Tag Archives: Francis Nivelon

Dances on the London Stage: The Running Footman

The bill at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre for 16 November 1723 included, among the entr’acte dances, a Running Footman’s Dance by Nivelon and Mrs Rogier. It was evidently quite popular, for it was given ten times that season (two of the performances were billed as a solo by Nivelon). It was copied at the Richmond Theatre the following summer, where it was danced as a solo by Haughton.

The running footman must have cut a conspicuous figure on the streets of London and elsewhere. Footmen were part of aristocratic and wealthy entourages and running footmen were highly prized. All footmen were young men with good carriage and good physiques, but running footmen were particularly fit and strong as they were employed to run just ahead of their master’s coach on a journey, in a livery designed to attract attention. A satirical piece in the Universal Spectator describes them as wearing ‘fine Holland Drawers and Waistcoats, Thread Stockings, a blue silk Sash fringed with Silver, a Velvet Cap with a great Tassel’ and carrying ‘a Porter’s Staff with a large Silver Handle’. The details of their livery obviously varied according to their employer, but such features as the cap and the staff made them instantly recognisable, as in this undated image.

The running footman also ran errands in town and was entered into competitive foot races by his employer. These events included wagers and could be elaborate. They were regularly reported in the newspapers during much of the 18th century, as in Applebee’s Original Weekly Journal for 24 September 1720.

It was surely such exploits that gave Nivelon the idea for the dance – it seems likely that he was the original choreographer.

Nivelon and Mrs Laguerre (as Mrs Rogier became following her remarriage in 1724) performed the Running Footman from 1723-1724 until 1727-1728, with a brief revival in 1732-1733. The fact that it was a duet, when put together with the duties of real running footmen, suggests that the dance had a narrative element and was not simply a display of dancing skills. The Running Footman would feature among entr’acte dances in London’s theatres until the 1763-1764 season. Many of these dances were solos, which does suggest virtuosic display, and in 1750-1751 the Running Footman was given as a male duet which may well have mimicked the races mentioned above. The last mention of the Running Footman as an entr’acte dance was on 4 May 1764, when Robert Aldridge danced with Miss Baker and supporting dancers (indicated, as usual, only by ‘&c.’). Did this choreography make use of a narrative? Could it have looked back to Nivelon’s original dance?

Music for a Running Footman country dance can be found in several sources of the mid-18th century. The earliest to bear the title seems to be that in The Compleat Country Dancing-Master published by John Walsh in 1731, where it has the title Running Footman’s Jigg. Could this be the tune used by Nivelon? All these country dances have a time signature of 6/8.

The Running Footman also seems to have been absorbed into an entr’acte dance named The Medley. There were a couple of early entr’acte dances with that title, performed in 1702-1703 and 1734-1735 respectively, but the one that is relevant to this post must be the ‘New Entertainment call’d The Medley, by Slingsby, Miss Baker, &c.’ given at Drury Lane on 20 November 1764. This was performed more than forty times that season although oddly, given its popularity, it wasn’t revived until 1767-1768 (with different performers). It was subsequently given in 1770-1771, when it was performed by ‘Scholars of Giorgi’ (he was a leading dancer at Drury Lane). That version of The Medley continued in repertoire into the 1772-1773 season. All of these performances were at Drury Lane. The Medley moved to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket for 1774-1775 and 1775-1776 and took a last bow there in 1783-1784 when it was danced by ‘Master Giorgi, Miss Byrne and others’. There are no hints in the surviving advertisements about the theme of the dance, although the title suggests that it included several different choreographies.

At least one version of The Medley was performed in the provinces, where it was advertised with full details. Here is the relevant section from the advertisement in the Derby Mercury for 28 February 1782. My thanks to Keith Cavers for providing both the information and the reference.

