Tag Archives: Hester Santlow

The Passacaille

As every musician knows (but not necessarily every dancer), the passacaille is a set of variations over a repeated 4-bar bass line. It shares this musical form with the chaconne, although the notated dances surviving from the 18th century reveal several differences between them. In her recent book Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera, Rebecca Harris-Warrick looks at passacailles and chaconnes from various perspectives. Her observations are of interest in relation to the appearance of these dances on the London stage. Harris-Warrick points out that passacailles have a slower tempo than chaconnes and that they are often found in association with women ‘not infrequently when seduction is involved’ (p. 60). She also explains that they are the longest of the dances performed on stage and usually feature soloists and groups of dancers in their choreography (although this is not the case with the notated dances).

Passacailles are indeed the longest of the surviving recorded choreographies, in particular two solos created for female professional dancers: Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ for Hester Santlow to music from Desmaret’s 1697 opera Vénus et Adonis, 209 bars; Guillaume-Louis Pecour’s ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ for Marie-Thérèse Subligny to music from Gatti’s 1701 opera Scylla, 219 bars. In all six passacailles survive in notation, published between 1704 and the mid-1720s. All are to music from French operas, four are female solos, one is a female duet and one is a duet for a man and a woman.

Advertisements indicate that the passacaille was performed in the entr’actes at London’s theatres quite regularly between the 1705-1706 and 1735-1736 seasons. It was given either as a solo or a duet but not, apparently, as a group dance. The solos are exclusively performed by women, from Mrs Elford at the Queen’s Theatre on 13 June 1706 (when she danced a ‘Chacoon and Passacail’) to Mrs Bullock at Goodman’s Fields on 13 October 1735. Duets were quite rare, although four different couples were billed between 1715-1716 and 1725-1726. After 1735-1736, the dance type disappears from the bills, except for a single performance of ‘A New Dance call’d Le Passecalle de Zaid’ by Anne Auretti at Drury Lane on 26 March 1754 (the occasion was her benefit). The passacaille reappears in the early 1770s for occasional performances until the mid-1780s.

For most of the passacailles performed in London, it is all but impossible to know what was danced either in terms of the music or the choreography. There are exceptions. The earliest is Pecour’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s 1686 opera Armide, created as a solo for Mlle Subligny and performed by her ‘en Angleterre’ during the winter of 1701-1702 – the only time she visited London. This demanding solo (a mere 149 bars) was published in notation around 1713.

Pecour Passacaille Armide 1

Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ‘Passacaile’, Nouveau recueil de danse de bal et celle de ballet (Paris, [c1713]), pl. 79

Anthony L’Abbe’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s Armide was created as a female duet, and must have been danced late in the 1705-1706 season in the brief interval between Mrs Santlow’s debut and Mrs Elford’s retirement.

Labbe Passacaille Armide 1

Anthony L’Abbé, ‘Passacaille of Armide’, A New Collection of Dances (London, c1725]), pl. 7

In his Preface to The Art of Dancing, the manual of dancing he published in 1735, Kellom Tomlinson referred to ‘Miss Frances, who, on the Theatre Royal in Little Lincoln’s Inn Fields, performed the Passacaille de Scilla, consisting of above a thousand Measures or Steps, without making the least Mistake’. He seems to be referring to the music from Gatti’s Scylla, if not to the choreography created by Pecour for Mlle Subligny (although neither the music nor the notated dance extends to a thousand bars). A Miss Francis did in fact dance a ‘new Passacaille’ at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 19 March and again on 27 April 1719. The other exception is, of course, L’Abbé’s solo for Mrs Santlow referred to above. Although no date or place for a performance of this choreography is known, it is a stunning example of the challenges of such a dance.

Was the music for the other passacailles billed in the early 18th century invariably French? There are some beautiful examples of the dance type (usually titled chaconnes but with the features of passacailles) among late 17th-century music by English composers. Some of these were undoubtedly danced in the semi-operas of the period. Did any of the other performers billed in passacailles dance the choreographies that have survived? Mrs Bullock is known to have been a virtuoso dancer. She danced a passacaille with Charles Delagarde at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 7 May 1716 as well as her later solo, either of which could have drawn on notated dances. Since they were showpieces, it is not surprising that most passacailles were billed for benefit performances, although not always the dancer’s own. It is interesting that not one of the named performers, male or female, of passacailles given in London up to 1735-1736 is French. There are many puzzles about French dancing in London’s theatres in the early 18th century.

