Tag Archives: Entr’acte Dances

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.

THE MILLER’S DANCE

In my post exploring who may have performed the Cyclops in John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus, I promised to take a closer look at the Miller’s Dance occasionally given among the entr’acte entertainments in London’s theatres. Apart from trying to shed more light on the performances within Weaver’s dance drama, I’ll investigate whether it is possible to get some idea of the dancing within those pieces for which we know little other than the title and names of the performers.

Dances with the word ‘Miller’ in the title were given on the London stage from at least the first decade of the 18th century into the 1760s. For reasons as yet unclear (but probably to do with individual performers), they seem to have disappeared from the repertoire between the mid-1710s and early 1720s and for most of the 1730s. In this post, I will concentrate on the earliest period – from around 1703-1704 to 1715-1716. These are the dances in which some of the ‘Comedians’ who may have danced the Cyclops appeared.

The earliest Miller’s Dance recorded in advertisements is a solo given by William Pinkethman at Drury Lane on 5 June 1704, which he repeated on 10 August. There is nothing to indicate the music or the nature of the dance. A few seasons later, on 26 December 1707 also at Drury Lane, the advertisement specified that the dancing would include ‘an old English Dance call’d, Miller’s Dance’. This might suggest the use of a familiar tune and could, perhaps, link the dance to Miller’s Jig first published in the 7th edition of John Playford’s The Dancing Master in 1686. This tune appeared in every subsequent edition up to the 18th around 1728, so it must have been well known. Only three dancers were billed in the entr’actes that evening, so it seems the Miller’s Dance couldn’t have been a country dance. It is possible that Pinkethman reprised his solo, since he gave an ‘Equi-vocal Epilogue after the old English manner’ for the main play that same evening.

During the 1709-1710 season there were, ostensibly, three different versions of the Miller’s Dance at Drury Lane. On 25 March 1710, Leigh and Prince performed a Miller’s Dance which they repeated at least once, on 23 May. On 12 April, Leigh and Birkhead danced Miller and his Wife. Was the Miller’s Dance given on 25 April by unnamed performers performed by Leigh and Prince or Leigh and Birkhead? The Miller and his Wife was given at the Greenwich theatre in 1710-1711 and 1711-1712, when the company included Leigh. This dance may well have been the same as the one he performed with Birkhead.

The third dance was the Whimsical Dance between a Miller, his Wife, and a Town Miss, first given at Pinkethman’s Greenwich theatre on 5 August 1710 and repeated at five more performances before the end of the summer season there. The only performer billed for this trio was Leigh as the Miller’s Wife. In 1714-1715 and again in 1715-1716 a Miller’s Dance was given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields by James Spiller, his wife Elizabeth and Leigh. Could this have been the Whimsical Dance of a few years earlier? Elizabeth Spiller performed with the Greenwich company in 1709-1710 and her husband may well have done so too. The title Whimsical Dance between a Miller, his Wife, and a Town Miss suggests some characterisation and comic action, including the low comedy associated with a cross-dressed Miller’s Wife. Spiller was adept at playing old men (in 1710 he was, apparently, only 18) and he presumably danced the Miller. Hogarth’s benefit ticket shows him some 10 years later.

Spiller Benefit Hogarth

William Hogarth. Benefit ticket for James Spiller [London, 1720] © British Museum

Despite these clues, there is no way of knowing what any of these Miller’s Dances were like. No music survives for any of them. The dancing would surely have been the antithesis of la belle danse, although it is unlikely to have had its own vocabulary of steps.

How did audiences recognise that it was a ‘Miller’s Dance’? Was the advertisement of the title in the evening’s bill enough? Was the dance familiar from earlier (but unrecorded) performances? Were there very obvious mimed actions? Did the music provide a strong clue? The dance is likely to have been performed against whatever scenery was in place for that evening’s play, which might even have conflicted with the piece on offer. There are many things we simply don’t know about entr’acte dancing on the London stage in the 18th century.