The list of characters in The Medley suggests that it was drawn not only from entr’acte dances popular on the London stage, but also from well-known dances within afterpieces. Were these linked together by a narrative thread spun by the Running Footman himself? Mr West was the dancer and choreographer William West (born circa 1757). As I write, I haven’t been able to find evidence that he did succeed Slingsby in The Medley at Drury Lane – unless he was one of the unnamed ‘Scholars of Giorgi’ who performed it there in the early 1770s (when West would have been in his mid-teens).

The Running Footman made two other stage appearances in the late 18th century. One was at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on 8 August 1781 in an afterpiece titled Medea and Jason. This was a parody of Noverre’s well-known ballet, which had been given in London for the first time at the King’s Theatre earlier that season. The Haymarket cast included the ‘Prince de la Cour (as a Running Footman)’ danced by Master Byrn. This production may be worth returning to in a later post. The Running Footman’s last appearances seem to have been in another afterpiece, Here and There and Everywhere, also given at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, from 31 August 1785. The role was taken by Master Goosetree. In both cases, the Running Footman seems to have been performed by a boy rather than an adult male dancer.

There is another image of the running footman in a series of four studies by the Italian artist Giovanni Paolo Panini, possibly dating to the mid-1750s. They provide an idea of the figure represented on the London stage by Nivelon, Slingsby and some of the other dancers who performed the Running Footman.

Minuets Mocked

Among the many minuets danced in London’s theatres in the course of the 18th century, two have titles that single them out from the majority. A Mock Minuet was performed at Covent Garden on 12 April 1733 and lasted into the following season. A Grotesque Minuet was given a single performance at the same theatre on 20 April 1758. What might their titles tell us about these particular entr’acte dances, or about minuets performed on the London stage more generally?

According to the advertisement in the Daily Journal on 12 April 1733, the performance at Covent Garden included a ‘Mock Minuet by Nivelon and Mrs Laguerre, introduced by Pelling, Mrs Pelling, Newhouse, Miss La Tour, De la Garde, Mrs Ogden, Lesac, Miss Baston’ to be given at the end of act 4 of Thomas Otway’s tragedy Venice Preserv’d.

Mock Minuet Daily Journal 12 Apr 1733 (2)

The entr’acte dance was given another six performances before the end of the season, with several different mainpieces although all the performances were benefits (including one for Mrs Laguerre and her husband, the actor-singer John Laguerre). On 7 May, and for all subsequent performances, the number of supporting couples was reduced from four to three. The Mock Minuet was revived for another eight performances in 1733-1734 at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. Nivelon again led the dancers, with Miss Robinson as his partner, but there were only two supporting couples. Such variations in the number of dancers and even changes of venue were not unusual for dances given on the London stage, although in this case Nivelon revived the dance at the Haymarket following his departure from the Covent Garden company.

Why was the dance titled a ‘Mock Minuet’? The answer lies beyond the dance repertoire in London’s theatres, for it must surely relate to an extremely successful play. Henry Fielding’s The Mock Doctor; or, The Dumb Lady Cur’d, an adaptation of Molière’s Le medecin malgré lui, was first given at Drury Lane on 23 June 1732. It had been such a hit that not only was it revived the following season but it secured a place in the repertory into the 19th century. At Drury Lane it was given several times early in the 1732-1733 season and then revived again in January 1733. The Mock Doctor was performed for the first time at the Goodman’s Fields Theatre and the Little Theatre in the Haymarket on 13 and 14 February 1733 respectively, underlining its popularity with audiences.

All this was followed by several other plays that tried to capitalise on Fielding’s success. The anonymous The Mock Officer; or, The Captain’s Lady was given at Drury Lane on 28 March 1733, followed by Chetwood’s The Mock Mason ‘a Ballad Opera of one Act’ given a single performance at Goodman’s Fields on 13 April 1733 (for Chetwood’s benefit). Covent Garden joined in with The Mock Lawyer, ‘a Farcical Ballad Opera’ by Edward Phillips, on 27 April 1733 and finally there was the anonymous The Mock Countess at Drury Lane on 30 May 1733. Most of these copy-cat productions responded to the format of Fielding’s play which, with its several songs, resembled a small-scale ballad opera. The Mock Minuet was given in the middle of all this opportunistic rivalry – which surely explains its title.