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HESTER SANTLOW – VENUS

In the 1716-1717 season, Hester Santlow was Drury Lane’s leading dancer and one of the company’s leading actresses. Who was she and how might she have danced Venus?

Hester Santlow’s date and place of birth and, indeed, her origins remain unknown. Her name seems to be French in derivation (St Loe) and her family were, apparently, not connected with the theatre. What evidence there is suggests that she was born in 1693 or 1694 (see my 2007 book The Incomparable Hester Santlow). She made her stage debut as a dancer in 1706, adding acting to her professional skills in 1709 when she appeared as Miss Prue in Congreve’s comedy Love for Love. Thereafter, she pursued a double career as both a dancer and an actress. Her acting roles show her as a light comedienne – her most popular roles included Harriet in Etherege’s The Man of Mode and Miranda in Mrs Centlivre’s The Busy Body. She was much admired in breeches roles such as Hellena in Aphra Behn’s The Rover. In tragedy, she was best suited to such roles as Ophelia in Hamlet and Cordelia in Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear, both of which she played for many years.

As a dancer, Hester Santlow had no peer on the London stage. She was trained by the Frenchman René Cherrier and had dances created for her Anthony L’Abbé, royal dancing master and a leading choreographer. L’Abbé’s solo ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ (to music from the opera by Desmarets), published in notation in the mid-1720s, remains a testimony to her virtuoso technique and her expressive powers.

passagalia-1

L’Abbé, ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’, A New Collection of Dances, [c1725], first plate

Her impact is well described by the dancing master John Essex in his Preface to The Dancing Master (his translation of Rameau’s Le Maître a danser).

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Hester Santlow married her fellow actor and Drury Lane manager Barton Booth in 1719. Her career ended in 1733, following the death of her husband. During her final season on the London stage, she created the role of Helen of Troy in Weaver’s last ballet The Judgment of Paris.

In Hester Santlow, Weaver had a Venus ‘Goddess of Love and Beauty’ who could both dance and act. Unsurprisingly, she has the greatest range of gestures in the ballet after Weaver himself as Vulcan. He used her dancing skills and her expressive abilities to the full. He also took every chance to show off her beauty. Another contemporary described Mrs Santlow as ‘a beautiful Woman, lovely in her Countenance, delicate in her form’. She is one of the very few dancers of the 18th century for whom we have several portraits.

vanderbank-santlow

John Vanderbank, Hester Santlow, c1720

Venus is first shown ‘in her Dressing-Room at her Toilet’ surrounded by the Graces with Cupid and the Hour (probably Flora). She ‘rises and dances a Passacaile’ first solo and then with the other women. The choreography could have shared features with L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia’. The ‘Dance … of the Pantomimic kind’ with Vulcan which follows is worth its own post. Weaver entrusted a significant number of gestures to Venus, although she has a far narrower range of ‘Passions’ which have less powerful physical expressions. She is, however, allowed to improvise ‘Coquetry. … seen in affected Airs, given herself throughout the whole Dance’. In scene 4, with Mars, Mrs Santlow’s gestures are again improvisatory – ‘reciprocal Love’ and ‘wishing Looks’. Were these expressions stock-in-trade for Mrs Santlow the actress, or were they new to her?

In the final scene, Venus has to express ‘Shame’, ‘Confusion’ and ‘Grief’. Weaver provides gestures for the first and last of these, leaving her to find her own way of showing ‘Confusion’. How and with whom did Venus dance in the closing ‘Grand Dance’? Were there echoes of her ‘Pantomimic’ dance with Vulcan in scene 2 and of her gestures and dancing with Mars in scene 4? If there were, with her breadth of dance repertoire and her acting skills, Hester Santlow could surely have encompassed them all.

THE DRAMATICK ENTERTAINMENT OF DANCING IN ACTION

The only surviving evidence for The Loves of Mars and Venus is the scenario written by John Weaver to accompany the first performances of the ballet. There were probably several reasons for its publication. Weaver writes in his Preface ‘I know it will be expected that I should give the Reader some Account of the Nature of this kind of Entertainment in Dancing, which I have here attempted to revive from the Ancients in Imitation of their Pantomimes’, thereby presenting himself as a scholar as well as a dancing master. The detail within the scenario suggests that he was rather more concerned that the audience might not understand the story, and the gestures used by the dancers, without some help. He acknowledges that ‘I have not been able to get all my Dancers equal to the Design’, admitting that ‘I have in this Entertainment too much inclin’d to the Modern Dancing’. So, what does the scenario tell us about Weaver’s dance drama?

