy, a Jacobean revenge tragedy revived after the Restoration and still popular. At its second performance, the ballet followed Addison’s Cato. This was a new tragedy, first performed in 1713, with a story drawn from classical antiquity. It was a great success at its first performance and would remain in the repertoire for many years. Weaver’s ballet was paired with a different play at each of its seven performances in the 1716-1717 season. Five were tragedies and two comedies. Of the other tragedies, the most noteworthy was Nicholas Rowe’s Tamerlane. First performed in 1701, the play used exotic historical characters to represent the rivalry of William III and Louis XIV. Tamerlane was identified with William III and Rowe’s play was routinely given each year by both playhouses on the 5 November, the anniversary of his landing at Torbay. The other two tragedies were Nathaniel Lee’s Mithridates (1678, another story drawn from classical antiquity), and Otway’s The Orphan (1680). The two comedies were Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem (usually billed simply as The Stratagem), first performed in 1707, and George Villiers’s The Rehearsal, a satirical view of the London stage first performed in 1671. All these plays, tragic and comic, were staples of the London stage.

Do these pairings tell us anything? It is interesting that the majority of the mainpieces were tragedies. This might indicate that Drury Lane’s three actor-managers thought of The Loves of Mars and Venus as a serious piece, albeit a far lighter entertainment than the preceding tragic plays.

Over the period it remained in repertoire, The Loves of Mars and Venus was paired most often with The Maid’s Tragedy, Cato and Tamerlane. I have taken a look at the bills for other performances of those plays between 1715-1716 and 1719-1720 to see if these might tell us more. The Maid’s Tragedy was usually given with entr’acte entertainments – the only afterpiece with which it was billed was Weaver’s ballet. Cato was either billed alone, with entr’acte entertainments or with an afterpiece. Addison’s tragedy was also billed with Weaver’s second dance drama, Orpheus and Eurydice, in both 1717-1718 and 1718-1719. Tamerlane was most often given alone, although it, too, was sometimes accompanied by either entr’acte entertainments or an afterpiece. There is insufficient evidence to provide definite conclusions, but it seems that at Drury Lane the pairing of mainpieces and afterpieces could be by careful choice and that The Loves of Mars and Venus was seen as more than merely a transient amusement.

The ballet disappeared from the repertoire after the 1723-1724 season. The reasons why it was dropped are still to be investigated, but it should be noted that at four of the five performances given in its last season The Loves of Mars and Venus was paired with mainpiece comedies. Only at its last performance was it given with a tragedy, Hildebrand Jacob’s The Fatal Constancy first performed the previous season. Both mainpiece and afterpiece were reviewed in Pasquin for 18 February 1724. The Fatal Constancy was praised as written ‘upon the Model of Antiquity’ and even for ‘the Shortness of the Piece’. The Loves of Mars and Venus may have been added to the bill for both reasons – during its short stage life, The Fatal Constancy was not billed with any other afterpiece. Pasquin condemned The Loves of Mars and Venus for its classical inaccuracy (two-eyed Cyclops) and its lack of dramatic credibility.

Pasquin Loves 1

From Pasquin, 18 February 1724

Does this suggest that Weaver’s serious intentions for his ballet had already been forgotten? Pasquin also revealed that the afterpiece was the victim of economies at the theatre.

Pasquin Loves 2

From Pasquin, 18 February 1724.

By 1724, it seems that Weaver’s innovative ballet had worn out its welcome with Drury Lane’s managers and audience alike.