Tag Archives: Entrechats

Feuillet and the Entrechat

Earlier this year, I wrote a series of posts on pas battus in stage dances for men and women. My starting point was the oft-repeated but questionable statement that Marie Anne Camargo was the first woman to perform an entrechat-quatre on stage (see my post ‘La Camargo and the Entrecht-Quatre’) and my original focus was the use of jumped pas battus in the notated dances of earlier female professional dancers. I also looked at the use of such pas pattus in the stage dances for men, with some interesting results in terms of the choreographic preferences of individual dancing masters. My last such post was a while ago, so here is a reminder of what I have written so far in chronological order of their publication:

‘Stage Dances for Women and Feuillet’s Pas Battus

Pas de Sissonne Battu in Stage Dances for Women’

‘Stage Dances for Women and the Demie Cabriole

‘When is a Changement not a Changement?’

Pas de Sissone Battu in Stage Dances for Men’

Demies Cabrioles in Male Solos and Duets’

Demie Cabriole en Tournant un Tour en Saut de Basque – a Step Solely for a Man?’

I have a few more topics to explore before I leave this complex area and I’ll pick up the thread with Feuillet’s ‘Table des Entre-Chats’ (Choregraphie, p. 86).

Choregraphie Entrechats

Feuillet notates five different entre-chats (I’ll use his spelling here to differentiate them from the modern steps) together with some variants. Only some of them correspond directly with the entrechats to be found in modern ballet technique.

The Demi Entre-Chat is similar to a modern brisé. Feuillet shows the step both to the front and the back.

Choregraphie Demi Entre-Chat

The Entre-Chat à 3 is much the same as its modern equivalent, although the notation does not show the legs beating together in the air (Feuillet could have used a cabriole sign, but its omission suggests that this wasn’t a feature of the earlier step). He adds a step by the free foot after the jump.

Choregraphie Entre-Chat a 3

The Entre-Chat à 4 begins and ends in second position, as an échappé battu would today. Feuillet also shows it travelling sideways and with a tour en l’air.

Choregraphie Entre-Chat a 4

The Entre-Chat à 5 seems to have no modern equivalent. It begins with a spring and the back leg moving forward to initiate the beat, which closes front and back before finishing front giving it the feel of an entrechat-six. Feuillet also shows it with a half turn in the air.

Choregraphie Entre-Chat a 5

The Entre-Chat Droit à 6 is the same as the modern step.

Choregraphie Entre-Chat a 6

Feuillet seems to be presenting a selection of entre-chats, and it is not clear how these might relate to the range of such steps in use at the time he was compiling his treatise. The term ‘droit’ seems to refer to a vertical jump from two feet to two feet while the use of the term ‘en avant’, as well the specific reference to beginning and ending in the second position, suggest that there may have been other versions of these entre-chats. All surely belong to the stage and not to the ballroom, so I will turn next to the notated theatre dances for men to see what additional information they might provide.

La Camargo and the Entrechat-Quatre

Popular histories of ballet often tell us that Marie Anne Camargo was the first female dancer to perform the entrechat-quatre. Where does the story come from? Is it true?

I have been looking at pas battus in the notated stage dances for women in a series of other posts. These choreographies record them regularly performing assemblés battus as well as demi entre-chats and even demie cabrioles. There are hints, if no clear evidence in the notations, that female professional dancers performed entrechats-quatre long before Mlle Camargo made her debut at the Paris Opéra.

The story was examined by the publisher, bookseller and dance historian Cyril Beaumont in his Three French Dancers of the 18th Century: Camargo, Sallé and Guimard, published in 1954. He identified the originator of the story as Louis de Cahusac, citing his ‘La Danse et les Ballets’. I thought at first that Beaumont meant Cahusac’s La Danse ancienne et moderne of 1754, but I didn’t find it in the modern edition I have of that text and I couldn’t track down another work by Cahusac with the title Beaumont cites. Cahusac contributed many articles on dance topics to the famous Encyclopédie edited by Diderot and d’Alembert and published in the mid-18th century. Volume 5 of this great work has an entry for ‘Entrechat’, written by Cahusac, which includes the following paragraph:

‘J’ai vû naître les entrechats des danseuses; mademoiselle Salley ne l’a jamais fait sur le théatre; mademoiselle Camargo le faisoit d’une maniere fort brillante à quatre; mademoiselle Lany est la premiere danseuse en France qui l’ait passé au théatre à six.’

This could form the basis of another whole blog post on the topic of female batterie, but is it the source of the story of La Camargo and her ‘first’ entrechat-quatre? Note that Cahusac does not actually say she was the first, although this may perhaps be inferred from his words.

La Camargo’s virtuoso technique was certainly immediately recognised. Her debut at the Paris Opéra on 5 May 1726, was reviewed thus in the Mercure de France:

‘ … la Dlle Camargo, Danseuse de l’Opera de Bruxelles, qui n’avoit jamais paru ici, dansa les Caracteres de la Danse, avec toute la vivacité & l’intelligence qu’on peut attendre d’une jeune personne de quinze à seize ans. Elle est Eleve de l’illustre Mlle Prevost, qui la presenta au Public. Les Cabrioles & les Entrechats ne lui coûtent rien; & quoiqu’elle ait encore bien des perfections à acquerir pour approcher de son inimitable Maîtresse, le Public la regarde comme une des plus brillantes Danseuses qu’on sçauroit voir, surtout pour la justesse de l’oreille, la legereté & la force.’

There is no suggestion here that cabrioles and entrechats were new to female dancers, Camargo’s ease and brilliance of execution are noted but her vocabulary excites no comment.