The ballet unfolds in six scenes, for each of which Weaver describes the action – dance, gesture and even music – quite closely. The first scene is devoted to Mars and is preceded by a ‘Martial Overture’.

mars

A late 17th-century costume design for a ‘Combattant’. Did Weaver’s Mars look something like this?

The four ‘Followers of Mars’ enter to perform a ‘Pyrrhic Dance’ which Weaver explains as an exercise in training for combat. After a ‘Warlike Prelude’, Mars joins them. He dances a solo ‘Entry’ and then performs the Pyrrhic Dance with them.

The second scene provides a complete contrast, as Venus is discovered ‘at her Toilet’ surrounded by Cupid, the Graces and ‘one of the Hours’ (this character is probably one of the ‘Horae’ or Seasons, most likely Flora).

venus

A mid-17th century costume design for Venus (danced by a man). Nothing in her dress declares that she is a goddess.

She is introduced by a ‘Simphony of Flutes’ and rises to dance a passacaille, in which she is joined by the Graces and the Hour. They have just finished their dance when a ‘Wild Rough Air’ heralds the arrival of Vulcan. Everyone except Venus hastily departs. There follows what Weaver describes as a ‘Dance being altogether of the Pantomimic kind’ – a mute quarrel between Venus and Vulcan, for which Weaver specifies in great detail their gestures. This duet surely reaches to the heart of Weaver’s ambition to recreate the ‘surprizing’ performances of the mimes and pantomimes of classical antiquity.

The third scene belongs to Vulcan and his workmen the Cyclops.

vulcan

A late 17th-century depiction of a stage Vulcan. Did Weaver make his god lame?

It begins with a set piece probably familiar from other works on the London stage. Vulcan ‘strikes at the Scene’ and it opens to show the Cyclops, blacksmiths like Vulcan himself, at work to a ‘Rough Consort of Musick’. Four Cyclops dance an ‘Entry’, joined by Vulcan. The ‘Entry’ is, of course, very different from the one performed by Mars in the first scene. The pantomime, as Vulcan plans his revenge on his wife and her lover, differs from that between Venus and Vulcan in scene two.

As well as setting the plot in motion, these three scenes introduce, successively, the principal characters in the drama, through contrasting music, dance and gestures.

Scene four brings Mars and Venus together for the first time. Weaver explains that ‘This Performance is alternate, as representing Love and War’, adding ‘As to the Gestures made use of in this Scene; they are so obvious, relating only to Gallantry, and Love, that they need no Explanation’. Mars and Venus meet and embrace, and Mars woos the goddess in mime. The two deities and their respective Followers then dance another ‘Entry’ which, Weaver says, portrays ‘Strength and Softness, reciprocally, and alternately’. The dance, and the scene, end ‘with every Man carrying off his Woman’.

In scene five, the Cyclops are again shown at work and Vulcan dances a solo showing his pleasure as his plan moves to fruition. The final scene of the ballet begins with a ‘soft Symphony of Flutes’, to which the scene opens showing Mars and Venus sitting together. Their ‘pleas’d Tenderness which supposes past Embraces’ is rudely interrupted as Vulcan and the Cyclops enter and catch the two in a net and then give an ‘insulting Performance’. After that, ‘Jupiter, Apollo, Neptune, Juno, Diana, and Thetis’ arrive to witness the humiliation of Mars and Venus. Finally, Neptune persuades Vulcan to forgive the lovers and release them. Much of this scene was played in gestures, again described by Weaver. The ballet concludes as ‘Mars, with the rest of the Gods, and Goddesses, dance a Grand Dance’. This choreography was, presumably, for nine. Weaver’s wording suggests that Mars danced alone, with the other gods and goddesses in couples. Although it is surely likely that Mars, Venus and Vulcan came together for a trio at some point.

The action of The Loves of Mars and Venus was a mixture of old and new. The dancing of Mars and Venus seems to have used the current French stage style and technique and the final ‘Grand Dance’ followed a well-established convention. Vulcan and the Cyclops probably danced in a comic style commonly seen in the entr’actes in London’s theatres. However, Weaver went well beyond accepted ideas in his use of dance to establish the individuality of his characters. His use of gesture and, apparently, its combination with conventional dance steps was completely new and was, for the first time, the means through which a story was told. Weaver was boldly experimental and innovative, despite his use of a great deal of ‘Modern Dancing’ and the justification of his work through an appeal to classical antiquity.