The choreographer of the Mock Minuet was very likely Francis Nivelon, with whom the dance moved from Covent Garden to the Haymarket. Can all this information tell us anything about the entr’acte dance itself? Nivelon had been a member of John Rich’s company since the 1723-1724 season and may well have created many, if not all, of the choreographies he had performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in both entr’acte dances and afterpieces. Among the entr’acte dances he performed in 1732-1733 were two first given around the same time as the Mock Minuet – the Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow on 27 March 1733 and The Amorous Clowns; or, the Courtezan on 3 May 1733.

The advertisement for the Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow in the Daily Journal for 16 May 1733 follows the same pattern as that for the Mock Minuet (I couldn’t locate the advertisement for 27 March).

Mock Doctor Daily Journal 16 May 1733 (2)

Nivelon subsequently took this same dance to Drury Lane and the advertisement for the performance there on 10 October 1734 makes it clear that Nivelon is the Sleeping Dutchman with Mrs Laguerre as his wife. There were many ‘Dutch’ duets performed on the London stage at this period, so Nivelon seems to be giving a new twist to an old theme and perhaps also using some familiar music.

The Amorous Clowns; or, the Courtezan was actually advertised with its own cast list in the Daily Journal for 3 May 1733.

Mock Doctor Daily Journal 3 May 1733 (2)

Nivelon had made a speciality of Clowns (in this context meaning ‘Boors’ or ‘Rustics’) and so was presumably drawing on his own dances and perhaps their music too. He may have collaborated with Pelling on this entr’acte dance, for it turns up at Drury Lane in 1735-1736 with Pelling as the lead Clown. It seems likely that both of these dances – and the Mock Minuet – incorporated comic action alongside dances.

Could the Mock Minuet have drawn on The Mock Doctor? Nivelon may well have used music from some of the latter’s songs but did he draw on one or other of Fielding’s two intertwining plots? The major strand concerns Gregory, his wife Dorcas and her revenge when he beats her – Gregory is the ‘Mock Doctor’ of the play’s title. The other follows Charlotte and Leander, who cannot marry because her father intends her for another. Charlotte is the ‘Dumb Lady’ of the play’s sub-title, who is treated by the ‘Mock Doctor’. If Nivelon did refer explicitly to Fielding’s farce (and the Mock Minuet was one of Covent Garden’s responses to Drury Lane’s success with The Mock Doctor), the scenes with Dorcas and Gregory probably provided the sort of comic action he had already created so often.

Another Mock Minuet was given single performances in each of the 1752-1753 and 1753-1754 performances. In both cases it was danced by ‘Maranesi and Sga Bugiani’, each time for Maranesi’s benefit. This was a duet and may well owe something to the Italian grottesco dance tradition. It is also worth noting that another Mock Minuet held the stage from the 1770-1771 season until the end of the century. This dance was associated with James Townley’s farce High Life Below Stairs, in which two servants impersonate their master and mistress to dance an ‘awkward and conceited’ minuet. The dance became such a hit with audiences that it was regularly billed as a feature of the performance when the afterpiece was given.

The Grotesque Minuet is less of a conundrum. On the London stage the term ‘Grotesque’ is not often used for dances and in advertisements signifies performance by characters from the commedia dell’arte – as John Weaver made clear in his The History of the Mimes and Pantomimes (1728) – ‘By Grotesque Dancing, I mean only such Characters as are quite out of Nature; as Harlequin, Scaramouch, Pierot, &c.’ (p. 56). Weaver did muddy the waters by adding ‘tho’ in the natural Sense of the Word, Grotesque among Masters of our Profession, takes in all comic Dancing whatever’. When it comes to dancing on the London stage, one can never be quite sure about anything.