In 1733, in Le Temple du Goût, Voltaire included the lines:

Legere & forte en sa souplesse,

La vive Camargo sautoit,

A ces sons brillans d’allegresse,

Et de Rebel et de Mouret.

Voltaire placed Camargo between Marie sallé ‘D’un pas guidé par la justesse’ and the actress Adrienne Lecouvreur ‘avec cette grace divine’. A footnote to the lines declares ‘Mademoiselle Camargo, la première qui ait dansé comme un homme’ without further elaboration. It seems to refer to the ‘attack’ in her dancing and not to her actual steps, contrasting her with the performers either side in the verses.

Marie Anne Camargo retired from the Paris Opéra twice, first in 1734 or 1735 (both dates are given in different sources and I haven’t yet found a contemporary reference) only to return in 1740 and then retire, finally, in 1751.

When she died in 1770, obituaries recalled Camargo at the height of her powers. Les Spectacles de Paris pour l’année 1771 included a biography of her with an appraisal of her dancing:

‘ … exécuta-t-elle tous les genres possibles de la dame noble, les menuets, les passe-pieds d’une manière bien supérieure à Mlle Prévost, et elle y conserva ce je ne sais quoi de piquant qu’elle avoit pris de sa maîtresse, ainsi que dans les entrées de pures grâces. Les gavottes, les rigaudons, les tambourins, les loures, tout ce qu’on appelle les grands airs étoit rendus dans leurs caractères, par la variété des pas qui y étoient propres, car elle les avoit tous dans la jambe et si elle n’a pas fait usage de la gargouillade, c’est qu’elle la croyait peu convenable aux femmes. Elle y substitua le pas de Basque dont elle seule et Dumoulin ont fait usage. Jamais personne qu’elle n’a fait ces beaux pas de menuet sur le bord des lampes, d’un côté du théâtre à l’autre, d’abord de gauche à droite et ensuite en revenant de droite à gauche.’

This text was transcribed by Émile Campardon in his L’Académie Royale de Musique au xviiie siècle, published in Paris, 1884 (pp. 88-89). It provides a more nuanced view of La Camargo’s dancing than is usually given, although allowance must be made for the developments in style and technique  since her retirement which may well have influenced the writer.

As late as 1804, in the last edition of his works, Jean-Georges Noverre wrote of having seen Camargo dance:

‘J’ai vu danser la Dlle. Camargo. C’est à tort que quelques auteurs lui ont prêté des graces. La nature lui avoit refusé tout ce qu’il faut pour en avoit; elle n’étoit ni jolie ni grande ni bienfaite; mai sa danse étoit vive, légère et pleine de gaieté et de brillant. Les jettés battus, la royale, l’entrechat coupé sans frottement, tous ces tems aujourd’hui rayés du catalogue de la danse et qui avoient un éclat séduisant, la Dlle. Camargo les exécutoit avec une extrême facilité, elle ne dansoit que des airs vifs, et ce n’est pas sur ces mouvemens rapides que l’on peut déployer de la grace: mais l’aisance, la prestesse et la gaieté la remplacoient; …’

The steps he mentions are those we today associate with the male dancers of the period, but Noverre talks only of her facility, thereby suggesting that they were routinely performed by women.

The various accounts of La Camargo’s dancing need more detailed analysis, as they surely provide us with important information about the style and technique open to some (if not all) female professional dancers of her time. The story of the entrechat-quatre masks a far more compelling picture of the dancer Marie Anne Camargo, whose brilliance of technique convinced audiences that she danced with the virtuosity of a man.

Camargo Wallace Collection

Nicolas Lancret, Mlle Camargo Dancing, 1730

Stage Dances for Women and Feuillet’s Pas Battus

I have long been sceptical about the claim that Mlle Camargo was the first woman to perform an entrechat-quatre on stage, not least because I know that several of the earlier notated stage dances for women contain pas battus not so far removed from that feat. I thought it was time I looked more closely at the vocabulary in those dances, focussing on batterie in the jumped steps rather than the percussive pas battus used to embellish so many of the walking steps in choreographies created for the stage.

I listed the four principal sources for notated stage dances in an earlier post. Between them these collections contain 16 female solos and 7 female duets. The publication dates range over some 25 years, more than a generation of dancers, although the choreographies themselves may range from the 1690s to the 1720s. We don’t know how these notations relate to what was actually performed onstage and there is no consensus about the purposes behind their publication. Were they intended to record the choreographies performed by leading dancers, for dancing masters working in the theatre or even for fans? Were they actually simplified versions of the original dances intended for the teaching of talented (but not necessarily professional) pupils? Whatever the truth, they provide invaluable evidence of the dancing we have lost. They are well worth detailed exploration.

In Choregraphie, Feuillet provides tables for ‘Cabrioles, et demi Cabrioles’ as well as ‘Entre-chats et demy entre-chats’.

In addition, he includes aerial pas battus in his tables of ‘Contre-temps; and ‘Pas de sissonne’.

I should point out that there are differing interpretations of Pierre Rameau’s description of the contretemps in chapter 37 of Le Maître a danser. He uses the phrase ‘se relever en sautant dessus’, which has led some scholar-practitioners to adopt a relevé rather than a sauté. The former means that it is not, technically, a jumped step.

Feuillet was himself the notator of the 1700 collection of his own choreographies, as well as the 1704 collection of Pecour’s ‘Entrées de Ballet’. Both Gaudrau, who notated the Pecour collection of around 1713, and Le Roussau, who notated L’Abbé’s New Collection, used the system published by Feuillet in Choregraphie. Which, if any, of these pas battus appear in the notated dances for professional female dancers recorded in these collections?