I will say more about the dances and Weaver’s gestures in future posts on The Loves of Mars and Venus.

A VERY IMPORTANT DANCE ANNIVERSARY

Next year marks the 300th anniversary of John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus. His ‘dramatic entertainment of dancing’ was first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717.

Loves Title Page Detail

John Weaver, The Loves of Mars and Venus, detail from title page

Why is this often overlooked dance work so important? It is the first modern ballet – the first theatrical work to tell a story and represent its characters solely through dance, mime and music. Unlike all the ballets that had come before it, including the much celebrated French ballets de cour and English masques, there were no spoken or sung words. The Loves of Mars and Venus was a dance work, nothing more and nothing less.

Weaver’s ballet tells the story of the love affair between the goddess Venus and Mars, the god of War, and the revenge enacted on them by her husband Vulcan. It draws on classical mythology, but contemporary passions abound. Despite Weaver’s appeal to the revered performances of the ‘mimes and pantomimes’ of classical antiquity, who he wished to emulate, his ballet was a thoroughly modern work in tune with the sophisticated comedies of his own time.

The Loves of Mars and Venus has six short scenes. Mars appears with his soldiers and performs a war dance. Venus is shown surrounded by the Graces and displays her allure in a sensual passacaille, but when Vulcan arrives she quarrels with him in a ‘dance of the pantomimic kind’. Vulcan retires to his smithy to devise revenge with the help of his workmen the Cyclops. Mars and Venus meet and, with their followers, perform dances expressive of love and desire. Vulcan completes his plan of revenge against the lovers. In the final scene, Vulcan and the Cyclops catch Mars and Venus together and expose them to the derision of the other gods, until Neptune intervenes and harmony is restored in a final ‘Grand Dance’. The entire ballet took, perhaps, about 40 minutes.

John Weaver was a dancer as well as a choreographer. He is also one of the very few dance practitioners who have written about their art. He was Vulcan. Venus was Hester Santlow, also an actress and a dancer of consummate skill and expressiveness. Mars was Louis Dupré, a virtuoso dancer who was probably French (although not Louis ‘le grand’ Dupré, with whom he is still often confused). Weaver’s bold experiment had the best dancers on the London stage.

This first modern ballet was a remarkable work and enjoyed success in its own time. It was subsequently far more influential than many realise. It may well have been seen by the young dancer Marie Sallé, who would herself later experiment with narrative and expressive dancing. Sallé, of course, influenced Jean-Georges Noverre when he came to create his ballets d’action. They led to the story ballets of the romantic period and onwards to today’s narrative dance works.

Has Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus been consigned to history or can it be recovered? I will explore this innovative ballet further in later posts.

The Saraband on the London Stage

The first saraband to be advertised as an entr’acte dance on the London stage was danced, together with a ‘Jig’, by the actress Elizabeth Younger at Drury Lane on 3 May 1714. Her appearance was described as ‘being the first time of her dancing alone on the stage’ – she was just fourteen but already had several years of acting experience. The last advertisement to mention a saraband was for a performance at Covent Garden on 13 February 1742. The dancer was the Italian virtuoso Barbara Campanini, ‘La Barbarina’. Little evidence survives to tell us what these dances were like. Both dancers were trained in French dancing, la belle danse. Miss Younger was really an actress who danced, although the surviving choreography for the Türkish Dance duet by Anthony L’Abbé shows that her technique was quite considerable. Perhaps her solo saraband was comparable to Feuillet’s Sarabande de Polixène. Although she was only twenty-one, La Barbarina was a first-rate ballerina fresh from success at the Paris Opéra where her technique had dazzled audiences.  I wonder whether her saraband was more like those created by Feuillet and Pecour for male soloists?

The first saraband duet was advertised for a performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 5 May 1724. The dancers were Dupré and Mrs Wall. He was then one of the leading male dancers in the company, while Mrs Wall seems to have been a promising newcomer (she disappeared from the bills within just a few years).  She danced another saraband later the same season with Leach Glover, also a leading dancer at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Both Dupré and Glover were accomplished exponents of la belle danse. Glover went on to perform sarabands with Mrs Laguerre and then Miss La Tour, both leading dancers in John Rich’s company, into the early 1730s. A clue to the nature of all these duets may lie in the Saraband’ of Issee, created by Anthony L’Abbé in the mid-1710s for Dupré and Mrs Bullock and published in his A New Collection of Dances around 1725. The duet is one of three choreographies to the same piece of music, taken from Destouches 1697 opera Issé. The other two dances are both by Pecour. L’Abbé’s dance is technically the most demanding of them. Mrs Bullock, as well as Dupré, was expected to perform beaten steps, turns and ornamentations normal for male technique (although she did not do the entrechats-six notated for Dupré, substituting plain changements instead).