The single performance of the Grotesque Minuet was given by Leppie and Miss Hillyard for her benefit. Unfortunately, I can’t find any evidence to suggest which commedia characters they may have represented, if indeed they did. Perhaps their duet looked a little like this dance depicted by Giandomenico Tiepolo in 1756?

Gian Domenico Tiepolo Grotesque Minuet 1756

 

The Humours of Bedlam

Another play that I thought had dancing in it was The Pilgrim. This was originally a Jacobean verse drama by John Fletcher, which may have been revived in the 1660s and 1670s. It was adapted by John Vanbrugh and first performed in its new guise in the spring of 1700. The new version also had a ‘Secular Masque’ by John Dryden. The advertisement for 6 July 1700 announced The Pilgrim ‘Revis’d with Large Alterations, and a Secular Masque’. There were entr’acte dances at that performance, but there was no indication of dancing in the play. The Pilgrim was performed every season until the early 1730s and then regularly revived until the early 1750s. There were further revivals in 1761-1762 and 1762-1763 and then the play disappeared from the repertoire – except for a few performances in the 1780s.

Vanbrugh’s version of The Pilgrim was published in 1700, with Dryden’s ‘Secular Masque’, and there were further editions in 1724, 1742, 1745 and 1753. I have been able to check the editions of 1700 and 1724 and no dancing is mentioned. The ‘Secular Masque’ is preceded by Dryden’s ‘Song of a Scholar and his Mistress, who being Cross’d by their Friends, fall Mad for one another; and now first meet in Bedlam’. (Several scenes in The Pilgrim are set in a madhouse.) No dancing is mentioned in either the ‘Song’, which is actually a short scene, or the ‘Secular Masque’. When I worked my way through all the performances of The Pilgrim in The London Stage, I discovered that it didn’t include dancing, except for two brief periods during its long stage life.

The revised version of The Pilgrim was first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre, but from 1715-1716 it was also given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. From 1720-1721, it was only given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (and then Covent Garden) until 1737-1738 – with the exception of a run of performances at the Goodman’s Fields Theatre in 1730-1731 and a single performance there in 1731-1732. The Pilgrim returned to the Drury Lane repertoire in 1738-1739, but it was only given there until 1740-1741. It then returned to Covent Garden, where it was performed occasionally until 1762-1763. There was a small flurry of performances at Drury Lane in 1750-1751, when The Pilgrim was given with ‘Proper Dances’ (dances within the play) although the advertisements do not say what these were.

The first time The Pilgrim was billed with dancing which related to the play was on 16 November 1723 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, when the entr’acte dances included The Humours of Bedlam. When both were repeated on 27 November, the bills provided a cast list for the dance. Here is an extract from the Daily Courant for 27 November 1723.

LIF 27 Nov 1723 Daily Courant (2)

The mad dancing characters were not the same as those in the cast list of the play, although there was an overlap in the Mad Taylor (taken by an actor in the play and a dancer in the The Humours of Bedlam). At later performances the bills indicate that The Humours of Bedlam was actually given in the play and the two were regularly given together until the 1728-1729 season, after which the dance disappeared from the advertisements. At Goodman’s Fields The Humours of Bedlam was also given with The Pilgrim, although four dancers instead of six were advertised.

I suggest that The Humours of Bedlam was performed as part of the ‘Song of a Scholar and his Mistress’ and that the choreographer was Francis Nivelon, who was initially billed as the Mad Taylor and seems to have been the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre’s dancing master. The following season Nivelon danced the Mad Soldier (originally performed by his brother, who had left the company), the role he kept until 1726-1727. He was always named first in the dance’s cast list. Nivelon’s frequent dancing partner was Mrs Rogier (after her remarriage Mrs Laguerre), who appeared as the Mad Lady. She and several other dancers appeared every time The Humours of Bedlam was given. Nivelon was succeeded by Poitier in 1727-1728 and Francis Sallé in 1728-1729.