The Saraband’ of Issee was a showpiece, which later dancers advertised in sarabands may or may not have been able to emulate. There is also a quite different saraband danced on the London stage and published in notation. L’Abbé’s The Prince of Wales’s Saraband was created for the birthday of Queen Caroline and performed at Drury Lane on 22 March 1731 by William Essex and Hester Booth. This ballroom duet has no spectacular steps. It makes its effects through subtle ornamentation, including modulations to the timing of individual pas composés although, like the stage choreographies, it recalls the contrast between fast and slow, dynamic and languid described by Pomey in 1671. Such an unadorned choreography requires true elegance and the utmost refinement of technique from its dancers. Hester Booth (née Santlow) was famous for her ‘address’ (which may loosely be translated as comportment). Her partner William Essex (son of the dancing master John Essex who had translated Rameau’s Le Maître a danser) must have been her equal. Was the notated choreography what they actually danced at Drury Lane? Evidence from other notated dances suggests that they may well have included some difficult unrecorded ornamentations.

Did the saraband really disappear from the London stage after 1742?

Anthony L’Abbé. Saraband’ of Issee [c1725], first plate.

Anthony L’Abbé. Saraband’ of Issee [c1725], first plate.

Anthony L’Abbé. The Prince of Wales’s Saraband [1731], first plate.

Anthony L’Abbé. The Prince of Wales’s Saraband [1731], first plate.

 

 

Dancing on the London Stage

Dancing in London’s theatres during the 18th century is a topic that has not attracted dance historians. There are very few reliable accounts and no extended study has so far been published. My work in this area began when I did my PhD on the English dancer-actress Hester Santlow, whose dancing career began in 1706 and ended when she retired from the stage in 1733. I found myself trying to reconstruct the context within which she danced, as well as her dancing repertoire. My thesis was entitled ‘Art and Nature Join’d: Hester Santlow and the Development of Dancing on the London Stage, 1700-1737’. Since then, I have extended my interest to dancing on the London stage from 1660 to 1760. Central to this period are, of course, the notated theatrical dances published in the early 18th century to which I referred in my earlier post Stage Dancing.

The paradox of any research into dancing on the London stage is that the dances, with the exception of the handful of notated choreographies, have entirely disappeared. There are also very few portraits of dancers or depictions of dancing before the late 18th century. Any research is therefore very challenging. This is probably why the period has attracted little or no interest from dance researchers. There is also the bias towards dancing in Paris, which is widely seen as the sole centre of serious dancing at this time.

Yet, this was a particularly exciting period for London audiences, who were avid followers of dancers and their repertoire. ‘French Dancing’ reached London from Paris not long after the Restoration in 1660. French stars came to the English capital, where they could make good money in the commercial theatres. Claude Ballon made a brief visit in 1699 and his favourite dancing partner, the ballerina Marie-Thérèse de Subligny, came in 1702. There were also home-grown dance celebrities who could equal them in the style and technique of serious dancing, notably Hester Santlow. The British developed their own dances and genres of dancing. Among the former was the hornpipe, acknowledged as an ‘English’ dance. Among the latter was the first modern ballet, created by John Weaver, a theorist as well as a dancer and a dancing master. The Loves of Mars and Venus, performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1717, was the first dance work with recognisable characters and a story in which the entire narrative was conveyed through dance and gesture alone, with no sung or spoken words. This was a significant development in the art of dancing and must surely have influenced the French ballerina Marie Sallé, who also came to dance, and experiment with dancing, in London.

Dancing was popular in London’s theatres throughout the 18th century. Dances were regularly performed between the acts of plays (entr’acte dances). There was a great deal of dancing (serious as well as comic) in the pantomimes that became popular from the 1720s and there were dance divertissements in plays and musical works. The entr’acte dances were many and various, from speciality comic dances drawing on indigenous dance forms to complex and virtuosic serious dances deploying the style and technique of French professional dancing.

I will try to reveal some of this wealth of innovative dance entertainment in future posts.

John Ellys. Hester Santlow as Harlequine. c.1725

John Ellys. Hester Santlow as Harlequine. c.1725