The cast list for this choreography suggests a series of solos in character, some of which may have had more pantomime than dancing, and a duet by Nivelon and Mrs Rogier – unless she danced with each of the men in turn. John Barrett’s surviving music for The Pilgrim all dates to the early 1700s, long before The Humours of Bedlam. Could some of it have been used for the dance?

There were occasional Mad Dances in the entr’actes at London’s theatres, some of which were given by French performers, but none of which can be linked either to The Pilgrim or The Humours of Bedlam. Nivelon, if he was indeed the choreographer, may have been drawing on a dance topic from the Paris fairs.

The only other dance to be associated with The Pilgrim was The Lunaticks, first performed at Drury Lane on 13 December 1740 in the entr’actes to Comus. It was given with The Pilgrim on 18 December 1740 and 6 January 1741. At the latter performance it was advertised within act 4 of the play. This group dance had four principal dancers – Fausan, Signora Fausan, Muilment and Mlle Chateauneuf, with supporting dancers (billed only as ‘&c.’). It was, presumably, by Fausan and lasted only this one season.

With both The Humours of Bedlam and The Lunaticks, the idea was most likely to entice fresh audiences to a familiar play. The importance of dancing on the London stage should never be overlooked.

 

The First Ballet at Covent Garden

In a recent TV dance programme, the presenter told us that the first ballet was given at Covent Garden in 1734. I assume that she meant the first ballet to be given at that theatre and not the first ballet to be given in London, which had been John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1717. She did not name the work, but the date indicates that she was referring to Pygmalion, first given at Covent Garden on 14 January 1734. Was this really the first ballet to be performed at John Rich’s new playhouse, the first such building on the site of what we now know as the Royal Opera House?

What was a ballet in early 18th-century London? The definition I work with is a stage work in which the narrative is told through dance, mime and music only, with no words. This describes John Weaver’s intention, although he called his stage works dramatic entertainments of dancing not ballets. For the purposes of this post, I will draw on that definition while concentrating on dancing at the Covent Garden Theatre from its opening on 7 December 1732 to the first performance of Pygmalion on 14 January 1734.

I’ll begin by looking more closely at Pygmalion. It is now attributed to the ballerina Marie Sallé, who took the role of the Statue Galatea. Her creations for the London stage were much applauded in Paris, where she was known as a dancer at the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opéra). A description of Pygmalion was published in the Mercure de France for April 1734, in the form of a letter from London dated 15 March – by which date the ballet had been performed at least fourteen times, demonstrating its success with London audiences. The dance historian Cyril Beaumont published a translation of the letter in his Three French Dancers of the 18th Century in 1934. The ballet itself is described thus:

‘Pygmalion enters his studio accompanied by his sculptors, who execute a characteristic dance, mallet and chisel in hand. Pygmalion bids them throw open the back of the studio which, like the forepart, is adorned with statues. One in the middle stands out above all the others and attracts the admiration of everyone. Pygmalion examines it, considers it, and sighs. He puts his hands on the feet, then on the body; he examines all the contours, likewise the arms, which he adorns with precious bracelets. He places a rich necklace around the neck and kisses the hands of his beloved statue. At last he becomes enraptured with it; he displays signs of unrest and falls into a reverie, then prays to Venus and beseeches her to endow the marble with life.

Venus heeds his prayer; three rays of light appear, and, to the surprise of Pygmalion and his followers, the statue, to suitable music, gradually emerges from its insensibility; she expresses astonishment at her new existence and at all the objects which surround her.

Pygmalion, amazed and transported, holds out his hand for her to step from her position; she tests the ground, as it were, and gradually steps into the most elegant poses that a sculptor could desire. Pygmalion dances in front of her as if to teach her to dance. She repeats after him the simplest as well as the most difficult and complicated steps; he endeavours to inspire her with the love which he feels, and succeeds.’

Pygmalion was always given as an entr’acte entertainment, never as an afterpiece, and (apart from calling it ‘new’ at its first performances) the advertisements drew no particular attention to it. It is never called a ‘ballet’.

The account of the action suggests that it began with a group dance by the Sculptors, followed by an extended mime sequence for Pygmalion. There was a little bit of scenic business (as Venus ‘heeds his prayer’) and then a mime sequence by the Statue, Galatea, followed by solos and a duet for her and her creator. The whole piece is essentially a single scene. It draws on a number of antecedents, one of which is indicated by Gregorio Lambranzi in his Neue unde Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul of 1716 in a plate showing sculptors at work (part 2, plate 24).

Lambranzi Part 2 Plate 24

The dancers at Covent Garden were Malter and Mlle Sallé, who performed as Pygmalion and Galatea, together with Dupré, Pelling, Duke, Le Sac, Newhouse and Delagarde, all regular members of Rich’s company.

What earlier entertainments at the new theatre might be classed as ballets? There are three contenders: The Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow given 27 March 1733; The Amorous Clown; or, The Courtizan given 3 May 1733; The Cobler; or, The Merry Wife Constant given 4 May 1733. All were performed by a principal couple with a group of supporting dancers and their titles suggest a narrative with action conveyed through dance and mime. All three pieces were created for benefit performances and only The Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow was given more than once.

The Cobler; or, The Merry Wife Constant can also be associated with a dance recorded by Lambranzi, who shows a Cobbler ‘with the tools of his trade, the use of which he expresses in mime’ before he is joined by his wife and the two dance together (part 2, plates 29, 30).

This entr’acte dance has a cast list which pairs the characters with commedia dell’arte characters (the Cobler is Punch, but the ‘Merry Wife’ has no counterpart), an idea used in some of Rich’s pantomime afterpieces. This suggests expressive action drawn from the commedia dell’arte, which by this period was common on the London stage. The Cobler; or, The Merry Wife Constant was probably created by Newhouse, who danced the Cobbler, for his own benefit.

The other two pieces involved Francis Nivelon, who was Rich’s leading dancer and probably the dancing master at Covent Garden. He shared a background in French fair theatre with Marie Sallé. The Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow was created for Nivelon’s own benefit and he and Mrs Laguerre took the title roles. She was Rich’s leading English female dancer, with skills that allowed her to take over some of Marie Sallé’s pantomime roles notably Daphne and Flora in Apollo and Daphne. Mrs Laguerre was also an actress, albeit a minor one. They were supported by Newhouse, Pelling, Le Sac, Delagarde, Miss La Tour, Mrs Pelling, Mrs Ogden and Miss Baston. The men would all appear in Pygmalion the following season.

The Amorous Clown; or, the Courtizan has the strongest claim to be considered a ballet. It was given right at the end of the performance, following the afterpiece, suggesting that it was a more substantial piece. It was created for the benefit of Dupré and Mrs Pelling, probably by Nivelon for the cast list had ‘Clowns by Nivelon and Pelling; Wives by Miss Latour and Mrs Ogden; Courtizan – Mrs Pelling’. In this context a ‘Clown’ was an unsophisticated Countryman or Rustic. The title suggests that the piece centred on Nivelon and Mrs Pelling and contained mime sequences as well as dances.  Mrs Pelling, like Mrs Laguerre, had skills that extended to serious dance and allowed her, too, to take over some of Marie Sallé’s pantomime roles.

These dance pieces have been overlooked by dance historians because they had very limited stage lives and were never noticed in the newspapers or elsewhere (it is worth recalling that Pygmalion received little attention in the British newspapers). Unlike Pygmalion, we have no accounts of their action. All three are comic rather than serious (although one or more of them may well have included some serious dancing). They make no use of the classical mythology used as a yardstick for the importance of dance works by so many 20th-century dance writers. Despite all that, I suggest that Pygmalion was not the first ballet given at the new Covent Garden playhouse – that honour should arguably go to The Amorous Clown; or, the Courtizan. Marie Sallé’s ballet was created within, and as a result of, the rich and varied repertoire of dancing (which included many such small ballets, serious as well as comic) in London’s theatres during the early 1700s.